The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, and located in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. The museum was inaugurated on October 18, 1997, by the past King Juan Carlos I of Spain. Built alongside the Nervion River, which runs through the city of Bilbao to the Cantabrian Sea, it is one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and features permanent and visiting exhibits of works by Spanish and international artists.
One of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, the building has been hailed as a “signal moment in the architectural culture”, because it represents “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.” The museum was the building most frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts.
In 1981, the Basque government suggested to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation that it would fund a Guggenheim museum to be built in Bilbao’s decrepit port area, once the city’s main source of income. The Basque government agreed to cover the US$100 million construction cost, to create a US$50 million acquisitions fund, to pay a one-time US$20 million fee to the Guggenheim and to subsidize the museum’s US$12 million annual budget. In exchange, the Foundation agreed to manage the institution, rotate parts of its permanent collection through the Bilbao museum and organize temporary exhibitions.
The museum was built by Ferrovial, at a cost of US$89 million. About 5,000 residents of Bilbao attended a preopening extravaganza outside the museum on the night preceding the official opening, featuring an outdoor light show and concerts. On October 18, 1997, the museum was opened by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation selected Frank Gehry as the architect, and its director, Thomas
Krens, encouraged him to design something daring and innovative. The curves on the exterior of the building were intended to appear random; the architect said that “the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light”. The interior “is designed around a large, lightfilled atrium with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque country”. The atrium, which Gehry nicknamed The Flower because of its shape, serves as the organizing center of the museum.
When the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened to the public in 1997, it was immediately hailed as one of
the world’s most spectacular buildings in the style of Deconstructivism (although Gehry does not associate himself with that architectural movement), a masterpiece of the 20th century.
Architect Philip Johnson described it as “the greatest building of our time”, while critic Calvin Tomkins, in The New Yorker, characterized it as “a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” its brilliantly reflective panels also reminiscent of fish scales. Herbert Muschamp praised its “mercurial brilliance” in The New York Times Magazine. The Independent calls the museum ” and astonishing architectural feat “. The building inspired other structures of similar design across the globe, such as the Cerritos Millennium Library in Cerritos, California.
The museum is seamlessly integrated into the urban context, unfolding its interconnecting shapes of stone, glass and titanium on a 32,500-square-meter (350,000 sq ft) site along the Nervión River in the old industrial heart of the city; while modest from street level, it is most impressive when viewed from the river. With a total 24,000 m2 (260,000 sq ft), of which 11,000 m2 (120,000 sq ft) are dedicated to exhibition space, it had more exhibition space than the three Guggenheim collections in New York and Venice combined at that time. The 11,000 m2 of exhibition space are distributed over nineteen galleries, ten of which follow a classic orthogonal plan that can be identified from the exterior by their stone finishes. The remaining nine galleries are irregularly shaped and can be identified from the outside by their swirling organic forms and titanium cladding. The largest gallery measures 30 meters wide and 130 meters long (98 ft × 427 ft). In 2005, it housed Richard Serra’s monumental installation The Matter of Time, which Robert Hughes dubbed “courageous and sublime”.
The building was constructed on time and budget, which is rare for architecture of this type. In an interview in Harvard Design Magazine, Gehry explained how he did it. First, he ensured that what he calls the “organization of the artist” prevailed during construction, to prevent political and business interests from interfering with the design.
Second, he made sure he had a detailed and realistic cost estimate before proceeding. Third, he used computer visualizations produced by his own Digital Project software and collaborated closely with the individual building trades to control costs during construction.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines donated $1,000,000 towards its construction.
The museum notably houses “large-scale, site-specific works and installations by contemporary artists, such as Richard Serra’s 100-meter-long (340 ft) Snake, and displays the work of Basque artists, “as well as housing a selection of works” from the Foundation’s modern art collection. In 1997, the museum opened with “The Guggenheim Museums and the Art of This Century”, a 300-piece overview of 20th-century art from Cubism to new media art. Most pieces came from the Guggenheim’s permanent collection, but the museum also acquired paintings by Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still and commissioned new works by Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, Jenny Holzer and Richard Serra.
The exhibitions change often; the museum generally hosts thematic exhibitions, centered for example on Chinese or Russian art. Traditional paintings and sculptures are a minority compared to installations and electronic forms. The highlight of the collection, and its only permanent exhibit, is The Matter of Time (incorporating an earlier work, Snake), a series of weathering steel sculptures designed by Serra, which is housed in the 130-meter Arcelor Gallery (formerly known as the Fish Gallery but renamed in 2005 for the steel manufacturer that sponsored the project). The collections usually highlight Avant-garde art, 20th century abstraction, and nonobjective art. When the museum announced the 2011 exhibition “The Luminous Interval”, a show of artwork belonging to Greek businessman Dimitris Daskalopoulos, who is also a museum trustee, this met with criticism of, among other things, too much curatorial power for a serious benefactor. In 2012 David Hockney’s exhibition drew over 290,000 visitors to the museum.
ECONOMIC AND MEDIA IMPACT
The museum was opened as part of a revitalization effort for the city of Bilbao. Almost immediately after its opening, the Guggenheim Bilbao became a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the globe. In its first three years, almost 4 million tourists visited the museum, helping to generate about €500 million in economic activity. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost.
The building has featured in the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough in the pre-title sequence and the 2007 Tamil film Sivaji: The Boss, in which it is the setting for the song Style, composed by A.R. Rahman. Mariah Carey’s music video “Sweetheart”, directed by Hype Williams, shows singers Jermaine Dupri and Carey in various locations at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
The so-called “Bilbao effect” refers to how the museum transformed the city. The term, however, has also been employed by critics who have denounced the museum as a symbol of gentrification and cultural imperialism. The Wall Street Journal suggested that the Bilbao effect should be called the Bilbao anomaly, “for the iconic chemistry between the design of building, its image and the public
turns out to be rather rare.
Art critic Brian O’Doherty was positive about approaching the building but criticized the museum’s interior effect, saying “[O]nce you get indoors things are a little different. Even the so-called site-specific words didn’t look too happy to me. Most of the interior spaces are too vast.” He went on to describe how works by Braque, Picasso and Rodchenko “looked absurd” and tiny on the museum’s walls.
MANAGEMENT AND 2007 EMBEZZLEMENT INCIDENT
According to a report issued in 2007 by the Basque Court of Auditors, the museum paid more than US$27 million for the acquisition of art between 2002 and 2005, including Serra’s ‘The Matter of Time’ for the cavernous ground-floor gallery. After another audit in 2008 revealed that money was missing from accounts, the Foundation said that it filed a case against the director, Roberto Cearsolo Barrenetxea, “for financial and accounting irregularities”, asserting that he had admitted money from two companies that manage the Guggeneim Bilbao building and its art collection to his own account since year 1998.
EXHIBITIONS ON VIEW
B. KREFELD, GERMANY, 1954
Albert Oehlen was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1954. In Hamburg, he attended the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, where he studied Fine Arts from 1977 until 1981, and where Sigmar Polke was his professor.
His first individual exhibition was held at Max Hetzler (Stuttgart) in 1981, under the title Bevor ihr malt, mach ich das lieber. In Oehlen’s works from this period, dark brown tones predominate, and his paintings represent interior spaces, cellars, apartments, and museums, always deserted.
During the 80s, he began combining abstract and figurative elements, a trend that would culminate in his abstract paintings.
In 1982, he began working with collage.
In 1988, he moved to Andalusia for a year with his artist friend Martin Kippenberger, and then to Madrid. During this stage, he made his first drawings and paintings of trees.
In 1990, during his stay in Los Angeles, he purchased a computer and began making drawings that, in 1992, would lead to his Computer Paintings, a series that he ended in 2008.
In 1997, he began his grey paintings (a series that ended in 2008).
Between 2000 and 2009, he was a painting professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
In 2007, he began a new series of paintings, using advertising posters.
After his visit to the exhibition Action Painting, held at the Fondation Beyeler de Riehen (Basel) in 2008, he began painting directly with his fingers (Fingermalerei).
Today, he is still working on a series of paintings of trees that he had begun in 1989, as well as large-format collages.
