: The Guggenheim pays tribute to Bilbao that overcame wars and epidemics

The year takes flight today at the Guggenheim with an exhibition that has magic. It is a journey back in time at the end of the 19th century, when in Bilbao many things were cooked and not just marmitako. And all because in the mining basin of the Triano mountains there was a highly valued non-phosphoric mineral. Thus were born the great fortunes that did not take long to found banks, insurance companies, electrical companies, shipyards, shipping companies … A bubbling time, with a dynamic commercial class, that the artists linked to the town reflected with precise colors, not exempt humorous, epic and above all vision of the future. Not in vain did Adolfo Guiard, Darío de Regoyos and Francisco Iturrino introduce Impressionism and the avant-garde in Spain.

The exhibition ‘Bilbao and painting’, which will remain open until August, covers 27 works conceived between the 19th and 20th centuries. The burgeoning bourgeoisie, Athletic, the dignity of the sailors, the ethyl excesses of the most carefree youth, the permeability between the rural and urban world …, all this and much more can be seen in a large-format anthology. They are pieces that bear the stamp of authors such as Adolfo Guiard, Manuel Losada, Ramón de Zubiaurre, Ignacio Zuloaga, Gustavo de Maeztu, Aurelio Arteta, José Arrué, Francisco Iturrino and Anselmo de Guinea. “What is the OBJETIVE? Let your gaze present us with that historical period. I think they are more accurate than many notarial documents. We should rescue the mood of that time. There was solidarity and team spirit, ”reflects Kosme de Barañano, curator of the exhibition, which is sponsored by Iberdrola. One of many companies that has “its roots in those decades of so much momentum and spirit of inventiveness,” emphasizes Rafael Orbegozo, advisor to the Presidency of the electricity company.

La Bilbaína, the Philharmonic Society, the Fine Arts, Athletic, the Provincial Council, the Reina Sofía de Madrid … are some of the institutions that have provided impressive paintings for the exhibition. They have been arranged in three rooms and there is no lack of a space dedicated to the figure of Paco Durrio – «Author of one of the best sculptures of the 20th century in Spain, the ‘Monument to Arriaga’» – who in France acted as host and guide for Spanish artists. A key man as a cicerone.

Paris was the capital of the world. All the breaking currents hit hard first in France. The vibrant and edgy brushstroke looked like the last cry. A trend that Ramón de Zubiaurre caught on the fly: the sculptural profile of his canvas ‘The Basque sailor Shanti Andía, el Temerario’ (1924) points without half measures to post-impressionism. That style appeared in Bizkaia and the Provincial Council did not hesitate to acquire ‘Lavanderas de Arlés’, by Gauguin, to give even more luster to the Fine Arts collections. In this way, Bilbao joined the ‘move’ of the moment without hesitation.

“The Guggenheim focuses on the fundamentals of our time and, as Barañano says, the best exhibitions are those seen from back to front. In the nineteenth century, wars and epidemics were suffered in the capital of Biscay, but they got ahead», Emphasizes Juan Ignacio Vidarte, general director of the museum. Although it was not an exhibition planned for times of coronavirus, there is no doubt that it can be “quite illustrative”. The picture of ‘Los garrochistas’ (1912-1914), by Francisco Iturrino, champion of Fauvism in Spain, all light and color, with an almost abstract brushstroke, awakens the senses. The line is safe, you know what you want.

The ineffable Kurding Club

The very personal touch of José Arrué does not disappoint either, the same in bullfighting posters as in his portrait of the rojiblanca squad. Social chronicler of the drawing and the vignette, he was a very keen observer. It did not escape him that Athletic was an expression of freedom and belonging. “Sport integrates all social classes, just like nightlife,” Barañano drops. This experiential and uninhibited amalgam can be seen clearly in the panels that Ignacio Zuloaga (‘The dawn’), Manuel Losada (‘The walkirias’) and Anselmo Guinea (‘The source of health’) conceived in their day for the Kurding Club . All three were members of the collective, founded in 1894, and they captured his spirit perfectly. It is known that beyond the gatherings, musical evenings and exhibitions, in that recreational society there was no lack of good Kurds (hence the name).

Expressiveness also takes over but with a very different look from the triptych ‘Lírica y Religion’ (1922), by Gustavo de Maeztu. It is a tribute to the more than 200 arrantzales who died in Bermeo due to the gale of April 20, 1878. The boldness of the color and the forcefulness of the drawing, with the oars pointing to the sky, cause just and necessary distress.

The last room of the exhibition revolves around dances and folklore, with canvases such as ‘Danzas suletinas’ (1956), by José María Ucelay, which elevate the landscape and peasantry to a work of art. «Here it is verified that the efforts of the professor of Anthropology Telesforo Aranzadi, very active since the end of the 19th century, paid off. Ethnography began to be studied seriously thanks to experts like him, ”says Barañano.

In 1936 the Civil War threw overboard a myriad of projects and, at the end of the war, it was reversed. The ‘Triptych of War’ (1937-1938), by Aurelio Arteta, reflects disaster and pain starkly. And yet the flame of progress was not completely extinguished. Some contributed to keeping it alive. An attitude, that of clear goals and permanent collaboration, which can serve as a model. That is the conclusion that Vidarte underlines: «It is not a nostalgic exhibition. Quite the contrary.


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