Celebrate the Francis Bacon centennial, starting in Madrid

Reclusive, crazy and not as prolific as most other artists, Francis Bacon produced only around 1,000 paintings before his death. Around the world, his pieces appear one or two at a time, but few have the resources or reason to assemble a large retrospective. This year, that changes.

One hundred years ago, Francis Bacon was born. For his centennial, exhibitions are rumored to be planned at London’s Tate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But, I was surprised to see a large sign as I walked along the Paseo del Prado last week: Francis Bacon. Until April 19, 2009, you’ll be able to witness the progression of this genius’s work over four decades, with a collection of unusual breadth and depth (take a closer look here).

This is an interesting time for Francis Bacon. Last year, his work was among the hottest in the world, with Russian energy figure Roman Abramovich dropping $86.3 million on a triptych painted in 1976. Not even a full year later, the art market is in turmoil, and the auction houses are unable to move Bacon’s work, it seems, at any price. It feels like a sad undercurrent to what should be a year of celebration, but New York artist Nelson Diaz disagrees.
Diaz appears to be downright prophetic, having protested the art market’s ascent with a political statement via eBay last summer. At the time, he explained that Bacon would have been disgusted with the high prices that his work fetched. Nelson’s protest is over, but it does make rich background for what should be a year of Francis Bacon retrospectives around the world.

In the video below, Nelson explains last summer’s project and its connection to Francis Bacon. If you’re looking to the future, his latest project is “The Isolated Christ.”

Whether you stop by the Tate, Met or Museo del Prado to enjoy the Francis Bacon centennial, keep this back-story in mind. It changes everything you’ll see.


Hotel Gaudi a comfortable bargain

Centrally located on Gran Via, Hotel Catalonia Gaudi offers inexpensive comfort and convenience in Madrid. Long a favorite of business travelers, tourists will also enjoy its spacious rooms, large private balconies and proximity to local attractions.

The rooms are large enough for two people to have plenty of elbow room. Request one with a view if you want some outdoor space. The walls on the balconies do obscure most shots of the city, but you will be able to sit outside and enjoy a combination of fresh air and the rhythms of the city. Also, since I’m not a fan of heights, the tradeoff (lack of view for lack of anxiety) was worth it.

Back inside the guestroom, the bathroom is enormous by European standards, and it sports a good-sized bathtub. But, if you expect a shower curtain or full glass door, you’ll be disappointed. The European style is prevalent at Hotel Catalonia Gaudi, with a piece of plexiglass reaching only a quarter of the way across the side of the tub (except in some rooms, which have shower curtains). Expect to step onto a wet floor, unless you have some how mastered the art of the European shower (I have not).


Do try the continental breakfast at least once during your stay. With pastries, cheese, fruits and eggs, it’s a bargain at €8 per person. When you arrive, be patient … advice to heed at any restaurant in Spain. Nobody’s in a hurry, and there’s nothing you can do about it. For a caffeine-addled New Yorker, this is nothing short of torture, but it’s unavoidable. Get used to the fact that it will take a while for you to be seated and that coffee refills are not always as prompt as you would prefer.

If you plan to have dinner at the hotel, make sure it isn’t closed for a special event. I was disappointed that (a) I was not able to dine there one night (after waiting a while for the restaurant to open and (b) that no sign indicated the restaurant’s unavailability for the evening. I did eat in the bar that night, which was both sufficient and inexpensive. Somehow, a €2.90 glass of wine has a way of curing all that ails you. The seven year-old rum from Havana, illegal back in the United States, made the entire experience downright pleasant. I paired it with a Nicaraguan cigar (De La Concha Grand Reserve, Toro-sized) instead of picking up a stick from the rum‘s homeland, though, as I prefer reliable taste and construction.

The Hotel Catalonia Gaudi is firmly planted in “Old Europe,” so expect to find smokers in the lobby and lobby bar, in guestrooms and on balconies. Madrid has not joined the smoking ban epidemic, and the hotel prohibits smoking only in the restaurant and in certain guestrooms. This is neither criticism nor praise; it’s simply a function of the environment. Madrid is smoker-friendly. Know this before you book your trip.

The Gaudi was particularly inexpensive during my stay, as early February isn’t peak season for this part of the world. So, the bargain rates I received were probably pushed lower by a general lack of interest in the region. I suspect that May and June are a bit pricier. Nonetheless, you’ll find a deal at this hotel … but not at the expense of your total experience.