Albert Oehlen has exhibited in institutions and galleries of international renown, both in Europe and in the US A. His most recent exhibitions were held at Kunsthalle Vierseithof, Germany (2000); Kestner–Gesellschaft, Germany (2001); Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain of Strasbourg, France (2002); Salzburger Kunstverein, Austria (2004); Domus Artium, Salamanca (2002), and Musée Cantonale des Beaux Arts, Switzerland (2004) —traveling; Secession, Viena (2004); FRAC Auvergne—Ecuries de Chazerat, Clermont–Ferrand, France (2005); Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (2005)—the artist’s first large monographic exhibition in the USA; Whitechapel Gallery, London (2006); Museo di Capodimonte, Italy (2009); Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (2009); Emil Schumacher Museum, Germany (2010); Sammlung Grässlin, Germany (2010); Carré Musée d’art contemporain de Nîmes, France (2011); Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany (2012); Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna (2013); Museum Wiesbaden, Germany (2014); New Museum, New York (2015); Kunsthalle Zürich (2015); The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland (2016); and now the current exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2016). The artist’s work was also included in the Venice Biennial of 2013.
OCTOBER 21, 2016 – FEBRUARY 5, 2017
Albert Oehlen (b. Krefeld, Germany, 1954) is one of the most influential painters of the past few decades and one of the most controversial artists in post-war Germany. His painting style, which is unmistakably contemporary, draws from a blend of techniques rooted in advertising, the expressionist brushstroke, surrealist gesture, and computer-generated images. Oehlen is a conceptual artist who uses painting as a medium, and whose work—specifically his paintings—has contributed to the debate on the death of painting which has emerged every so often since the mid-20th century. Regarding the interpretation of his works, he states: “Think whatever you like. It is boring to talk about meaning. I’m not looking for the public’s connection or understanding. They are all free to feel.” Over the past few years, his paintings have developed what he defines as his main topic: artistic freedom. This is made patent in his bravery and abandon when facing the canvas, using new techniques that maintain the vocabulary from the past, yet awaken a strange, paradoxical sensation that this is something new, yet familiar.
This exhibition, made up of three series, two self-portraits, and a newly-created collage-painting, does not aim to be a retrospective exercise, but rather an artistic statement. The first series is abstract and dates back to the eighties; the second is made up of computer works from the nineties; and the third, begun in 1989 and still underway, deals with trees. The exhibition explores “to which extent we are able to see behind the image.” Although the paintings selected for this show are formally different at first glance, the three series bear a common core that associates and connects them. With Oehlen the image dissolves into irony and innuendo. Superficially dilettante gesture, or “bad painting,” shatters these ideals of classical panel painting radically and enduringly. This painterly openness is also reflected on a thematic level.
Throughout his career, Albert Oehlen made a series of self-portraits where his very image acts as a starting point for reflection on the meaning of the artist’s art and identity.
With these works, the painter attempts to reach a balance between figuration and abstraction to question, through a classic genre, standards of the artistic practice and traditional cultural, aesthetic, and artistic imperatives.
In these self-portraits, the subject is not the most relevant aspect; rather, the theme becomes a means that allows the artist to express his ideas. Normally, Oehlen’s portraits are images made with a reduced color selection—with brown, ochre, and grey tones predominating—and are painted with a direct, gestural style, use a deliberately “anti-masterful” technique.
With Self-Portrait as Spring (Selbst als Frühling), 2006, Oehlen reinterprets a traditional pictorial theme, the celebration of spring and life, showing an idyllic scene where appearances are deceiving. A masculine character regards us, representing the painter himself, who replaces the god Bacchus; but he is not depicted as a joyful god, celebrating a happy moment. Rather, he has a mournful appearance. Oehlen occupies the place of the god, introducing himself as a creator—creator of the painting, but also as a destructor of the traditional meaning. The artist adds elements of life today, replacing wine with a bottle of beer and the grapevine grown with a white muscle shirt.
Oehlen uses his self-portraits as a tool to criticize the widespread belief that the painter is a sort of God. As such, he shows himself to be an artist who holds no control over himself or his work once it has left the studio.
“I am not interested in chaos but in uncontrolled order.”
- In 1992, Oehlen began making computer-designed paintings, known for their pixilation and low resolution. Despite their limitations, the technical potential of computers created a series of rules and patterns with which the artist could improvise. Basic digital drawing programs provide for a new method of abstraction. Oehlen focused his interest on patterns created by movements made by the hand with the computer mouse, to continue showing the expressive and personal gesture.
- Demonstrating his irony and spontaneity, the artist defines these paintings as “bionic,” although in reality their appearance is more primitive than futuristic. Using slang from the digital world, these images suffer from a “data overload.” The exclusive use of black in these works might be interpreted as one of the challenges the artist poses for himself.
- These drawings arose as a series of motifs made with a laptop that were later enlarged and printed on a canvas. They were created with a blend of different techniques, such as computer printing, silk-screen printing, and brush painting. Although this fusion of different techniques is common today, Oehlen was a true pioneer in the 90s when he adapted the complex technological resources existing at the time to create this technique, taken over by painters of the digital age.
Albert Oehlen’s abstract paintings actually straddle between figuration and abstraction, and are recognizable by how the artist impetuously and exaltedly uses color, and by the brushstroke’s personal and daring gesture. Oehlen began painting abstract pictures in 1988, when he moved to Andalusia along with artist Martin Kippenberger. Regarding this shift in his style, Oehlen has stated: “In a way it was because I thought that art history went from figuration to abstraction. And I should do the same. I should have the same development in my life as art history.”
These paintings, made with the oil technique, the most traditional pictorial method, transmit a feeling of carelessness, as if the artist were hiding his true technical skill by using bright-colored fillers. They do not heed to any conventional beauty norm of established standard.
Oehlen’s abstract pictures are neither beautiful nor attractive. In his statements made regarding his own work, the artist’s sarcasm is blatant: “When you work on a painting for a month, you spend 30 days standing in front of the world’s ugliest picture. In my work, I’m constantly surrounded by the most dreadful pictures. It’s true. What I see are unbearably ugly tatters, which are then transformed at the last moment, as if by magic, into something beautiful.”
In 1989, Oehlen decided to become an abstract painter and began using a tree motif as the theme of his painting. In the same way that Piet Mondrian had investigated dissolution of the figurative shape based on a tree, Oehlen uses this resource “as vehicles for a methodical deflation of content.”
The images in this series have schematic shapes that are tree-like in appearance and black in color: the trunks and branches become silhouettes, similar to Oehlen’s computer drawings, yet meticulously painted by hand with brush and oil paint. According to the author: “When you place those black lines against a magenta background, something alarming happens. Magenta is a hysterical color, somehow. To me, they look like psychopathic trees—psychopathic human trees.”
The chaotic, disorganized structure of the tree branches allows the artist to begin creating a work without knowing where his brushstrokes will bring him. Starting at the center, each branch is a reaction to a prior element, so nothing is established beforehand, only the colors that Oehlen is going to use.
These pictures were painted on a polyethylene-coated aluminum sheet, materials that make them look like advertising billboards. The painter refers to them thus: “I like the stiffness. It has this modern technological feel to it, and it’s actually much easier to paint on than canvas. I wasn’t looking for another surface, I just tried it one day and liked it.” These accidental changes are typical for Oehlen, and are guided by instinct, but are also the result of calculation.
THE COLLECTION OF HERMANN AND MARGRIT RUPF
The first private Swiss collectors to treasure abstract and contemporary art, Hermann and Margrit Rupf amassed their collection according to their personal taste. This exhibition features 70 works from the Rupf Collection including paintings by key artists from the first half of the 20th century, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, or Vasily Kandinsky, yuxtaposed to pieces by contemporary artists from the second half of the 20th century until today.
The Rupf Foundation was created in 1954 to conserve, consolidate, and expand these holdings, which were deposited at the Kunstmuseum Bern in the early 1960s. Hermann and Margrit Rupf also left the Foundation the rest of their assets to guarantee the growth of these funds in the future. Thus, the Rupf Stiftung focuses on recent contemporary art without losing sight of the core of the Collection, comprised of the impressive works of art gathered by the Rupfs.
Traveling to Spain for the first time for this occasion and with works created between 1907 and 2016, the exhibition reveals the coherence and evolution of the Collection of Hermann and Margrit Rupf as a testament to the art of their time.
For further insights about the Rupfs’ biography and their role as art collectors and patrons please visit the Didaktika space dedicated to the show.
NOVEMBER 11, 2016 – APRIL 23, 2017
The first private Swiss collectors to treasure abstract and contemporary art, Hermann and Margrit Rupf amassed their collection according to their personal taste. The Rupf Foundation was created in 1954 to conserve, consolidate, and expand these holdings, which were deposited at the Kunstmuseum Bern in the early 1960s. Hermann and Margrit Rupf also left the Foundation the rest of their assets to guarantee the growth of these funds in the future. Thus, the Rupf Stiftung focuses on recent contemporary art without losing sight of the core of the Collection, comprised of the impressive works of art gathered by the Rupfs.
