The reinstatement of democracy opened a new era in political and social life, which was rapidly channelled through new institutions of which citizens could freely form part. The first democratic municipal elections of 1979 were a milestone in the aspiration to renovate cities, which desperately needed planning to impose order on the inherited situation.

Barcelona soon set in motion a set of projects for urban, architectural and artistic renewal of public spaces (streets, plazas etc.) in which a host of artists and architects were involved. The then mayor of Barcelona, Pasqual Maragall (who had succeeded the first democratic mayor, Narcís Serra, and was the predecessor to the present mayor, Joan Clos) explained: "The urban planning of the forty years prior to the democratic city councils was so paltry that the need arose to undertake major urban projects to break away from the monotony and asymmetry inherited from the past". Later, the Olympic games would bring with them the major infrastructures and a more radical transformation of the city.

The objective was to regenerate the city, laying especial emphasis on renovation of the more outlying districts and taking care particularly of their artistic expression, that is, introducing quality architecture and adorning new public spaces with sculptures. The variety of architects and artists involved, the different kinds of sites and the artistic diversity of the works themselves nonetheless formed part of a unitary project, since all artists and professionals worked on the basis of well defined shared criteria.

  Els tres gitanets (Three little gypsy boys). Joan Rebull, 1976 (1983)

During the eighties, artistic activity took on a new lease of life with the emergence of a new generation of young artists, painters in particular (Barceló, García Sevilla, Sicilia, Viladecans) although with major representatives in the field of sculpture (Plensa, Solano), whose work reflected the current trends in international art. In the sphere of letters, the generation that had experienced the Civil War was replaced by authors who had begun their careers in the seventies and who had now become acknowledged figures by virtue of their literary view of the city (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Quim Monzó and Eduardo Mendoza).

Highly versatile artists emerged who were equally at home in the world of comics and of video art, of painting and sculpture, linked through their vitality and integral concept of the creative act to the radical artists of the between-war period. Figures like Javier Mariscal and others left the counter-culture of the seventies behind them to enter the artistic star system, although this does not mean that their creative originality waned in any way. Barcelona became noted as the design capital, a term which came to be over-applied to practically any object, action or element to the point where it acquired certain connotations of vacuity.

One Step Back the Better to Move Ahead

All the architects involved in the city's urban renovation project shared a set of characteristics that architect Ignasi de Solà-Morales defined as the "step back strategy": the creation of stylistic continuity founded on the city's historical tradition and on an understanding of the architectural scope of public space, that is, on adapting the work to its architectural and functional setting. In the words of Solà-Morales: "A square, an avenue or a garden were not the result of an accumulation of gratuitous abstract geometrical forms; rather they were related to the topography, the scale of the site, the surrounding architectural elements, the physical magnitude of thoroughfares and the material arrangement of greenery and urban furniture".

Beyond this twofold relationship of the work with itself and its urban surroundings, there was a further factor shared by the architects who contributed to the municipal plan. Specifically, they transferred the logic of treatment of domestic space to the treatment of public space. Barcelona architects' tradition of building private space with great attention to detail, to the choice of materials and the quality of finishes in their search for a point of convergence between innovation and tradition was now applied to the city's public spaces.

Urban Space and Sculpture

The urban policies of the eighties led to the development of many parks, gardens, plazas and promenades. The pragmatism of the Porcioles era was left aside in favour of attention to the individual and his/her needs, both social and cultural. Prestigious urban planners, architects and artists provided works of high, internationally recognised creative quality. The sculptures from the early eighties, unlike their counterparts from previous periods, now responded to artistic rather than commemorative parameters.

The notion that "the parks and plazas of Barcelona have been transformed into open-air museums" became the city's best letter of introduction to the rest of the world. Artists of international renown such as Antoni Tàpies, Joan Miró and Joan Brossa, who were now joined by figures like Xavier Corberó (Homenatge a la Mediterrània), Eduardo Chillida (Topos, Elogi de l'aigua), Jaume Plensa (Escullera), Francisco López (Ofèlia ofegada) and Rafael Bartolozzi (Dona que es banya), shared public places with the most avant-garde artists from abroad: Anthony Caro (Alto Rhapsody), Ellsworth Kelly (Tòtem), Richard Serra (El mur) and Bryan Hunt (Rites of spring). Many of these pieces were placed in districts where major urban interventions had taken place, both creating continuity in the city's urban tissue and dignifying remodelled areas with high quality artworks.

Sculptures like Antoni Tàpies's glass cube in homage to Picasso, Dona i ocell by Joan Miró in the Parc de l'Escorxador, and the recreation of a visual poem by Joan Brossa (Poema visual transitable en tres temps), around the Horta Cycle Track represented new ways of understanding the role of sculpture in the city. However, this pursuit of innovation still left room for classical works, like those by Apel·les Fenosa, or for the restoration of others. Retrieving these pieces from municipal storage and dignifying others by providing them with new settings was a task complementary to that of inviting new artists to adorn the streets with their creations.

Plazas, the ideal sites for sculptures, witnessed the unveiling of pieces like Astrolabi by Joaquim Camps (Plaça del sol, in Gràcia), El ciclista by Jorge Castillo (plaça de Sants) and La llagosta de Boston by the North American Deacon Shem Drowne (Plaça de Boston) on the occasion of the twinning of the two cities.

The Recovery of Historical Works

In 1983 a bronze statue by sculptor Antoni Alsina was recovered that during the 1929 International Exhibition had been exhibited at the Font del Gat, on Montjuïc. This was followed in 1985 by the recovery of four works to be placed in the new Parc de l'Espanya Industrial: Tors de dona by Enric Casanovas, Venus by Josep Pérez "Peresejo", Neptú by Manuel Fuxà and a group by Antoni Alsina. Other works emblematic of the historical character of their subjects had returned to the streets some years previously, thanks to the initiative of the mayor during the transition period, Josep Maria Socias. The figures of Pau Claris (Rafael Atché), Francesc Layret (Frederic Marès), Rafael Casanova (Rossend Nobas) and Doctor Robert (Josep Llimona) once again stood in the city's streets.

Although this period was not characterised by commemorative sculptures, a number of works of this kind were recovered such as the monument to playwright Àngel Guimerà by Codina Corona; to the Aragonese painter Francisco de Goya by the sculptor José Gonzalvo, Aragonese himself; to the novelist and playwright Josep Maria Folch i Torres by Josep Ricart; and one to the first governor of California, the military man and explorer from Lleida Gaspar de Portolà, sculpted by Lluís Montané in 1961.

Dona (Woman)
Joan Miró, 1983

Others appeal to the collective memory, such as Pietat by Ferran Ventura, a tribute to the victims of Franquisme; a monument to Mercè Rodoreda's most famous character, Colometa, by Xavier Medina Campeny, which now stands in the Plaça del Diamant; David i Goliat, by the North American sculptor Roy Shifrin, dedicated to the International Brigades, placed at the exit from the Túnel de la Rovira. Also of a social character is Sergi Aguilar's Júlia, a tribute to immigrants, which stands on Via Júlia, and the nearby Torre Favència, a luminous column designed by Antoni Rosselló.

The City Hall Collection, initially of noucentista works, has been increased with new acquisitions, like Miró's Dona and Subirachs's Matèria i forma. As if it were an extension of the street, the foyer of the Casa de la Ciutat (City Hall) is now the setting for numerous pieces by Catalan sculptors: Els tres gitanets by Joan Rebull, Uranus by Pau Gargallo, Dona asseguda by Manolo Martínez Hugué, L'esperit del Mediterrani by Frederic Marès, Deessa by Josep Clarà and Sant Jordi nu by Josep Llimona.