Exhibition: Ameztoy - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2020-02-12 • 2020-09-13


Gallery 32

Compared to the abstract language of the artists from the previous generation, Vicente Ameztoy (San Sebastián, 1946–2001) focused on figurative language, which transformed Basque art in the 1970s and, in his works, came hand-in-hand with an interest in subjectivity, mystery and irony.

The disturbing and unexpected were a constant presence throughout his entire oeuvre, which stands out for its ability to make such apparently everyday elements like the landscape disturbing.

Along with allusions to the contemporary culture and history of the Basque Country, Ameztoy's works used referents like pre-Raphaelite English painting, the Italian quattrocento and Magritte's surrealism, always filtered through a sophisticated style boasting painstaking technique, his own interests like ecology and the worlds of photography and cinema—in 1992 he worked on the artistic design of the film Cows by director Julio Medem—and his biographical vicissitudes.

The first and to date only retrospective of Vicente Ameztoy's oeuvre was held in San Sebastián, in 1990, and was envisioned by the artist himself as a compilation of his most significant works from the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, small exhibitions focusing on partial aspects of his works have been held, like the ones at the Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea in San Sebastián (2000) and at Artium in Vitoria-Gasteiz (2003).

For the first time ever, this exhibition presents a comprehensive interpretation of Ameztoy's entire oeuvre and spans his whole career from the very little-known works of his youth in the late 1960s to his last works in 2001, the year of his death.

It brings together 53 works, some of them as emblematic as his last major endeavour, a series of paintings made between 1994 and 2001 on commission from the Rodríguez Hernandorena family for the hermitage at Nuestra Señora de Remelluri farm in Labastida (Álava).

Many others come from private collections which purchased them primarily in the 1970s and 1980s, so the exhibition is bringing to light works that have rarely been displayed since then. Four representative works from the 1970s owned by the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum are also displayed: Untitled (c. 1972), Untitled [Portrait of Juan Luis Goenaga] (1976), Untitled [Poxpoliñak (Arias Navarro)] (1977) and Untitled [The Mouth] (1979).

Along with paintings, the exhibition also features a broad range of works on paper (drawings, prints and posters), collage-boxes which assemble freely associated objects, and an array of documents such as drawing notebooks, brochures and books. It also includes a screening of the short film on Ameztoy's work Miradas (Gazes, 1969) by director Jesús Almendros, in which the painter participated as the artistic advisor.

Produced by the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, the exhibition was curated by Javier Viar and Miriam Alzuri, who also put together a brief selection of 36 paintings that were presented last year (October 2019) and January 2020 at the Fine Arts Circle of Madrid.

Now, the expanded version of this comprehensive survey of the career and oeuvre of Vicente Ameztoy can be seen at our museum thanks to the patronage of BBK.


Vicente Ameztoy (Donostia, 1946-2001)

Even though he took classes from the painter Ascensio Martiarena in his hometown and had a brief stint at the San Fernando Fine Arts College in Madrid, Ameztoy was a very precocious, self-taught artist stimulated by a family milieu in which two of his uncles who were painters, Jesús Olasagasti and Gonzalo Chillida, encouraged his vocation. In 1959, at the tender age of 13, he exhibited his works for the first time in a group show organised in San Sebastián by the artists of the previous generation, and thereafter his work was exhibited in numerous contests and group exhibitions in Gipuzkoa, where he was honoured with several prizes and honourable mentions despite his youth.

In 1964, thanks to the support of backers like the art critic José Ayllón, he participated in the opening exhibition of Madrid's Juana Mordó gallery, which brought together 29 Spanish artists who represented the new artistic languages. That same year, Ameztoy travelled to Paris for the first time—and later to London—where he became eternally intrigued by pop culture and rock music.

His first individual exhibition was held in 1967 at Barandiarán gallery in San Sebastián, which was associated with the most innovative Basque art and the Gaur group (Amable Arias, Eduardo Chillida, Jorge Oteiza, Remigio Mendiburu, José Antonio Sistiaga, José Luis Zumeta and Néstor Basterretxea). Yet in contrast to the abstract language and Informalism characteristic of these earlier painters and sculptors, and the expressionism and conceptual art in vogue at the time, Ameztoy and several of his contemporaries (such as Andrés Nagel, Marta Cárdenas, Juan Luis Goenaga and Mari Puri Herrero) were reviving figuration for Basque art as a novel vein to mine. In Ameztoy's works, this figuration revealed a certain magical realism from Antonio López, enhanced with visual games taken from surrealism and the paintings of René Magritte, yet with room for irony and political satire as well. His interest in the misty northern landscape appeared in his paintings for the first time. In 1973, he held individual exhibitions in San Sebastián (El Pez gallery) and Bilbao (Lúzaro), and his career began to take off within the Basque cultural scene.

In 1971, Ameztoy held a solo show in Madrid's Ramón Durán gallery, where he sold many works. This show included several oils painted on mirrors and landscapes with transparent figures in the midst of a mysterious nature with geometric counterpoints. Later, he eliminated the human figures using the devices of surrealism and took a step towards duplicated landscapes that played with the spectator's perception. After that, he started to include disparate elements such as the traditional 'milestones' in the Basque landscape, which he distorted to create compositions emanating a sense of strangeness.

In the second half of that decade, he created his most emblematic works and exhibited them outside the Basque Country, where he had become a celebrated artist. In 1975, he had an individual show in Zaragoza (Prisma gallery), and that same year he was chosen to participate in the group exhibition New Spanish Painting which was shown in New York and Madrid.