This exhibition features 70 works from the Rupf Collection including paintings by key artists from the first half of the 20th century, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, or Vasily Kandinsky, yuxtaposed to pieces by contemporary artists from the second half of the 20th century until today.
This gallery features some of the first paintings that Hermann Rupf purchased between 1907 and 1908 from the gallery owned by his friend Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler in Paris. Both Rupf and Kahnweiler were trained at the Commerz-und Disconto-Bank in Frankfurt. While Kahnweiler continued his training as an intern at a stock brokerage firm in Paris from 1902 to 1904, Rupf began to work at the company Jacques Meyer Fils & Cie (currently Galeries Lafayette). The two shared an interest in literature and music; they attended a host of theater performances and concerts and spent a great deal of time at the Louvre and visiting the exhibitions of the Salons. After yet another sojourn abroad, this time in London, Rupf returned to his hometown of Bern and started to work at the mercery and haberdashery owned by his brother-in-law Ruedi Hossmann. In 1908 became its co-proprietor—“Hossmann & Rupf”,—and married Margrit Wirz in 1910.
Rupf was guided by his own judgement when purchasing the works, although his art dealer and personal friend Kahnweiler played a key role in shaping the Collection. His gallery enabled the incorporation of works by Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, and later André Masson. As attested to in the almost 800 letters still conserved, Hermann Rupf and Kahnweiler enjoyed a life-long, close friendship.
On Rupf’s business trips to Paris to expand his assortment of products with fashion accessories, he would meet with Kahnweiler in his gallery and sometimes accompany him on his visits to artists. As early as 1907, Rupf began to purchase works by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and by Fauvists, such as Othon Friesz and André Derain. Until the outbreak of World War I, his Collection kept growing to become a select set of almost thirty, mostly Cubist works.
Florian Slotawa’s installation, Bernese Pedestals, 2010, shown here deserves special mention. The artist carefully studied the Collection and its history and chose four sculptures—by Hans Arp, Max Fueter, Henri Laurens, and Ewald Mataré— to create a new artwork. Slotawa designed a pedestal made with furnishings that were originally found in the collectors’ home, for each of the four representative pieces of their Collection.
In the years after the World War I, Hermann and Margrit Rupf were able to resume the expansion of their collection. In the early 1920s, they purchased the latest works by Georges Braque, André Derain, Juan Gris, Henri Laurens, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, and Louis Moillet, and just like prior to the war, during this period hardly any time elapsed between the creation of the works and their acquisition by the Rupfs.
Kahnweiler did not manage to keep all the artists with which he worked before the war at his gallery. However, he soon landed new artists such as Paul Klee, whom he represented abroad in 1933 thanks to Rupf’s mediation.
In this gallery, you can see the artistic evolution of Juan Gris from 1913 until 1925, and confront his production to Picasso’s 1913 Violin Hanging on the Wall (Violin). The installation of the works in this space allows to establish connections with other artists, such as Fernand Léger, whose painting Contrasts of Forms also dates from 1913, and Henri Laurens, whose works in this exhibition illustrate part of the evolution of his sculptural oeuvre, which after his early days as a Cubist, shifted to voluminous forms and the female figure.
Likewise, in this journey across the art of the 20th century, the abstract sculpture made of aluminum, Untitled, No. 85–065 (1985) mounted on the wall, is part of a series of modular works in bright colors created by Donald Judd between 1983 and 1990. All the modules are the same height, depth, and width, and in them the artist deliberately tried to avoid combinations of colors perceived as “harmonious” or “inharmonious.”
December 22, 2016 – March 19, 2017
Fiona Tan was born in 1966 in Pekanbaru, a city in the center of Sumatra, Indonesia, to a Chinese father and an Australian mother. Based in the Netherlands since 1988, Tan calls herself a “professional foreigner,” a migrant by birth whose background heavily informs many of her works. Her insightful productions combine film, video, and photography to examine postcolonial identities amid the globalization of culture, particularly in relation to the fabrication of myths and legends of the colonial East.
The two-channel video installation Disorient was produced in 2009 for the Dutch Pavilion of the 53rd Venice Biennale, where it was also partially staged and shot. It reflects the history of Venice as a strategic center for the trade of goods from newly charted Asian territories in the 13th to 16th centuries. Tan’s film evokes the dream of a great Orient, especially as described by Marco Polo in his famous Book of the Marvels of the World (ca. 1298). Widely translated and commented upon for more than seven centuries, Polo’s collection of stories has informed Europe’s imagination of an “Orient of marvels” despite its contested truthfulness—a paradox that Tan emphasizes in her work.
In Disorient, Polo’s description of scattered lands and peoples is read almost at a whisper by a male voice that plays on a speaker placed between two facing screens. On the largest one, an anachronistic collection of souvenirs and trophies is depicted though a slow travelling shot. Taxidermied exotic animals, gold statues, luscious fabrics, fine porcelain, spices, amulets, lamps, and other relics coexist with modern bibelots, cash in various currencies, TVs, and even a model of the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. These objects are stored in a lonely warehouse, a cabinet of Oriental curiosities kept by a mysterious, pensive man—a Westerner—dressed in a golden robe. On the opposite screen, a montage of undated clips describes the contemporary conditions of life and production in the very lands allegedly visited by the celebrated Venetian explorer. These images, obtainedIraq, Afghanistan, and China, show factory workers and scenes of mass production, riots, poverty, exploitation, and survival in highly polluted and derelict environments. Viewed together, they obliquely document the creation, collection, shipping, and installation of the riches represented on the first screen. Like the work’s title suggests, a sense of disorientation results from the juxtaposition of these two narratives, which at first seem disparate but are revealed to be deeply connected. By transforming the warehouse into a stage and archive for cultural memory and modern myth, Tan reconstructs, or recollects, Polo’s legendary Asia.
February 3, 2017 – June 4, 2017
Oil on canvas
233.7 x 177.8 cm
Clyfford Still Museum, Denver
Courtesy of the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, Colorado.
© City and County of Denver, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016
Abstract Expressionism was a phenomenon as diverse and manifold as its makers. The collective label that critic Robert Coates coined in 1946 suggests two polarities: the emotional intensity of German Expressionism and the formal aesthetic of European abstraction. The artists themselves ranged from native New Yorkers to European émigrés; others hailed from the American heartland and the West. However, despite their ethnic and biographical differences, the fledgling Abstract Expressionists shared a common experience. Namely, they lived during the modern age of extremes and catastrophe that encompassed – among other terrible historical events – two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, atomic devastation and the ensuing Cold War. By contrast, the United States’ growing status as a global power helped foster a concomitant self-confidence in its burgeoning art world.
Often monumental in scale, a number of the artists were influenced by the experience of painting murals for the New Deal’s Federal Art Project, their works are at times intense, spontaneous and deeply expressive. At others they are more contemplative, presenting large fields of colour that border on the sublime. While the artist expresses their emotions and conveys a sense of their presence in the work, the viewer’s perception is the final component in the mix. Abstract painting “confronts you”, Pollock said in 1950.
It was a watershed moment in the evolution of 20th-century art, yet, remarkably, there has been no major survey in Europe of the movement since 1959. With over 130 paintings, sculptures and photographs from public and private collections across the world, this ambitious exhibition encompasses masterpieces by the most acclaimed American artists associated with the movement, as well as lesser-known but no less vital artists. The selection aims to re-evaluate Abstract Expressionism, recognising that though the subject is often perceived to be unified, in reality it was a highly complex, fluid and many-sided phenomenon.
Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London with the collaboration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Exhibition curated by David Anfam and Edith Devaney, with Lucía Agirre
March 10, 2017 – June 25, 2017
The Land that Sleeps (La tierra que duerme), 1986
Steel and oil, 66 x 120 x 39 cm
Long-term loan Soledad Lorenzo Collection, 2014
© VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016
Pello Irazu is a key artist on the contemporary artistic scene, an outstanding figure in renovation of the Basque sculpture and, fundamentally, a creator who since the 80s has developed a coherent work extending over three decades. Alternating sculpture—the medium in which he develops a broader spectrum, ranging from small three-dimensional creations to large-sized installations and hybrid objects—with photography, drawing, and mural painting, Irazu’s work addresses the problems that occur in the relationships established between our bodies, objects, images, and spaces.
