The choice, in 1986, of Barcelona to host the 1992 Olympics - the 25th Summer Games of the Modern Era - was a milestone in the history of the city. Not only for what it meant in terms of citizen mobilisation, institutional consensus and international renown, but also, and equally importantly, for the opportunity to re-think the city, to remedy the major urban, social and infrastructural defects from which Barcelona had been suffering for many years.

When it came to construction or remodelling the most emblematic buildings for the Games, it was decided to call upon architects of international renown, outstanding among whom were Arata Isozaki (Palau Sant Jordi), Ricardo Bofill (the Institut d'Educació Física building), Santiago Calatrava (the Telefònica Tower) and the team dircted by Federico Correa (for the refurbishing of the Olympic Stadium). All on what came to be known as the "magic mountain" of Montjuïc, the main venue of the Games. Other interventions took place in areas that underwent deep, positive transformations, for example Poblenou, where derelict factories gave way to new apartment buildings, where athletes lived during the Games and which have given rise to the name of the Vila Olímpica (Olympic Village) district. Barcelona once again looked towards the sea, with beaches now suitable for bathing that stretch from La Barceloneta to Nova Mar Bella, with the Port Olímpic in the middle.

 
  Júlia ( Els altres catalans). Sergi Aguilar, 1987

On the Collserola mountains Norman Foster's Communications Tower was built, at the foot of which extends the new Ronda de Dalt ring road, which together with the Ronda Litoral bypasses the city. A project that had long been clamoured for - the need for a fast freeway that would ease congestion in the city centre - became a reality with the Games. A further Olympic zone was built in Vall d'Hebron, consisting of a cycle track, a multi-purpose sports stadium, tennis courts and other facilities.

A City Proud of Itself

The years prior to the Olympic Games witnessed a new phase in the dynamic task of reconstruction undertaken with the reinstatement of democratic town and city councils. The impassioned architectural and urbanistic debate was now transferred to practicable projects thanks to the fact that all energies were concentrated on this international event and to institutional consensus, which coupled with balanced private intervention led to the execution of ambitious plans that would otherwise have been mere pipe dreams. The project involved not only preparing the areas in which the Olympic contests would take place but also injecting new energy into the entire city, the successful outcome of which was acclaimed by the people of Barcelona, who proudly showed their city to the rest of the world.

The Olympic works were a further boost to the ongoing project of revitalising the peripheral districts and cleaning up Ciutat Vella, while at the same time restoring the rich architectural heritage of the Eixample. The projects for public squares, gardens, and other urban elements that serve to humanise city districts soon took shape, and the icing on the cake took the form of sculptural works by recognised Catalan, Spanish and foreign artists.

"The objective was a twofold one, which we defined as 'monumentalising the periphery': on the one hand, it involved taking art to the streets and squares of districts that had traditionally lacked sculptural elements, and on the other ensuring that this art would establish direct links with its surroundings in order to improve them." These are the words of Pasqual Maragall, mayor of the city during one of Barcelona's most brilliant periods ever.

The Site of the Sculptures

In 1992 over fifty sculptures were placed. And if we count the other fifty or so that had been placed as from the nomination of the city as organiser of the 25th Olympic Games and those placed after democracy had been restored, during that golden decade Barcelona was enriched with a third of the public sculptures it has today.

 
Porta de Sarrià (Gateway to Sarrià). Emili Armengol, 1992  

The selection of the kinds of works to embellish the urban landscape was based on the criteria of bringing art closer to the people, combining artists from both home and abroad and establishing a dialogue between the sculptures themselves and their setting. Furthermore, the works were required to reflect the history of Barcelona while symbolising modernity, and to constitute an element of metamorphosis of the city. In other words, the works had to be respectful towards the city's history while at the same time contributing to its modernisation.

When it came to commissioning and choosing the sculptures, however, the City Council adopted rather uneven criteria. Alongside the commemorative monuments (possibly the ones of least artistic quality), the sculptures created to dignify public spaces, many of which were commissioned from foreign sculptors, acquired a more prominent leading role.

As well as the foremost Catalan artists (Miró, Tàpies and Brossa), other established sculptors filled public spaces with their works. This is the case of Subirachs (with his monument Catalunya a Francesc Macià), of Apel·les Fenosa (the monument to Pau Casals), Antoni Clavé (Homenatge a l'Exposició Universal de 1888) and Xavier Corberó (Homenatge a la Mediterrània), among others. The younger generation of Catalan sculptors was represented by Sergi Aguilar (Júlia), Antoni Llena (David i Goliat), Jaume Plensa (Born), Josep Maria Riera i Aragó (Submarí) and Susanna Solano (Dime, dime, querido).

Other sculptures were recovered, like Aristide Maillol's Tors de l'estiu, Pau Gargallo's Aurigues olímpics and La República by Josep Viladomat; while still others were commissioned from outstanding Spanish artists, such as Eduardo Chillida and Francisco López Hernández. Outstanding in the foreign contribution section are the colourist pop art works Mistos by Claes Oldenburg, Barcelona's Head by Roy Lichtenstein and Cilindre by Tom Carr. Minimalism and other associated trends are represented by works by Beverly Pepper (Cel caigut) and Rebecca Horn (L'estel ferit). Also outstanding here is Frank O. Gehry's monumental pergola in the form of a fish outside the Hotel Arts, the product of a private commission.

And although it cannot be defined as a sculpture in the strict sense, mention should be made of the piece that Javier Mariscal, the inventor of Cobi, the mascot of the Barcelona Olympics, placed over the Gambrinus Restaurant on the Moll de Fusta.

"Configuracions urbanes"

The exhibition "Configuracions urbanes" deserves separate mention, a permanent showing of sculptures in the streets and squares of two of the city's oldest and most representative districts, La Barceloneta and La Ribera, sponsored by the Olimpíada Cultural and opened a few days before the start of the Olympic Games. The works by eight renowned national and international artists establish an itinerary that unites La Ribera with Port Vell and La Barceloneta.

The basic criteria governing "Configuracions urbanes" were that the pieces had to reflect creative tension, combine the presence of local artists and those from abroad, and to bring art closer to the people. The sculptors were asked to "tune into" the physical and human surroundings and establish a dialogue with them.

The eight artists who took part in the exhibition and who have left their work forever in the city are Othar Baumgarten with Rosa dels vents, in Plaça Pau Vila (Moll de la Barceloneta); Rebecca Horn with L'estel ferit on the new maritime promenade; Jannis Kounellis, whose piece Balança romana stands between Carrer Baluard and Carrer Almirall Cervera; Mario Merz, with Creixent en aparença (Crescendo appare); Juan Muñoz with Una habitació on sempre plou, in Plaça el Mar; Jaume Plensa, with Born, on Passeig del Born and Carrer Volta d'en Dusai; Ulrich Rückriem, with Sense títol (quatre falques), in Pla de Palau; and James Turrell, with Deuce Coop, in the former Sant Agustí monastery.