One year later, Ameztoy once again showed an important set of works at Juana Mordó gallery featuring extravagant figures which resembled humanoid dolls or scarecrows lifted from rural culture. Here, Ameztoy's painting achieved extraordinary expressive power by metamorphosing the real with the use of the dreamlike, the extravagant, and the sinister with Freudian tinges.

Despite his success, Ameztoy never again showed his works individually in Madrid after this exhibition. Demanding and punctilious, he painted slowly and soon discovered that he was incapable of keeping up the pace of work and commercialisation demanded by the galleries. His next solo show was held in Zarautz, Gipuzkoa (Gaztelu gallery) in 1979 and featured works in which the humanlike beings had disappeared, and nature had become a disturbingly humanised presence. Ameztoy produced some of the best paintings from his entire career during that period, between 1976 and 1979—including The Mouth, owned by the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum—with a minute imaginary that reveals his admiration for the paintings of Bosch and Richard Dadd and the literature of Lewis Carroll and Jonathan Swift, among others.

In the 1980s, although he never stopped painting, he developed a significant oeuvre of works on paper in the guise of drawings, graphic works and posters. During those years, his drug dependency affected his life and works, which became more disturbing with more complex meanings. In 1984, he won second prize at the Gure Artea contest sponsored by the Basque government, and in 1990 the regional government of Gipuzkoa held the first retrospective of his work in San Sebastián; it was entitled Karne & Klorofila and surveyed his output since the mid-1970s. The San Sebastián-based film director Julio Medem visited the show, which inspired the settings for his film Cows, in which he partnered with Vicente Ameztoy in 1992.

The decorative series he made for Nuestra Señora de Remelluri hermitage in Labastida (Álava) between 1994 and 2001 is the most important work that Ameztoy undertook towards the end of his career. It is made up of seven oil paintings on Tablex depicting six saints associated with the hermitage and its surroundings, along with a vision of Paradise.

In this particular collection of saints—Saint Eulalia, Saint Stephen, Saint Christopher, Saint Sabine, Saint Genesius and Saint Vincent—the figures stand out over recognisable landscapes, most of them in the Rioja region in Álava, although the moist, wooded landscape characteristic of many of the painter's earlier works makes an appearance in some of them. In the composition devoted to Paradise, which concludes the series, within a vast landscape filled with animals and plants, Ameztoy captures 'a fairly accessible and comfortable paradise. Everything is calm, and it is depicted one second before original sin', as the painter wrote. It was a serene world which, after succumbing to temptation, would be lost forevermore.



The show comes with a complete catalogue which will help readers gain an understanding of Ameztoy's artistic career and life. Along with the texts by the curators, other contributors include Fernando Golvano, a researcher and independent curator who is an expert in Ameztoy's works, and the writers Joseba Sarrionandia and Bernardo Atxaga. Moreover, the exhibition in Bilbao led to the publication of the bookVicente Ameztoy. La transfiguración melancólica (Vicente Ameztoy. The Melancholy Transformation), an in-depth study of the artist's complete works by Javier Viar, a leading connoisseur of his oeuvre.

The museum has also published an extensive timeline drawn up based on the research conducted by Miriam Alzuri, along with the main catalogue text written by Javier Viar, on this same website (open-access and available in Basque and Spanish).


Audio guide

Aimed at the general public with a selection of commented works that make up a complete itinerary through the exhibition. Available Basque, Spanish and English (€ €).



Vicente Ameztoy (San Sebastián, 1946-2001) is one of the most original and unclassifiable figures in Basque painting. In this section we gather a series of documents that bring his trajectory closer to the exhibition organized by the museum.

Video summary of the exhibition

Tour of the exhibition dedicated to the painter Vicente Ameztoy (San Sebastián, 1946-2001) who presents, for the first time at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, a joint reading of his work.


The vision of the curators

Presentation of the curatorial purpose of the exhibition by its curators Miriam Alzuri and Javier Viar, prologue by Miguel Zugaza, director of the museum.


Lecture: "Vicente Ameztoy o Coppelius en Euskadi"

Conference given by Javier Viar, curator of the exhibition "Ameztoy", in which he analyzes the keys to the work of the San Sebastian painter.


Lecture: "Paisaje y figuras de la ironía en Ameztoy"

Conference given by Fernando Golvano, professor of Aesthetics and Theory of the Arts, on the figure of Vicente Ameztoy.


Short Film


Writing and directing: Jesús Almendros
Year: 1969
Duration: 10'08"

With a script and direction by filmmaker Jesús Almendros (Gijón, 1940), Miradas recreates Ameztoy's geographical, social and cultural environment at a very early stage of his artistic career. It was filmed in San Sebastian and in the surroundings of the painter's family home in Villabona (Gipuzkoa) and several of his friends collaborated, such as the painter Juan Luis Goenaga.

Digital Publications

Publicaciones tienda online

  • Ameztoy

    Autor/es: Miriam Alzuri, Bernardo Atxaga, Fernando Golvano, Joseba Sarrionandia y Javier Viar
    Idioma/s: Castellano
    Medidas: 24 x 28 cm
    Encuadernación: Tapa dura
    N° de páginas: 260

    Ver en la tienda online
  • Vicente Ameztoy. La transfiguración melancólica

    Autor/es: Javier Viar
    Idioma/s: Castellano
    Medidas: 15 x 24 cm
    Encuadernación: Rústica
    N° de páginas: 268

    Ver en la tienda online

Material de consulta

In the image:
Untitled (Self-portrait), 1977-1978
Oil on canvas, 195 x 113,5 cm
Private collection