"Working with light showed me that I had found myself on the territory of Goethe" (Chillida in conversation with Friedhelm Mennekes,in C. Lichtenstern, Chillida und die Musik: Baumeister von Zenkner und Mario Ters, Cologne 1997, p. 19)
Executed in 1978, Hommage à Goethe IV is from a series of five alabaster sculptures Eduardo Chillida dedicated to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great philosopher of light. Created out of raw alabaster, Chillida's sculpture is a majestic meditation on the themes of light, space and the void prefiguring his most ambitious project, the Mount Tindaya project in Fuerteventura. In Hommage à Goethe IV, the artist has carved labyrinthine cavities into the unpolished alabaster allowing light to permeate into its very core. At the same time, the special translucent nature of the virgin, white stone allows light to interact and transcend its material. As Octavio Paz once eloquently described, "the alabaster sculptures do not try to enclose the interior space; neither do they claim to delimit or define it: they are blocks of transparencies in which form becomes space, and space dissolves in luminous vibrations that are echoes and rhymes, thought" (O. Paz quoted in P. Selz, 'The Significance of Materials and Processes', Chillida, New York, 1986, p.42).
Chillida first began working in alabaster in 1965 following a trip to Greece. For a long time the artist had tried to resist the seductive beauty of Greek sculpture but in 1962, he encountered the hand of the Nike of Samothrace displayed in a glass vitrine in the Louvre. Chillida became captivated by the transparent quality of the marble and in 1963 traveled to Greece to investigate not only the country's ancient sculpture, but the physical nature of its Mediterranean light. In doing so, he came to appreciate the ancient Greek concept of the 'architecture of light'. As Kosme de Barañano has elaborated, "the Greek architects see architecture in the light. They view light as a material for constructing space, as another dimension of architecture. Thus we understand their almost open temples" (K. de Barañano, 'Homage to Eduardo Chillida', Homage to Chillida, exh. cat., Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao 2006, p. 76). It is this special interplay between light and material that is so skillfully illuminated in Chillida's Hommage à Goethe IV.
In the present work, the artist has cut clean, angular shafts into the unpolished stone recalling the dominant perpendicular aesthetic of Greek culture. In ancient Greece the right angle was given special prominence, as in the rectilinear arrangement of the Parthenon, representing the angle between an object and its shadow in the bright light. As Chillida once asserted, "I use alabaster because of a direct call from architecture On working it, what I have tried since 1965 is a more architectural positing of my problems, as well as a new look at light. I had been deeply imbued in darkness, far from Greece. Alabaster provided a possibility of an encounter with light and architecture" (E. Chillida quoted in K. de Barañano, "Homage to Eduardo Chillida," Homage to Chillida, exh. cat., Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao 2006, p. 72).
This ambition to embody the relationship between light, material and space took on its most ambitious form in Chillida's monumental Tindaya project. Still ongoing at the time of the artist's death in 2002, he sought to evacuate a fifty meter cubed space at the center of the mountain, illuminating the inner chamber with two shafts of sunlight and moonlight. As the artist once explained, "many years ago I had an intuition which I really thought was utopian. To create a space inside a mountain that would offer men and women of all races and colors a great sculpture dedicated to tolerance. One day the possibility arose to realize the sculpture in Mount Tindaya, on Fuerteventura, the mountain where the utopia could become a reality. The sculpture would help protect the sacred mountain. The giant space carved out of the mountain wouldn't be visible from the outside. But anyone who penetrated her heart would be able to see sunlight and moonlight inside a mountain that overlooks the sea, the horizon, a mountain that is unreachable, necessary, non-existent" (E. Chillida quoted at www.museochillidaleku.com/Mount-Tindaya).