The Iron Sculptor

The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía IN Madrid presents the largest retrospective to date in Spain on Julio González (1876-1942). Bringing together more than 200 works, the exhibition features the vast breadth of his artistic register: from his “filiform” and “empty space” sculptures, which consolidated a new language for sculpting after the artist was age fifty, to lesser-known works from the period called “González before González.” From these early years, the exhibition offers numerous works of his gold- and silversmithing, jewelry, as well as diverse examples of painting and sculpture. Julio González is considered to be the father of iron sculpture and one of the most important artists in developing the twentieth-century avant-garde movement. He was trained in metalwork in his father’s art workshop where he learned to forge and smelt iron. His vocation for painting would soon take him to Paris, as it did his friends Picasso and painter Torres-García. From 1899, he would concentrate on painting in this city, alternating between producing objects and sculpture. His apprenticeship in industrial techniques for autogenous welding in 1918 would prove decisive in experimenting with a new language for sculpting. The turning point in the syntax of this language would come in 1928. Picasso, accustomed to working with metals, requested González’s welding expertise to create a sculpture where empty space would take center stage. In a burial monument to his friend Apollinaire, Picasso hoped to materialize the idea for a “statue of nothing,” inspired by a passage from The Poet Assassinated by Apollinaire himself: “a solid statue of nothing, like poetry and like glory.”This collaboration lasted until 1932 and would prove highly fruitful for both artists. González’s advice allowed Picasso to test the viability of his sketches, while Picasso would give González the impetus needed for his work, limited until then to small-scale, fragile pieces in iron. It would be a decisive step in mastering a formal language that he had been struggling to define since his early years.