Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


The Jorge Oteiza Museum

The day before Chillida Leku, I went to the Jorge Oteiza Museum in Pamplona. Oteiza was a mid-century Basque sculptor. He was friends with Chillida and other modernists, and his work overlaps with them and was influential, though I don’t really know if he’s well-known these days or not. He was an ideas guy, a lot of his stuff is interesting, and some of it is almost good, but almost all of his ideas seem to have been developed into better sculptures by other artists. The museum paired well with a visit to Chillida Leku the next day, though I don’t think Oteiza does well by the comparison. Chillida’s sculptures are much much better.

Oteiza started with figurative work and did pretty well with it. The works are pretty good but noticeably derivative, almost every one can be identified as a Giacometti or a Henry Moore or a Brancusi, etc… He seems to have realized that, because he gave up on figurative work and only did abstract work for a while, and then eventually he gave up on that too. I’m not sure when he got the idea of turning his house into a museum, but after he died they built a modern concrete structure around the farmhouse where he had lived. The building is — like the sculptures — interesting and almost good, with some odd details such as windows that only go up to your waist.

The sculpture on the right above and in the photo below is one of his best and I think it influenced Chillida’s Lo Profundo del Aire series. Oteiza got interested in creating holes in his sculptures so that light could shine through and create what I think he called ‘light worms’, there was supposed to be a spiritual energy created or revealed or activated somehow. It doesn’t look like much, but I sketched it and came to appreciate how light is cast through the holes and projected onto the face inside the carved groove, it’s more sophisticated than I realized at first glance.

I like the wall pieces.

The one below is legitimately good, the ones above I’m not so sure.

This last one, Desocupacion de la Esfera, is in Bilbao. I think it’s supposed to be about the space inside the steel, which… I guess. It’s fine, but then a few days later I saw Chillida’s Elogio del Horizonte in Gijón, which is much more successful with that idea. When you stand in it you can feel the column of air created around you. I think that’s at least a little bit an Oteiza idea, but it’s entirely a fantastic Chillida sculpture.

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