A brush with bullfighting in Valencia

Fifty artists take a playful look at Spain's obsession with 'los toros'

An exhibition that opened last week in Valencia reflects the enduring place of bullfighting in Spanish culture at a time when a combination of growing opposition and lack of interest in the practice means it is being legislated out of existence in some regions.

¡Vivan los toros! (Long live the bulls!) features the work of some 50 of the country's best-known contemporary artists at the University of Valencia. Organized in conjunction with the polytechnics of Valencia and Alicante, along with the Association of Designers of the Valencia Region, the exhibition provides an invitation to ponder the place of bulls in Spanish cultural life.

Taking their lead from the traditional posters used to advertise bullfights, the works celebrate the bull, taking in Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, the iconic Osborne bull, tourist tat, and even an enormous, real-life stuffed bull, all of which can be seen at the University's Sala Estudi General until January 23.

"Most of us don't like bullfighting, although we're not in favor of banning it"

A drawing by Paco Roca, who won Spain's National Comic Prize in 2008, depicts the bull as a martyr, its legs bound, but its dignity intact.

Sandra Figuerola's contribution focuses on the bloody footprints of the matador in the sand of the bullring. Raquel Aparicio contrasts the rose-colored stockings of the matador with a dead bull hung up by its hind legs. On a lighter note, Daniel Nebot, a former member of the legendary La Nave collective, celebrates the animal's right to life by garlanding a stuffed bull's head with flowers and proclaiming underneath it " ¡que vivan! "

The overall tone of the exhibition is far from a celebration of bullfighting. Boke Bazán, who has directed the project, explains: "By talking to the country's artists I realized that most of us don't like bullfighting, although we are not in favor of banning it." Bazán's own contribution is a poster featuring the word "España" written in blood.

As such, this is not an exhibition likely to appeal to traditionalists and defenders of this most-quintessentially Spanish art form: Miguel Calatayud, a three-time winner of the National Illustration Prize, focuses on the crowd at a bullfight; the animal is tucked away in a small corner of his poster.

Alberto Corazón, a member of the Royal Academy of San Fernando, has painted the myriad pointed and barbed instruments used in bullfighting in his contribution. Under the title " ¡Hacer el amor mola! " (or, Making love is cool!) Alexis Rom features bulls and cows copulating.

Meanwhile, Pep Montserrat leaves no doubt as to his sympathies: a bull dressed as a bullfighter holds a human ear aloft, challenging, " ¡A la próxima, el rabo! " ("Next, the tail!").

Illustrations from the exhibition on bulls recently opened in Valencia.
Illustrations from the exhibition on bulls recently opened in Valencia.JORDI VICENT
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