Julio González

Body Metaphors


A new presentation of the Julio González Collection will be shown in the rooms of Gallery 1 at the IVAM during the months of September, October and November with the aim of giving a new slant to this great sculptor’s work. Dr Guillermo Solana, a professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid, is responsible for the conception of the exhibition. This is the start of a series of exhibitions to be held every two years at the museum, and in each of them a specialist from a Spanish or foreign university will provide a new perspective of Julio González’s work from a different viewpoint. In this way we wish to enrich the approach to the artist’s work and at the same time increase the IVAM’s link with the research carried out in the academic sphere. These exhibitions will not have a catalogue; they are intended as a starting point for historical and theoretical reflection in direct contact with the installation, and an essay that will be published by the IVAM will be written for each one of them. In the current exhibition, there is a point of special interest apart from the selection of works from our collection: the presence of forty drawings (some of which are exhibited here for the first time) belonging to the collection of the Museu d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, whose director, Dr Eduard Carbonell we take this opportunity to thank for his invaluable collaboration. Julio González: Body metaphors Julio González (1876-1942), recognized by experts as one of the great masters of sculpture of the 20th century, is still not very well known by the general public. This is largely due to the difficulty of his works that are considered to be abstract. But these pieces only seem to be abstract at first glance or if we do not pay enough attention when we look at them. In his sculptures, drawings and paintings, González never failed to refer to the human body and particularly to the female body. We must return to these roots in order to be able to understand his work and appreciate his extraordinary originality. Our itinerary (which is not in chronological order) strives to draw the spectators inside the artist’s world by means of this representational key; our intention is to take them step by step through a mixture of drawings and sculptures going from the most accessible plastic language to the most impenetrable. At the hands of González, the human body will be mutilated, taken to pieces and submitted to fantastic metamorphoses. But it will always retain an evocation of the living body. The sculptor’s working on the metal is not reduced to mere formal manipulation: it suggests the capacity of the body to grow, to love, to procreate, and at the same time it reminds us of the constant damage produced by the passage of time, age and death. In González’s creation, the body is fertile and powerful, but also vulnerable and lacerated. Outline of a repertoire The first room of the exhibition contains a panorama of the representational motifs which Julio González faithfully used throughout his life in several changes of style. In the early years of the century, the artist conceived the cluster of essential themes that were to be the centre of his work: masks, maternity, lovers embracing, a woman combing her hair… On the basis of these themes, he proceeded to dissect and transform the human figure. The remaining rooms are centred on some of these motifs: monumental figures of women, masks, dual heads, hair. Monumental woman With his monumental female figures (whether it be indomitable standing women or majestically seated ones), the artist goes to the very core of sculptural tradition, the classical statue. At the turn of the century, González was close to the Noucentiste Movement, which exalted the earthy, fertile body of the Mediterranean peasant woman. But whereas the Noucentiste peasant woman was solid and sturdy, González’s was a shell filled with air. With superimposed layers of curved and soldered iron, he created a wrapping around a vacuum, a tight dress for a non-existent body. His busts are like “caryatids… upholding that vacuum”, as the artist himself wrote in reference to the statues at the entrance of Gothic cathedrals. The Grand buste féminin (c. 1935-36) suggests a breastplate, torn and scored with scars that give it a fragile air. It is like a beautiful rescued ruin, like an old piece of bronze recovered from an archaeological excavation. It expresses life submitted to the passage of time, and at the same time the triumph of art over time. Within the same monumental style and parallel to his busts, González developed the figure of a seated woman, reminiscent of ancient statues of the Virgin Mary in a sitting position. Here again he holds a close dialogue with emptiness; but whereas in his busts metal embraces a vacuum, in his seated women, these are embraced by the vacuum. In his busts, the vacuum throbs on the inside; in the seated women it acts from the outside, eating away the volume and giving it its concave outlines. Masks Alongside the presence of the whole figure, the human face was a constant incitement for González. His early masks of repoussé metal at the beginning of the century had a continuous undulating surface whose smooth finish tempts one to touch them. From 1930 on, on the other hand, the artists makes these pieces in a radically different way: like a screen torn here and there by folds and openings that provide a contrast of light and shade. Each of these ruptures generates a feature (eyes, nose, profile…) and sketches a physiognomy. The face is a field where we see the slightest incident as a sign; but in González’s masks, these signs are so slight that all they do is accentuate the great enigma, the inscrutability of the human face. Some masks reveal brilliant, ingenious humour; in others, playfulness gives way to a more tragic expression. The famous Masque Montserrat criant (c. 1938-39), a masterly synthesis between his flat masks and the more organic style of his busts, represents a bloodcurdling scream. The inhabitable head: Lovers In parallel to his masks, González examines the human head as an interior volume: as a complex, inhabited space. The nucleus of this development is a hollow open cylinder that has its origin in Picasso’s Cubist constructions. This cylinder was the shape used for the motif of the kiss, one of the favourite images of fin de siècle symbolism, portrayed by Klimt, Munch or Behrens in painting and Rodin, Brancusi and Derain in sculpture. González turns the head into an intimate sphere, a nest where lovers’ profiles interlock with one another. The head, single and dual, links complementary elements: feminine and masculine, light and shade, fullness and emptiness. Metamorphosis of hair The last exhibition room contains sculptures and drawings on one of the central topics in Julio González’s work, especially during the last years of his life: hair. Since his first drawings and reliefs, the image of a woman combing her hair in front of the mirror, linked to the Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolism, has contained enormous metaphorical possibilities: the undulating hair can be identified with the flow of water and with foliage (hair like delicate stems, twigs and brambles). In the thirties, González went back to using this motif with a treatment reminiscent of the delicate chrysanthemums that the artist had wrought in his early work as a silversmith. In González’s mature sculpture hair was no longer just one more motif, since it embodied his filiform trend, his attempt to draw in space. The hair, which had previously been wavy, now began to stand on end: it turned into a sheaf of straight fan-like spokes (like old wrought iron spurs) or parallel bars forming a kind of railing (another paradigm of the blacksmith’s work). This is the case of the Femme au miroir (c. 1936-37), González’s supreme work and part of the IVAM collection. The allusions to plants are still there: we find them in Daphne (c. 1937), the nymph who turned into a laurel tree. And the metamorphosis of hair goes yet further. The spiky hairs become a crown or a radiant halo around her head. They will also give rise to the spikes that cover the bodies of the cactus-men, like crucified beings undergoing extreme suffering. The last version of this expressive bristling is to be found in the open hand almost obsessively fashioned by González during the years of our Civil war: the bunch of fingers on the raised hand in a gesture of despairing supplication or a call to rebellion. Implorers, women raising their hands and their eyes to heaven, are abundant in the work of Julio González in the years of the Spanish Civil War and World War II as a symbol of human fate. These two drawings, which belong to the collection of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, are like two versions, realistic and fantastic (but not abstract) of the same posture, loaded with tragic intensity