On the occasion of Petronor's 50th anniversary, the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is now unveiling the anthological exhibition entitled After '68. Art and Artistic Practices in the Basque Country 1968–2018. This show surveys five decades of Basque art, thus renewing the museum's commitment to the contemporary art in our nearest environs.
The exhibition gets underway—two years after the Gaur group was founded—in the emblematic year of 1968, a time when a new generation of Basque artists born in the 1940s was joining the art scene and sharing it with the veteran members of the Basque School groups, whose referents were Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida. As an exceptional prologue to the exhibition, it brings together extraordinary pieces by both artists: Homage to Paul Klee (1955–1956) and Portrait of the Holy Spirit (1958–1959) by Oteiza, which belong to private collections, and Abesti gogorra IV (1964) and Silent Music I (1955) by Chillida, which are owned by the Juan March Foundation and the Kunstmuseum of Basel, respectively.
In a decade of political and social upheaval, Basque art witnessed the end of the languages stemming from Informalism and constructive abstraction, as well as the birth of the figurative proposals of Pop Art and the questioning of the idea of the artistic object posed by minimalism and conceptual art. Right at the beginning of this period, on the 28th of September 1970, the museum's modern building was opened and the Basque Fine Arts College started operating, which would later become the Fine Arts Faculty and would exert a crucial influence on the evolution of Basque art.
The survey concludes five decades later, in 2018, a period in which art made by women has become increasingly prominent, with representatives of the most recent artistic experiments by today's creators.
A sweeping selection of almost 150 works—including painting, sculpture, photography, video art and works on paper—and almost 100 artists from several generations of artists will shed light on the ways art has modernised in this particular scene at the turn of the last century, while also assessing the importance that the individual and collective careers that emerged in the region have had on both Spanish and international art.
The show's point of departure is the collection of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, which is joined by important loans from private collections and fellow public institutions—such as the Museo
Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, ARTIUM and the Kunstmuseum of Basel—that have placed particular emphasis on acquiring contemporary Basque art. Important pieces by María Luisa Fernández, Txuspo Poyo, Edu López and Jon Mikel Euba come from Artium. In addition, works by Pedro Osés, Juan José Aquerreta, Alberto Rementería, Luis Candaudap and Azucena Vieites come from Basque savings banks.
Outside the Basque Country, numerous institutions have collected Basque art and made significant contributions to the exhibition. The "La Caixa" Foundation has lent works by Ángel Bados, Txomin Badiola, Cristina Iglesias, Peio Irazu and Ana Laura Aláez. Likewise, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MCNARS), the Museu Nacional d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC) have lent pieces by Miguel Ángel Gaüeca, Sergio Prego, Asier Mendizabal, Ibon Aranberri, Iñaki Garmedia and Ixone Xadaba.
This corpus of art is joined by the important book and document collection from the museum's library, which plays a major role in documentation and research via Arteder, the largest database on Basque art and artists in our country. This section not only includes loans from private collections—such as the archives of the historian and art critic Xabier Sáenz de Gorbea and the gallery owner Sol Panera—but also loans from public institutions, such as the Jorge Oteiza Foundation Museum, the Sancho el Sabio Foundation and Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea.
Through a chronological discourse in which the artists and their works are interspersed with documentary and archival materials -books, brochures, exhibition cards, magazines, posters, written texts or audiovisual materials- After '68. Art and artistic practices in the Basque Country 1968-2018 occupies all the exhibition space in the museum's modern building (BBK gallery and galleries 32 and 33), a space opened in 1970 which is itself a fundamental part of the institutional account of art during this period.
The exhibition, which is curated in-house by Miriam Alzuri, Begoña González and Miguel Zugaza, is accompanied by a catalogue with texts by experts who contribute new information to the study of the artistic expressions which have emerged in the Basque Country from 1968 until today. Francisco Javier San Martín, Fernando Golvano, Peio Aguirre and Miren Jaio have made a decade-by-decade survey of the artistic practices that run through this exhibition. All four texts can be downloaded free of charge in Basque, Spanish and English in the Reading Room of the museum's website. Likewise, Mikel Onandia has devised an exhaustive timeline which contains the events that defined the artistic and cultural context during this period.
