Néstor Basterretxea - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

2024-02-28 • 2024-05-26

Néstor Basterretxea

Design and architecture

Rooms 6-10

The 6th of May will mark 100 years since the birth of Néstor Basterretxea (Bermeo, Bizkaia, 1924–Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, 2014), considered one of the greatest innovators of Basque art of the second half of the 20th century. 

While known primarily for his work as a sculptor, over his prolific career spanning more than six decades, he was also active in numerous areas of artistic production, generating an oeuvre that critic Juan Daniel Fullaondo once called the ‘Basterretxea kaleidoscope’—a reference to his ability to integrate a multitude of aesthetics and artistic practices connected to the avant-garde. 

The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is now celebrating what would have been the artist’s 100th birthday with the first monographic exhibition of his projects and creations in industrial design and architecture. Later, it will exhibit the 18 works of the Basque Cosmogony Series—one of the most renowned collections of Basque sculpture from the second half of the 20th century, which Basterretxea donated to the museum in 2008—at the Centro Cultural Montehermoso Kulturunea (Montehermoso Cultural Centre) in Vitoria-Gasteiz (27 June–29 September).  

Néstor Basterretxea: Design and architecture 

Curated by Peio Aguirre, Pedro Feduchi, and Pedro Reula, this exhibition features collages of architectural projects, industrial design pieces, furniture, documentary records of the Irun residence and workshop designed together with Jorge Oteiza and Luis Vallet, utopian concepts explored through architectural volumetrics on paper, architectural and urban planning models, photographic records, etc. Over 150 works, some radical, many groundbreaking, and some never produced, are brought together in five major areas, with detailed descriptions of Basque creator's main contributions to the fields of design and architecture through catalytic works channelling his artistic, technical, and social interests. 

This exhibition’s exhaustive nature is also evident in the bilingual (Basque and Spanish) catalogue published by the museum, including five feature articles and extensive graphic material from the era.  

In the late 1950s, Basterretxea was a pioneer of Basque industrial design. He then developed the logo and furniture designs for the Madrid-based company H Muebles, as well as interior design projects. This facet was also reflected in the artist’s first cinematographic work, the experimental film Operación H (1963), inspired by an idea of Oteiza, for the industrialist and arts patron Juan Huarte. In the following decade, he founded in Irun, along with other partners, the modern furniture company Biok, for which he designed countless prototypes that did not all reach the market. His emblematic designs include the chess set from 1961, Bermeo desk from 1967, Kurpilla seats, and Sua candelabras from 1968. 

Room 1. Huarte and H Muebles 

Basterretxea got his start in industrial design thanks to Juan Huarte, a building contractor and patron of the artistic avant-garde. Before founding his modern furniture company H Muebles in 1958, Huarte commissioned Oteiza and Basterretxea to decorate his flat, located in a building he had constructed in 1956 for his family and as the Madrid headquarters of his companies. It was the birthplace of Diván H, one of the pieces that Basterretxea would revise all throughout his career as a designer, and other works involving artistic experimentation, such as a sideboard and a headboard. Both arose out of his interest in geometry, which he applied during his brief participation in Equipo 57. 

All of his production for H Muebles, made during the company’s early years, had a markedly rationalist and high-tech international style. However, the artist's unique formal features are noticeable, such as the movement of the axes and how he pushes balance to the limit, always under utilitarian parameters. 

Néstor Basterretxea

Auxiliary table, H Muebles, c. 1958

Bilbao Fine Arts museum

Néstor Basterretxea

Divan H, Biok, 1965

Municipal Archive of Irun

Room 2. Irun house and Espiral furniture shop  

Starting in 1955, while residing in Madrid, Néstor Basterretxea and Jorge Oteiza began to dream of moving to the Basque Country. Once they decided to return, they purchased a plot of land in Irun, located near the French border along the River Bidasoa. Basterretxea and Oteiza contacted architect Luis Vallet in the province of Gipuzkoa, and between the three of them, they designed and built this home and studio, completed in 1958. 

