Category: Basque sculpture

Chillida art explained scientifically!

Today we’d like to share a short but nevertheless fascinating Basque-related news item. Volume 55 of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie: International Edition, published on behalf of the German Chemical Society, recently included on its front cover a sculpture by renowned Basque artist Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002). The image accompanies an article in the journal: “Structurally Defined Molecular Hypervalent Iodine Catalysts for Intermolecular Enantioselective Reactions,” by Dr. Stefan Haubenreisser, Dr. Thorsten H. Wöste, Dr. Claudio Martínez, Prof. Dr. Kazuaki Ishihara, and Prof. Dr. Kilian Muñiz. According to the abstract: “The monumental ‘Elegy to the Horizon’ by the Basque artist Eduardo Chillida oversees the Atlantic coast at the town of Gijón (Asturias, Spain). A similar structural shape is involved in the enantiodiscrimination of alkenes through a chiral iodine(III) catalyst.” It would appear, then, that Chillida captured in his art the structural shape of the intermediate molecule of a chemical process. Remarkable!

Check out the article here for an enchanting intersection between science and art.

 

 

September 23, 1956: Stone lifter Iñaki Perurena born

Iñaki Perurena Gartziarena, arguably the most emblematic of all contemporary harri-jasotzaileak or Basque stone lifters, was born in Leitza, Nafarroa, on September 23, 1956. Despite making his name in the world of traditional Basque sports, though, Perurena is also an all-round cultural icon in the Basque Country, having been an actor, poet, sculptor, and bertsolari or improvised oral versifier as well as vociferous defender of the Basque language and culture. Despite all this activity, he still runs his family butcher shop in Leitza, and if that were not enough, in 2009 he opened the Peru-Harri Museum, a site devoted to the material of stone itself and traditional Basque sports as well as Basque culture and history in general.

Stone lifting remains one one of the most iconic of traditional Basque sports (check out a previous post here with a video showing just what it entails).  Its roots lie in the grueling work of quarries, and the challenges that emerged out of such work as to who could lift the heaviest stones (for gambling purposes of course). These challenges eventually became more organized affairs, often taking place during annual village festivals, with locals cheering on different competitors and betting on their own particular favorites. By the late twentieth century such sports were televised in the Basque Country and the participants became major public figures.

Perurena’s own personal best in the straight two-handed weight-lifting category is 320 kg (just over 705 pounds), which was a world record mark when he established it in 1994 and is still the second best ever mark today. He is also the world record-holder for the best one-handed lift, at 267 kg (just under 589 pounds). When it comes to stone lifting nowadays, however, he limits himself to carrying out exhibitions.

In many ways, Perurena has been the most media savvy exponent of traditional Basque sports. A natural showman comfortable in front of the camera, he appeared in the role of “Imanol” in Basque TV’s long-running soap opera Goenkale. And he even made a memorable appearance demonstrating stone lifting on the hit US show LIve with Regis and Kathie Lee (if you search online you may even find some images of Regis Philbin wearing a Basque beret!).

He was awarded the gold medal for sporting merit by the Government of Nafarroa in 1999 and in 2011 received the Manuel Irujo Award by the Irujo Etxea Elkartea foundation.

Check out a fascinating report by The New York Times on Iñaki Perurena and Basque stone lifting here.

 

Henry Moore sculptures grace seafront promenade in Donostia

As part of the activities being held in conjunction with Donostia-San Sebastián being named European Capital of Culture for 2016, six sculptures by Henry Moore (1898-1986) were installed on Tuesday, June 21 in the city’s Zurriola Promenade in a “Street Art” initiative, and will remain in place, free for all to view, until September 4.

Moore is considered to be one of the great 20th-century sculptors and in bringing the six pieces to Donostia, the organizers–Obra Social “La Caixa” Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation, and the Donostia City Council–are seeking to encourage a posthumous artistic dialogue between Moore and the equally renowned two towering figures of 20th-century Basque sculpture, Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) and Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003), whose works also adorn the city.

This is a unique opportunity to see works by these three masters in the same outdoor setting.

See a video report (in Spanish) on the inauguration of these visiting sculptures here.

There are numerous references to Moore’s work in Oteiza’s Selected Writings, edited by Joseba Zulaika.

The Reno Basque Monument

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It has finally come to the time of semester when projects and deadlines are are among us and the end is in sight.  I, along with a few other students in the Center for Basque Studies, are preparing to head to the Basque Country.  Iker Saitua has graduated (and is now Dr. Saitua), Ziortza is returning home for the summer to be with family, and I am heading over for some intensive language learning in the small town of Lazkao, Gipuzkoa.

In addition to getting out with my dog Mowgli in the nicer weather we’ve been having here lately, I thought it would be appropriate to visit the Reno Basque Monument in preparation to bridge the gap from where I’ve been living and studying for the last year and a half, and the real deal.  On the way to hiking to the “N” which can be seen from many parts of Reno,

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I stopped to see the map of settlements, the monument itself and the list of names …

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Nestor Basterretxea Arzadun was the Basque artist who helped design the Basque Monument titled Solitude.  He also worked closely with other Basque artists, largely on the topic of emptiness within Basque culture and identity.

Emily Lobsenz captured Nestor’s story shortly before his death, on video in her film Song of the Basques.

 

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Living in Reno and seeing the local Basque-American culture has prepped me for the next year when I finally am able to experience first-hand all that I’ve learned since starting the program here at the Center for Basque Studies.  While I expect there to be many similarities between the two spaces, I know there will be a world of difference.

Here’s to the Basque Country-see you soon!

