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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

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Alberto Corazón, the total artist who designed the modernity of Spain

A pioneer in Spain of conceptual art, publishing, design and social activism in the second half of the 20th century, he has died at the age of 79.

Spain is a country not very grateful to its own inventors and artists. You have to be very unique and constant to succeed and especially to be recognized in old age. Before we reached the border of the 80s, one of the few spirits with a good heart has left us, as his own surname already indicated in his birth certificate. He always had time for friends. Few have I met with Alberto’s desire to reconcile those he knew and who had separated among them. Among all his qualities, which were many, I would like to highlight that of our (increasingly forgotten) “transition”: that of joining friends and generosity at all times.

Alberto Corazón was a pioneer in many things, he was one of the founders of the Ciencia Nueva publishing house (Visor and Alberto Corazón Editor would come later); he was one of our first designers, of books and of industry; he was one of our first conceptual artists, he was also one of the first social and artistic activists; and he was an initiator of the ‘alternative spaces’. Just as Equipo Crónica began its journey in Franco’s time. He was with them at the 1976 Venice Biennale, vindicating Spanish art, what they did and that of others in other lines of thought. Neither he nor Manolo Valdés were ever exclusive with what others did; neither then nor later. In 1979 he exhibited in New York his anthological project called Leer la Imagen 3, which he had previously presented in Madrid in 1977.
For Corazón, identity design was a revitalizing and modernizing element of Spanish society after the dictator’s death.

We can count by the hundreds the books that Corazón designed, but also the logos of institutions and the corporate identity of Spanish companies, such as the National Library, the Casa de América, the ONCE, the Ministry of Health and Consumption, the Junta de Andalucía , the Community of La Rioja, Paradores, Renfe Cercanías, the SGAE, etc. For Corazón, identity design was a revitalizing and modernizing element of Spanish society after the dictator’s death.

This also explains why, precisely unlike what happened in Europe, it was basically the institutions that drove this regeneration of modernity through design. This occurs in graphic design, and in industrial design, where an industry appears that did not exist before. Corazón will create that telephone Domo de Telefónica. A year ago the Museum of the Culture of Wine (of the Vivanco brothers) in Briones, perhaps presented the last exhibition of Corazón, an exhibition that started from his deep knowledge of the History of Art: “each era and each school has its still life, almost like an emblematic exercise. ” Alberto Corazón distilled his erudition in some works, exploring how others represented the world of wine in his still lifes.

He received many awards such as the 1989 National Design Award or the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. In November 2006 he entered the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando introducing the discipline of designer in that institution. His exhibition toured Spain, but he did not get to enthuse a critique full of conceptualisms when he had pioneered here. Years ago, in an interview I did to him where I asked him what his key to establishing himself and remaining as a designer had been, he was explicit and crude: “Hold on and be in the fight”, not letting yourself be overcome by pessimism and permanent envy of Spain always. Perhaps he learned all of this from his youth as a midfielder: the same as Eduardo Chillida started as a soccer goalkeeper.

For me, Alberto Corazón has been a total artist of the second half of the 20th century, he has written, designed, drawn and painted. He has made sculptures of enormous sensitivity such as the set of four sundials and two moon clocks in the Glorieta de la Puerta de Toledo in Madrid in 1988. The passage of time has always been in his visual thinking: the still lifes with his concept of vanitas, that everything perishes in this world, and that presence of the gnomon, like the menhirs in Prehistory, whose shadow on a surface, with a scale, shows us the position of the Sun imperturbably.

I have always seen him – at his home in Florida, that very Basque neighborhood on the outskirts of Madrid – as an extroverted and current Pío Baroja, of good humor. Corazon observed everything, like the novelist: from the sundial on the tower of the church in Urrugne (in the French Basque Country) to the senses that we give to the ticking of a monotonous and sad clock; as Baroja did in his first published book, Vidas sombrías de 1900.

His aesthetics is closely linked to the stone proverbs that adorn the quadrants, always so conceptual. Corazón knew that an aquila non capit muscas (that the eagle does not catch flies), that it is not important to take care of small things. The last time I saw him, on the street where he had come to live in the center of Madrid, precisely an old printing press, he told me that he lived by the day: “When the sun rises, there is hope, when it sets, there is peace”. Today the sentence carved in the stone of the Urrugne church has been fulfilled, the one that Baroja recorded in his house: “Vulnerant omnes, Ultima necat”, every hour that passes takes something from us, the last one kills us. But his good heart and his work will continue to beat.

Alberto Corazón Climent was born on January 21, 1942 in Madrid, the city where he died on February 10, 2021 at age 79.

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