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Down Town III

Down Town III
incised with the artist's monogram (upper left)
corten steel
77 ¾ x 33 3⁄8 x 31 1⁄8in. (197.5 x 84.8 x 79cm.)
Executed in 1990
Galerie Lelong, Zurich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1994.
M. Rosen, 'Eduardo Chillida', in Artforum, January 1991, vol. 29, no. 5, p. 139 (illustrated, p. 138).
I. Chillida and A. Cobo, Eduardo Chillida III (1983-1990). Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture, San Sebastian 2019, pp. 433 and 437, no. 199011 (illustrated in colour, p. 348).
Venice, XLIV Esposizione Internzionale d’Arte. La Biennale di Venezia, Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna di Ca’Pesaro, Omaggio a Eduardo Chillida, 1990, no. 25, pp. 53 and 98 (illustrated in colour, p. 99).
Paris, Galerie Lelong, Chillida, 1990, p. 38, no. 2 (detail illustrated in colour, p. 4; illustrated in colour, p. 5).
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Eduardo Chillida, 1991, p. 182 (detail illustrated in colour on the front cover; illustrated in colour, p. 143).
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Eduardo Chillida, 1991, p. 23 (detail illustrated on the front cover; installation view illustrated, p. 21).
Zurich, Galerie Lelong, Skulpturen, 1993.

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Lot Essay

Distinguished by its inclusion in the artist’s solo exhibition at the 1990 Venice Biennale, as well as further significant exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland, Down Town III (1990) exemplifies the mature practice of Eduardo Chillida, who probed questions of form, material and space on their most fundamental level. It also displays the pioneering post-War sculptor’s career-spanning fascination with architecture. Wrought in undulating and richly weathered steel, a pair of vertical forms stand separated by a narrow gap, their proximity and the slight difference in height amplifying the tension between the two volumes. Chillida has sculpted perforations and apertures at the top of each, almost as if the volumes of steel have been precisely cut away with a razor. They simultaneously evoke the colossal edifices of the modern city and the motif of the stele to which he had continuously returned over the preceding decade. Held in the same private collection for the past thirty years, this quintessential work is brought to auction in the centenary year of Chillida’s birth.

For Chillida, steel was emblematic of his homeland. The Basque Country’s richness in iron ore contributed to a dramatic industrial revolution based on mining and steel production in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although its material reflects this industrial heritage, Down Town III equally harks back to older, more artisanal ways of making, with the hand of the sculptor clear in the hammer marks which pepper its uneven surfaces. Due to Chillida’s choice of corten steel, the work’s empty spaces were created through a non-subtractive process of forging. Unlike in direct carved works where space can simply be created by removing material, here the rectilinear voids at the top of each block have been built up through a complex process of heating, hammering and joining sheet metal. The sculpture is scaled in relation to the human body, with the pierced areas positioned around eye level. Viewing the work from different angles continuously reframes its internal and external volumes and allows for the complex interplay of shadow and light.

The Down Town series comprises three corten steel works executed between 1986 and 1990, all featuring densely arranged, upright forms. Beatriz Matos Castaño likens these to ‘skyscrapers’ (a poetic neologism which may have appealed to Chillida), finding shared formal ground between Down Town III and iconic American towers such as New York City’s Seagram building and Chicago’s 860 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago (B. Matos Castaño, ‘Eduardo Chillida, arquitecto’, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid 2015, p. 133-134). With their hollowed-out ‘heads’ they also have much in common with the series La Casa del Poeta, Estela (numbers IV, V and VI, 1988-1990). Other contemporaneous works such as Elogio de la Arquitectura XII (1990) also share the same basic arrangement.

Chillida’s absorption in architectural themes is not unique to his later years. As a young man he had trained in architecture in Madrid and his sculptural work consistently displays an architect’s sensitivity to the configuration of space. Explicit ‘homages to architecture’ begin to appear in his work as early as the 1960s. However, Chillida’s mature practice is notable for the completion of multiple monumental projects, which approach architecture itself in their huge enveloping forms and the ways they intervene in and reshape the surrounding public space. Examples include the moving monument to the destruction of Guernica, Gure aitaren etxea (1987) and the colossal Elogio del horizonte (1990), perched above the waves in Gijón, Spain. Elsewhere La Casa de Goethe (Frankfurt, 1986) and De Musica, Dallas XV (Dallas, 1989) are set in proximity to exactly the kind of dense urban environment which Down Town III evokes.

Although Chillida delved into the architect’s toolkit, his aims were more philosophical and poetic than practical. When asked to compare sculpture and architecture he once commented that ‘the fundamental difference was that the architect had to have many answers while for the sculptor it is enough to have many questions’ (E. Chillida, quoted in A. Dempsey, ed., Sculptors talking: Anthony Caro, Eduardo Chillida, Paris 2000). His novel ideas on the interpenetration and interrelation of volume and space even led to a partnership with Martin Heidegger, culminating in the philosopher’s 1969 essay Die Kunst und der Raum (Art and Space), illustrated by the sculptor. Chillida referred to himself as ‘an architect of the void’ and Down Town III underscores his masterful ability to leverage form and material in the creation of sublime spatial experiences (E. Chillida, quoted in Chillida 1948-1998, exh. cat. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 1998, p. 62).

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