Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Horsing Around: Sassu and THAT sculpture

There was a time when I had this thing about roundabouts: not the fact that no one has the faintest idea how to drive around one, either with or without the aid of an indicator; not that most roundabouts appear to have been created in order to give Trafico ever more places to hang out: not even the comparatively short history of the Mallorcan roundabout (first one, 1976, Palmanova). No, it was what was on them. Sculptures, artistic works, some of which look like the scrap-metal man's taken up residence, others which are just weird, some which do pass as worthy additions to the landscape. As is my wont, I started to research them, i.e. those responsible for the sculptures. Or irresponsible some might suggest.

This was all a long time ago. Perhaps I became inured to the bits of old tat, the surreal, the occasionally splendid. So much roundabout furniture can leave one blind, as it was no longer having any impact. However, there was one roundabout, one roundabout sculpture that still had the power to overwhelm because of its sheer audacity or what some would describe as monstrosity.

In this former life of rotonda research, someone asked me - in 2008 if you must know - when they were going to get rid of that "thing". Who, came the question, must have had a mate in the town hall to have allowed such a "thing". Whatever possessed anyone to dream up this Angel of the North with its complete absence of angelic quality?

Those of you with knowledge local to Alcúdia will almost certainly have got the gist by now. This is the "Horse which looks to the sky (or maybe heaven) of Alcúdia". It is the horse of the Horse Roundabout, the Rotonda Caballo. Or is it a horse? Other interpretations have been made.

It is a horse of course, as Mr. Ed might have said. The sculptor specialised in horses, often kicking ones, styled in a futuristic fashion. He was Aligi Sassu, Italian, who had shared his time between Italy and Pollensa (Cala San Vicente) from the start of the 1960s. Sassu was well-known to the art world in Mallorca. In 1996, Sa Nostra Bank acquired a sculpture of his that had been crafted in 1989. The "Caballo Airoso" (airy horse, if you like) is still to be found in the gardens of the Sa Nostra Cultural Centre in Palma. But it, and other horse works, were on nothing like the scale of the Alcúdia horse, while, for all his futuristic style, Sassu had never created anything quite like it in appearance. When it was first unveiled - winched into position that is - the reaction was ... . Well, the reaction was somewhat mixed to say the least.

The horse arose in February 1997. A few months earlier, at a different roundabout - Magic - another sculpture had been given the crane treatment. This was "Leonardo's Knot", the work of Ben Yakober. In July of 1997, the roundabouts were officially inaugurated along with their sculptures and indeed roads. Both sculptors were in attendance. Alcúdia had needed a better system of roads, so Alcúdia got them, together with the roundabouts and the sculptures.

One observer from the time who didn't doubt the necessity of the roads or the roundabouts was more sceptical about both sculptures. He could appreciate that there was something of the avant-garde about them but that they would divide opinion between futurists and those who preferred something more classical. But he was concerned that neither said anything about Alcúdia nor indeed Mallorca, and the culture and customs. He believed that, although Sassu and Yakober were highly respected, perhaps there should have been some consultation, to hear what people thought. He also wondered about who had made the decision. The horse cost four million pesetas, roughly equivalent to 25,000 euros, albeit that this was around 20 years ago.

The cost was shared between the town hall and the Council of Mallorca with its dual responsibilities for culture and for roads. Who actually made the decision regarding the horse, who actually commissioned it is unclear. The observer who asked the question might now be in a better position to discover the answer. His observations came from the March 1997 edition of the "Badia Alcúdia" magazine. He used to write regular opinion pieces. He was and is Antoni Mir, the new mayor of Alcúdia.

Perhaps the best thing one can say about the horse is that it is a talking-point. But there's no escaping it. It is so massive, while lacking a quality, like say the Angel of the North, of some emotion, some appeal to those who seek inspiration and meaning. The horse, sad to say, lacks this and also sad to say, Sassu was so much better. There is an exhibition of some of his horse lithographs at the Hotel Molins in Cala San Vicente from tomorrow evening.

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