Lot 4: EDUARDO CHILLIDA
Contemporary Art Evening
November 14, 2006
New York, NY, USA
PROPERTY FROM THE VANTHOURNOUT COLLECTION
17 ¼ x 26 x 16 ½ in. 43.8 x 66 x 41.9 cm.
Executed in 1998, this unique work is registered in the archives of Museo Chillida-Leku, under number 1998-003.
Galerie Lelong, Zurich
Acquired by the present owner from the above in June 1998
"A piece of iron is in itself an idea, a powerful and inflexible object" Chillida wrote. By bending and forcing it to his will, each work becomes a struggle of the artist's mind over the inanimate matter. The evidence of this struggle remains inherent in Untitled (1998), the energy and force visible in the contorted iron, bent to the sculptor's will, so that "nothing can separate the space from the force that circumscribes it." (Cited in Giovanni Carandente, Eduardo Chillida, exh. cat. Venice Biennale XLIV, Milan, 1990, p. 21) Chillida's sculpture is not only about the iron it is cast from, but about the negative spaces enclosed by the curling arms and curved shapes.
This sensitivity for the nuances of constructed space dates back to his early studies at the Architectural Faculty of the Colegio Mayor Jiménez de Cisneros in Madrid, and a sense of massive and balanced proportions -- if not actual scale -- permeates even the smallest works. Untitled (1998) in particular uses the visual language of his large scale public sculptures, and has the same beckoning and curving fingers of iron that are so characteristic of his monumental Peine del Vento (Wind Combs) of 1977, installed on the cliffs of San Sebastiano, in many ways the artist's personal tribute to his home town. Looking out over the Bay of Biscay, the massive beams of iron seem to be reaching for the horizon, and despite their density and size, hum as the wind passes through them (hence their name).
Typically for Chillida, in Untitled (1998) there is a dynamic tension between the weighty immobility of the iron, and the implied movement of the curling beams that rise from it -- "like fringes disarranged by a mysterious breeze" (Ibid, p. 17). This piece plays on a balanced dynamic of opening and enclosing, introspection and extroversion - an embrace as intimate yet structurally elemental as a Henry Moore Family Group. At one end of the work the lower body opens out in a funnel shape, while the arms seem to hold back this aperture, and are crossed defensively. Tantalizingly, their cupping hooks almost touch -- but not quite, like the fingers of the Adam and God in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. The energy of capturing the instant before touching rather than the great moment itself multiplies the kinetic tension, as we almost will the implied but unfulfilled contact to complete itself. As Chillida wrote, "There is an occult communication between everything near." (Cited in Exh. Cat., Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute of Art, Chillida, 1979, p. 21)
No relationship is a given: every element in Untitled is differentiated and in contrast with its relative counterpart, creating a visual conversation across the piece. One side is higher than the other, but the cupping arms terminate in perfect parallel. At the closed end of the composition, the metal C-shapes, apparently a pair, are actually very different: one closes half way, while the other closes almost to a ¾ circle.
Untitled (1998) gathers in itself the concerns and nuanced visual vocabulary of a lifetime in art, the product of an artist at the height of his creative powers. Success and recognition came early to Chillida, with an exhibition at the prestigious Salon de Mai in 1949 after only one year of working as a sculptor, and never left him. But despite his success in France, in 1951 Chillida returned to his native Basque country to learn blacksmithing, where thanks to the rich iron mines at the feet of the Pyrenees, iron working has a tradition dating back to 3,000 BC. According to the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, "Eduardo Chillida wanted to know muscular space without fat and heaviness. The world of iron is all muscles. Iron is the straight, the certain, the essential force." (Bachelard, "Le Cosmos du fer", Derrière le Miroir, nos. 90-91, October -November 1956, n.p.) Chillida found his true vocation with working in iron, which garnered him his well-deserved status as one of the greatest sculptors of the Twentieth Century, and saw his works placed among those of Giacometti, Moore, Caro and David Smith in the greatest museums of the world.