This exhibition takes a retrospective look at Irazu’s work in the shape of an articulated tour, highlighting milestones and significant works in his trajectory, configuring a rich panorama of his thirty years of artistic career. This vision is modulated by a specific material and conceptual mechanism, designed by the artist himself and structured by means of a long corridor making its way diagonally across the central part of the exhibition space, dividing it into different areas organized in circular fashion. A complex spatial experience is therefore offered to the visitor, who can at any time take different paths to follow a chronological route focused on the resource of “eternal return” and on the circularity inherent to all artistic work. Thus, the photographic pieces and metal structures bringing this itinerary to a close are reminiscent of those present at the start of the exhibition.
(UNTITLED) HUMAN MASK
March 30, 2017 – July 16, 2017
Untitled (Human Mask), 2014 (still)
Colour film, stereo sound, 2:66 format. 19 min
Courtesy the artist; Hauser & Wirth, London; and Anna Lena Films, Paris
PARIS, FIN DE SIÈCLE
SIGNAC, REDON, TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, AND THEIR CONTEMPORARIES
May 12, 2017 – September 17, 2017
People in the Street (Personnages dans la rue), ca. 1894
Oil on paper laid on board, 24 x 25 cm
Tall Tree & The Eye
Over the past 30 years, sculptor Anish Kapoor has undertaken investigations into objecthood that have expanded Post-Minimalist practices and had a profound effect on the course of contemporary sculpture. Exploring color, scale, materiality, space, and process, he has worked iteratively through major themes and bodies of work, or what the artist calls “form languages”. Like his early “voids”, his more recent architecturally inspired, site-specific installations are phenomenological events that elicit both intimate and collective experiences. For Kapoor, the object is always in a state of becoming as it transits through varying processes of self-generation, dissolution, fragmentation, and multiplication. The body and gaze of the viewer are all-important elements of the work, as each viewer brings his or her own subjective reality to bear while witnessing and contemplating these powerful sculptural presences.
Kapoor’s monumental Tall Tree and the Eye (2009), recently installed outside the museum alongside outdoor works by Louise Bourgeois, Daniel Buren, Jeff Koons, and Fujiko Nakaya, consists of 73 reflective spheres anchored around three axes. This illusionistic work continues the artist’s examination of complex mathematical and structural principles embodied in sculptural form. The mirrored surfaces of the orbs reflect and refract one another, simultaneously creating and dissolving form and space. Images of the surrounding city, including the Nervión river, Buren’s sculptural intervention on La Salve Bridge (Arcos rojos/Arku gorriak, 2007), and the museum itself, are cast into dynamic suspension. Kapoor reminds us of the instability and ephemerality of our vision-and by extension of our world.
Tall Tree & The Eye, 2009
Stainless steel and carbon steel
13 x 4.4 x 4.4 m
Red arches / Arku gorriak
When he conceived this sculpture, Daniel Buren decided to make the structure of the La Salve Bridge less brutal, but more visible. With this in mind, he designed a vertical piece perpendicular to the bridge, out of which he cut three circles located at equal distances from each other. This work was inaugurated on the occasion of the museum’s Tenth Anniversary. It creates a central circle around the road, in addition to two semicircles that are also reflected on the water and in the air. The surface is red in color, while the outer edges of the piece and the inside of the arches are vertically striped in black and white. The borders are made of a translucent material that makes it possible to add plays of light at night. The artist took into account the different properties of the context in order to create this work. The first of these is the fact that the site is located at the immediate entrance to the city center, a function that is effectively performed by the central circle. The second is the presence of the museum, with an architecture that combines curved and vertical shapes. The outer edges of the structure produce verticality, while the circles provide curves. The third is the presence of titanium, which produces a mirror-like effect. The red color was therefore chosen to contrast with the green of the bridge, and to add an additional colored reflection on the titanium. The fourth is the presence of the estuary, which reflects Buren’s work and can seemingly lengthen it. The fifth and final element are the cars traveling across the bridge, which produce a horizontal play of light. The artist installed vertical plays of light on the inner and outer edges in order to create a dialog with those caused by the cars.
Red arches, 2007
Compact laminate sheets, aluminum, galvanized steel, PVC film, clear Plexiglas, LEDs, and metal halide projectors
Modified structure: 57.5 x 27.85 x 2.17 m
Eduardo Chillida studied architecture in Madrid from 1943 to 1947, before deciding to turn to painting and ultimately—after moving to Paris in 1948—to sculpture. His early architectural training is apparent in the underlying structure, attention to materials, and careful planning of spatial relationships that characterize his sculptures. Indeed, Chillida conceived of sculpture in relation to architecture: “To construct is to build in space. This is sculpture, and generally speaking sculpture and architecture,” he declared. Over the course of five decades, he established himself as one of the most important Basque artists of the 20th century and an internationally recognized figure in postwar sculpture, leaving behind a rich legacy in monumental, site-specific public sculptures as well as more conventionally sized works.
The materials Chillida turned to consistently informed his investigations of conceptual questions and metaphysical concerns. His early sculptures in Paris were executed in stone and plaster—materials suited to his study of archaic works in the Louvre—and were drawn from the human figure as well as natural forms. Upon his return to the Basque Country in 1951, he began to focus more on the metamorphosis of space and the abstract definition of spatial volume through form, and turned to iron and then wood and steel-materials that represented Basque traditions in industry, architecture, and agriculture, and also recalled the region’s distinctive landscape and what Chillida described as its “dark light.”
Embrace XI, 1996) is a steel structure that is both vertical and curved at the same time. Unlike Advice to Space V (Consejo al espacio, 1993), also in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao collection, this piece is made of forged steel—it was brought forth in a struggle with the material placed in fire. The steel sections intertwine and curve, like plants that grow up from the ground and collapse upon themselves as they tightly embrace. Both Embrace XI and Advice to Space Vdemonstrate the connection between Chillida’s work and nature. In the open air, under changing light, these works reveal the projection of their curves and their perimeter.
Embrace XI, 1996
Steel. 88 x 108 cm
Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.)
Fujiko Nakaya is the first artist to have worked with fog as a sculptural medium. This is not to say that she molds the medium according to her own conception; rather, her approach is a subtle collaboration with water, atmosphere, air currents, and time itself. Experiential and ephemeral in nature, her fog sculptures have certain affinities with Conceptual and Land art, but nevertheless represent a radical departure in the history of art and technology.
Nakaya’s work with fog, which she sees as a medium for the transmission of light and shadow, much like video, initially arose from her interest in what she calls “decomposition” or “the process of decaying.” As an art student in the United States (where she moved with her family from Japan in the early 1950s), she painted dying flowers, and a series of cloud paintings made after her return to Japan later that decade express her fascination for natural phenomena that “repeatedly form and dissolve themselves.”
Nakaya’s first fog sculpture came about through her involvement with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), an organization dedicated to facilitating and promoting collaborations between engineers and artists; among its founders in 1967 was Robert Rauschenberg, whom Nakaya had first met several years earlier during a visit by the American artist to Tokyo. In 1970 E.A.T. designed the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion for Expo ’70 in Tokyo, the first international exposition held in Asia and a watershed for members of the Japanese avant-garde. With the support of other E.A.T. members, Nakaya decided to envelop the pavilion in fog, a feat she accomplished with the aid of an atmospheric physicist named Thomas Mee. The technology developed during this collaborative project has served, with some modifications, in all of Nakaya’s subsequent fog sculptures.
During the 1980s and 1990s Nakaya received international recognition as a video artist and as an advocate for alternative arts, but she continued to create ambitious fog sculptures and installation pieces in Japan, Australia, the United States, and Europe. Her fog sculptures have included pieces realized as part of performative events (such as a 1980 collaboration with American choreographer Trisha Brown), as well as environmental installations in either temporary or permanent settings. 1998’s Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.) counts among the latter. The work was commissioned at Rauschenberg’s invitation to coincide with the opening of his 1999 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (“F.O.G.” stands for “Frank O. Gehry”). Soon after the opening, Rauschenberg purchased it and donated it to the museum. Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.) is now permanently installed in the pool next to the riverfront facade of Gehry’s billowing titanium structure. Here the fog plays off the surfaces of both the rippling water at its base and the reflective, undulating wall that serves as its backdrop. The sculpture renders these surfaces variable, unfixed, and mutable. A “permanent sculpture” composed of artificially induced water droplets in a constant state of dissipation into the atmosphere, Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.) is “both a phenomenon and an artifact,” Nakaya remarks, “a precarious dynamism . . . of nature’s balance.
Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G.), 1998
Water fog generated by 1,000 fog nozzles and high-pressure pump/motor system
Jeff Koons rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as part of a generation of artists who explored the meaning of art in a media-saturated era and the attendant crisis of representation. Drawing on the visual language of advertising, marketing, and the entertainment industry, and with the stated intent to “communicate with the masses,” Koons tested the limits between popular and elite culture. His sculptural menagerie includes Plexiglas-encased Hoover vacuum cleaners, basketballs suspended in glass aquariums, porcelain homages to Michael Jackson and the Pink Panther, and glass depictions of himself coupled with his then-wife Ilona Staller, also known as La Cicciolina (a former adult-film star and member of the Italian parliament). Extending the legacy of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, and integrating references to Minimalism and Pop, Koons presents art as a commodity that cannot be placed within the hierarchy of conventional aesthetics.
Tulips, a bouquet of multicolor balloon flowers blown up to gargantuan proportions (more than 2 meters tall and 5 meters across), belongs to the ambitious Celebration series, initiated by Koons in 1994. Focusing on the kinds of generic, mass-produced objects associated with birthday parties, holidays, and other festive events—from a party hat and a piece of cake to Easter eggs and hearts—the Celebrationpaintings and sculptures reflect Koons’s continued engagement with the emblems of childhood. With its immaculate, reflective stainless-steel surfaces, Tulips recalls earlier works by the artist such as Rabbit (1986), which similarly transformed a banal inflatable object into something hard, gleaming, and iconic. In Tulips and in the balloon animals that populate the Celebration series, as in his towering Puppy (1992), Koons has manipulated scale, as well as materials, to uncanny ends. While Tulips might evoke the large industrial forms of certain Minimalist sculptures, the buoyant, colorful sculpture equally brings to mind a jaunty parade float.
High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating
203 x 460 x 520 cm
With Puppy, Koons engaged both past and present, employing sophisticated computer modeling to create a work that references the 18th-century formal European garden. A behemoth West Highland terrier carpeted in bedding plants,Puppy employs the most saccharine of iconography—flowers and puppies—in a monument to the sentimental. Imposing in scale, its size both tightly contained and seemingly out of control (it is both literally and figuratively still growing), and juxtaposing elite and mass-cultural references (topiary and dog breeding, Chia Pets and Hallmark greeting cards), the work may be read as an allegory of contemporary culture. Koons designed this public sculpture to relentlessly entice, to create optimism, and to instill, in his own words, “confidence and security.” Dignified and stalwart as it stands guard at the museum, Puppy fills viewers with awe, and even joy.
Stainless steel, soil, and flowering plants
1,240 x 830 x 910 cm
Over a career that spanned some seven decades, Louise Bourgeois created a rich and ever-changing body of work that intersected with some of the leading avant-garde movements of the 20th century, including Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Post-Minimalism, while remaining steadfast to her own singular creative vision. While Bourgeois’s oeuvre includes painting, drawing, printmaking, and performance, she is best known for her sculptures, which range in scale from the intimate to the monumental and employ a diverse array of mediums, including wood, bronze, latex, marble, and fabric. Her work is at once deeply personal—with frequent references to painful childhood memories of an unfaithful father and a loving but complicit mother—and universal, confronting the bittersweet ordeal of being human.
Almost 9 meters tall, Maman is one of the most ambitious of a series of sculptures by Bourgeois that take as their subject the spider, a motif that first appeared in several of the artist’s drawings in the 1940s and came to assume a central place in her work during the 1990s. Intended as a tribute to her mother, who was a weaver, Bourgeois’s spiders are highly contradictory as emblems of maternity: they suggest both protector and predator—the silk of a spider is used both to construct cocoons and to bind prey—and embody both strength and fragility. Such ambiguities are powerfully figured in the mammoth Maman, whichhovers ominously on legs like Gothic arches that act at once as a cage and as a protective lair to a sac full of eggs perilously attached to her undercarriage. The spider provokes awe and fear, yet her massive height, improbably balanced on slender legs, conveys an almost poignant vulnerability.
Bronze, marble, and stainless steel
895 x 980 x 1.160 cm
Edition 2/6 + A.P.
In his brief, seven-year artistic career—cut short by his premature death in 1962—Yves Klein created a heterogeneous and critically complex body of work that anticipated much of the art of the succeeding decades, from Conceptual art to performance art. Although Klein began by creating monochrome canvases in the mid-1950s, he abandoned the specificity of the pictorial in favor of a conception of art as independent of any particular medium or technique. A postmodern artist ahead of his time, Klein conceived of art that was invisible, composed the Monotone Silence Symphony (Symphonie Monoton Silence), imagined an “air architecture,” presented his actions in public, turned to photography, and commissioned “documentation” recording his more ephemeral works. His program focused less on the particular skill of the artist and more on the artist’s ability to put forth a mythic presence generating works in every genre: “A painter has to create only one masterpiece—himself, constantly—and to become a kind of atomic battery, a kind of generator of constant radiation that impregnates the atmosphere with all of his pictorial presence, which remains fixed in space after he passes through it.
Fire Fountain (1961) is the realization of a project that the artist never had the opportunity to complete during his lifetime. In a lecture at the Sorbonne in 1959, Klein spoke of his long-standing vision for a “project for a public square, of an area of water above which streams of fire would dance rather than streams of water. According to the artist, this idea had originated from his encounter with the fountains and jets of water in the 18th-century-French-formal-style gardens at the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, the former summer residence of the Spanish monarchy near Madrid: “I imagined replacing, on the surface of the calm water in these pools, the elegant jets of water of these pools with brilliant jets of fire. Sculptures of fire above the water . . . Why not?. A series of sketches suggest that Klein was already interested in creating a fire sculpture in 1958–59, and one of the first “invention patents” requested by him refers to “combined jets of water and fire in a pool.” For his retrospective exhibition at the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld in 1961, a year before his death, Klein succeeded in partially realizing his vision: a “wall of fire” comprising approximately fifty Bunsen burners was erected on the lawn in front of the Mies van der Rohe villa, while nearby a single intense flame (or “fire fountain”) rose from the ground.
In the posthumous realization of Fire Fountain in Bilbao, a row of five fire fountains have been installed in a pool outside the Frank Gehry building. The flames, aligned in a row, are reflected on the calm surface of the water. This work testifies to Klein’s deep interest in fire, one of the “four elements” of ancient tradition: besides the works mentioned above, Klein also created a series of Fire Paintings in 1961, achieved by applying a blowtorch to chemically prepared surfaces. Fire—enzyme of life and agent of civilization, the provider of numerous benefits and comforts, as well as a destructive force, an eternal threat—is usually associated with memory and worship of the dead. Devoid of grandiloquence, Fire Fountain nevertheless alludes obliquely to the origins of civilization, and even to the very beginning of the world. In 1959, before any of his fire projects had been realized, the artist declared: “Fire for me is the future without forgetting the past.
Fire Fountain, 1961
Fabricated in 1997
WORKS FROM SPANISH ARTISTS IN GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM / SELECTION
In the years after World War II, both Europe and the United States saw the rise of predominantly abstract painting concerned with materials and the expressive, gestural marking of the canvas. In the United States this development was dubbed Abstract Expressionism, while the pan-European phenomenon was named Art Informel (literally, “unformed art”). The Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies was identified with a variety of the latter called Tachisme—from the French word tache, meaning a stain or blot—for the rich textures and pooled colors that seemed to have occurred almost accidentally on his canvases.In his “matter paintings,” begun in the mid-1950s, Tàpies reevaluated humble natural materials, such as sand and straw, and the refuse of humanity: string, bits of fabric, and so on. By calling attention to seemingly inconsequential matter, he suggested that beauty could be found in unlikely places. Tàpies saw his works as objects of meditation that each viewer would interpret according to personal experience. “What I do attempt,” he stated, “is to create images that will cause the observer to look upon reality in a more contemplative way.” While Ambrosiadates from later in Tàpies’s career, it belongs to a period when the artist returned to many of his earlier ways of working and reflects processes and themes that have remained constant throughout his oeuvre.
Like many of his matter paintings, this immense work resembles a wall that has been marred by human intervention and the passage of time: the rough, cracking gray and white surface—made of ground white marble dust mixed with pigment, which the artist further modified both by adding paint and by scraping away at the surface—suggests concrete that has been scrawled with graffiti. The title, which appears in the painting itself, refers to the legendary nectar of the Greek gods that was said to make whoever ate it immortal.Tàpies has frequently expressed an ambition for his art to hold such spiritual and salutary power; the allusion may also reflect his belief in the transformative power of the most humble, quotidian things.