In 1961, along with two partners, Basterretxea founded a business called Espiral, a modern furniture shop in San Sebastián, where he continued to work as a designer. In this room, we can see how Basterretxea’s more organic facet gained strength, to the detriment of the industrial, constructive lines that defined his work for H Muebles. His interest in interior design is also reflected in his meticulous photographic compositions, where his work as a stylist and designer can be observed. With his innovative, Japonisme-inspired gaze and influences from the latest Nordic design, Basterretxea became a pioneer on the Spanish scene. This sole collection by Espiral was created in just two years and assembled in the factory of one of his partners in Bera (Navarra). 

Study of Néstor Basterretxea in the house of Irun, 1960

Municipal Archive of Irun

Spiral furniture advertising photographs, 1960s

Municipal Archive of Irun

Room 3. Launch of Biok and its first collections 

The recently created furniture manufacturer Biok was the company that produced, from 1962, Néstor Basterretxea’s furniture designs. In 1964, Biok already had an official collection of six new designs. By the following year, it was extensively producing more than 30 different pieces of furniture designed by Basterretxea. In the 1970s, it became a large company that represented the best of design in its day at Spanish and international trade fairs.  

As the company's artistic director, Basterretxea oversaw and designed all its production. He was also responsible for its image and advertising, as reflected in many of the publications and brochures that Biok published throughout the decade. In this room, we can see a change of course, now aimed at competing with Italian design, which was the king of the design world in those years. 

Néstor Basterretxea preparing a scene in an advertising photo shoot for Biok., c. 1964

Municipal Archive of Irun

Room 4. Consolidation of Biok and Basterretxea’s final stage as a furniture designer 

From 1967 onward, Biok consolidated its industrial expansion. It was a time when designers were focused on versatility, modularity, and easy assembly, all in the interest of saving money and improving the sales offer. However, it became increasingly difficult for Basterretxea to juggle that growth with his artistic pursuits, and the divergences appeared precisely when the artist was already a point of reference in other fields. Whether working as a filmmaker, sculptor, painter, designer, decorator, photographer, or publicist, there was no discipline where he did not masterfully deploy his boundless imagination.  

The last furniture designs by Basterretxea coincided with the dawn of a new decade, the 1970s. Perhaps for this reason, he still made a final effort, resulting in a collection of models in which he would take a new stylistic turn. It was a testament to his ability to anticipate the future. 

Néstor Basterretxea

Kurpilla armchair, Biok, 1968

Colección Against, Barcelona

Room 5. Volumetrics and architecture 

Néstor Basterretxea's first forays into architecture were influenced by the Modernist movement, and especially by Le Corbusier.Ander Basterretxea, his younger brother, had graduated from university with a degree in architecture and urban planning in 1958. Upon his return from South America in 1960, he moved into the basement of the house and studio in Irun, thus beginning a fruitful relationship between the two: Néstor as a designer, and Ander as an architect.  

In that period, Basterretxea's stylistic evolution turned towards organicism and sculptural and utopian expressionism. Leaving his phase as an industrial designer behind him, he began to focus on what he called ‘architectural volumetrics’, a field reconciling architecture with his freedom as an artist. He understood that architecture, beyond its practice as a profession, required a sculptural and visual arts approach, addressing volumes with an integrated and holistic relationship between the arts.  

Néstor Basterretxea

Housing as a habitable sculpture, 1998

Basterretxea Irurzun family

Néstor Basterretxea

Volumetry. Project for a church, 2002

Basterretxea Irurzun family

About the artist

Néstor Basterretxea

He was born on 6 May 1924 in Bermeo (Bizkaia). After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he went into exile in France. His family moved to Buenos Aires in 1942. There, he completed technical studies at Instituto Huergo, worked in advertising, won his first painting awards, and became friends with Jorge Oteiza. He returned to Spain in 1952. After winning a competition to paint the murals in the crypt at the Arantzazu Basilica in Oñati (Gipuzkoa), in 1953, he began the project and formed a friendship with the architect Francisco Javier Sáez de Oiza. However, the works were suspended by order of the church authorities.  

