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10|12|20 Donation and Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea Prize


The recent donation of the Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea document collection by his companion, Sonia Rueda, is wonderful news for the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, as it revives the strong bonds between the institution and the artistic community. The donation enhances the museum's collection with a broad corpus of materials collected throughout the career of this prestigious art historian, whose indefatigable work in recent decades has been crucial to promoting and disseminating Basque art. A professor, historian, critic and art curator, throughout his research he amassed countless documents, which will now be housed in the museum's library to be used in artistic research into our times and cultural environments.

In order to keep the figure of Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea and his contributions to the art world alive in perpetuity, his companion Sonia Rueda and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum will hold a contest to award this prize every two years to recognise dedication to the visual arts in any of its areas: creation, study and research, promotion, dissemination and promotion. The prize is €10,000 gross, financed by Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea's legacy. Any physical person or legal entity that has made a proven, crucial contribution to the development of the visual arts in the Basque Country may be nominated for the prize.

The jury, comprised of Sonia Rueda and Miguel Zugaza, museum director, and members Beatriz Herráez, director of the Artium Museum (Vitoria) and Francisco Javier López Landatxe, former director of the Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea (San Sebastián), decided to award the prize to the painter Marta Cárdenas (San Sebastián, 1944) for her decisive contribution to the visual arts in the Basque Country.

Marta Cárdenas in Arteder


Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea document collection

This is a private document collection which is extraordinarily important because of its volume, the bibliographic and scientific quality of the works it contains and particularly its contribution to the artistic historiography of contemporary Spanish art, with a particular focus on Basque art. It also represents Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea's three main facets, namely his work as a historian, art critic and educator, while also extending his intellectual generosity—every Wednesday he opened up his library to students in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the UPV/EHU—for future generations of historians and researchers.

The donation of this set of documents is an invaluable contribution that enriches the document collection on Basque art that the museum Library has assembled since it was created in 1985. The convergence of two collections is an important step in the future of the project Arteder (Documentation and Study Centre of Contemporary Basque Art) making it an essential reference point for experts and researchers into contemporary Basque art, a milestone which is associated with the museum's overarching objective of fostering the research and dissemination of the artistic creation in our milieu.

The donation contains the following materials (approximate figures):

  • 11,500 art monographs
  • 3,800 art magazines
  • 69,700 press publications since the 1970s
  • 330 boxes with clippings from the cultural press
  • 4,700 newspaper weeklies
  • 55,000 exhibition brochures and catalogues
  • 90,000 slides made by Xabier for international art events (ARCO, Venice Biennale, Documenta in Kassel, fairs in Basel, Lyon, etc.)
  • 180 diskettes and 28 cassettes (with work material and lectures)


Sala W (writer/ idazlea/ escritor/ écrivain)

On the occasion of the donation of the Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea document collection, the museum is presenting a major selection of the donated materials in gallery W (writer / idazlea / escritor / écrivain), which showcase his life's work as a critic, educator and researcher.

For example, the first display case contains a miscellany of documents, including the first criticism Xabier published on minimal art in the newspaper Deia in 1981 and two volumes of his diaries with annotations on art and thinking. The second compiles different publications, most of them related to exhibitions in which he participated as either a curator or an author of texts. The third holds a sampling of materials in different formats which showcase the unique features of this document collection. For instance, the display includes the statues from the Euskal Artisten Elkartea Association of Basque Artists (EAE); the Gure Artea catalogue form 1996, the edition in which Xabier redefined the prizes; and the catalogue from one of the earliest editions of Documenta in Kassel in 1977.

A selection of art slides that Xabier took throughout his lifetime is being projected, and his old typewriter is also displayed in the gallery.



Text by Kirmen Uribe

A good critic is not a judge. Isn't there to pass judgment. The critic's not there to praise a few works and exclude the rest. The critic exists outside that high-speed game. The art historian's task is to read in tranquillity, to deliberate through the passing of time, like a gardener, to patiently look into how the plants grow, make notes in the daybook and then lay all that out in an understandable manner. It takes time to become a good critic. The good critic sees things that no one else sees. Critics show us how to read the thousand stories behind an art work. That's why they are so necessary.

Xabier Saénz de Gorbea, moreover, went a step farther. He put an immense amount of work into knowing Basque art, and making it known, from deep inside. That's clear enough. But Saénz de Gorbea was, most especially, a creator. Not a mere viewer, like many critics. He wasn't looking from the outside, without implicating himself, without getting down in the mud. He experienced the art world from the inside, and then spurred artists to create. He taught his students to love art, but especially to be artists, to look inside themselves and with a critical eye, he encouraged them to create new things.

In this W–Writer gallery we glimpse the archives of Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea
. Things of this kind are not often seen. The journey more than the result, the interior more than the exterior. The chef's kitchen, the captain's bridge, the scientist's lab. Sáenz de Gorbea's lifelong goal was awareness, and he went on from awareness to achieve knowledge, knowledge he generously offered to the whole world.


Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea

Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea (Getxo, Bizkaia, 1951–Bilbao, 2015) was a renowned historian, critic and researcher specialised in the contemporary art of the Basque Country. He held a Bachelor's in Art from the University of Barcelona and began his early career in 1980 in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the UPV-EHU, where he was appointed Vice Dean of Research and Cultural Outreach. He was also a professor, with an extraordinary passion for teaching, offering the classes "Theory and History of 20th-Century Art", "Introduction to 20th-Century Art" and "Latest Artistic Trends". During this time, he also participated actively in countless other academic activities, such as summer courses, Master's and post-graduate programmes, among others.

Along with his brother Roberto, in 1971 he founded Bilbao's Windsor Gallery—later called the Windsor Kulturgintza—and was a member of the Association of Basque Artists (Euskal Artisten Elkartea), founded in 1983 with artists associated with the Faculty of Fine Arts.

As a researcher, his work focused on contemporary art, with special attention to the Basque art scene, which he carefully tracked in the art criticisms that he published weekly in his partnership with the newspaper Deia since 1981.

Likewise, he also published articles in specialised journals like Lápiz, Ondare and Zehar and wrote numerous texts for exhibition catalogues. Also noteworthy is his work as a curator of many exhibitions, his participation on juries for prizes and grants and his work as a fine arts advisor for the Basque government between 1981 and 1991.

In recognition of this fruitful career and his contribution to the development of the fine arts, in 2012 he was awarded the Gure Artea prize from the Basque government.