2022-06-17 • 2022-09-30
The museum is reopening the 21 galleries in the old building with the BBKAteak initiative, in which each one will show an unexpected encounter between two artists from the collection. This ‘face-to-face’ may involve two artists who are distant in time and in cultural and geographic provenance with the goal of sparking stimulating dialogues between old and modern masters that thus relating different styles, interests, formats and disciplines.
The extensive timeline and the richness of the museum’s artistic holdings make exhibition alternatives and new narratives possible in order to reformulate the collection and enrich the visit, as it did in 2018 with the unusual organisation of the galleries curated by Kirmen Uribe, ABC. The Alphabet of the Bilbao Museum. At that time, one word per gallery encompassed works from different times, spotlighting the story harboured by each of them. Now, words are giving way to the names of the artists in the collection, their biographies and their magnificent works.
Thus, starting 21 June, visitors may see the museum from a new vantage point, this time based on the rotation of our holdings, which will periodically be updated to provide visibility to more artists and maintain a more dynamic relationship with the public.
Compared to the idea of an anthological exhibition of the collection, at this special time we have decided to offer our visitors a new angle on the museum’s art. The spatial grid of the classical galleries in the old building, now restored, offer a sequence of encounters that chain together seamlessly into a loop which starts and ends in the Icaza Hall—once again the museum’s main entrance—presided over by Hanging Figures by Juan Muñoz and the classic works by Nemesio Mogrobejo and Moisés Huerta.
Time becomes more flexible, and the freer and more interdisciplinary approach focuses on creative relations to allow the audience to have a more personal visit that seeks to interpret the artworks from new vantage points. With this goal in mind, traditional painting genres—landscapes, still lifes and nudes—coexist with other contemporary interests and disciplines.
As a prologue that explores the relationship between sculpture and architecture, the installation Thirteen to Centaurus opened on 6 May, which emerged from the museum’s commission to Sergio Prego (San Sebastián, 1969). It is a pneumatic production on a monumental scale that occupies the galleries that are currently compromised because of their proximity to the construction work, in a clash between today’s artistic languages and the classical architectural repertoire of this part of the building.
The first 21 encounters will be on display starting Tuesday 21 June—in summer hours, with the museum open 7 days a week—and in autumn they will begin to change until reaching more than 50 different set-ups featuring more than 100 artists and almost 300 works from the collection. The programme will remain active while the enlargement work is underway. In this first instalment, 43 artists (15 working today) are being presented.
The works of art come with commentaries and biographical notes, while each gallery offers and interpretation which encourages active viewing. All of these materials are on the gallery notes (in Basque, Spanish, English and French) which are accessible on the museum’s website and can be downloaded free of charge on mobile devices using the QR code in the gallery.
With the beginning of the new academic year, the Department of Education and Cultural Action will offer educational activities in different formats which adapt to the dynamic nature of the project and the diversity of the audiences—from schoolchildren to adults in training and other groups—to whom it caters.
The museum’s architectural metamorphosis is thus reflected in a collection in constant change which also makes it possible to generate constant educational and dissemination activities.
Project management: Miguel Zugaza, director
Coordination: Javier Novo, coordinator of Conservation and Research, and Silvia García Lusa, coordinator of Activities
Set-up: Ana Isabel Román and Edu López
Graphic concept: Mikel Garay
Comments on works: José Luis Merino Gorospe, Old Art curator
Comments on galleries: Marta García Maruri, deputy director of Communication
Route through the galleries
Albert Dürer – Eduardo Chillida
The depth of Dürer’s lines on the plates on which he drew his extraordinary prints—wood for woodcuts and metal for burin work—converges with the striking nature of Chillida’s writing. Sometimes informal and sometimes geometric, he develops his personal poetics of space in both his work on paper and sculptures.
Anton van Dyck – José Luis Zumeta
An entire catalogue of serious expressions and gestures, from supplication to bereavement, appear before the dead body of Christ in a scene in which the bright colours allay the intensity of the tragedy. Likewise, Zumeta’s neoexpressionistic painting seems to reflect a conflict, fanned by the gestural tension and uneasy colours, in one case, and weighted by the central white in the other.
