Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Shopping, Then Stopping: What to See in the Skyscraper

Espacio Fundación Telefónica : History of Telecommunications Museum
06/05/12 - Fuencarral 3

Fan with case, from Salvador Bachiller, 9 euros
I love the way Spanish ladies still use fans to whip up a breeze.  A few weeks ago, my seventh-grader performed in his school play to an audience packed with parents.  As he looked out at the crowd, he noticed that every mother in the room was using a fan, and all the fans waved in unison.  (The play was ambitious for a public school whose only outside activities are chess and boys’ basketball: an adaptation of a novel by Torcuato Luca de Tena, set in a mental institution.  Think King of Hearts meets Nancy Drew, with mod lighting and video clips. My son, the only foreigner, was given a walk-on role as one of the inmates).  I've started to carry a fan wherever I go.  In fact, I’m using one now to deflect the heat rising from my laptop.  Cute and utilitarian—it is the perfect souvenir.  

Telefonica Building
Trendy stores with names like Skunkfunk and Desigual attract all sorts to the shopping street of Fuencarral. I’ve seen the gamut: pierced, tottering, and cutting-edge; school groups in matching t-shirts; transvestites; a ballerina in street-clothes; and yesterday, a French bulldog in a ruffled skirt. After a spell of window- and people-gazing, you might dash into the stunning new cultural space that opened this year in the building that calls itself “Europe’s First Skyscraper.”    

When it was finished in 1929, the American-inspired art deco Telefónica Building was the tallest in Madrid.  It recently added three new (free) exhibit spaces and a gift store, with an entrance on Fuencarral Street number 3.  A sculptural staircase and a glass elevator set the tone for the renovation. 

Lobby and staircase, Fuencarral entrance

On one of the levels, you’ll find a museum of sorts: an exhibit called The History of Telecommunications.  It traces the evolution of remote communication since the nineteenth century.  

1920s linesman bicycle

1925 telephone used by King Alfonso XIII to inaugurate new service in Madrid (1926)  and to place the first transatlantic call (1928)

For art lovers, the top level displays the Telefónica Cubist Collection, which revolves around the work of Madrid-born painter Juan Gris (1887-1927).  I couldn’t help peering at the rooftop patio next door.  The views of Gran Via are pretty good as well.

Terraza envy

Gran Via, viewed from fourth level of Telefonica

The middle level currently houses a most intriguing exhibit called “Art and Artificial Life 1999-2012.”  

Philip Beesley, Rob Gorbet (2007, Canada). These "plants" have sensors to detect your presence and move their tendrils.

Robotic blob by Paula Gaetano Adi (2006, Argentina). It sweats when you touch it.

"Head." Ken Feingold (1999, USA)
I found myself all alone in the dark with this lifelike “Head” by American artist Ken Feingold, when it started to talk.  Its eyes blinked and its mouth moved, and it spoke to me in English. “When did you get here?” the Head asked.  I muttered something in response.  

Head continued. “I don’t care about you in the least. Ask me a question.”

I asked about the Wisconsin Governor recall election taking place in my home state today.

“Sorry,” Head said.  “I only understand when I am in another mood.” Silence. Head abhorred a vacuum.  He added, “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”

The notes said this art work will raise doubts about the coherence of our dialogue with others. And it does.

Hours: Tues - Sun 10:00 - 20:00 (closed M)


  1. Super entry!!! Loved the fan comments...I will look forward to you fluttering around Madison, WI..in the summer, of course. The Telefonica is worth a trip. I haven't been there in years. Now I know it's worth a trip. Loved the Head comments. You've missed heart-breaking moments in WI, but you've certainly witnessed a few in Madrid.

  2. Kay, in particular, a fan will be useful during middle school concerts in the gym--no air-conditioning, all those wilting parents!