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HOMAGE TO CHILLIDA
Post Lot Text
This work is registered in the archives of the Museo Chillida-Leku, under no. 2001.001.
HOMAGE TO CHILLIDA
'I have not seen the wind, I have seen the clouds move.
I have not seen time, I have seen the leaves fall.'
(E. Chillida - notebook pages, quoted in Chillida, exh. cat., Carnegie Institute of Art, Pittsburg 1979, pp. 21-23).
An icon of post-War sculptural practice, Chillida's contribution touches both material and form, but more than that he became a philosopher, and an architect of the void. His impact is manifest in many channels of Contemporary art. Throughout his career, Chillida explored questions of time, space and material in a variety of very different media that include iron, alabaster and terracotta. Chillida himself paid homage to various artists, composers, philosophers, architects and poets he admired. The works presented in this collection, Homage to Chillida, echo this theme of remembrance, ever-present in Chillida's own oeuvre. Exemplifying the affinity and gratitude felt by these artists to the Basque sculptor, the works in this diverse group are a fitting testament to the remarkable career of Eduardo Chillida, and were the focus of the celebrated Homage to Chillida exhibition at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 2006, curated by Kosme de Barañano.
A deeply poignant tribute to the renowned Basque sculptor, this homage amounts to forty-five sculptures, paintings, and drawings by a group of prominent international and Spanish artists, including Elsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly, Zao Wou-Ki, Miquel Barceló, and Anish Kapoor. Chillida's interest in the essence of the material, and his skills to transform the material made him an admired figure in the art world, whose legacy has posthumously continued in the practice of other artists. United by their admiration for the Spanish artist, this collection expresses the esteem in which he was held by his peers, with many of these artworks being poignant reflections of the artistic friendships forged with the Spanish artist known for his charismatic persona and warm disposition. These encounters inform the works included in this homage, Ellsworth Kelly recalled first meeting the artist by chance in 1949 as students, while Robert Rauchenberg's Ghost Ship Homecoming was created using photos of Bilbao taken during his retrospective exhibition commemorating the last time the American artist met Chillida. These artworks offer a unique insight into the world in which Chillida lived and are representative of each artist's distinctive visual style, often exploring direct references to Chillida's own work such as the materiality of iron, stone, light and the void.
The dark, mineral rich earth of the Basque country served as a constant source of inspiration for the artist, but the universality of his work comes from his infinite curiosity for everything that surrounded him, the nature and its cosmic elements, to poetry, literature and music. Chillida's oeuvre can be seen as a tribute to the Basque landscape and the sea, honouring concepts such as light, all from which he drew inspiration and which are epitomized in Chillida's monumental sculpture Buscando la Luz IV. The painting Hommage a Chillida by the recently departed Zao Wou-Ki presents an epic painterly vision of the environment where Chillida chose to place his favorite piece of work, the celebrated Peines del viento. A tempestuous landscape at the foot of Mount Igeldo, this work captures the windswept feeling of standing at the crest of the bay in San Sebastian, reflecting Chillida's interest in open and free spatial relationships of earth, metal and great expanses of space.
