Last July, the museum presented an important set of donations received from artists, or their heirs, and from private collectors. The works are by Lucas Vorsterman I (1595–1675), Vicente Larrea (1934), Thomas Struth (1954), Juan Carlos Eguillor (1947–2011), Juncal Ballestín (1953–2015) and Dora Salazar (1963), among others, and their entry into the collection via donations reflects one of the Bilbao museum’s hallmarks: expanding its collection through its close ties to artists and the patronage mission of private collections.
The impressive mural Lemoiz gelditu (Lemoiz Stoppage) was also added at that time, and it is now being unveiled to the public in gallery 32 of the museum. It is largely a testimony of a particularly important episode in our recent history, while revealing many artists’ commitment to our environment today.
On 8 and 9 November 1980, the Herrikoi Topaketak (Popular Encounters) were held in three pavilions of the International Fairgrounds of Bilbao, organised by the Euskadi Antinuclear Committees and the Commission to Defend a Non-nuclear Basque Coast. Throughout two intense days, in a festive atmosphere of collective protest against the nuclearisation projects of the Basque Country, and specifically with the goal of stopping the nuclear power plant in Lemoiz (Bizkaia), the encounters featured music, theatre, bertsolaris, film and arts and craft shows. The initiative was framed within the Basque antinuclear movement, which had strong support from society and numerous ecological initiatives.
The organisers of the encounters invited the painters Vicente Ameztoy, José Luis Zumeta and Carlos Zabala “Arrastalu” to participate by painting a mural in real time. Thus, working on a scaffold and before the eyes of the public attending the event, the three artists painted this work, which is explicitly entitled Lemoiz gelditu (Lemoiz Stoppage). The same slogan was also used in the antinuclear record released shortly thereafter, which used the mural on the cover. Measuring almost 5 x 8 metres and divided into 12 panels, the mural is a kind of pictorial manifesto against the nuclear power plant which began to be built in the town of Lemoiz, Bizkaia, near Bilbao, in 1972 and which ultimately was never put into operation.
After the encounters, the mural remained in the union headquarters in Erandio until the Gezia Foundation of Bilbao took it over in the early 1990s. In 2016, Gezia gave it to the Andikona 1936 Foundation in Otxandio, and after being restored by Zumeta, the mural remained in the school in that town until now, when it has joined the museum’s collection thanks to the recent donation from the Basque antinuclear movement.
Conceived with a clearly critical stance, the composition nods to the figurative language that transformed Basque art in the 1970s by incorporating contemporary sociocultural referents such as the lightbulb-eye from Guernica (which occupies the centre of the composition in Picasso’s painting) and the antinuclear image created by Chillida in 1974. That same year, the Basque sculptor had designed the logo of the “for a non-nuclear Euskadi” campaign, which was spread around in stickers with the slogan “Ez, ez, ez, Zentral nuklearrik ez” sponsored by the painter Rafael Balerdi. The image, which ended up becoming a symbol of the Basque antinuclear movement, appears along with a poster with the slogan “Lemoiz gelditu” (Lemoiz Stoppage), wrapped in the intertwined snakes in the foreground. The two reptiles, painted by ‘Arrastalu’, are on a table covered with an idyllic landscape with rolling hills dotted with tree-filled meadows, bales and country homes (reminiscent of Ameztoy’s naturalistic poetics), which they upset with their menacing presence. The reptiles are metaphors for the then new and mysterious mechanisms of social control, in the words of ‘Arrastalu’, who, moving between fantastic realism and illustration, was also responsible for the poster for the gatherings. Sitting around the table are twelve men who represent the political, economic and military powers. Sinister in appearance, and some of them deformed with Zumeta’s expressionistic gesturality, they watch the destruction of the land and its resources by the two voracious snakes—which carry the Spanish and US flags in their intertwined bodies—with frivolous complacency, one carrying the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion in his hands. The then-president of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, is presiding over the gathering wearing a classic cowboy hat. Across from him, in a stovepipe hat decorated with stars and stripes, is the then-president of the Spanish government, Adolfo Suárez.
The ironic tone and political satire of this send-up of the Last Supper reflects the language of the Equipo Crónica, which also made group works, the centrality of bright colours applied in flat tones and the connection with the sociopolitical reality of the day.
The small exhibition curated by Iskandar Rementeria, researcher in art and music and teacher at UPV/EHU, shows the mural in relation to other materials produced from this context and invites us to consider the artists’ stance in regard to the ideological urgencies of the time.
“Forms of Landscape: About the “Lemoiz Stoppage” Mural
Researcher in art and music and instructor at the UPV/EHU
On the YouTube channel, www.museobilbao.com, starting 22 January.