The Art of Alcudia

You may be forgiven for thinking that Mallorca may have nothing to offer the art lover, but Alcudia, in the north east of the island, has a world beating museum. Rupert Parker takes a look

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s around an hour’s drive to the Alcudia from Palma airport and a world away from the nightspots of Magaluf. The Romans were here first, founding the city of Pollentia, and you can see still remains of the forum and the theatre. Later on the Arabs arrived until they, in turn, were defeated by the Aragonese who were here to stay. Their 14th century walls are still surprisingly intact, but best to explore the ramparts at sunset, when the heat has diminished

The narrow streets of the old town make for interesting wandering and of course there are glorious sandy beaches. I’m here, however, to visit the Sa Bassa Blanca museum, hidden away a couple of kilometres outside the town. It’s been the home of artists and collectors Ben Jakober and Yannick Vu since the late 70’s when they employed noted Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy to transform an old farmhouse into a Hispano-Moorish building. Its white domes and crenelated walls enclose a courtyard with gardens and fountains and the doors and tiled floors are antiques brought from mainland Spain.

They no longer live here and the building houses their collection of modern and contemporary art. On the first floor you can also see a selection of more than 50 photographic portraits of key artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. There’s also a sculpture room, including works by Meret Oppenheim, Antoni Miralda, Takis and Alan Rath. On the second floor, are sculptures by Vu Cao Dam, father of Yannick Vu, and considered one of the best Vietnamese artists of the 20th century. Don’t miss the “Mudejar” coffered ceiling of the last room, dated 1498, and an important example of ancient Balearic craftsmanship.

In the 1990’s they converted an underground cistern into an exhibition space to house their Nins Collection, more than 150 portraits of children dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Most represent members of European royalty or aristocracy during their childhood and were sent to foreign courts with a view to arranging marriage. Apart from the portraits, what’s fascinating are the various fashion accessories and cuddly toys that surround them.

Don’t get the idea that this is just a musty museum. In the grounds there’s a rose garden, designed by Yannick, featuring more than one hundred varieties of fragrant old English roses. You’ll also bump into large granite animals, including a ram, bull, cat, dog, horse and elephant created by the two artists. Apparently they’re inspired by archaeological finds from all over the world and they call it their zoo.

In 2007 they created a new underground bunker called Sokrates, dealing with the relationship between Space and Time. The idea is that ethnographic pieces interact with contemporary works. There’s a spectacular 10,000 piece crystal curtain by Swarovski acting as a backdrop to a complete fossilised skeleton of a Siberian woolly rhinoceros. Masks from Africa, Tibet and Nepal vie with works by contemporary Mallorcan artist Miquel Barceló and of course there are some Ben and Yannick originals.

Perhaps the climax of the visit is a 15 minute climb to what was once a military lookout, guarding the access to the Bay of Alcudia. Three large columns mark the top with a large human statue, Figura, installed on the roof of the Observatory. Inside there’s the installation Aquarium by Ben and Yannick. It’s a contemporary hall of mirrors with infinite refractions of a dazzling array of LED lights, coupled with reflections of the viewers.

In the room below, Camera Obscura, an installation by photographer Nilu Izadi, consists of a completely darkened room where an image of the Alcudia Bay and the islet of Alcanada are inversely projected on a white concave screen on the opposite wall. It makes a fitting end to what is an enormous exhibition space and you’ll certainly need the cold drinks available in the café.

The Museo Sa Bassa Blanca website has opening hours and admission fees.

The JS Sol de Alcudia **** makes a comfortable base in Alcudia.

The Mirador de la Victoria serves Mallorcan delicacies and has stunning views.

Restaurant Miramar is in Alcudia Port and is good for fish

Restaurante Jardín justly deserves its Michelin star.

Alcudia has tourist information about the town.