The link between Eduardo Chillida and Phyllida Barlow is not obvious at first glance and, in fact, the differences are more noticeable. The British artist, however, was fascinated by "the relationship between material and space" in the work of the art blacksmith, and that influence is perceived in her work. Four years ago, when the Tate Modern commissioned him to write about a work from its permanent collection, he chose Modulación del espacio, by the San Sebastian sculptor, and last year his own exhibition began to take shape at Chillida Leku, taking over from the samples of Antoni Tàpies, in 2021, and Joan Miró, in 2022. Barlow prepared his arrival at the Zabalaga farmhouse in detail, until he passed away on March 12. Her family wanted to go ahead with the idea and make possible a dialogue between the two artists.
Phyllida Barlow (Newcastle, 1944-2023) comes to Chillida Leku with almost 40 works that can be visited both outside the Zabalaga farmhouse, in the gardens, and on the two floors of the building. Among her works there are large sculptures, other smaller ones and a collection of drawings that occupies an entire room. These are works that she did from the 1960s to the last months of her life; The exhibition, in fact, includes her latest unfinished work or an impressive sculpture made in connection with the war in Ukraine.
The terms of this dialogue between the works of Barlow, the farmhouse, the gardens of Zabalaga and the works of Chillida in the outdoor area are, in general terms, those that the British artist was able to determine during her lifetime, after visiting the Basque Country in November . "She was moved by visiting the Comb of the Wind and she was fascinated when she got to know the farmhouse," explained Mireia Massagué, director of Chillida Leku. The artist's team and that of the museum itself, however, have had to face a laborious final assembly process to culminate this exhibition, Barlow's first in Spain.
The differences between Chillida and Barlow are obvious. The man from San Sebastian was the sculptor of steel, stone and albrastro, while Barlow used materials as varied as fabric, cardboard, plywood, polyurethane foam or cement. Chillida was an artist with slow processes, and the British, on the other hand, was "a fast artist", according to Estela Solana, the Museum's head of exhibitions. The Basque artist enjoyed international recognition for most of his career, while Barlow focused on university education and considered that creation "should be an intimate and personal exercise." She ended up being "one of the artists with the greatest international projection", according to Chillida Leku.
Luis Chillida, son of the artist and president of the Chillida-Belzunce Foundation, appreciates in Barlow's works a link with the artist from San Sebastian, especially in how he related to space, one more element of his work. “It is also necessary to highlight how he sought the connection with the building”, he has indicated.
Phyllida Barlow's dialogue with Chillida Leku begins outside the farmhouse, with two large works installed next to Zabalaga's rear façade. One of them, Untitled: fallengunstyreandplacard, simulates the tires piled up after a protest, in line with her interest in the processes of creation and destruction.
Inside, as soon as you cross the door of the farmhouse, a large sculpture that plays with the dimensions of the building and connects its two floors takes center stage, Untitled tower-holder. It is a sculpture with an industrial appearance, "between the coarse and the delicate", which welcomes "a tour that turns the space into a theatrical stage in which the public and the objects are the protagonists".
"The contrast between the crude and the delicate is a constant in Barlow's work", highlighted Estela Solana,
The largest of the sculptures on the second floor affects this perspective, suggesting a kind of stage with access to its backstage in which, once again, the public is inserted into the work. From there, medium-sized sculptures that adapt to the spaces of the farmhouse take over and influence the desire to contrast the visions that Eduardo Chillida and Phyllida Barlow had of art, space or the use of materials. The differences are obvious, although the symbiosis between the works and the building shows the point at which they connected: the use of space. Now, Barlow's works will rest at Chillida Leku until October 22. A posthumous tribute to celebrate the talent of Phyllida Barlow.