cover image Barcelona


Robert Hughes. Alfred A. Knopf, $27.5 (573pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58027-2

This historical-cultural treatise on the Catalan capital arrives in time to prime tourists for the 1992 Olympics--although the city's parking problems will almost certainly not be solved by then. An observant and penetrating writer, Hughes, art critic for Time , conveys an exciting sense that he is reserving yet more opinions than are unleashed. He records and comments on the various myths of catalanisme , noting that Barcelona's reputation for dissidence should not be mistaken for leftism; rather, it reflects the indelibly bourgeois city's unquiet alienation from the dominant Castilian state. But even if Hughes served up history less capably, it would be hard to fumble with a subject so abundantly stocked with anecdotal plums. The author is very well versed in the general domain of the arts and letters; he is at his best, however, discussing architecture. Throughout the architectural history of Barcelona, authentic cultural expression faces off with a philistine instinct for ``restoration,'' and Hughes pointedly communicates his anguish over it. In all, the sense that after 2000 years Barcelona's character is still forming gives the work a special impact. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Feb.)