“We live in the future that Manrique Imagined”

On the 24th April 1919, César Manrique Cabrera was born in a house near the Charco in Arrecife. The César Manrique Foundation, which has spread the artist’s vision and guarded his legacy since his death in 1991, will mark this event with the motto “Manrique: 100 Years of Life”, reflecting his continued presence on the island he transformed forever. We spoke to the Foundation’s director, Fernando Gómez Aguilera, last month.

Can you tell us a little about the events planned to celebrate Manrique’s 100th anniversary?
The César Manrique Foundation has organized an extensive programme of cultural events, exhibitions, music, social and recreational activities to commemorate the centenary of the birth of César Manrique.

Over the coming year, more than a hundred important Spanish cultural personalities will pass through the doors of the Foundation, allowing us to reflect on the issues that concerned Manrique, such as the relationship between art and nature; the control of tourism, self-sufficiency, corruption, the way citizenship interacts with democracy, the Canarian culture that is emerging, the landscapes of Lanzarote and criticism of public authorities. Read more...

His art and his environmental work will be analysed and there’ll be exhibitions of his works in the FCM and in other museums in the Canaries and Spain. We’re producing audiovisual works relating to Manrique, including a film co-produced with TVE (Televisión Española), and will publish several books about the artist, as well as working with private enterprises to spread his works and legacy. There’ll be more than a dozen concerts, theatre works and a big musical that will premiere in Las Palmas.

All in all, between 24th April 2019 and 24th April 2020, Lanzarote residents and visitors will have the chance to enjoy a wide range of high quality cultural activities in memory of César Manrique. These will be developed under the title “The Immediate Challenge of the Present: A Contemporary Humanity of the Future.” This arises from an idea Manrique spread in 1970, when he said, “I am a contemporary of the future.”

Now, his future is our present, and the Foundation that bears his name will pay tribute to the artist who considered our fast-moving, complex, convulsive present times, and will blend that consideration with his works and his ideas about art, nature, public space and life.

What is the legacy of Manrique today? Is it more artistic or environmental?
César Manrique was a pioneer in the field of relationships between art and nature, as well as applying integrated arts to large natural spaces with the idea of offering an art for living, bringing collective happiness and developing awareness. His works are popular, public, linked to leisure and pleasure, with an important recreational aspect; but they are also educational. Manrique’s works are linked with protecting nature, public activism to preserve our heritage, the control of tourism and opposition to speculation, and the development and standardization of tourism.

That model is more valuable today than ever. It is a source of inspiration for new generations of artists, landscape architects and architects who are interested in his legacy, but also for the environmental movement, for those who are committed to a sustainable and qualified tourism and, above all, for everyone who thinks that a better world is possible.

What is Manrique’s influence on new generations of artists?
His works here are a museum that is permanently open, a reference point for the integration of art and architecture with nature and, above all, evidence of the value of Lanzarote’s environment as material for artistic visions. This is the great testament of Manrique. He laid down the guidelines that are now part of island’s culture, in spite of the tensions caused by tourism. And this testament influences artists from here, and around the world.

The opening of Manrique’s home in Haría in 2013 added a fascinating new attraction to Lanzarote. Are there plans for any new Manrique-related projects?
With Manrique’s death, the possibility of developing new works ended. Our priority now is to conserve his works, prevent the landscapes and views being spoiled by development, and make sure these places are not trivialised.

This is a magnificent heritage for Lanzarote and the world, as well as a source of wealth. The finest tribute we could offer is not to turn our back on it, to improve environmental sustainability, put a brake on tourist growth and fight damaging laws proposed by the Canarian Government, such as the Ley de Suelos and the Green Islands Law.

We must value our architecture, try to reduce the amount of cars, promote efficient public transport, stop building roads, reduce the pressure on the tourist centres, control advertising in public places and support education and culture policies.

Is it possible to imagine a Lanzarote in which Manrique never existed?
I don’t think it takes much imagination or guesswork to realise that, without the contribution of Manrique and the ex-President of the Cabildo José Ramírez Cerdá, Lanzarote would be an island whose extraordinary natural landscape would be much deteriorated, invaded by tourist facilities, and lacking personality, with anonymous architecture far from the model of the traditional white buildings that the artist promoted and succeeded in implanting. It would be a vulgar island, without the valuable modern heritage that Manrique added with his works, and ruined by speculation. If you’re in any doubt, all you have to do is look at tourist areas on other Canary Islands.