The great friend of iron, an ally of fire, earth and wind, maintains his position as one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century.
Eduardo Chillida Juantegui (San Sebastián, 1924-2002) was a magician of volume and silence. He is the best friend of iron, allied with fire, earth and wind. This Friday marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of the brilliant architect of emptiness, one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century, also allied with the word in the incessant search that was his life. "The deep is the air" was his motto. He borrowed it from a verse by Jorge Guillén and sums up his eagerness to reach the ethereal essence of things in his friendly battle with materials.
Genius equal to that of Brancusi, Calder or Giacometti, his work is in the best collections and museums in the world, and has been shown in more than 500 individual exhibitions. With more than 40 large pieces scattered around public spaces around the globe, his legacy shines at Chillida Leku, in Hernani. It welcomes the best of a universal work, alive and thriving that has not lost an iota of its high value.
His childhood by the sea in the bay of Donostia marked his relationship with landscape and space. As a child, he was absorbed in watching the waves break in the place where years later he placed his popular 'Peine del viento' (1976) as a tribute to his city.
Comb of the wind XV, (1977). Succession Eduardo Chillida and Hauser & Wirth. /
Soccer was his first passion. At the age of 18 he was a Real Sociedad goalkeeper. The txuri urdin fans nicknamed him 'the cat' because of his agility. A knee injury kept him out of the sport. He exchanged boots and gloves for bare hands in search of volumes, prompted by his late artistic vocation. He chose to study architecture in 1942, but dropped out to draw at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. He would always keep the principles of architecture in mind and called himself the "architect of the void."
Eduardo Chillida as Real Sociedad goalkeeper, (1943). Succession Eduardo Chillida and Hauser & Wirth. /
With a scholarship he arrived in Paris in 1948. He made his first figurative sculptures in plaster influenced by those of archaic Greece in the Louvre. Recognized at the Salón de Mayo in 1949, a year later he exhibited in a group exhibition at the Maeght Gallery dedicated to emerging artists. Aimé Maeght signed him to include him on his payroll along with Chagall, Miró, Calder or Giacometti.
Crisis and return
A creative crisis made him return to the Basque Country in 1951. He rediscovered his roots and discovered iron. He had already married Pilar Belzunce, with whom he had eight children. His return led to the discovery of his most personal language. 'Ilarik' was his first abstract sculpture in which he reinterpreted Basque funerary stelae. His works, inspired by nature, music and the universe, start from a philosophical concern. With the doors for the Basilica of Aránzazu he began in public works in 1954. His more than 40 pieces for public spaces allude to universal values such as tolerance or freedom.
He thought of himself as "a specialist in questions." And not only in his works did he rehearse answers. "There is nothing that has done more for culture than the desire to know of the one who does not know," wrote a creator as brilliant as hesitant. "My life has always consisted of doing what I don't know how to do, because what I know how to do I have already done, so that my whole life goes through the verbs of searching, doubting and asking", he assured in 1998, when the Reina Sofía presented the sample that covered his entire career. "I have the hands of yesterday, I lack those of tomorrow," he repeated. A great reader, he had one of his beacons in poetry and sought the brotherhood of great poets and narrators such as San Juan de la Cruz, José Ángel Valente, Neruda, Goethe or Edmond Jabés to compose his three-dimensional poems.
The Zabalaga farmhouse in Chillida Leku. Succession Eduardo Chillida and Hauser & Wirth. /
In September 2000, Chillida Leku (Chillida's place) was inaugurated, a twelve-hectare park in Hernani around the Zabalaga farmhouse, a 16th-century jewel that Chillida bought in 1983 and saved from ruin. Chosen by the artist to perpetuate his legacy and show his work in dialogue with nature, its eventful history, with crises and disagreements between the family and the Basque Government, led to its closure in 2010. Reopened in 2019, it is today managed by the powerful Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth, a giant in the art business led by Manuela Hauser and Iwan Wirth. The most influential couple in the world art market, according to the magazine Art Review, became the exclusive administrator of the Chillida Succession and the management of Chillida Leku. There rest the remains of the sculptor who died at the age of 78 in his house on Monte Igeldo in San Sebastián, defeated by Alzheimer's and without completing his great projects, a great monument to tolerance in the heart of the Tindaya mountain in Fuerteventura.
His teaching, based on his ability to make the most ancestral vanguard, has been recognized since the sixties of the last century. The first major retrospective of him was offered by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 1966 and by the end of the 1970s he established himself as one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. In 1980 he exhibited at the Guggenheim in New York, at the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid and, for the first time in the Basque Country, at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.
The Reina Sofía hosted its largest retrospective in 1998. The Guggenheim in Bilbao did so in 1999, the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2001, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg in 2003, the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona in 2003, the Mie Prefectural Art Museum , by Tsu-Shi (Japan) in 2006, at the Graphikmuseum Pablo Picasso Münster in 2012, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2018 and in Somerset in 2021.
In 1958, the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale and that of the Graham Foundation in Chicago opened a list of winners, to which were added awards such as the Kandinsky (1960), the Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1966), the Kaissering (1985), the Prince of Asturias of the Arts (1987) or the Praemium Imperiale of Japan (1991). Chillida was a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando since 1989.