Works on paper constitute an important part of Saura’s oeuvre. He was a committed draftsman throughout his career, and used drawing to explore all the variations and mutations of his many themes. 24 Heads is related to the Crowds series, which would occupy the artist from the late 1950s until the last years of his life. In these works, interlocked bodiless faces occupy most or all of the canvas or paper surface, creating an expansive, allover composition. 24 Heads stands out as a looser collection of scribbled figures. Defined by stenographic bursts, with no illusion of depth, the earth-toned heads are articulated by lines of white light or shadow. This work also features a collage element, with the pieces of corrugated cardboard glued to the paper adding a tactile quality to some of the faces.
24 Heads / Year 1957
Mixed media on paper
70 x 100 cm
Untitled ( Jealousy II )
Untitled (Jealousy II) uses a form drawn from Iglesias’s cultural heritage—a screen similar to those used in the confessional booths of Catholic churches—to infer that the eponymous emotion is sinful. As Nancy Princenthal has noted, the Spanish title Celosía is the word both for a louvered window covering and for jealousy. As blinds function to keep out light, the title suggests the limited perception one is afforded while incarcerated by this irrational state. Permitting only filtered views of its interior, Iglesias’s chamber functions as both a provocative barrier and a structure for ostensible protection. As with many of her works, the viewer is left to wonder how things appear from the inside.
In a ( Microverse II ). Fraction
This is how Darío Urzay (b. Bilbao, 1958) described In a (Microverse I) Fraction [En una (Microverso I) Fracción] (1997) in 1998. This work was selected to join the Collection of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 1997. This work was created at the same time as In a (Microverse II) Fraction [En una (Microverso II) Fracción] (1997) and they are both analogue and homologue. Despite being totally independent, the artist has always understood them to be part of a virtual circle that wraps around the spectator. This circle’s effect is similar to what Mark Rothko described when stating, “anyone who paints a major work is inside it. It’s not something you can control.”
With the recent donation of In a (Microverse II) Fraction,chromatic and visual counterpoint of In a (Microverse I) Fraction, the Museum offers the public the first chance to observe on both works in their original conception. In 1991, Urzay began his series Camerastrokes that he himself defined as photographs that “have been made by imitating the movement of an Abstract Expressionist painter’s brush with a camera, where the light is the ‘material’ used.” The eyes that we can contemplate on the side panels of both works were photographed using this technique, meaning the fixed image from the camera displays the moving image of eyes that are watching us from a TV screen. These eyes look away when we watch them and capture the light from the entire work, marking out the cells and organisms that populate the pure red and blue. We only perceive these eyes when we get close to both works. From a distance they seem to be simple stains of light splashed by dabs of color.
The dominant blue of the work acquired by the Museum in 1997 maintains “a relationship with the cosmic world, with thought” for the artist, whilst the red on the second work is related to blood and the interest he feels for this ‘vital fluid’. The first work is subtly defiled by the intense red of the second, even
How Frofound Is The Air
The materials Chillida turned to consistently informed his investigations of conceptual questions and metaphysical concerns. His early sculptures in Paris were executed in stone and plaster—materials suited to his study of archaic works in the Louvre—and were drawn from the human figure as well as natural forms. Upon his return to the Basque Country in 1951, he began to focus more on the metamorphosis of space and the abstract definition of spatial volume through form, and turned to iron and then wood and steel-materials that represented Basque traditions in industry, architecture, and agriculture, and also recalled the region’s distinctive landscape and what Chillida described as its “dark light.”
Travels to Greece, Rome, Umbria, Tuscany, and Provence in the 1960s ignited in Chillida what would be a lifelong interest in the relationship between light and architecture. Seeking to capture a quality of light that he had initially encountered in artworks at the Louvre, he began to use alabaster for its illuminated yet veiled appearance, its ability to simultaneously reveal and conceal. While his first alabaster sculptures date from 1965-69, he returned to the medium in 1976 and again, two decades later, in How Profound Is the Air, which combines the roughly hewn, natural exterior of the stone with a highly finished, architectural interior space. The work recalls a public sculpture Chillida created in the city of Valladolid in 1982,How Profound Is the Air: Homage to Jorge Guillén . The memorably poetic title was taken from one of the famous Spanish poet’s verses, and reflects the sculptor’s attitude toward space, or air, which for him was a material as essential as stone or wood. In Chillida’s words, “Space must be conceived in terms of plastic volume. . . . Form springs spontaneously from the needs of the space that builds its dwelling like an animal its shell. Just like this animal I am also an architect of the void.”
Erlea Maneros Zabala
Basque Graphics; Typography And Ornament: 1961 – 1967
Maneros Zabala looks to her immediate surroundings when developing her work, in which she appropriates imagery charged with political and historical significance and subsequently inverts, transforms, and serializes it. Pieces like Untitled (September 8, 1894. La Ilustración Española y Americana) (2007/13) andBasque Graphics; Typography and Ornament: 1961–1967(Grafía Vasca; tipografía y ornamentación: 1961–1967) (2013) are rooted in her native Basque culture and history, while major works such as Untitled (Los Angeles Times Archive on Microfilm, May 2007) (2008) and Untitled, Thursday, November 1st, 2001, Los Angeles Times and New York Times (2005–13) address themes associated with her adoptive city of Los Angeles. The artist draws on history, the past and the present through images, but also through processes that revive outdated or obsolete technologies.
Basque Graphics; Typography and Ornament: 1961–1967, created specifically for the 2013 museum exhibition Garmendia, Maneros Zabala, Salaberria. Process and Method, consists of thirty-nine etched copper plates that reproduce selected pages from the political periodical Sine Nomine. An underground publication created after Egiz magazine (1950–52) was officially banned, Sine Nomine was printed on a mimeograph machine and distributed by Basque clergymen from 1961 onwards.Basque Graphics allows us to see Maneros Zabala’s earlier series in a different light, revealing how her interest has shifted from the formal aspects of the image to the formal aspects of text. In a way, here the artist has eliminated the text-image dichotomy, just as she did in previous series such as Exercises on Abstraction (2007–13), in which she used the invisibility of the textual content as a springboard to reach abstraction. Basque Graphics; Typography and Ornament: 1961–1967 does not show the printed page itself, but the matrix from which the text springs, rather like an archeological presentation that attempts to demonstrate the process of mechanical reproduction, an obsolete industrial technique.
To Late for Goya
Too Late for Goya marks a crucial point in Torres’s career, in its epic breadth and spectacular scale and visual impact. The installation comprises video projections of six pieces of historical news footage, representing what Torres feels are the six most important political events of the twentieth century: the Russian Revolution (1917), Hitler’s rise to power (1933), the Yalta Conference (1945), the creation of the state of Israel (1948), the process of decolonization exemplified by Algeria’s war of independence (1963), and Gorbachev’s rise to power (1985). For each of these events, six seconds of the original material are played in slow motion over the course of half an hour—first forwards and then backwards—so that the images appear nearly static.
Facing these six projections is a realistic sculpture of a chimpanzee perched in a turning steel chair; in Torres’s description, this “lucky relative” of humans, with his “innocent gaze,” observes “the fading traces of events which, like seismic movements, have dragged about innumerable human beings, destroyed cities, razed mountains, moved boundaries, and created and erased beliefs.”
In a corner of the room, a television is turned to the news station CNN, playing news stories from the present. Finally, the installation includes Goya’s print To Rise and Fall, from Los Caprichos (1797–99), in which, according to Goya’s accompanying caption, “Fortune maltreats those who court her. Efforts to rise she rewards with hot air. Those who have risen she punishes by downfall”.
By envisioning the history of world events as projected moving images, Torres acknowledges the power of the cinematic. And by placing a cinematic history of the twentieth century in dialogue with a Goya print, he connects the past with the present reality of human struggle and pain. As if to acknowledge his own connection to history, the artist has inserted a video image of himself in the Yalta footage. Like the great representational painters who included themselves in group portraits and battle scenes, Torres presents himself as a self-reflective figure in the midst of the event that was to change Europe and the landscape in which he grew up.
