Chain of Voids
Orio, Gipuzkoa, 21/10/1908-San Sebastián, 09/04/2003
Steel and marble
41 x 115 x 37 cm
Third quarter of the 20th century
Acquired in 1982
The experimental works of Jorge Oteiza, which he started in the mid-1950s, sprang from his steadfast drive to embody a new way of thinking about empty space. This yearning guided the entire development of his process of aesthetic inquiry, which had started two decades earlier when he addressed the resignification of the sculptural body, and it gradually advanced towards the muting of expresión and the treatment of sculpture in its purely spatial capacity.
His ambitious project to transform the statue can be summarised in his Experimental Proposition 1956-57, which earned Oteiza the prize for the best sculpture in the 6th São Paulo Biennial in 1957, following in the footsteps of other illustrious winners from previous editions such as Max Bill and Henry Moore. At that time, Oteiza presented a project made up of 28 sculptures grouped into ten experimental families which contained different formulas of opening and voiding the sculptural object in its transition towards a full spatial unit. São Paulo brought his work major international recognition and ensconced him as an essential sculptor in understanding the evolution of 20th-century art, which at that time was embarking upon new pathways of expression far from the objectual art which had put an end to the project of modernity in which Oteiza was enmeshed. Two years after the award, when he had finished some of the series he had started in his Propositions, Oteiza announced that his inquiry was finished and that consequently he had no choice but to abandon his sculptural practice as experimental expression.
The conclusive period in his sculptural practice started immediately after his participation in the Biennial, with the 1958 creation of his first Metaphysical Box. In this work, the interior space is embodied as the main sculptural focal point, while also representing a particular poetics of absence, a hallmark of the artist's language. A Series of Empty Spaces is part of this latter phase and shows a horizontal succession of intertwined dihedral structures which generate a sequence of activated spaces and elementary shapes. In this case, the sculptural work is composed of a structure made up of more than one body, just as in his mascles series, which stresses the multiple, dynamic status of the artwork and accentuates all the symbolic potential embodied in the twofold, complementary condition of concave-convex, matter-space, light-shadow and full-empty space. This constructive tension determines the language of the artist's concluding works.
The emphasis on the spatial essence of sculpture is likewise the outcome of the desire to overcome any material expression affiliated with its status as aesthetic object. Oteiza views this as a limitation that his sculpture had to overcome and transcend in order to fulfil his yearning to endow this new spatiality with a timeless, immovable, metaphysical essence which allows him to turn the artistic object into a symbolic construction and spiritual protection. Ultimately, to Oteiza, art is the spiritual tool that the society of his day needs as a phase prior to developing an existential sensibility "for the free perception of reality". (Juan Pablo Huércanos)
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