After a seven-year $42-million revamp, the Palacio Valeriola reopened its doors last Saturday in the heart of Valencia, Spain, as the newly named Centro de Arte Hortensia Herrero (CAHH).
The 17th century palace, first occupied by a Jewish family of butchers, is named after arts patron Hortensia Herrero. The wife of supermarket tycoon Juan Roig, Herrero has helped conserve and restore the city’s Iglesia de San Nicolás de Valencia and the Colegio del Arte Mayor de la Seda, among other sites in the city. The Palacio Valeriola, once the headquarters of the national newspaper Las Provincias and a nightclub guarded by two caged living lions, is now home to Herrero’s private collection.
Originally focused on artists local to Valencia, Herrero began to expand her collecting practice after a visit in 2013 to the the opening of the “Sorolla and America” exhibition, at the Meadows Museum in Dallas. There, she met Valencian curator Javier Molins, who advised her to open up her collection to international artists, unaware that he would soon after be asked to help scout them.
“We started visiting art fairs, biennials, exhibitions, studios together. Fortunately, Hortensia and I have similar tastes,” he told ARTnews. The first work the pair agreed on is Anselm Kiefer’s Böse Blumen (2012-2016), which they spotted at the Royal Academy in London. A pictorial tribute to Charles Baudelaire’s cycle of poems Les Fleurs du Mal, the work shows flowers timidly sprouting from the cracks of a thick and dry surface. At close to 20 feet wide and nearly 10 feet tall, Böse Blumen is so monumental that the question of its presentation arose soon after.
Herrero had long been toying with opening a brick-and-mortar space to steward her treasures, so when the Palacio Valeriola became available for purchase in 2016, she jumped at the opportunity, also buying the stationary shop across the street that now serves as the center’s shop and ticket office. She entrusted the rehabilitation project to ERRE studio, led by her daughter Amparo Roig and José Martí. Both architects have done a marvelous job revamping the Gothic palace to its initial state, recycling some of its materials into the underside of a new set of stairs, and connecting it to a building on San Cristobal street that had to be almost entirely reconstructed.
The rehabilitation process has dictacted how one explores the 27,600 square-foot display of 100 works. A typical visit starts on the first floor of the palace. Though the center’s first gallery is framed as an ode to international living artists, there are works by 20th century masters like Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, and Roy Lichtenstein. Elsewhere, the public is invited to step through Cristina Iglesia’s cave-like installation Tránsito mineral (2023) into the second wing of the center and, from there, to work their way back down, from the David Hockney galleries—devoted to the English artist’s Four Seasons and Autour de la maison series—to the lower level, where contemporary photographs by Thomas Ruff, Idris Khan, and Antonio Girbés, hang in dialogue with pedagogical materials on the history of Valencia and of the center.
Meanwhile, a patio door on the left side of the entrance overlooks a display of 18th-century ceramic azulejos found on site. The floral species identified on those ceramic pieces have been planted underneath each corresponding tile. Until 1389, this outdoor space was known as Calle Cristòfol Soler, the northern border of Valencia’s Jewish quarter.
Other archaeological discoveries have been made during the excavation process. There are more ruins of the juderia, or Jewish district, such as an eight-pointed-star-shaped fountain which stood outside the Islamic house of emir Haçach Habinbadel, as well as ancient graffiti preserved and presented on the top floor, a medieval oven filled with remains of animal bones and kitchen earthenware, and a crystal vase next to the skeleton of a young girl.
There is even a horse skull, which was an inspiration for Mat Collishaw’s Left in Dust, a chandelier-like screen on the museum’s patio showing horses galloping first freely, then before an overexcited crowd. The physical loop in the work references the shape of Valencia’s long-lost Roman circus, while the video loop conveys the despair of having to repeat the same action over and over again.
“I wanted to contrast the freedom and the captivity of the animal doing the same movements in two different environments,” the London-based artist told ARTnews, adding that it was important that the work resonated with its host city. “I was thinking of things within the city that I could incorporate. My work often references primal impulses, certain behaviors or traditions that are prehistoric. Fire, for instance, does not have the same urgency or profundity that it did when we were trying to control it.”
His second installation for the center, Sordid Earth (2022), projects images on either wall of a corridor space of the Fallas, a Spanish festival where effigies are created only to be burnt down amid a fireworks display in March. The longer you stand between the screens, the more heat you start to feel. Is it the energy released by super-efficient LED, or is your mind playing tricks on you?
Five other artists have been commissioned to make works especially for CAHH. For the 52-foot high entrance hall, Tomás Saraceno, also known as “the Art World’s Amazing Spider-Man”, has imagined six tetrahedrons and dodecahedrons covered with iridescent acrylic glass. Some may identify those geometrical shapes, hanging at various heights from the ceiling, as rainbow-tinted clouds; others as disco balls, especially at nightfall, as their colors reflect off the stone walls and stairs of the bulding. The artist himself describes those floating elements as soap bubbles, filled with “cosmic spider webs” (you will see them, if you look carefully).
The most impressive site-specific installation. However, may be the Sean Scully Chapel, which includes stained-glass windows by the Irish artist, as well as a large canvas from his Landline series with horizontal stripes, and drips of red at the bottom, evoking the blood of the Christ. Above the installation reside four ceiling allegories of Painting, Writing, Commerce and the Stationery Trade, painted in 1881 by Valencian master Joaquín Sorolla, and his students José Nicolau Huguet, Vicente Nicolau Cotanda, and Juan Peiró. Herrero purchased the works 20 years ago and decided with Molins, the curator, to have them moved into the palace’s chapel during the restoration. Restorers have recovered representations of the Gospel in each pendentive of the dome that had to be rebuilt entirely. This confrontation of past and present is evocative of Herrero’s vision, where heritage, classical, and contemporary art all meet with grace.