Michel Euler, file, Associated Press
FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2006, file photo, Spanish painter Antoni Tapies smiles after he was awarded the Commander of the Legion of Honor order in Paris. Tapies died in Barcelona on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, at the age of 88, the regional government of Catalonia informed.

MADRID — Spain on Tuesday mourned the death of Catalan painter and sculptor Antoni Tapies, one of the world's top contemporary art figures. He was 88.

A statement from the government of his native northeastern Catalonia region said Tapies died Monday evening in Barcelona. It said he had been in poor health since 2007.

Born in Barcelona in 1923, Tapies was one of Spain's main exponents of abstract and avant-garde art in the second half of the 20th century.

His work has been displayed in major museums across the world, including New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

"He was the most radically Catalan artist in his thinking, his expression and references and at the same time the most universal in his language and international projection," Catalan regional president Artur Mas said.

Tapies — who won many awards over the course of his career, including the 2003 Velazquez Prize, Spain's top art award — was known for sprawling, abstract works that sometimes featured discarded everyday materials and graffiti-like scrawls.

Other trademarks were crosses, and the letter X and number 4, symbolizing the four elements of nature and the four cardinal points.

His most notable works included "Gray Relief on Black" (1959) and "White and Orange" (1967), "Pants and Woven Wire (1973) and his famous 18-meter long sculpture "Sock."

In 1948, Tapies helped co-found the first Post-War Movement in Spain known as Dau al Set, which was connected to the Surrealist and Dadaist Movements.

"Tapies is without a doubt Spanish art's most prominent figure of the second half of the 20th century," Reina Sofia museum director Manuel Borja-Villel wrote in El Pais newspaper.

"Inheritor of the genius of the first vanguard movement, which had as its chief representatives Picasso, Miro and Dali, he was a constant presence in our country over the past 60 years," he said.

Borja-Villel was director of Barcelona's Tapies Foundation from its opening in 1990 until 1998. As a tribute to the artist, the foundation was opening its doors for free Tuesday and Wednesday.

It said his family had asked for his funeral to be a strictly private affair, adding that a public wake would not be held.

He was married to Teresa Barba Fabregas. The couple had three children.