Francisco de Goya – Ana Isabel Román
Goya’s three sitters harbour an exciting story, as they were collected by the Basque government during the early months of the Spanish Civil War and moved to France in 1937 to be safeguarded. In 2019, thanks to the generosity of his descendants, they were shown in these galleries for the first time. They now share the wall with Román’s graphic, synthesised figures, who are also immobile and ready for action, seriously announcing the mysterious potential of their presence.
José de Ribera – Ángel Bados
In Bados, the simplicity of the minimal harbours the lessons of light, space and volume, either in two delicate glass pieces affixed by tape or in the striking iron, lead and cloth piece which undulates on the ground. Alongside him, Ribera opted for a Saint Sebastian who is also reclining—other iconographies prefer him vertical and tied to the column of his martyrdom—and framed by the folds of cloths that illuminate the drama with Baroque import.
Hans Vredeman de Vries – Darío Urzay
Like a mirror play, in 1982 Urzay represented the museum’s classical architecture in a trompe l’oeil that he repeated in 2021, more streamlined and slower. This time, he finagles the possibility of seeing through the window the light boxes of The Observer’s Belly and the muse of Francisco Durrio. Meantime, the painter and treatise-writer Vredeman de Vries enlivens his architectural caprice with figures that prance about in a setting that is equal parts monumental and unlikely.
María Blanchard – Pablo Palazuelo
Blanchard was a member of the cubist movement in Paris, which she abandoned in 1920. However, as if it were a youthful debt, she maintained a kind of painting that is faceted into flat, angular shapes. Palazuelo, too, reveals his affiliation with cubism in these compositions, with planes that unfold or converge in a wholly abstract spatiality. In both of them, sober, deep colours appeal to a spiritual dimension.
Orazio Gentileschi – Ibon Aranberri
A grapevine peeks out from a hollow in the cave where the biblical episode is unfolding, a metaphor of Lot’s drunkenness. His hands start the rhythm that directs our eyes towards the ancient city of Sodom located in a valley that is currently underwater in the Dead Sea. In 2003, Aranberri walled up a prehistoric cave and filmed the life inside it, glimpsed through a circular opening. Two decades after this intervention, the artist opened the cave and geometrised its enclosure.
Dménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco – Ignacio Zuloaga
Zuloaga shows his passion for the Spanish painting tradition in his impressive representation of a cardinal in an interior space that opens up to the arid Castilian landscape, illuminated by a uneven sky. The gleam and opulence of the cardinal is the opposite of the young clergyman, perhaps the scraggy face of Francisco—the artist’s usual model—who is reminiscent of Saint Francis of Assisi, whom El Greco masterfully interpreted, absorbed and mystical, in his seclusion on Mount Alvernia.
Jorge Oteiza – Itziar Okariz
Oteiza portrayed his wife with an archaic appearance and contemporary synthetism with a concentrated, silent plaster cast. Seven decades later, Okariz converses with her as part of an audiovisual project called The Statues, where her one-way dialogue goes beyond the mere act of contemplating by also stirring up questions in anyone witnessing this unusual communication between the artist and the sculpture.
Francis Bacon – Pello Irazu
Irazu’s clean, simple, controlled geometry leaps out from the painting to make a kind of corner piece that mocks the expected two-dimensionality and somehow includes us in its expansion. Bacon uses geometry as well, this time in the guise of a large mirror which mercilessly reflects a monstrously deformed figure.
Francisco de Zurbarán – Isabel Baquedano
‘Still life’ is the term that art uses to define images of inert objects, plants or animals. Therefore, it is the prime genre for depicting the material qualities of things: the dining room table with the white canvas of its tablecloth solely punctuated by the tableware or the gleam of a fruit bowl. Here, perhaps, Baquedano and Zurbarán are religiously talking to us about the futile realism of existence.