Ikaraundi – Eqdalos ( Head Kneeling Against the Wall )
Pivotal works as his Txitxarro series (2000); Blow After Blow (2003); Red Light/Straight Edge (2006); Untitled Orbea (Orduña) (2007); No R.S. (99 Red Love Balloons) (2008); and Untitled (Six Peaks) (2011) reveal the artist’s two principal lines of work, which are often interrelated: the decontextualization and fragmentation of cultural icons and objects, and the study and reinterpretation of experimental audiovisual filming and editing processes. Garmendia’s camera, with its persistent presence, is not a passive instrument that merely records action—it actually creates a situation of tension and uneasiness.
The piece that Garmendia created especially for the exhibitionGarmendia, Maneros Zabala, Salaberria. Process and Method,held at the Museum in 2013, Ikaraundi – EQDALOS (Head Kneeling Against the Wall) (2013), is a synthesis of his work to date. Taking as his starting point the few existing photographic records of Jorge Oteiza’s bust of painter José Sarriegui (no longer extant), Garmendia applies industrial engineering processes to his own engineering of memory and recollection in a direct, radical way.
The consequences of this procedure are presented in different formats, such as a video that focuses on the head as its central motif, underscoring its objectual and iconic nature in a manner reminiscent of Garmendia’s works Bomber (2013) and Untitled Orbea (Orduña), where spectacularity is conspicuously absent. The narrative quality hinges on how the actions were recorded; however, inIkaraundi, the actions are contaminated by the artist’s own voice as it tells a disjointed tale that jumps back and forth in time. Thus, the artist configures a personal puzzle and presents it to both the audience and himself.
Mask of Seduction
In 1995 Pérez began making masks woven with manes of hair, which he used to stage performances. Mask ofSeduction, which comprises a horsehair mask, a cotton and silk dress, and a wall text, had its origin in a performance orchestrated by Pérez in 1997 on the occasion of the opening of a solo exhibition in Barcelona: a model wore the dress and mask as she walked mysteriously among the audience. The artist has always been especially fascinated by masks because of their ability to mutate identities. In Mask of Seduction, Pérez implies that masking one’s identity is intrinsic to human nature. At the same time, he spotlights the shifting boundaries that distinguish the interior of the body from the world that surrounds it, both physically and psychologically. The materials of the mask and the dress hint at this theme: hair is a material that emerges from the inside of the body to become an external hallmark of the individual, while silk is a bodily emanation from the silkworm that later becomes an external covering.
For Pérez, the animal origins of these materials suggest a ritual sensibility, which is further evoked by the text on the wall, outlining the mating and death of the praying mantis. This aura of morbid sensuality permeates the installation space
Empty Box With Large Openig
Back in the Basque country in 1947 from a long sojourn in South America, he assimilated the impact of Henry Moore’s work before beginning to develop what he called his “Experimental Purpose.” This work arose out of a series of conceptual considerations and from a particular way of working on sculpture-related issues: his notion that all artistic practice surges from a void that is nothing yet eventually reaches a Nothing that is Everything . So moments when expressive capacity and the amount of material increase, when the role of the spectator is purely receptive, will be followed by others in which the important thing is the fading out of expression, when the material is de-occupied and space takes on a predominant role, with the formerly passive spectator activated before the void of the sculpture.
These ideas of experimentation and spirituality, inspired by his reappraisal of works by masters such as Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich, put into practice the process of emptying simple geometric forms such as the cylinder, the sphere, and the cube. He based this work on a range of attempts carried out on small models ordered in groups posing the same set of problems; these he referred to as “experimental families” or series.
Only the most representative or intense of these models were eventually transferred to the definitive material state, always on a modest scale. At around that time, as part of his Vacating of the Sphere series, he also produced Hillargia, 1957, Empty Construction with Five Curved Malevich Units , 1957, and Study for the Emptying of the Sphere, 1958. The first work makes good use of a study of motion from a structural viewpoint, while at the same time figuratively referring to the phases of the moon. The second is a close relation of one of Oteiza’s essential works, Homage to Malevich . In these works, owing to the combined use of welding techniques and forging, the sculpture seems to act as both spatial cause and effect: while space is defined in its concavities, by putting pressure on the forms space actually seems to be the ultimate cause of the concavities themselves. 1958’s Study for the Emptying of the Sphere is clearly approaching the experimental conclusion of the series.
In 1958, Oteiza began working on his “conclusive works”, which were highly geometric, matter-free spatial signs, later considered to be examples of proto-Minimalist sculptures. The sculptor interprets the void of which these works consist as a point of arrival and the sign that one process has concluded and another is beginning. Metaphysical Box by Conjunction of Two Trihedrons. Homage to Leonardo, 1958, forms part the conclusive works created at the pinnacle of Jorge Oteiza’s fruitful artistic career. These sculptures, the experimental nucleus of his work, are the most important and have had the greatest impact on the development of modern sculpture. Although Oteiza experimented with different types of geometric shapes, the cube provided the artist with the solution to his personal search as a sculptor: to define an empty space which could be filled with spiritual energy. This sculpture is an excellent example of the artist’s metaphysical boxes. A dark and mysterious space is created in the interior, and when the boxes were placed on a stone or marble base the sensation the artist was after became even clearer: the feeling of a sacred space.
Empty Box with LargeOpening (Caja vacía con gran apertura),also from 1958, belongs to the last great series known as EmptyBoxes (Cajas Vacías), and represents a remarkably subtle box, where space and form flow much more than they do in other components of the same series.
For Ballester, the rapid technological development of photography has enabled both viewer and artist to take a closer look at the world of art. Through photography, Ballester strives to encapsulate time, to make it stand still, giving respite from the passage of life by immersing the viewer in architectural nonplaces. Ballester is interested in empty spaces, in portraying people through their traces and reflections. His work investigates the loneliness of the individual and the contradictions of the modern world through architecture, transforming spaces into artificial scenes. Light plays a prominent role, with the hidden and the visible, and the public and the private, serving as aspects that reveal the human condition. The large-format images leave a path wide open to interpretation; to Ballester, the work invites the spectator to participate in the metamorphosis of reality.
Ballester’s search for the poetics of empty space has led to the series Hidden spaces, comprising reinterpretations of masterpieces from art history, which he reworks by digitally altering photographic images of these earlier paintings to produce disquieting absences. Works such as Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) have allowed Ballester to revisit paintings of previous centuries, to approach them without having to renounce his own period in history. Velázquez’s most celebrated work of art, Las Meninas is a complex composition, constructed with admirable skill in the use of perspective, the depiction of light, and the representation of atmosphere. The paintings on the wall convey nobility and encapsulate knowledge of the best European artists of the 17th century; however, the depth of field in the painting, which limits the focus to the central figures and objects in the foreground and leaves the background blurred, anticipates the techniques of photography.
The installation Ecstasy, Status, Statue (Éxtasis, Status, Estatua, 1994) comprises a multitude of resin casts of the heels of men’s and women’s shoes. The heels are of varying sizes and shapes, oriented upside down and placed directly on the floor in a grid, reminiscent perhaps of Minimalist sculpture as well as taxonomic displays. Formally seductive, the installation suggests multiple layers of possible meaning. On one level, it reflects Moraza’s ongoing inquiry into the pedestal and its role in the definition of the category of sculpture; here the pedestal is subverted, or ironically inverted. The upside-down heels also inevitably conjure the missing bodies to which they belong. In Freudian terms, shoes are prototypical fetish-objects—objects of displaced desire resulting from the male child’s shock upon perceiving his mother’s sexual difference and his selection of a symbolic substitute. However, Moraza’s installation calls into question strict notions of sexual difference: if high and low heels serve as markers for the differentiated territories of masculine and feminine, the great diversity and gradation in the heights of the heels here imply intermediate territories between the two. The work also speaks to Jacques Lacan’s notion of desire as a residue, a void, an extreme fragility, or a fracture—the division of the subject into language, or, as in this particular case, the world turned topsy-turvy. Finally, the work challenges the kind of visuality normally associated with sculpture: the heels, close to the floor, do not allow for comfortable observation up close, while a complete view of the work can only be achieved from a more elevated position.
Shadow and Mouth
Before his untimely death at the age of 48, Muñoz had been steadily building a body of work that engages the spectator both physically and emotionally. His works can be interpreted as dramas frozen in time. Shadow and Mouth suggests an unfolding narrative, or perhaps the moment immediately after something—an argument, confrontation, or accusation?—has occurred. In its incorporation of familiar elements (here, ordinary furnishings) used as props in a vaguely surreal and nonspecific scene, Shadow and Mouth is typical of Muñoz’s oeuvre. The seated figures do not face each other, and they also deny the viewer’s impulse to engage them, remaining locked in their own self-contained world. This state of isolation and uncertainty is a potent metaphor for the ambiguities and complexity experienced in contemporary life.
