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Unknowns. Mapping Contemporary Basque Art

July 6, 2007 – September 23, 2007

Unknowns is a series of graphic systems that include anthropological and aesthetic incidents and suggestions to provide a key to interpreting contemporary Basque art. It is a provisional essay, a visual display of schemata, a foundation for later developments, a systems for organizing factors, variables, artists, works, significant places and parallel events (political, social, technological, cultural and mediatic), interactions and possibilities, productive contexts, references and evolutions. Unknowns is an attempt to convey the subtlety, the intensity and the complexity of the artist in the Basque context; something of the diversity that has marked the generational, stylistic and ideological handover; something of the contextual labyrinth in which all this art emerged.

Living artists are active players on the art scene at a crucial point in time, one that has witnessed a seismic shift from the modern world to the contemporary era, from the industrial age to a period dominated by service management techniques, from an age of local activity to one of global outreach, from the era of ideology to the age of the economy, from linearity to complexity. It is an exhibition about generational limits.

Created for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by artist Juan Luis Moraza between April and June 2007, Unknowns is an essay-exhibition describing the mapping of modern and contemporary art in the Basque Country. The project began with an extensive survey conducted in May 2007 among 120 artists spanning four generations (born before 1945; born 1946–1960; born 1961–1975; and born from 1976 and later).

I. The Basque School. The making of an identity
In the first half of the twentieth century, protagonists of the Basque avant garde included Balenciaga, Lekuona and Oteiza. However, a civil war and dictatorship brought about exile and irreparable damage. The return of Oteiza and his involvement in the Basilica of Aránzazu, alongside architect Oiza in 1950, marked the beginning of a group of artists. The group expanded in the following years to include Basterretxea, Pascual de Lara, Agustín Ibarrola, Chillida and finally, Lucio Muñoz. In 1966 a certain stylistic direction would eventually condense itself into the so-called "Basque School". The various 'groups', GAUR, EMEN, ORAIN, were an attempt at shaping an artistic vanguard with clearly political, anti-Franco, pro-Basque leanings.

(x) crisis / heterogeneity / deconstruction
ETA'stransition from the V to the VI assemblies, the organization's military future, its first assassination in 1968, the profound industrial crisis and civil repression during the latter years of the Franco regime all coincided with the emergence of a new generation of artists. These artists would adopt a strongly political and vanguard stance but through a more self-critical perspective dissociated from the search for national identity. Meetings held in Pamplona in 1972 brought new first-hand information on international avant-garde art to the Basque Country and Navarre, encouraging young artists to once again explore and develop a much more global perspective. This new focus led to the creation of groups such as SUE (1969), Indar (1970), Ikutze (1973), Pamplona Ciudad (1976), EAE (1980), which were more interested in seeking vanguard aesthetic truth to embrace a critical position on the conditions and reality of the time. Another event crucial to the generational change was the opening in 1970 of the Higher School of Fine Arts in Bilbao, which in 1979 became the Faculty of Fine Arts. The generational overlap at the School of Fine Arts, the awareness of the need for information from abroad, in addition to the earlier concerns, brought about a transformation in the way of creating art, clearly manifested in exhibitions organized in the late 1970s and early 80s. Franco's death, the transition to democracy and the opening of borders and thought led to a surge of information in the international art context and of aesthetic proposals.

II. New Basque Sculpture. External Identification
The melting pot from the generation of '68 brought about a new influx of artists in 1978. These artists adopted the influence of conceptual and minimalist art to shake up the time-worn aesthetic and ideological postulates of the modern movement, particularly in the Basque School. However, their appearance in the national and international context came about in a climate associated with Spain's political reorganization to a county of autonomous regions, much in need of cultural legitimacy. Immediately, cultural stakeholders began to corroborate the existence of generational groups associated with regional contexts: Nuevo Arte Gallego, Nueva Escultura Valenciana, Nuevo Arte Andaluz, and more specifically, Nueva Escultura Vasca (New Basque Sculpture). The latter was coined with the opening of the exhibition Mitos y delitos (Myths and Misdeeds) (Txomin Badiola, Angel Bados, J,R.S. Morquillas, and the CVA team: Mª Luisa Fernández and Juan Luis Moraza) in Barcelona (Sala Metronom, 1985). The artists, however, were more concerned with their artistic endeavours and deconstructive goals than with new terms.

(y) diversification / normalization / internationalization
In 1987 ARTELEKU was founded in San Sebastián. The centre for training and production would round out the education of a new generation of artists, mostly students from the University of the Basque Country (and its various exchange programmes including Erasmus, Seneca, etc.), and would provide a place for artists from the previous generation to pass on their skills to younger learners. Social and economic changes in the Basque Country, large-scale industrial renewal, the emergence of a service-based economy, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, changes in the urban and financial fabric, the profusion of new structures and instruments for managing culture, easy ways to exchange and share information, and greater opportunities for artists to spend longer periods abroad: all of this will provide Basque artists with a new global perspective, and will gradually bring about a process of normalization and internationalization.

Unknowns. Mapping Contemporary Basque Art

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