This exhibition explores the role of paper in the work of Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) as a medium for his prints and drawings as well as an innovative material for his sculptures.
A well-known master of post-war sculpture, Chillida’s work as a draftsman and printmaker remains underappreciated and not fully explored. This exhibition brings together more than 50 rarely seen works by the Spanish master dating from the late 1950s to the early 2000s. The works in this exhibition reveal Chillida as a radical inventor that used paper to explore the referential expression of his work, to reformulate the concept of collage, to expand the possibilities of printmaking, as well as to create unique tridimensional paper structures –his Gravitations.
Chillida’s oeuvre is a physical meditation on the qualities and limitations of space. While his sculptural work defines him as an artist of monumental scale –utilizing heavy materials such as iron, steel, concrete and alabaster– his works on paper offer an intimate look into the universe of the artist addressing concepts such as limits, emptiness, space and scale. Chillida’s prints and drawings have a parallel relationship to his sculptural work, but they stand out as autonomous creations from the outset. They are not preliminary studies for sculptures but independent investigations about space rendered into a two-dimensional plane.
After a short period as a student at the School of Architecture in Madrid, Chillida decided to devote himself to art, and in 1948 created his first figurative plaster sculptures as well as linear drawings depicting sitting and reclining bodies. Both sculptures and drawings shared a common interest in line and essentiality, which will manifest in black and white colors that remained prominent until the end of his career. Chillida’s early drawings advanced investigations into organicism and its potential for abstraction pioneered in the first half of the 20th century by modern masters of sculpture such as Constantin Brâncuși, Hans Arp and Alexander Calder.
In 1953, the work of Chillida entered the free realm of abstraction when the artist started creating prints and drawings made out of black forms on white paper: a dialectic between the positive and the negative, an exploration of the tensions between occupied and empty space. These works introduced a different angle to discourse of geometry and organism predominant in post-war Europe. Also, in the 1950s, his works acknowledged the materiality of paper and its full potential for expression, as one can see in a series of revolutionary collages made of burned paper in the late 1950s. In the 1960s, Chillida’s development of abstraction reflected the influence of Asian art on his work, materialized in calligraphic-like brushstrokes of black ink on white paper, such as in the gestural Untitled (1963) and in intimate etchings from the series Gezna executed in 1969 which are also examined in this exhibition.
Chillida’s linear drawings of hands are also part of the exploration of the limits of space. This subject appears early on in his career and originates from his interest in observing the natural movement of human anatomy. The hands open and close revealing the complexities of the space around them. The sharp execution of these works on paper, focusing on the contours delineated by fingers and nails, situates Chillida as a virtuoso draftsman in the tradition inaugurated by European masters such as Raphael and Michelangelo.
One of Chillida’s most original contributions to contemporary art are his Gravitations, which are light constructions made out of paper and stitches that hang directly on the wall. Revealed for the first time at an exhibition at Galería Theo in Madrid in 1988, these works were made of felt or natural Japanese or Mexican paper. Areas of the paper were painted in black or were totally white exposing the natural tactile features of their material. The Gravitations allowed the artist to achieve a lack of gravity, always present even in his heaviest sculptural work. As the art historian Kosme de Barañano wrote on the occasion of Eduardo Chillida’s retrospective at Museo Reina Sofia and Guggenheim Bilbao, “(the Gravitations) are the sculptor’s chamber music, the piano solo after he has directed large orchestras,” in reference to his monumental work in foundries of iron and steel.
This exhibition also presents a wide array of his works as a printmaker, from his early etchings, lithographs and woodcuts to large-scale acquaints such as the series Euzkadi (1975-1976). Among Chillida’s late series of portfolios, the exhibition showcases Hommage à Johann Sebastian Bach (1997) and Aromas (2000), an artist book comprising woodcuts, etchings, and screenprints, together with texts by Chillida and his close circle of philosophers, poets and intellectuals who deeply influenced his work.
As Joan Robledo-Palop, Founder and CEO of Zeit Contemporary Art, explains “Chillida’s drawings offer a unique glimpse into the artist’s thinking process. The nature of this medium requires an immediacy that reveals Chillida’s mastery, determination and lack of hesitation through his remarkable career. These prints, drawings, collages and paper relieves uncover a complex metaphysical universe in the artist’s mind that has few parallels in the 20th century.”
Eduardo Chillida | On Paper is not only the first posthumous exhibition in the United States to focus exclusively on Chillida’s work on paper but also the first one that uses a digital platform to showcase his art. As Robledo-Palop states: “This exhibition devoted to Eduardo Chillida continues our commitment to offer new interpretations of little-known episodes in the history of art and our belief that the online format of the project will bring the work of the artist to new audiences and collectors around the globe.”
Eduardo Chillida (Donostia/San Sebastián, Spain, 1924 – 2002) exhibited his early work in 1949 in the Salon de Mai at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. Since then, his work has been the subject of more than 100 solo exhibitions in international museums, including major retrospectives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1966), the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. (1979), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (1980), Hayward Gallery in London (1990), Palacio de Miramar in San Sebastián (1992), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (1999) and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (1999). He participated in numerous international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (1958, 1988 and 1990), where he received the International Grand Prize for Sculpture in 1958; the Pittsburgh International, where he received the Carnegie Prize for sculpture in 1964 and, in 1978, shared the Andrew W. Mellon Prize with Willem de Kooning; and Documenta II, IV and VI. A major part of his body of work is displayed in cities throughout the world and includes over forty-seven public sculptures, including De música, Dallas XV, 1989, and Peine del viento XV, 1977 in San Sebastián, Spain.