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Art Review : Small Sample Of Chillida Is Offered

October 25, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

LA JOLLA — The exhibition of works by Eduardo Chillida at the Tasende Gallery (820 Prospect St.) is an event that will, it is anticipated, attract international attention to San Diego.

Critics have ranked this potent artist with the heroic sculptors of our century, Constanin Brancusi, Isamu Noguchi and Henry Moore. Thinkers as distinguished as Martin Heidigger, Gaston Bachelard and Octavio Paz have written respectfully about this reflective sculptor and his works.

Chillida has received so many awards that he has earned the sobriquet "The Lion of Prizes." But he is not well-known in this country.

Gallery owner Jose Tasende, to better acquaint Americans with the work of his fellow Basque, has assembled 26 Chillida sculptures in steel, clay and alabaster; a ceramic mural, and a small group of works on paper.

Chillida's architectural and runic forms harken back to the beginnings of history, but they are authentically contemporary and perhaps even prophetic of the future. This is especially appropriate because the artist believes that the past and the future are contemporary in the present and that the present is a dimensionless limit between the past and the future.

The works also evince a profound, traditional humanism in their form, as in their presence. A group of drawings of hands, symbols of man's creativity, provides a clue to the origin of part of the sculptor's vocabulary of forms.

It is a point of pride with Chillida that his steel sculptures are solid cast steel. The largest on view, "Tolerance II," for example, although relatively modest in scale (3 feet by 13 feet by 6 feet ) weighs 6 tons.

It is the artist's intuitive conviction that his works would lack spiritual presence in the absence of true physical presence. In the words of a very different artist, Frank Stella, "What you see is what you see." Chillida's reductive works resonate with the authority of authenticity.

"Architect's Table" (at the gallery's entrance) epitomizes many of the artist's interests: architectural forms, physical and conceptual interrelationships, the contrast of rectilinear (man-made) and irregular (natural) edges, the search for optimal proportion, the perception of gravity and the dialectic between matter and space (between positive and negative space, or what Chillida calls "slow and quick space"). Its color and texture evoke its origins in earth and fire.

"Tolerance II," a masterpiece in the exhibition, is a physical manifestation of its title--an embracing, inclusive, asymmetrical, receptive form.

"Homage to Miro" (over 7 feet in height) playfully but respectfully resembles a face that the late Spanish master might himself have painted. "Zuhaitz" (or "tree") is a column that divides into curving rectangles. "Deep Is the Air VI," a gently curving vertical shaft (3 1/2 feet tall) with perforations at its top, gracefully expresses mass and space. The curved rectangles at the top of the small column entitled "Eulogy to the Water I" suggest the movement of the ocean.

The exhibition, although a major effort for a private gallery, can only suggest the magnitude of Chillida's accomplishments. His major works in Europe are mammoth in scale, site-specific and not transportable. Their grandeur, however, is effectively conveyed by a film that will be broadcast on KPBS-TV several times during the coming weeks.

But the La Jolla exhibit is enough to persuade those interested in contemporary art that, in our enthusiasm for American art since World War II, we have neglected a major European figure.

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