Arts News: Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit Features Basque Master

Eduardo Chillida’s “Comb of the Wind XIX” (1999) is one of seven sculptures by the Spanish Basque artist on view in Theis Park and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park through Dec. 3. Chillida Belzunce Family Collection / © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (Image courtesy of Ordo)

We are stardust, born from the elements of the cosmos, which binds us forever to everything in the universe. Our galactic bodies share chemical elements with steel, which may, in some mystical way, draw us closer to the fundamental nature of Spanish Basque artist Eduardo Chillida’s fire-forged steel sculptures.

Through Dec. 3 seven Chillida sculptures are on view in Kansas City, in an outdoor exhibit, “Chillida: Rhythm-Time-Silence.” It was organized by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in collaboration with New York’s Ordovas gallery, which represents the artist, and in cooperation with Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. Four of the sculptures are installed in Theis Park, south of the museum, while the other three are on the grounds of the museum’s Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park.

“Art is a very powerful catalyst to spark conversation and in that way, it brings people together, regardless of background or particular interest,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Director/CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. “These monumental sculptures by Eduardo Chillida enliven and energize these areas to inspire thoughtful dialogue and interaction among all who visit.”

Chillida (1924–2002), trained in the classic modernist European tradition and studied architecture and then drawing in Madrid before moving to Paris. In Paris, he immersed himself in the avant-garde, influenced by the abstract work and iron sculpture of Julio González, an older Catalan artist working in Paris, whose steel sculptures also influenced the work of American sculptor David Smith.

Chillida’s Corten steel sculptures are not cast, but rather forged. The massive sculptures are muscular, hunkering down to the ground, yet simultaneously actively engaging the space in which they exist. They are lyrical and yet brawny evocations of the fire from which the material is forged. The Corten steel itself embodies labor, workmanship and the machines of progress and industrialism.

Earning their creator the epithet “architect of the void,” Chillida’s sculptures define their own spatial environments. At times, they pierce space by reaching out from the sculpture’s center; at other times a sculpture collapses space and draws tightly in upon itself. They feel paradoxically active, despite their mass and inertia.

Each work seems to generate its own peculiar story as it interacts with space and the viewer in multiple ways. In “Advice to Space IX,” geometric shapes angle out from the sculpture’s base and may suggest oversized components of an even more gigantic architectural structure. Conversely, “In Praise of the Void, VI”’s curvilinear forms seem to hug themselves, collapsing space tightly to itself. Despite its size and material, it feels intimate and even somewhat tender, a testament to Chillida’s ability to wrestle sensibility out of such an uncompromising material.

“Advice to Space VIII” suggests a clever anthropomorphism in which steel appendages reach upward from the work’s monolithic and zigzagged, wall-like body as if to transmit, or conversely, receive ideas.

“Comb of the Wind XIX” similarly reaches out from its center to embrace the space around it. Arms curve away almost gently, seemingly to draw us and anything else into its powerful nucleus. The work is reminiscent of Chillida’s sea sculpture “Peine del Viento (Wind Comb),” in San Sebastián, Spain, which reaches out from an enormous boulder to greet the sea’s waves.

“Seat III” and “Deep is the Air XVIII” (the sole granite sculpture) suggest the dualities of empty and full. By piercing these sculptures with geometric shapes, Chillida allows space to exist not only around the sculptures, but through and, in a way, within them.

Chillida’s massive motionless sculptures feel paradoxically lively, yet despite being rendered in Corten steel or granite, they aren’t defined solely by their materiality. Rather, they telegraph the sensation or memory of movement and intense energy that transcends their size, weight and the Earth’s gravitational pull.

“Chillida: Rhythm-Time-Silence” continues through Dec. 3 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park and Theis Park.

Dana Self

Dana Self is an arts writer who was a contemporary art curator for more than 13 years at museums in Kansas, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri, including Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. She has organized roughly 100 exhibitions of emerging and midcareer artists. She is also marketing director for UMKC Conservatory.

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