Island Cure

Javier Montes at the opening of Hauser & Wirth Menorca

The gardens at Hauser & Wirth Menorca. All photos by author unless noted.

UP TILL NOW, Menorca has kept a relaxed profile compared to its Balearic sisters: Majorca, which has long managed to be both aristocratic and touristy, and Ibiza, mecca of die-hard partygoers and a somehow dubious and certainly ostentatious jet-set syndicate. Menorca’s natural heritage remains intact (not a highway to be found), attracting a particular breed of enlightened cosmopolitans not often seen in re-afters (that truly great Ibizan contribution to contemporary culture). Think Hockney rather than Guetta or Beckham when someone nonchalantly mentions having just seen David.

Hauser & Wirth has decoded and dissected the vibe with predictable flair. The gallery has disembarked on an islet in the huge natural harbor of Mahón, its latest outpost complete with a local restaurant serving organic produce; elegant souvenir shop with global arts and local crafts; gardens filled with sculptures by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Eduardo Chillida, and Joan Miró; and, of course, vast galleries, which fill a formerly derelict annex of an old English Hospital for sailors and officials of the Royal Navy. The “dry” gardens, designed by the great Piet Oudolf, reminded me of Modern Nature, Derek Jarman’s luminous book about his famous shingle garden by the English seaside. “Yes, you could call it modern nature,” Oudolf told me later. “Working with native and non-native plants so that they interact well as a community is essential,” he added.  

Sheltered in the shade of the olive trees in the backyard, Susana Mora, the socialist who governs the island together with a New Left coalition, nodded to the long vetting and negotiating process that built the new gallery. “Here it all takes a lot of time and effort and paperwork, but that’s a good thing,” she said. “It’s the guarantee of the conservation and sustainable development of our land, and of a post-Covid afterlife for Menorca.”

The gallery’s inaugural show featured paintings and sculptural installations by Mark Bradford, who led us on a walk-through. Iwan Wirth looked and sounded particularly excited: “Thanks to the spare time that the pandemic left in my hands, this show has been the one I have spent the most time with personally in thirty years.” Afterward, I sat to a lunch of grilled vegetables and fish with the painter Anj Smith, who alongside others in H&W’s stable had just landed for the celebrations, and with Aileen Corkeson and Josechu Carreras, directors for London and Spain. We discussed the egos of male painters. “Those kids kept saying, grandly, when we were students and shared studios, oh, by all means, do come over to see my paintings . . . and looked disconcerted when I said, ‘sure, you come over to see mine!’” Smith recalled. Perhaps under the influence of the esprit des lieux, we ended up toasting to the words that Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly dedicated to Beau Brummell, patron saint of all dandies and quite a few artists: “Was he happy? Yes, I say, because a life of satisfied vanity is as rewarding as one of love fulfilled.”

Without a second for siestas, some of us took the little boat back to Mahón to visit a gallery that speaks for a sophisticated art scene already thriving in full force: In 2018, Madrid gallerist Adolfo Cayón opened a truly spectacular summer space in the former Victoria cinema. “It has many stories, and there are even those who speak of the spirit of an old usher,” he told us in the main room, whose superimposed layers of old paint superbly accompanied large works from the last years of Carlos Cruz-Díez. By late afternoon, the light and visual effects grew eerie. “It’s funny,” Cayón said. “Carlos always told me that despite the fact that his early work was associated with dazzling effects achieved through low-tech resources, only in recent years, thanks to advanced computing and new technologies, did he feel that the times finally had caught up with his work.”

The late Venezuelan colorist’s optical interventions, supervised by his son in this case, extended to the façade and to zebra crossings throughout the city. We walked over them en route to the pair of old tenement houses that Albarrán Bourdais gallery has just opened as exhibition spaces. There was a bittersweet atmosphere on the premises, as the artist was sadly not present. On show were what had turned out to be thee last installations by Christian Boltanksi, who had suddenly died two days before the opening. I spoke with the gallerists, who had worked side by side with him for many years to produce his installations throughout the world. “His entire team was here, so it was like receiving the news as a family, luckily,” said Eva Albarrán, visibly moved. It was a vernissage that also had something of a finissage, a farewell homage. Later, on the rooftop, we toasted to his memory under the night sky.