Contemporary art Spain

Cloud looms over Chillida’s sculpture park

Basque artist’s open-air “dream” faces uncertain financial future but family denies it will sell art in situ

Ten years on, Eduardo Chillida's vision has proved too costly for his heirs to run

HERNANI. Sculptures by Eduardo Chillida housed at the eponymous open-air museum in the Basque country—set to close this month owing to a financial deficit—will not be sold, said a representative of the institution. Over 40 sculptures by the Spanish artist, who died in 2002, are dotted around the Museo Chillida-Leku, the 12-hectare, hillside museum located in the town of Hernani near San Sebastian in northern Spain. “The works at Museo Chillida-Leku will remain here as they are part of Eduardo Chillida’s legacy,” said Itziar Iraola, a member of the museum’s marketing department.

Chillida and his wife, Pilar Belzunce, first bought part of the museum estate in 1984, converting a former farmhouse into a store for his works. The artist then developed the area into a sculpture garden, opening his own museum in 2000 which has since attracted over 800,000 visitors. “One day I dreamt of a utopia: finding a space where my sculptures could rest and where people could walk among them as if walking through the woods,” said Chillida, whose museum has won awards for its excellence.

According to its website, the museum has been “funded exclusively by family assets” without regional government support. But the venue has been hit hard by the economic downturn with the museum facing a £500,000 shortfall in the past two years. Gonzalo Calderón, Chillida’s son-in-law who manages the artist’s estate, told our sister paper Le Journal des Arts: “In 2008, we lost our main private sponsors, who brought in €250,000. We got help at the time from the local authorities [in San Sebastian] and hoped that this would continue into 2009 and 2010, but that wasn’t the case.”

He added: “In November they [the authorities] let us know that they couldn’t make up the deficit. It is no longer possible for us to continue.” Iraola stressed that, as we went to press, the Chillida family is negotiating with the Basque government to try and reach an agreement over future funding. But press reports state that the family fears it may lose control of the Museo Chillida-Leku if the culture ministry of the Basque region steps in. The Basque culture ministry, which has assisted with the museum’s marketing, declined to comment.

So is any aspect of the museum under threat? Iraola declined to comment on whether the Eduardo Chillida-Pilar Belzunce Foundation, the organisation behind the museum, would sell any part of the museum site. The organisation is nonetheless offering 12 large-scale later sculptures for sale through Sotheby’s (priced from $2m to $8m) which are on show at Florida’s Isleworth golf club until April. However, the museum insists this isn’t a case of cause and effect: “The sale was decided last September, before we had decided to close,” said Calderón. “It’s an opportunity to show exceptional pieces in the US. But we’re not expecting to sell all 12 works, just three or four.”

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