The Poetic Vision of Eduardo Chillida

Eduardo Chillida, the renowned 76-year-old Spanish sculptor, wants to climax a long and distinguished career by carving out a massive space 11 stories high and just as wide inside a mountain on one of Spain's Canary Islands. The artist, who has created both monumental and smaller pieces out of iron, steel, wood, alabaster, cement, clay, paper, stone and plaster, has come to look on space itself as material to mold.

But although the Canary Island government approved the project in late 1998, the work may never be realized. Delays have been caused by environmentalists afraid of damage to the mountain, anthropologists worried about the loss of what they believe may be the footprints of prehistoric man, engineers who have still not completed a study on whether the digging can be done safely, and investigators looking into accusations of corruption between politicians and the mining company that has been quarrying decorative rock from the mountain.

When the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, opened a comprehensive retrospective of the sculptor's work last year, the curator of the exhibition told a news conference that Chillida was "one of the three pillars of sculpture in the 20th century." He identified the other two as Constantin Brancusi of Romania and Alberto Giacometti of Switzerland, putting Chillida in exalted company.

The tall, solf-spoken Chillida wears such praise without flamboyance or pretensions. He lives in the city where he was born — the Basque seaside town of San Sebastian in northern Spain — in a house on a hill overlooking the bay. From the large windows of the living room, he can gaze down on his most celebrated sculpture, Peine del Viento (Wind Combs) — a dramatic grouping of three forms embedded in the rocky coast.

Chillida's monumental public pieces for such cities as Barcelona, Guernica, Seville, Paris, Frankfurt and Dallas have made his work more familiar and accessible than ever before. At their best, the sculptures brim with movement and tension. "I am always trying to do what I don't know how to do," he says.

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