The museum has welcomed the donation of the sculpture Bilbao (1983) by Richard Serra (San Francisco, United States, 1939), which was given in memory of Martín García - Urtiaga and Mercedes Torrontegui by their grandchildren.
This is a work of special importance in the history of the museum and the city of Bilbao, since it was a site-specific sculpture made in 1983 by Richard Serra, one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century. That was the year (14 March - 30 April 1983) that the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum was celebrating the exhibition entitled Correspondences. 5 Architects, 5 Sculptors, curated by Carmen Giménez, one of the most renowned art contemporary curators, and by the sculptor Juan Muñoz. The exhibition shed light on the relationships between the art and architecture of the period, and to do so it gathered together projects by ten avant-garde artists: five architects (Emilio Ambasz, Peter Eisenman, Frank O. Gehry, Léon Krier and the Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown studio) and five sculptors (Eduardo Chillida, Mario Merz, Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro and Charles Simonds).
Richard Serra sourced the steel blocks that he needed for his sculpture in a steel mill in Avilés (Asturias) and completed the creation process within the museum itself. With the formal economy inherent to the minimalist sculpture of the period, Bilbao is made up of two steel ingots resting on each other. It thus materialises the questions intrinsic to sculptural practice that Serra was inquiring into at the time: mass, weight and balance. Two shapes repeated in different sizes and weighing more than 9 and 7 tonnes, respectively, are placed atop one another in an apparently unstable equilibrium.
The sculptor Txomin Badiola offered this analysis of Serra's work in an article published in March of that same year in the local newspaper: "His works are just left there, at best supported, but never anchored or held up by something that is not consubstantial with them; this precariousness creates a situation of violence in the viewer, whose space is interrupted and who is thus physically and psychological threatened".
Around that time, a series of sculptors, like Badiola, working under the influence of the works of Jorge Oteiza were becoming known around Bilbao. Serra's presence in the city, including a colloquium with students from the Fine Arts Faculty, was earth-shaking. Bilbao, in turn, impressed Serra when he visited it two months before the show was opened to the public. As Carmen Giménez explained at the time: "This is how Serra presents Bilbao: as a city in which solid, whole steel comes to the fore as a block in a tricky balance".
After the exhibition closed, the work remained outside the museum for two years, until it was purchased by the collector Plácido Arango and moved to Madrid. Years later, in 2001, it returned to the museum to be temporarily displayed, ushering in The Invited Work programme, which was part of the museum's inaugural activities after the latest remodelling and expansion of the facilities.
The donation of the work now in memory of Martín García - Urtiaga and Mercedes Torrontegui by their grandchildren marks a felicitous ending to the historical vagaries of a sculpture which was created in Bilbao and which gains its full meaning in Bilbao, as a witness to the vicissitudes that it has overcome until becoming part of the collection of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum through this exemplary act of patronage. It also embodies the memory of that visit by Richard Serra and his first work at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, a city where years later, this time at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, he would create one of the milestones in his artistic career with the installation of The Matter of Time (1994-2005).
Finally, the sculpture's current location, virtually in the same place it occupied originally, enables us to reconstruct the dialogue it forged back in 1983 with Eduardo Chillida's Meeting Place IV (1973), which was also inside the building at that time. It also helps us recall Serra's words about Basque sculpture: "Of all the countries I have visited, this is the one where I have seen the potential of sculpture the most clearly. Two such important sculptors as Oteiza and Chillida are a good example of this."
Martín García - Urtiaga. Biographical note
Even though he was born in Getxo (Bizkaia) to a family of merchants and entrepreneurs, Martín García - Urtiaga (1905-1997) spent much of his personal and professional life in Mexico, where he arrived with his family in 1939 as the result of the Spanish Civil War. He was a prominent presence in the country's social life (he was president of the Basque Centre of Mexico) and in its economy, as he founded there the Compañía Mexicana de Comercio Exterior (COMEX) in the early 1940s. An art lover, he managed to assemble an interesting collection of works by Ucelay, the Zubiaurre brothers and Aurelio Arteta, and he was one of the patrons of the architect Tomás Bilbao, who was also in exile in Mexico, and who oversaw the remodelling of his house in Mexico. In 1931, he married Mercedes Torrontegui (1907-1999), and they had seven children: Mercedes ("More"), Maite, Edurne, Francisco Javier, Miren-Karmele, Begoña and Martin Jon.