/ 17 August 2010

Chinese ‘forgery’ goes to the heart of Dali

As home to the painter Salvador Dali and inspiration for some of his greatest and strangest artistic endeavours, the fishing port of Cadaqués on Spain’s Costa Brava is used to the surreal.

But the latest project involving the northeastern Spanish town has astonished even the cosmopolitan inhabitants of a place that boasts more art galleries per square kilometre than anywhere else in the country.

A Chinese developer has decided to build a replica of the town half-way across the globe in Xiamen Bay, where mainland China looks out towards Taiwan.

Architects from developers China Merchants Zhangzhou visited Cadaqués in June, taking measurements, photographing buildings and worrying about whether Chinese fire engines would fit down its tiny streets.

Sources at the company said they had found a spot that was geographically similar to Cadaqués, with its gently sloping hills and protected bay. “Building work will start in September or October,” a spokesperson said.

More than 40 hectares of land will be used to build a near replica with the capacity to house about 15 000 Chinese holidaymakers who want to enjoy the Costa Brava experience without having to travel 10 000km.

The Chinese version will not have the sparkling Mediterranean, the madness-inducing Tramontana wind or as many jellyfish as Cadaqués, but the promoters say they will try to get as close as possible to the real thing.

“We will recreate the essence of the fishing town and will reproduce the most characteristic elements of the architecture,” one of the architects, Hu Zheng, told the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia .

That will mean copying the narrow streets and the white-painted buildings that look out across the perfect open-mouthed bay where small, brightly painted fishing boats bob up and down.

But the promoters of the Chinese resort have decided they can improve a bit on the original and will be adding an artificial island.

Among other buildings the architects were keen to see were the warren-like collection of fishermen’s cottages in neighbouring Port Lligat, where Dali lived. This is where the Spanish surrealist painted many of his most famous works — including a portrait of his Russian wife, Gala, looking out to sea.

It is also where he indulged his fondness for voyeurism, encouraging selected guests to perform sex acts in front of him. Visitors to the house today are greeted by the same stuffed wild bear with which Dali tried to frighten away unwanted guests.

The Chinese developers told officials in Cadaqués that they also wanted to make art a central part of the new town, with space for galleries and offers to some local Spanish artists to show their work there.

“We like the idea and the way they are treating us,” said Joan Borrell, mayor of Cadaqués. “We are small but well known. If they want to imitate you then it means you must have got something right.”

Borrell said he hoped the Xiamen version would eventually attract Chinese tourists to the real thing. “As with a work of art, seeing the copy often makes you want to see the original,” he said. “That would be wonderful for Cadaqués and for the whole of the Costa Brava.”

This is the second attempt to build a replica of the fishing town somewhere else in the world. A previous attempt was made at a Caribbean beach in the Dominican Republic, but Cadaqués says it was not consulted and does not recognise it as a genuine imitation.

China Merchants Zhangzhou declined to comment officially on the project, though sources at the company confirmed it was still on track.

Dali would undoubtedly have approved of the endeavour. One of his favourite money-making habits was to sign, and sell-off, blank sheets of paper for prints and lithographs. As a result, he is one of the most frequently copied and forged artists in the world. —