Julio González

Institut Valencia d'Art Modern

Local authorities in Valencia recently purchased for this collection a splendid group of Julio González’s sculptures and drawings, which otherwise would never have been seen here. Such a commitment of funds to acquire the work of a Spanish artist is uncommon in Spain, at both the institutional and the private levels, as is the eagerness it indicates to develop important collections of recent art. These facts attest to the vitality of Valencian attitudes toward the arts, and also reflect the cultural autonomy characteristic of the region. Since the ’50s the work of artists and critics from Valencia has had particular significance for Spanish art in general. Although the involvement of these figures with contemporary European art movements has never been extensive, any serious examination of Spanish art since the mid ’30s must pay close attention to what might be called “the Valencian locus.”

González’s works exhibited here ranged from the artist’s early decorative pieces of 1910–16 to sculptures finished in 1942, the year he died. In addition, important pieces were borrowed from other European public collections, including La Montserrat, 1936–37, from the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, in Amsterdam, and Le Rêve, le baiser (The dream, the kiss, 1931–34), from the Beaubourg, in Paris.

One question that this exhibition raised with particular force was the relationship between González’s work and current Spanish art. González, like Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, had to leave Spain to take part in the international art currents of the day The current generation of Spanish artists, though, faces a different kind of challenge, because foreign critics and curators are now watching it closely This makes it allthe more important that contemporary artists understand what these forerunners were able to achieve—that, despite remaining deeply rooted in Spanish culture, their art became universal.

In showing its newly acquired González collection, the Institut Valencia d’Art Modern attempted to present a full sampling of the artist’s work in order to allow the public to consider it on its own terms, free from restrictive critical or art-historical guidelines. González, along with Picasso, was a leading figure in the Modernist development of wrought iron as a sculptural material. His sculptures, with their characteristic quality of drawing in space, emphasized the symbolic power of the medium rather than the geometric formality with which more constructivist work concerned itself. This exhibition could not avoid the temptation to present González within the familiar linear progression of styles from naturalistic realms to abstraction. González went to Paris in 1900, very early in his career, and quickly joined the avant-garde circles of the time. However, he produced his most significant works much later, in the late ’20s and ’30s. Moreover, as this show made clear, in the course of his career González worked with many other forms than the few shapes with which he is usually identified. He was a member of the Modernist avant-garde not only because of the radical formal innovations of his work, but on an emotional, expressive level as well—a level that remains particularly relevant to contemporary art, not only in Spain but throughout the world.

Gloria Moure