Sofonisba Anguissola – Miren Arenzana
Arenzana works with found objects in an artistic practice which she herself acknowledges is a vindication of gender. Hats, feathers and embroideries, traditionally associated with the feminine, are used here with refined irony. The embellishments, pearls and brocades from the work of the painter Anguissola also belong to the world of women. However, only now do we celebrate her accomplishments and the elegant intimacy of her figures.
Darío de Regoyos – Daniel Tamayo
‘It is based on a territory that could be observed from a specific place’: Regoyos and Tamayo’s paintings concur in this definition of the term ‘landscape’. But the nuances of light, the mountains, the plants and the locals that Regoyos seeks are rendered geometrically in Tamayo’s busy objectual world, which is more imaginative, dense and diverse.
Antonio de Guezala – Andrés Nagel
In its kinetic version in the large painting and pop version in the sculptural installation, Guezala and Nagel portray sophisticated-looking women with cinematic ease. While one is entering a party at the Hotel Carlton in Bilbao in the late 1920s, half a century later two friends framed by black gauze seem to be running into each other in a more mundane setting closer to the burlesque.
José María de Ucelay – Jesus Mari Lazkano
The sensibility towards the artistic values of the landscape, space and objects shared by the two painters seems to suggest in both of them a subtle play between reality and its representation. They also share a love of a land that they reflect through the windows of their family home and studio, respectively. But the clouds from the southern wind that Ucelay paints and Lazkano cites are what inevitably express the romantic vision of nature.
Paul Gauguin – Elena Aitzkoa
The title of Aitzkoa’s work is taken from the name of a lake near her hometown, which she evokes in plaster pieces with which she creates a refuge quietened with aquatic-coloured pigments. Gauguin’s washerwomen, however, are working in the turbulent waters of a river in which the bright colours of that autumn of 1888, when the painter moved in with Van Gogh in the French town of Arles, seem to be reflected.
Hokusai – Gema Intxausti
Through a panel with 30 drawings, Intxausti offers signs of complex concepts and realities that interest him via the word. The surimono genre has existed in Japanese prints since the early nineteenth century to illustrate books and poems, and one of its top exponents was Hokusai, as we see in the reader reclining on a small bookshelf. In Intxausti, a sculptural object covered with dishcloths evokes a similar space of intimacy, but with a different intention.
Martin de Vos – Jacques Lipchitz
The entrancing nude that Martin de Vos painted with soft layers attracts our eyes so much that it conceals the impossibility of the woman’s posture—shown here full-body—and the terrible journey she is undertaking, impelled by the wind that is making her red cloak billow along with the sails of the boat glimpsed on the horizon. Lipchitz, however, uses his hands to shape this energetic plaster sculpture, which he left rough and white, concentrating all the violence of the mythological story.
Paul Cézanne – Juan José Aquerreta
Cézanne and Aquerreta converge in classical inspiration as their main referent. A happy arcadia surrounds Cézanne’s groups of male nudes, serene and communing with nature. Meantime, in Aquerreta’s beautiful painting, the also-nude figure of Apollo is repeated, identical and immutable, paradoxically comprising a frieze for the grave of the Greek philosopher who stated that life is based on incessant change.
Mary Cassatt – Gabriel Cualladó
Cassatt concisely described the theme of her painting in the title. However, mediatised historiography often uses the word ‘motherhood’ to describe the scene in which a mother is holding a child, with her back to us and seated in an elegant armchair. Nonetheless, some people see a caregiver and sadness in the child at being separating from his or her mother, whom we cannot see. Cualladó chose to straightforwardly, unambiguously portray his mother next to a humble rocking chair and himself, simple and neo-real.
Quintín de Torre – Txomin Badiola
Torre created sculptural archetypes which represent the effort of labour. The helmsman rises up with static firmness, which the artist counters with the powerful diagonal line which he is steering with a hand of steel. The work of Badiola, a declared admirer of Malevich, belongs to a series of sculptures which are attached to the wall. Using space as a builder of shapes and steel as a line, it starts with a rectangular box to create a structure in which orthogonal stability and diagonal dynamism stand in opposition to each other.