Bilbao

View of “Ángel Bados,” 2017. Photo: Daniel Mera Martínez.

View of “Ángel Bados,” 2017. Photo: Daniel Mera Martínez.

Ángel Bados

Carreras Mugica

View of “Ángel Bados,” 2017. Photo: Daniel Mera Martínez.

Considered in light of today’s systemic global homogenization of artistic practices, the concept of a local “school” may sound outdated, but the art of Spain’s Basque Country has been shaped by a strong awareness of identity and territory. The leading light was Jorge Oteiza, who left behind an immense legacy, not only sculptural but also ideological. He abandoned sculpture in 1959 to devote himself to writing and philosophy for the remaining four decades of his life. Oteiza’s example was assimilated in the 1980s by Ángel Bados, Txomin Badiola, and other colleagues, who added gestures derived from committed aesthetic and political positions ranging from Constructivism to those of Joseph Beuys.

Bados is an elusive character in Spain’s art scene. His current show in Bilbao is his first there in two decades, although he exhibited in Madrid four years ago. But his teaching at the Universidad del País Vasco in Bilbao has been decisive for artists of several generations. In the mid-1990s he led, alongside fellow sculptor Badiola, a series of workshops that many consider a major turning point in Basque art. Readers from outside Spain might consider all this a very local story, but the consolidation and consequent development of a specifically Basque aesthetic idiom has had enormous significance in Spain in the past few decades. Unlike Badiola, who had a retrospective at Museo Reina Sofía’s Palacio de Velázquez in Madrid in 2016–17, or Pello Irazu, who has also been steadily prolific, Bados was never a public figure. If his Madrid show in 2013 was unanimously acclaimed, his return to Bilbao is a phenomenal event.

Titled “Para ambos lados de la frontera” (For Both Sides of the Border), the exhibition features works made between 2007 and 2014, some of which were already shown in Madrid. Either on the floor or hanging from walls, a number of vases, pieces of wood or fabric, color photocopies of newspapers, volumes of lead or plaster, and stones of different sizes and shapes either encounter the architecture of the gallery or timidly gather around themselves. Although in his recent work Bados seems inspired by a broadly representational impulse, his sculpture stubbornly returns to a silent meditation within itself; a void is persistently constructed, as is paradigmatic of the Oteizan program. Take, for instance, Frontón, 2014—the title refers to a playing area for jai alai, a game of Basque origin—where a stone wrapped in fabric is slightly displaced so that the center of the composition is occupied by nothing. Content is in flux; interior and exterior are held in constant tension. In Shifter II, 2010, folded prints with blurry texts alluding to the Palestinian conflict sit atop a partly open cardboard box. Discourse thus lies in the container rather than in the content, while where we expect presence we see a void. Praise of the visible is ubiquitous in the exhibition, but Bados asks what devices make visibility possible. If a sculpture seems to convey meaning, what is its vehicle? However straightforward the elements of a sculpture are, its inner logic remains a mystery. The game of revealing and concealing is explicit, with translucent vases hosting pieces of fabric and paper placed next to opaque vases of similar shape. If these fabrics refer to the joyfully colorful clothing of African migrants in Bilbao’s sober streets, they also glow when opposed to the solemnity of the lead volumes. The juxtaposition sets off some secret vibration that must always have been latent within these disparate elements.

Javier Hontoria