Mallorca is a cult place – especially for the party tourists who swarm towards Magaluf and the German equivalent, Arenal. The very name “Mallorca” arouses feelings of holidays, lazing around, “Sol y Playa”. Now, the question is whether there is an appetite for culture behind this overwhelming attraction to Mallorca for the climate? Seemingly, people don’t come here to visit opera performances or to take a stroll in different art galleries.
However, on closer inspection, Mallorca and Palma in particular have a vast art and culture scene. The proportion of holiday-makers attracted to the island for cultural events is growing steadily. The latest artistic ‘big bang’ was the inauguration of Miquel Barceló´s wall of clay (The miracle of the loaves and fishes) by the Spanish sovereigns in Palma´s cathedral in 2007. International media widely celebrated this new wonder of art.
Latterly it’s been popular to market art and culture as part of Mallorca´s move towards a ‘quality tourism’ strategy, alongside golf courses, marinas and five-star hotels.
The local real estate developer family Gelabert Martínez perceived this new trend and created a Mallorcan cultural landmark at the end of 2008 when ‘Riskal’ opened its doors. The new art, gourmet and leisure centre carries the name of a former gourmet temple in Paseo del Borne, where local notables mingled in the 60s. Building the complex around the historic manor “Son Serra Parera” is estimated to have cost 50 million euros – for Gelabert not an “immoral” amount in times of mass unemployment: “It’s an investment in a long term project with a clearly defined target group. Besides, we created 100 jobs.”
The business idea is to reactivate a forgotten style of romanticism and elegance for clients with good taste – and well-stuffed wallets. Auctions of antiques are held at Riskal, imitating the style of Sotheby’s; there’s a faithful copy of a café in RMS Titanic, and live jazz is performed in a garden pergola. Art can be found in the Riskal gallery ‘Atalaya’ and in the diverse stock of the book shop (with international press). Riskal also has modern components – conference rooms with the latest technical equipment for corporate events.
Juan Gelabert admits that the “early months have been difficult“, especially in times of reduced spending power and consumption. His family enterprise seems to have the financial backing to withstand the difficult economic period. The services of Riskal in Calle Son Serra Parera 3 in Palma – which “fill a market gap”, as Gelabert explains – are designed for an international public: “Everybody with good taste finds something at ‘Riskal’. We only have to attend to marketing ourselves as many Britons and Germans still don’t know that we exist.” Juan Gelabert has his very personal ideas about developing culture on the island: “Mallorca has a rich treasure of architecture and should capitalize more on it. We could also promote folkloristic groups such as Xeremiers, playing the gaita and the flute. Riskal also offers cookery courses on local cuisine.“
Austrian gallery owner Franz Sailer (72) has a different view on the subject. He exhibits and sells oriental treasures in his beautiful gallery in Santanyí. Sailer, an accredited authority on textiles, doubts the appreciation of works of art on the island: “It’s a pity that few Mallorcans and Spaniards perceive the unmatchable excellence of carpets like Kilims.” Most of his buyers are Germans, Britons, Austrians and Italians. The expert believes that the island “suffers from a lack of maturity in terms of art and culture.” The reason for coming to this place is often, above all, “the climate”. Most foreign residents and tourists “pursue art and culture only in their homelands,” he argues. Once he exhibited the works of Spanish celebrity painters Antonio Saura, Joan Mirò and Antoni Tàpies: “It was almost an event with no response”. Sailer says that Salzburg and Viena had more to offer even 20 years ago.
Fran Reus, gallery proprietor (in Calle Concepció 6, Palma) and son of a reputable local notary, is well aware of this problem: “The island position is one of the reasons for a certain cultural retardation. However, we have dozens of interesting artists on the island, whose activities are hardly recognised by the public”. Reus himself brings talents like Luis Arabell, José Aranda or Joan Ávila Fúster (portrayed by abcMallorca in December 2008) to light. And he lobbies for exhibitions of their works in other Spanish cities. He thinks, that Govern and Consell should “do more for culture” – otherwise, he understands that “institutions first cut costs for art and culture in times of crisis.” He collaborates with schools in order to develop the students’ appreciation and fascination of art.
Reus thinks that the island has many cultural highlights: The Bellver castle in Palma, the charter house of Valldemossa, Palma´s Casco Antiguo, the prehistoric Talayot villages. The remarkable manors of Austrian Archduke Ludwig Salvator “are mainly in private hands and thus seldom accessible,” Fran Reus´s art expert Neus Comas remarks. Fran Reus recommends a better communication, because “pro-rata, Palma has more art galleries than Barcelona and Madrid.” Two obstacles will always remain: The intention with which people come to Mallorca, and the power of the hoteliers’ association. Fran Reus: “Mentality can change. In former times people made their living growing potatoes, then they lived on tourism and in the future it could be culture.”
One of the most recognized international art luminaries of Mallorca, 68-year-old Nils Burwitz, is convinced that the real cultural strength of Mallorca is manifested “in secret”. For him the island is a melting pot, where literature, movies, music, theatre and fine arts rub shoulders with each other. Burwitz: “Once one has sensed the essence of this island, one will be forever addicted to its creative magnetism.” Some examples: “Writer Thomas Bernhard praised Palma as the best city for writing. Where did Chopin compose his most touching melodies? In the monastery of Valldemossa. Where did Robert Graves write “I Claudius” and countless love poems? In Deià, in the shadow of the magic Mount Teix. Where has Joan Miró invented his Constelaciones and let them dance around the world? In Son Abrines above the bay of Palma. Where does Rebecca Horn get inspiration? On the Calvary of Pollensa.”
Nils Burwitz describes the island´s genius loci: “A Mallorcan water wheel, whose pots of clay scoop from the same source, reallocating the content differently each time.”