Every year the Iberdrola-Museum Programme funds the conservation and restoration of various works in the museum's permanent collection with the aim of ensuring that they are maintained in optimum conditions for their preservation and display. Among the works selected for treatment this year is the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida's large sculpture Meeting Place IV (1973-74), which greets visitors arriving at the museum. In addition, since the year 2000 the museum's entrance hall and the city square outside it have been named after him. Due to its outdoor location the work now requires a more exhaustive treatment than the habitual attention that it regularly receives. This conservation and restoration procedure has been carried out over the last four weeks.
Particularly notable within Chillida's extensive corpus of sculpture is a group of monumental works, the majority created for display in public spaces and with the generic title of "Meeting Places". The spirit behind their creation can be summarised in the artist's own expressive words: "Meeting places, places for dialogue and coexistence."
The series comprises seven works produced over the course of a decade, the earliest dating from 1964 and the most recent from 1974. While the first two were made in wood and Corten steel respectively, Chillida employed concrete for the others, including the museum's example. With the exception of the first one all the sculptures are on a monument scale, measuring nearly 5 metres across and weighing several tonnes.
The museum's example weighs more than 16 tonnes and measures 215 x 475 x 408 cm. It was executed between 1973 and 1974 and was donated by the artist to the museum in 1982. The sculpture was installed under his direct supervision on the former ground floor of the museum's modern building, a space that is now the entrance hall. In June 2000, however, and once again directly supervised by the artist, it was moved to its present location.
In this series of works Chillida focused on inventing new models of architectural sculptures for contemporary urban contexts. His first concrete project was Meeting Place II (1971) for Madrid, which is also the first of his large-scale, suspended works for which he counted on the collaboration of the engineer José Antonio Fernández Ordóñez. Many of these pieces were public commissions and large-scale creations for exterior spaces: Meeting Place I (1954) for New York; Meeting Place II (1971) and Meeting Place III (1972) for Madrid; Meeting Place V (1973) for Toledo; Meeting Place VI (1974) for the Fundación Juan March in Madrid; and Meeting Place VII (1974) for Palma de Mallorca. There are also various related preparatory studies in bronze, steel, iron and gesso.
One of the key issues that Chillida investigated in these works is the structuring of the forms in space, and more specifically the relationship between the exterior space that envelops the form and its interior space. As he wrote: "There is a recurring concern in most of my work: that of the 'interior space', the result and origin of the positive exterior volumes. In order to define those interiors spaces they have to be enveloped, making them almost inaccessible to the spectator located on the outside […] I aim to define the three-dimensional void through the three-dimensional mass, at the same time establishing a type of dialogue between them."
Another shared characteristic is the use of concrete. Chillida celebrated the harshness and monochromatic values of this material in his aim of establishing the union between apparently opposing qualities such as the roughness of the material and the delicacy of the outlines, or the emphatic presence of the form and the solemnity of the void.
Finally, another key concept present in much of Eduardo Chillida's work, both his graphic oeuvre and sculpture, is that of levitation. Suspended from steel cables, Meeting Place IV rises up a few centimetres off the ground, an elevation sufficient to create an effect that negates the sixteen tonnes of weight in favour of the harmony of the curves and the alternation between the void and mass of the forms.
When assessing the state of conservation of Chillida's concrete works and a possible restoration process, the technique employed in their creation has to be borne in mind. The use of reinforced concrete gives form to the sculptural volume through a framework comprising a metal formwork or wooden structure which functions as a container for the sand and cement.
One of the principal conservation problems with regard to these works, as in the case of the museum's example, is the corrosion of the interior metal structure, which can result in small cracks and breaks in the concrete, producing losses to the form.
Another risk factor which may affect the work's conservation is the fact of being installed outdoors, which means that climatic factors act directly on the materials of which it is made, accelerating processes of oxidation and encouraging biological attacks.
Once all these factors had been analysed and the relevant technical studies carried out prior to embarking on the restoration – checking the structure, a study of the alkalinity of the cement, noting any rust and biological damage – treatment was initiated on the work's surface layer with the application of a "biocide" product.
This procedure was combined with a consolidation of the type used on stone and with a treatment of the oxidisation of the metal elements. Finally some small reintegration was carried out to both the losses in the volume and the chromatism depending on the requirements arising from their state of conservation and always adhering to a criterion of minimal intervention.
This preventative conservation treatment will allow for the work's future evolution to be controlled and for establishing the most appropriate procedures for its ongoing conservation.