There I was on what I thought was the way out of Gaudi’s La Pedrera in Barcelona. And then, wham, I am in the most interesting sculpture show that I have ever seen. I had wondered into an exhibition by the Spanish sculptor, Jorge Oteiza.
Had I even heard of Otezia? Of course not, but that’s pretty much par for the course for me. I’m always amazed by what I don’t know.
Maybe it was the surprise; there is nothing quite like the completely unexpected art show. The planning and anticipation of going to an art show skews your expectation and therefore your perception of the art. So when suddenly you are in the middle of an art show without any previous expectations, the experience is uniquely wonderful.
What I learned about Oteiza.
The trajectory of his career was essentially the search for emptying a sculpture. So although he was keenly interested in form, he was equally interested in emptying that form. In this manner, he was always questioning the fundamental basis of his art. And he felt that any artist had the moral obligation to question their own art.
He was a self taught artist, and was influenced by Gaugin, Brancusi and Moore. In his search for emptying, he followed then new scientific concepts such as dematerialization and silencing.
It is rather ironic that his first goal was to study architecture. Yet when he did not get in to the architecture program in Madrid, he pursued a career in fine arts. Because his work is so architectural, I would bet that he would have made a significant contribution to that art as well.
If you are a sculptor working with real materials, and you believe in emptying that sculpture to the point of silence, what do you do when you feel you have achieved this silence? Or to ask this another way, when the language of your sculpture leads to complete emptiness, then there is nothing to do but move on.
The ethical thing to do is simply walk away from your art, and that is exactly what he did. He spent the last part of his life writing poetry and publishing two books about his work and philosophy.
In the middle of his quest for nothingness was what he called his Experimental Laboratory. In this body of work, he constructed hundreds of small models using rudimentary materials such as chalk, sheet metal and wood. These sculptures, with one dimension often no larger than 10 inches, were experiments in form and void. And each of them is spectacular in their simplicity and geometry.
These Experimental Laboratory pieces were the sculptures on display, and it took up the entire second floor of La Pedrera. And as I looked at work that I had never seen before, I felt like I had seen it. And this is certainly because of his influence on all of twentieth century art, painting, architecture, etc. The Experimental Laboratory works are pure architecture and pure form.
On this page are two of my drawings based on Oteiza’s sculptures. I won’t attach any images of his work, as my sense is that his foundation guards the dissemination of the images closely. To get a sense of the work that I saw, type in “Oteiza Experimental Laboratory” into Google Images.
Maybe my immediate interest in Oteiza’s work was that I was instantly infatuated with this emptying. When something is empty, is it transparent? Possibly not. Yet the quest for un forming or dissolving forms has something to do with a seeing of all, a transparency.