Chillida was not just a sculptor in iron, steel or stone, crucially he was also a sculptor in space. The materiality of his sculptures existed as much from the iron or stone from which it was crafted, as from the negative space around it. For Chillida, the invisible and dynamic void was the counterpoint to the dense materiality of iron and steel, and this interplay between space and material was at the heart of the artist's philosophical investigation into the transcendence of sculpture. Extending from this enquiry, Arnaldo Pomodoro's Threshold (Soglia) explores the interplay between material and space in Chillida's work, a question also addressed by Tony Cragg's Inside Out, which investigates the interior space of sculpture. Similarly, the inky blackness of Anish Kapoor lacquered mirror, Pool, explores the infinite negative space of the void. Gazing into the dark, sensual and immaterial voids of these material sculptures awakens in the viewer an awareness of the immateriality and embraces the concept of inner space existing within the very heart of a solid mass
OPEN, NOT CLOSED:INTERPRETING CHILLIDA
by Andrew Dempsey
Buscando la Luz IV, looking or searching for the light, stood at the entrance to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at the time of the Chillida exhibition in 2003. It became such a familiar and much loved herald for the Park that when the exhibition closed and the other works were returned to their homes, it stayed there for a year or more. Peter Murray, who negotiated its loan and had it transported across Europe from Bilbao to Bretton Hall, and who is a great admirer of Chillida's sculpture, would have it there still if he possibly could. I acted as curator with Peter for this exhibition so that I have stood on many occasions at its base, stepping into the sculpture - it is open on one side - and I know that this immensely heavy, immensely robust iron sculpture actually seems to flutter like drapery in the wind. This must be a consequence of the way its cup expands in waves as it climbs but the fact that it recalls drapery reminds me of something that Anthony Caro has said in drawing attention to Chillida's love of material, which Caro calls 'stuff': 'the material is what matters, the 'stuff' - I am conscious of this in the slim iron sculptures of Julio González. And it is there in a different way in the paintings of Antoni Tàpies. That interest in 'stuff', it may even go back to the seventeenth century painter Zurbarán and his pleasure in marvellous cloths.'(1) Well, I also remember Miguel Zugaza Miranda, now director of the Prado but then in charge of the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao, saying to me that he had discussed with Chillida the idea of his selecting an exhibition of works, both paintings and sculpture, based on the depiction of the folds of drapery. This was an idea that had originated with Chillida.
One could develop such associations - Chillida's sculpture surely encourages speculation - for example there's something about the opening at the top of the sculpture that reminds me of open arms. So that this abstraction - this form is an 'abstraction' rather than being non-figurative or non-referential (referential is what it certainly is) - this abstraction recalls to me the characteristic pose of the Virgin Mary with her arms open, holding the folds of her cloak, receiving or sheltering mankind. Even its title for me has an association with Holy Week in a southern town when the Virgin comes out alone on Easter Saturday, 'Buscando el Señor, 'looking for the Lord', in the words of my neighbour. I do not imagine for a moment that such associations were in Chillida's mind. The important point is that Chillida's sculpture is open and not closed.
The Mexican poet Octavio Paz described this openness well: '...his sculptures are the home of space and are inhabited by one, sole, plural being. Chillida calls it 'inner space', but it could also be called emptiness or god or spirit or logos or proportion. It bears all names and no name. It is the invisible interlocutor he has been confronting since he began to create'.(2) Chillida's sculpture is about human aspirations, human thought.
Buscando la Luz IV is tall, as tall as a house. On its eventual return from Yorkshire it was installed amongst new buildings in Bilbao by the Japanese architect Isozaki (commissioned like the sculpture by the Grupo Urvasco), near the river and near Calatrava's controversial footbridge. A 'house' is nothing like as tall as these city buildings by Isozaki but that striking rust colour of the sculpture caught the eye and it seemed right in its new urban setting. So Chillida's Buscando la Luz IV has played its part in Bilbao's brilliant strategy to lift itself from a national to an international city, almost overnight it seemed, largely through architecture - through Gehry's Guggenheim of course, but also through the renovation of the areas along the banks of the Nervión with a number of celebrated contemporary architects involved.
The scale of many of public Chillida's sculptures bears comparison with architecture; often they seem to be protective forms, even with a function of sheltering. The external wall of his monument in the Basque town of Gernika, a commission given on the fiftieth anniversary of the destruction of that town by planes of the German Condor Legion, has this function. It shelters the iron stele or standing form which Chillida calls Gure Aitaren Etxea, 'Our Father's House' in the Basque language. This sheltering wall is only too clearly shattered; there is a gaping hole in its front. Chillida studied architecture as a young man and it shows in his mastery of space and volume, and not least in the quality of his drawing (which played a large part in his architectural training). But his public sculptures are not buildings. He gave a good answer when asked in public about this, about the difference between architecture and sculpture: 'I had nothing prepared and my answer came from the heart. I said that, for me, the fundamental difference was that the architect had to have many answers while for the sculptor it is enough to have many questions'.(3)