Shadow and Mouth, 1996
Polyester resin, cloth, pigment, wood, and motor
Overall dimensions variable
Uslé has tended to work in series. As its title suggests, I Dreamt that You Revealed XI (Airport) [Soñé que revelabas XI (Airport), 2002] is the eleventh in a series of paintings that the artist began in 1997. The series is characterized by horizontal bands of methodically repeated vertical brushstrokes of black paint; the individual brushstrokes or rows vary in tonality from light to dark, creating the sensation of slow or pulsating movement and ambiguous depths and transparencies. At times, small dots or stripes of color appear on the surface—as in the orange lines that run across the four darker bands in I Dreamt that You Revealed XI (Airport)—which further produce spatial tensions and endow each painting with its own unique character.
The mechanical repetition of the brushstrokes in the I Dreamt that You Revealed series clearly evinces a systematic, process-oriented approach. The brushstroke, moreover, is a visible trace of the body and its physical activity. At the same time, the effect of these works is highly meditative, as though they were oblong mandalas. For Uslé, black represents the erasure of memory—a group of earlier and related works in fact had the word amnesiain their titles—as well as the disappearance of light and images.
Siege I (Asedio I), a pivotal piece in Jauregi’s career, is a wooden sculpture combining abstract formalization and precise subject matter. It is comprised of two pieces, a freestanding sculpture and a triptych relief that serves as a gloomy backdrop to the sculpted form. The triptych depicts an abstract landscape in black against a blue background. The artist has called this work an exploration of the poetry of abstraction; it makes no concession to either color or figuration, and it is deliberately difficult to interpret. The sculpture stands approximately thirty feet away from the triptych. Crafted in oak wood, it portrays an erect figure, above which glitters a second element, covered in gold leaf.
Jauregi began work on Siege I at the height of tensions with Iraq before the invasion by American troops, the moment of asphyxia and anguish before the action began. Jauregi seeks the representation of abstract forms referencing elements from nature, and of a type of civic order schematized in an iconography of houses, bridges, and trees, which seeks to describe how man lives together with nature, while also serving as a prelude to the end of order, a description of the moment prior to human conflict, the siege.
Sign I (Signo I, 2003) belongs to a family of works that reflect Palazuelo’s belief (stemming from the influence of Klee) in the power of the line—the line’s capacity to make the invisible visible and to serve as a vehicle for energy. In SignI, he created a sense of dynamism by deploying a diagonal line (in contrast to the static quality of vertical or horizontal lines). For Palazuelo, empty space, which forms much of the composition here, was equally a generative presence and a plenitude of energy; he once said that space is the territory the artist enters as a traveler in search of adventure. This powerfully simple, energy-charged work is a “sign” of Palazuelo’s introspective vision coming into form.
Life Forms 304
Life Forms 304 is an installation specifically conceived for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s collection. The piece takes part of its title from the space for which it was designed, Gallery 304. The room as a space to live in is defined by a mural that covers the entire wall with a line, like a discontinuous corridor, on which drawings/objects hang while dialectically fighting for their space. In the centre there is a sculpture that looks inviting from the front, but this impression crumbles as soon as one glimpses the side view, where a multitude of angles, tensions, and forces appear, giving the impression that the construction maintains a precarious but studied balance. Irazu rejects the idea of space as a mere container in which objects can be placed, conceiving of it rather as a mediating element between the viewer and the work of art.
Life Forms 304 insists on the duality of object and setting, which are here clearly differentiated. The constructive element that occupies the central part of the space rises up like the skeleton of a superficial and relatively unstable protective element. The combination of metal, wood, plywood, and colored elements translates the logic of the assembly, a constructive and necessarily architectural principle.
Untitled # 767
Irazabal’s primary medium is a very runny liquid polymer, to which he adds first a gel medium to make it lie somewhat thicker during application, and then tiny amounts of liquid pigment to make different colors with various degrees of translucency. Given the thickness of every layer of paint that he applies, he builds box edges around the painting to keep the medium from running off the surface. The edges are removed before exhibition to allow the sides to be seen. When Irazabal puts colors on top of one another, the effect on the eye is incredibly complex.
In the first years of exploring his process for layering colors, Irazabal kept the scale small out of necessity. It was more important to explore the different possibilities of his newly invented methodology for working than to try to make larger-scale statements. However, while working toward his second commercial gallery show in New York, in 1997, he did explore ways of increasing his scale. To create the work entitled, with scientific reserve, Untitled #767 (1996), he started with four panels, each of which is approximately human-scaled. The overall dimensions are heroic, and in its vast expanse and embrace of vivid red it can’t help but echo Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950–51). Although this was unintentional, Irazabal feels that viewers’ comparison of the painting to Newman’s masterpiece only adds to the experience of his work. The painting seems monochromatic, but the sides show thick, superimposed strata of transparent acrylic paint which, like sediments, discreetly reveal Irazabal’s creative process to the viewer, as well as the origin of the deep, enigmatic light that shines in his paintings.
In the 1990s, besides continuing to expand her range of sculptural materials, Solano began to produce multicomponent installations and to incorporate photography into her practice. In the later part of the decade, her work also began to reflect her extensive travels and encounters with non-Western cultures in Africa and elsewhere. One of the first and most powerful such works, Jaosokor features a canoe-shaped iron armature covered with strips of transparent, colorless plastic knotted at regular intervals. Animated by the ambient light of the gallery, the surface of the sculpture subtly evokes the properties of water, an element Solano has alluded to elsewhere in her work. Although it is made from industrial materials, this structure suggests a tribal handicraft, an association strengthened by the accompanying photograph, hung on a nearby wall, of the face of a South Sea Islander. Solano was inspired to produce this work by a sojourn in Irian Jaya, the western, Indonesian part of the island of New Guinea, where she spent time in the small village of Jaosokor. With its juxtaposition of indigenous forms and motifs with synthetic, Western materials, Jaosokor stages a confrontation between two worlds. According to the curator Teresa Blanch, who has written extensively on Solano, the piece “evokes a disturbing voyage through the ages of humanity,” offering both a “denouncement of abuses perpetrated against indigenous peoples” and, at the same time, a more universalizing “tribute to human perseverance in face of the large existential fractures wrought by history.”
Famili Plot: Second Version
Badiola builds strange sets where odd things happen, where meetings and misunderstandings take place, in a game offabrications that offer the observer an immense space in which to create their meaning. All of these elements are included within the process of hybridization and mixing of language to which the artist has been committed in recent years.
Family Plot. Second Version is a crucial work in the career of Txomin Badiola. In it, the strictly constructive elements so closely linked to his works converge with his interest in architecture, design, furnishings, and theater sets, along with the incorporation of references from cinema, television, photonovels, comics, etc. This second version alluded to in the first part of the title is the development of a previous version that was first presented at an exhibition held in New York in 1994.
The work was included in a 1995 exhibition in Madrid. The show integrated a series of fictions (multiple allegories) that fed off reality-strange challenges that Badiola defined as absurd or improbable situations embodied by real people who “end up creating a material and spatial environment.” Halfway between theatrical set design and cinematographic innuendo, the artwork stretched the limits of sculpture while simultaneously taking a dive into the postmodern media landscape.
By joining together objects, constructions, and photographs of people that apparently have nothing to do with each other, but do feature strongly evocative qualities, the viewer feels driven to arrange them in time and space by means of an imagined action and, consequently, ends up completing the artwork. Thus, it is the viewer who gives meaning to this installation by unifying and connecting the different scenographic spaces, such as the objects and images located on and around it, so that everything becomes mutually justified.
The installation A.T.M.O.T.W. was conceived specifically for the 2013 exhibition Garmendia, Maneros Zabala, Salaberria. Process and Method with the intention of triggering a reflection on the museum as a place of representation. The title A.T.M.O.T.W.stands for “All The Material Of The World,” a statement of intent that betrays the piece’s encyclopedic ambitions, with the museum’s architecture as its subtext. A.T.M.O.T.W. contains numerous references, ranging from more subtle connections to the idea of “Basque sculpture” to overt associations with architectural icons such as the Rietveld Pavilion, designed by architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld in 1955 for the Third International Sculpture Exhibition held in Sonsbeek Park, Arnhem, The Netherlands. In so doing, Salaberria deconstructs the history of modernism, the Industrial Revolution, and the serialization of mass production by reinterpreting their characteristic artifact-objects or exhibition displays.