With the exception of Jorge Oteiza, who had concluded his sculptural oeuvre but whose activist presence was still a determining factor throughout the entire period, the 1970s signalled the development and maturity of the artists who had established the Basque School back in 1966. In this decade, the youngest ones who joined this collective venture, including Xabier Morrás, Juan José Aquerreta and Carmelo Ortiz de Elgea, consolidated their own personal vocabularies. While a rhetoric of the Basque geometric style with archaic undertones was being laid down in sculpture, the generational legacy was more problematic in painting. No baton passed from hand to hand from José Antonio Sistiaga or Rafael Ruiz Balerdi—just to cite two of the most important painters from the previous decade—to Mari Puri Herreno or Alfonso Gortázar; instead, there was more a generational rift. The older artists stopped speaking with the younger ones, and the brilliant informalist painting of the 1960s virtually ground to a halt. The lack of understanding between the artists from different regions has also been remarked upon, that is, their strange isolation despite their geographic proximity, as a key clue to the failure of the collaborative initiatives. This was joined by this generational isolation as well. It was more pronounced in Bizkaia, where the generational succession was more like an avant-garde confrontation, and less evident in the remaining regions, although it was in all of them to a greater or lesser extent. Early in the decade, new forms of narrative painting emerged, like a testimonial Pop or simply resembling the urban phenomenon and scenarios more akin to psychedelia and personal mythologies. Gipuzkoa and Pamplona, which gained sudden visibility through the Encounters 72, were the focal points of this new kind of painting.
Of course, we are talking about artists working in the difficult context of a dictatorial regime which continued to repress the most elementary citizen freedoms in the midst its death throes: exhibitions were shuttered, artists arrested, previous censure was practised… Despite all their differences and repeated disputes, the Basque artists nonetheless managed to serve as yet another front in the culture battles against the Franco dictatorship. At the end of the regime, between 1975 (the death of the dictator), 1978 (approval of the Spanish constitution) and 1979 (approval of the autonomy of the Basque Country), the artists somehow lost their exemplary, antagonistic nature and had to adapt to a different context in which the priorities were no longer politics but instead became more clearly professional.
In late 1979, on the verge of the new decade, a new symptom appeared: the magazine Euskadi Sioux, which showcased the graphics of artists like Juan Carlos Eguillor and Vicente Ameztoy, showed novel aspects of the cultural debate on the mestizo and, despite its brief tenure, became a pioneer among similar initiatives in all the historical territories. The majority of Basque artists did not react as quickly to the new stimuli of freedom of the press and opinion, but these decisive years marked the initial germination of a new generation of artists that had to deal with the challenges of the global and the local, and especially the shift from modernity to a debate on their legacy and the prospects they were leaving open.
Text: Francisco Javier San Martín
The crisis of the modern took place in the Basque Country quite differently than in the countries around us. Marked by the political dramatics of the end of the dictatorship, in the atmosphere of effervescence from the restored freedoms, it was nonetheless not based on a modern tradition—pop, minimalism, conceptual—on which their antagonistic story could be built. To the contrary, its agenda was national construction, vernacular identity, which took on another dimension in what was called at that time the map of the autonomous communities. The influence of the international currents was particularly significant in a country that had just joined the international scene after forty years of isolation. The warp-speed transition from the modern to the contemporary was paradoxically—or perhaps not—supported by the claims of a modern figure: Jorge Oteiza, not only a sculptor but also an ethical activist on behalf of a humanistic art, an agitator who for decades had been stressing education and the revival of the local culture within the framework of contemporary art. Even more than in the late 1950s, when he was working actively as a sculptor, in the 1980s the figure of Oteiza was revived as a formal and ethical example. Through a post-minimalist (Txomin Badiola) or conceptual (CVA) or mythical vocabulary (Ángel Bados or José Ramón S. Morquillas), what was called the New Basque Sculpture at the time managed to articulate one step forward, and another step backward: in its founding exhibition Mitos y delitos ("Myths and Crimes", Metrònom gallery of Barcelona and Caja de Ahorros Municipal of Bilbao), they looked forwards with the post-modern vocabulary and backwards with the survey of the local heritage.
On the other hand, different versions closer to or further from neo-expressionism, which had been a fixture on the international scene since the late 1970s, gained visibility. Some established artists, such as José Luis Zumeta and Juan Luis Goenaga, approached it by taking a radical turn in their work, while other new names simultaneously appeared, such as Iñaki de la Fuente, Daniel Tamayo and Alfonso Gortázar, who offered very different versions of this reassessment of narrative-style painting.
The institutional context was also transformed: the Fine Arts Faculty of Bilbao radically changed how art was taught, along with the relationships among the artists and their professional profiles. In early 1983, an important group of artists from the Bilbao area restored the Euskal Artisten Elkartea or EAE (Association of Basque Artists) with the old aspiration of "joining forces in favour of shared objectives and to defend the sector". They published a single issue of the magazine Tarte and held the show 20 Basque Artists at Madrid's Círculo de Bellas Artes; however, yet again they only led a fleeting existence. Arteder, the International Art Fair, the best definition of the enthusiasm from those early years after the Statute of Gernika, had been launched in 1981, but only two editions were held.Within this context, Gure Artea(1982), a prize awarded by the Basque government, and Ertibil(1983) from the Provincial Council of Bizkaia were created, and the New Artists competition was held; after changes in format and controversies, they all still exist in some guise today. However, the institutional scene remained poor: there were neither exhibition halls (with the exception of the Culture Hall of the Caja de Ahorros Municipal de Bilbao on Calle Elcano) nor up-to-date art centres or museums which could promote the new art being made.
