The president of the regional government of Cantabria, a self-confessed devotee of a certain painter from that region, asked the artist in question to paint the lighthouse on the Cabo de Ajo promontory. And the artist wasted no time in doing just that, covering what he described as “just a white cylinder” with brightly coloured shapes.
But when a group of resentful, frantic, envious critics said we thought the result looked ridiculous, that triggered a remarkable controversy about contemporary art, interventions, heritage, and, above all, about the attitude of “well, I like it”.
If it’s a matter of “you don’t like it, but I do”, I don’t think there’s much room for further discussion. It’s a sterile argument, but one which the aforementioned president seems to have embraced: when the lighthouse’s hideous decoration began to receive criticism, he posted a photo of himself on Twitter, standing in front of the finished work with the painter and making the V-for-victory sign. The tweet read: “This is how the controversial work by the great Cantabrian artist @OKUDART finally turned out. I respect the opinions of everyone, but I also have my own: I love it”.
Opinions. Here we go again with opinions. But this isn’t a question of opinion. If it were, then it’s true: everybody has their own—although that of a nobody only serves as an excuse for a tantrum of impotence while that of someone in charge is enough to actually perpetrate such a horror.
No, this isn’t a question of opinion. It’s something over and above opinions. The president has the obligation to defend the heritage he has received. He has to assume his responsibilities and act sensibly, intelligently and with sound judgment.
The lighthouse at Cabo de Ajo is a discreet, simple, elegant building; a rationalist feat of engineering dating from 1930. It’s no work of art, and never aspired to be one. But it eloquently exemplified a particular building type, and had come to form part of the landscape. It was a functional, necessary building. I’m not sure, but I think I read somewhere that it’s still listed as a working lighthouse. Even if it is, present-day satellite assisted navigation systems are gradually making lighthouses obsolete and forgotten.
But for that very reason, someone (that is to say, someone with criteria) could perhaps have come to the conclusion that something had to be done to give new life to the lighthouse and its surroundings, and drawn up a programme and some specifications with which to invite tenders from different artists. The proposals received could then have been studied by a panel of intelligent, cultured, open-minded, avant-garde, enthusiastic experts who would then have decided which one to implement. That’s called a public tender, and it’s a very advisable course of action when public heritage and public money are involved.
Here, however, all there has been is the president’s own preference. And to rub it in, he comes out with “I respect the opinions of everyone”. You don’t say. Great. How democratic! How understanding. He respects us all and we all have to respect his power-clad ignorance and his executive-empowered crassness. And so, this way, we all respect each other, but he’s the one who comes out on top. And it doesn’t matter in the least whether we’re talking about a good, sensible, bold, thought-provoking work of art or a belch. Because at the end of the day, it’s only a question of opinion.