It is a striking fact that this maker of abstract or rather abstracted forms is genuinely popular. There is the enduring popularity of his great public sculpture, 'The Combs of the Wind'. The three forms which make up this sculpture must have seemed strange and even intrusive when they were first installed at the end of the bay of San Sebastián in 1977. But there is no doubt that the people of San Sebastián and visitors to that most agreeable of cities have taken it into their hearts. It is part of the image of that city in the way that the towers of Gaudí's cathedral are part of the image of Barcelona. There are good reasons for its appeal. It is clear from what Chillida says that the Combs cannot be intrusions: 'I studied all these rocks, and I realised that the two rocks, to the left and to the right, belong to the same stratification, broken by a million years of the waves coming. And I put one element here and the other there, looking one to another, trying to put together something that was there before'. The sculptor Phillip King, President of the Royal Academy in 2003 when a room in the annual summer exhibition was devoted to Chillida, a memorial exhibition and a homage, suggested one reason for the appeal of the Combs; 'it is as if this is something the sea has made, as well as man. Chillida was probably playing around these rocks as a boy. The work must have grown slowly.'(4)
An aspect of Chillida's openness is that he was unusually receptive to the art of his peers and to those he regarded as his masters (he always thought of himself as learning). His work abounds in tributes and homages. And not only to artists such as Braque, Calder, Miró, Kandinsky, Gris and, above all, Giacometti; but to the figures who were part of his intellectual life; to philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Gaston Bachelard; the mystic and poet San Juan de la Cruz; poets and courageous politicians, Jorge Guillén, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende, for example. These acts of sculptural dedication even extended into the world of sport, with the installation of a memorial to Rafael Elósegui on the greens of the Royal Golf Club of San Sebastián. And it extends to the elements, to the sea and to the light as we know from our sculpture. Chillida told a good story about the accidental but happy results of one such homage. He was working on his Homage to Braque (1990) and described how difficult it was to do, how he wanted the space in the work to be larger on the right than the left: 'It's very difficult for me to explain my feelings at this moment when I discovered what happened at the bottom of that piece. The work was on the floor. I opened this side and then the other side. The same problem, exactly the same process, and the same result, produced by pressure on the surface and not by me. And I discovered this mysterious thing. The work in the forge has produced the two legs of a bird. I discovered a bird, a bird like the birds of Braque.'(5)
It is this attractive characteristic of Chillida's that has led to the act of homage which was initiated by the Galería Colón XVI in Bilbao - long associated with Chillida and his family - and supported so generously (and actively) by the Grupo Urvasco and their president (and collector) Antón Iraculis. Kosme de Barañano who 'curated' this homage to Chillida as he did so many Chillida exhibitions in the past - notably the artist's retrospective at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao - has explained how it developed and categorises the response of more than forty artists who were invited to participate.(6) Some immediately set about making works specially, others dedicated works which they felt reflected concerns shared with Chillida; and others for entirely understandable reasons suggested existing works that might be appropriate.
The range of the collection is remarkable (and it contains many of the most celebrated names in recent art). There are of course emphases - sculptors, or painters who make sculpture, and there is a naturally strong representation of artists from Spain and from the Basque country, reacting powerfully to an artist who pursued such a rigorously independent path in years when Spain was isolated internationally in art as in its politics. How good to see both Cy Twombly and Ellsworth Kelly in this context. Close in age to Chillida, American artists, both painters and sculptors, who spent such formative times in Europe. It's good too to see works by Chillida's sons Pedro and Eduardo and his brother Gonzalo. It all feels right. But there are many surprises. Who would have expected to see R. B. Kitaj in this context, what possible connection could there be? And then one thinks about Kitaj's long connections with Spain and Kosme tells us that Kitaj and Chillida actually met as students almost in the forecourt of the Louvre and were reunited by I.M. Pei decades later, both making works for Pei's Symphony Center in Dallas. And perhaps that ethereal frieze of lovers, of Kitaj and his angel Sandra in Los Angeles, perhaps it is really a frieze in the classical manner, in the manner of the Greece to which Chillida was so attracted but which he felt belonged to a different world from his own. This collection has a very special character and there are many reasons to be grateful to its originators, and of course to Chillida himself.
(1) Eduardo Chillida: Words and Images, ed. Andrew Dempsey, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton 2003
(2) Octavio Paz, From Iron to Light, reprinted in Chillida, Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London 1990
(3) Sculptors talking: Caro. Chillida, ed. Andrew Dempsey, Art of This Century, Paris 2000
(4) Ibid. (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)
(5) Ibid. (Art of This Century)
(6) Homenaje A/Homage To Chillida, ed. Kosme de Barañano, Guggenheim Bilbao 2006