In 1957, he came into contact with Juan Huarte and decorated and furnished his flat in Madrid. He held a solo exhibition at La Sala Negra in Madrid, and around the same time, became a founding member of Equipo 57, which he left shortly afterwards. He began his career in industrial design at the company H Muebles, part of the Huarte Group, and was a member of the artistic team for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.  

In 1958, he moved to Irun (Gipuzkoa), to a rationalist-style home and workshop he designed with Jorge Oteiza and architect Luis Vallet. In 1960, he exhibited a set of slates and marbles at La Sala Neblí in Madrid, thus moving from painting to sculpture through the exploration of the plane. In Irun, he was extremely active on both the cultural and business fronts. In the spring of 1961, he and two partners opened the shop Espiral in San Sebastián to sell modern furniture and interior design services. 

From 1962, he was artistic director of Biok, a young, modern furniture factory in Irun that would produce his designs, of which he would become a partner in 1966. He actively participated in the company's advertising and stand designs for furniture fairs. In 1968, Biok presented a new collection whose standout pieces were his most iconic chair, the Kurpilla, and the Bermeo desk. Around 1970, he designed a visionary set of furniture that was never produced, and his gradual separation from Biok began. 

In the 1960s, he got his start in cinema, directing several short films, such as Operación H (1963) and the feature film Ama Lur (Mother Earth) (1966–1968), together with Fernando Larruquert. During that prolific decade, he also collaborated on architectural projects with his brother, Ander Basterretxea, and developed his architectural ‘volumetrics’. 

In 1966, he joined the Gaur group, an avant-garde movement for a Basque School. He designed some of the most emblematic public sculptures in the Basque Country: Homenaje al bailarín Iztueta (Tribute to the dancer Iztueta) (1967), Araba /Homenaje a Pío Baroja (Araba/Tribute to Pío Baroja) (1973), Paloma de la Paz (Dove of Peace) (1988), and the monumental Urbidea (1993) at the Arriaran Dam in Beasain (Gipuzkoa). In 1983, he created Izaro, a sculpture and symbol of the Basque Parliament in Vitoria-Gasteiz, and painted a new mural, radically different from the one he designed 30 years earlier for the Arantzazu Crypt.  

In 1987, the Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo in Madrid dedicated a retrospective exhibition to him. In the Diseño industrial en España (Industrial design in Spain) exhibition, held at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 1998, several of his designs were featured. 

In 2004, he exhibited his architectural volumetric designs at the San Telmo Museum in San Sebastián. One year before his death, in 2013, the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum held the most comprehensive retrospective of his works to date, Form and Universe, curated by Peio Aguirre. 

He died in Hondarribia (Gipuzkoa) on 12 July 2014.  

Exhibition Catalogue

Néstor Basterretxea. Diseinua eta arkitektura = Diseño y arquitectura

Author/s: Peio Aguirre, Pedro Feduchi, Pedro Reula, Rocío Robles Tardío, Gilermo Zuaznabar

Measures: 17 x 24 cm (ancho por alto). Rústica con solapas

N°. of pages: 272

N°. of illustrations: 255, color and black and white

Language: Basque and Spanish (bilingual)

IBAN: 978-84-18171-17-8

View in the Museum Shop

Related activities

Conference "En torno a Néstor Basterretxea (Around Néstor Basterretxea)"

The exhibition’s curators, Peio Aguirre, Pedro Feduchi, and Pedro Reula, and historian Rocío Robles will present their research on Basterretxea in the context of the exhibition.  
Tuesday, 27 February, from 9:30 to 17:00
Free of charge

+ Info (spanish)

Lecture  "Néstor Basterretxea: Designing for life"

Gilermo Zuaznabar, curator of Design and Architecture 
Tuesday, 7 May, 19:00 
Free of charge

A look at... "Néstor Basterretxea. Design and architecture"

13th of March. 12 noon and 6 pm 
Free ticket
at the museum box office, on the same day of the visit

Organizer/s:

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