Text: Francisco Javier San Martín
In October 1990, the show Epílogo ("Epilogue"), organised by Santiago Eraso outside the institutional scene at the Fairgrounds of Tolosa, drew attention to a new generation of artists who were situated between the debate on Basque sculpture and other proposals with no immediate referents. Almost all of them coalesced around courses, workshops and daily contact in Arteleku in San Sebastián. Epílogo featured names like Ana Laura Aláez, Gema Intxausti and Dora Salazar in sculpture; and José Ramón Amondarain, Luis Candaudap and Edu López in painting. Arteleku, a centre of production and thinking located in the Loiola neighbourhood, had been opened in 1987, promoted by the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, but it did not begin to play a pivotal role in the art scene until the mid-1990s. During its lifetime until 2014, it published the influential magazine Zehar. Other names emerged from the workshops at Arteleku that Badiola and Bados held mid-decade, such as Itziar Okariz, Sergio Prego and Jon Mikel Euba. Along with the Fine Arts Faculty, which had gained ground as an institution of higher education, it formed the artistic skeleton of an artistic corpus which became enormously enriched during those years: in 1991, the Sala Rekalde opened in Bilbao, and two years later the Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea opened in San Sebastián, both with programming that encompassed both the local scene and the national and international scenes. Finally, in 2002, Artium opened in Vitoria, thus rounding out a rich web of institutional exhibition spaces. At the cutting edge of the debate on whether or now specific forms of expression of the "Basque soul" existed, which still extended in the 1960s and 1970s and marginally afterward, one of the aspects that best defines the sphere of creation in the Basque Country in the 1990s is the pure, simple reality of its institutions. Indeed, the institutional networks of teaching, production and exhibitions, which were generally denser and better-quality than in the rest of Spain, were what confirmed the presence of the Basque within Spain and internationally. In short, it was no longer what was being said—or at least no longer just that—but also the platforms from which it was possible to say it.
On the other hand, the number of fine arts agents on the ground had expanded and diversified, giving rise to the emergence of alternative spaces and collectives. The Espacio Abisal, an independent artists' cooperative, opened in 1996, and shortly thereafter it was followed by others like consonni, DAE and new groupings like the Rodríguez Foundation in Vitoria, which created a new web of production, exhibition and reflection in unofficial spaces. The collective Erreakzioa/Reacción(Estíbaliz Sádaba and Azucena Vieites) disseminated feminist debates via fanzines and other media. The competition for the multiple prizes and scholarships imposed the paradigm of youth and the almost instantaneous generational succession of the players, albeit later than in other nearby places. In 1998, when the model of artistic residencies gained momentum, the Bilbao Town Hall promoted BilbaoArte, although it did not become a major actor until one decade later.
The traditional figure of the painter or sculptor, with a handful of exceptions, was gradually dissolved in the transfer among different creative procedures, which eroded traditional practices and were more geared towards a diffuse, mixed field. Competent in multiple fields, artists at the end of the century often produced their works at an intersection of disciplines, as did Elena Mendizabal, Eduardo Sourrouille and Txuspo Poyo. Yet even when they chose a kind of disciplinary stability—as Iñaki Imaz, Prudencio Irazabal and Manu Muniategiandikoetxea did in the field of painting, and Dora Salazar and Javier Pérez in sculpture—they tended to fill it with impurities and disparate references.
Text: Francisco Javier San Martín
In February 2002, the exhibition Gaur, Hemen, Orain at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, curated by Bartomeu Marí and Guadalupe Echevarría, was indicative of a strain of optimism around the new century. One symptom was the double lampposts that Juan Luis Moraza installed outside the museum, which have remained as physical and symbolic illumination of the public space. The exhibition showcased a select group of artists from different generations, trying to consolidate the current batch of artistic proposals around the problems of the contemporary world, as well as a quest for a kind of continuity in Basque art. Gaur, Hemen, Orain sought to link up the successes of the Basque artists from the previous decade and the fluidity of the dialogue with the younger ones: the entrenchment of one generation along with the transmission of their experience in Arteleku or the Fine Arts Faculty. There was something of the Basque School in that exhibition, of an identity forged in the exchanges that are common in a pedagogical space, yet gradually, as the decade wore on, those affinities diversified and increasingly adopted more varied forms as the artists developed their own personal languages. Ibon Aranberri, Asier Mendizabal and Francisco Ruiz de Infante, among others, are artists who gained visibility at the beginning of the century, crossing the road that leads from the statue to solutions around installations.
Opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has become a global phenomenon and a much-imitated model of how a cultural facility is capable of spearheading a transformation in the productive fabric of a city within the context of the service economy. Despite the fact that the museum immediately captured the spotlight, its attention to the Basque art scene had been limited. However, on the occasion of its tenth anniversary, it devoted two significant exhibitions to local art: Unknowns. Mapping Contemporary Basque Art curated by Juan Luis Moraza was opened in July 2007 and offered a complex cartographic system to situate all kinds of agents within the web of Basque art, in a project which included field research and the exhibition of noteworthy examples. The other show Chacun à son goût, curated by Rosa Martínez and opened just three weeks later, was quite different. Its mission was to focus on twelve artists from different spheres, and it sought to show the richness and diversity of the languages used by the artists and their relationship with the contemporary context, feelings of belonging and exclusion, as well as the dialogue between the universality of the modern and the questioning of its values around the new subjectivities. Artists like Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa, Maider López and Abigail Lazkoz, just to cite a few, gained new visibility through this show.
Text: Francisco Javier San Martín
The decade opened in October 2011 with the ceasefire of ETA, an organisation which had been present in all phases of this period at differing levels of intensity. It was permanently dissolved in April 2018. Its disappearance largely signals the end of a kind of exceptionalism in politics and daily life in the Basque Country.
The survival of Basque art's marked identity since the end of the dictatorship, and the artists' subsequent insertion into a politically fluid space of hybridisations between the local and the global, now seems like a discussion that hardly affects younger artists, who tend to operate naturally in an indistinct context, using elements from the local tradition, albeit not as an inherited burden, as well as aspects from elsewhere, yet not as an aspiration.
It is a world of instantaneous, ever-changing and immediately obsolete information, and of young artists who have at least studied in Europe via the Erasmus programme. On the other hand, since the early 1990s, numerous international artists have been scheduled to show their works at the network of Basque museums and art centres, yet there has not been balanced reciprocity in the visibility of Basque artists abroad. However, in recent years, an increasing number of artists have broken through this ceiling and shown their works at fairs, biennials and galleries all over the world. In a kind of unofficial exchange, many of those who had spent the previous decade in Europe or the USA have come back home, while many others, such as Erlea Maneros Zabala and Javier Pérez, have moved outside our borders within a context of connectivity and virtual presence.
Vitoria may be the political capital, yet it is less prominent in the art scene despite the intense activity of Artium and other alternative spaces. Something similar holds true of Pamplona, despite some impetus from its web of institutions. In recent years, almost everything seems to have centred around Bilbao, a city with global appeal which has substantially diversified its cultural offerings. In 2010 the Alhóndiga civic centre was opened over the ruins of Oteiza's project; it was renamed Azkuna Zentroa shortly thereafter, with a space dedicated to contemporary art. San Sebastián's status as the cultural capital of Europe in 2016 was preceded the year before by the opening of Tabakalera-Centro Internacional de Cultura Contemporánea, a large facility that encompasses all spheres of creation, including activities and exhibitions around the fine arts.
At this point in the second decade of the century, the core ideas of modernity and the communities that fostered them have not only disappeared, but many young artists are even unaware of their existence and group together into specific, ever-shifting communities around temporary affects and interests. The youngest artists, such as Kepa Garraza, Elena Aitzkoa, June Crespo and Lorea Alfaro, are inquiring into subjectivity and the figure of the artist and the purpose of art in a world of accelerating changes by drawing from indiscriminate aspects of popular culture along with references rescued from the modern tradition.
Text: Francisco Javier San Martín
MUSIC IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY 1968–2018
After '68. Art and Practices in the Basque Country 1968–2018 is completed in gallery 33 with this exhibition space curated by the musician, producer, journalist and sound artist Xabier Erkizia. This gallery presents original materials—record covers, posters, sound recordings, etc.—which provide a historical view of the musical and sound practices in the Basque Country over these past five decades.
The show encompasses works published in album and/or mini-album format which were chosen according to their capacity for innovation, their use of the musical language, their influence on subsequent generations, and other factors like the social milieu. The tour illustrates the timeline of the technologies and media used to make and publish music in our recent history, as well as the evolution of the visual aesthetics and their relationship with the context in which they were presented. The public can also have a direct, personal experience with the music by listening to a selection of songs and fragments from compositions.
The gallery has an educational space where sound workshops will be held.
Partner: ERESBIL – Basque Music Archive