 

 

 

May 6, 1924: Cultural icon Nestor Basterretxea born

One of the towering figures–both literally and figuratively–of the Basque cultural world, Nestor Basterretxea, was born in Bermeo, Bizkaia, on May 6, 1924. Although renowned for his work in sculpture, alongside the two Basque giants of the art form, Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003) and Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), Basterretxea distinguished himself in the Basque cultural arena for his wide and varied work in a number of different fields from painting and design to film making, as well as carving out a major commercial name for himself as an entrepreneur, and with his death at age 90 in 2014 he left a major legacy for Basque culture as a whole.

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Nestor Basterretxea at work. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although born in Bermeo, he was forced to flee the Basque Country with his family during the Spanish Civil War. Finding refuge initially in France, the outbreak of World War II once more forced the family to flee, this time to Argentina. As a young man in Argentina, alongside his studies in industrial design he also took an interest in painting and worked initially in the advertising industry, drawing up designs for publicity campaigns as well as exhibiting some of his own paintings as well.

In 1951 he married Basque-Argentinian Maria Isabel Irurzun, and the couple went to live initially in Madrid. He became involved in the European cultural avant-garde of the 1950s, a member of the Equipo 57 (Team 57) experimental painters’ group, and eventually settled in Gipuzkoa in 1958. Thereafter, without giving up painting, he also began to study sculpture as he found in this a better means to express the concept of space.

In 1966, he was a founding member of the Gaur (Today) an avant-garde artistic group also including (among others) Oteiza, Chillida, Remigio Mendiburu (1931-1990), Jose Antonio Sistiaga (b. 1932), and Jose Luis Zumeta (b. 1939), which in its short but highly productive existence became a leading force for cultural change in the Basque Country, challenging entrenched ideas about art and aesthetics.

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Poster for the film Ama Lur (1968).

At the same time, Basterretxea was also taking an interest in film as another significant means of artistic expression. Together with filmmaker Fernando Larruquert (b. 1934) he made the documentaries Operación H (Operation H, 1963), Pelotari (1964), and Alquézar (1965). The two of them also later made their key work: Ama Lur (Mother Earth, 1968); a documentary film intended to celebrate the strength and resilience of Basque culture that faced multiple hurdles in overcoming the predominant censorship of the time in Franco’s dictatorship in Spain; and, incredibly, the first feature length film production produced and shot in the Basque Country since the Spanish Civil War.

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The iconic “Gurpilla” (Wheel) chair designed by Basterretxea in the 1960s.

Besides this artistic work in the fields of painting, sculpture, and film making, somewhat remarkably Basterretxea also found the time to create a business empire, designing tables, offices, chairs, couches, lamps, chimneys, bar furniture, and even a chess set for his company BIOK. He had actually been designing furniture since the late 1950s, first for the H Muebles company owned by a great Basque patron of the arts, Juan Huarte. Seeing a gap in the market for contemporary designed and Basque-made furniture, Basterretxea later set up BIOK and its showcase store Espiral with a group of investors, introducing, for example, the bestselling “Gurpilla” chair, based on a curved wooden design, in the mid-1960s.

Thereafter, he returned once more to strictly artistic pursuits, presenting arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series) in 1973. This was made up of 19 works, made in wood, showcasing Basque Mythology and included individual pieces like the goddess-like figure of Mari and Akelarre (Witches’ Coven). This collection is today housed in the Bilbao Fine arts Museum.

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Olatua (The Wave) in the port of Bermeo, Bizkaia. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After a brief spell as an art adviser to the newly implemented Basque government in the early 1980s, he continued to produce emblematic sculptures throughout that decade and into the 1990s and 2000s: these included the Bakearen Usoa (Dove of Peace) in Donostia; Solitude, the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno; the monument to the Basque saint, Francis Xavier,  in Tokyo;  Goldea (The Plow) in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa; and the monument to the memory of the Basque sailors who died in the Battle of Matxitxako (near his home town of Bermeo) against Franco’s forces in March 1937.

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Monument to the fallen Basque sailors at the Battle of Matxitxako. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He won numerous prizes and awards throughout his long life and will be remembered fondly here at UNR, where his Orreaga held pride of place in the old Getchell Library before being rehoused in the new Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, as reported in an earlier post here.

Basterretxea’s work is discussed in both Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika (available free to download here) and Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray. Be sure to check out, too, a couple of other publications by the Etxepare Basque Institute that talk about the influence of Basterretxea in different fields: Architecture and Design by Peio Aguirre (free to download here) and Basque Cinema by Joxean Fernández (available free to download here).

 

 

 

Center featured in KNPB’s Arteffects

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The National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder, Rancho San Rafael, Reno, NV.

Episode 113 of KNPB‘s show Arteffects, which aired on April 29, included a feature on Basque art with the Center’s own Joseba Zulaika speaking about Basque immigration, Nestor Basterretxea’s Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno’s San Rafael Park and Orreaga in the UNR library (be sure to check out the blog tomorrow, Friday, May 6, for a feature on Basterretxea), the history and development of the CBS as well as the arborglyphs or tree carvings made by Basque sheepherders and the importance of art in the Basque Country in general as a key part of its cultural legacy. The show also featured Kelly Reis, Executive Director of the Sparks Museum & Cultural Center, discussing the temporary exhibit titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques,” covered in an earlier post.

Check out the show (with the report on Basque art at approx. 19m 30s) here.

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Basque tree carvings.

If you’re interested in Basque art, check out Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray.

See also Speaking Through the Aspens:  Basque Tree Carvings in California and Nevada, by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe. And check out Joxe’s site dedicated to this fascinating piece of Basque-American social and cultural history here.