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A Latin American Metaphysical Perspective 2000 Autumn



A Latin American Metaphysical Perspective: Aizenberg, Batlle Planas, Botero, Bonevardi, Buzio, Fonseca, Maza, Montiel, Siqueiros, Storm, Tamayo, A. Torres, H. Torres, Torres-García

More Latin American artists surrendered to the attractions of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra's Pittura Metafisica than did their North American counterparts. The "metaphysical aesthetic" had great appeal to the fondness for legends and myths that runs deep through the Latin American "collective unconscious."

The word "metaphysical," as used in the titles of several paintings in the exhibition, suggests a mysterious reality beyond the normal world they purport to depict. The supernatural lighting, the incongruous placement of objects, the structure created by the architecture of sharp lines in perspective generate a poetic and usually ominous atmosphere.

Latin American literature influenced and supported the development of this quality in the plastic arts. The writings of the Uruguayan-born French poet, Isidore Ducasse (Comte de Lautréamont, 1846-1870), were a precursor of the metaphysical and the surreal. His Chants de Maldoror, with its startling metaphors and dislocations, was widely read in the 1940s. Jorge Luis Borges's preoccupation with Man's place in a labyrinthine universe of circular time and of a reality reflected infinitely in mirrors provided painters with rich material for their imagination.

The works chosen for the exhibition illustrate various approaches to the subject from the figurative to the geometric. The artists differ in their interests and backgrounds, yet their work has an otherworldly quality and the distinct flavor that perpetuates the tradition of Pittura Metafisica.

Roberto Aizenberg's paintings of buildings are like visual renderings of where the stories of Borges unravel. Marcelo Bonevardi's beautifully made constructions combine painting, sculpture and architecture and share with Borges a metaphysical quest. Battle Planas, an enthusiast of psychoanalysis, Zen philosophy, and psychic automatism, and who had a major influence on Argentine Surrealism, developed an intimate and poetical aesthetic.

Fernando Botero, while in Florence in the 1950s, was also seduced by Carra's work, as in the exhibited painting where the long shadows of man and horses stretch across an endless plain. Lidya Buzio, inspired by the cast iron architecture of lower Manhattan, creates wall assemblages of buildings and roof-line vistas that subtly play with our perception of perspective. Fernando Maza's architectural constructs painted in soft pastel colors fashion a poetic dislocation by his juxtaposition of shapes and symbols against a horizon of calm sea.

As Octavio Paz pointed out, David A. Siqueiros's 1919 visit to Carlo Carra in Milan inspired the mannequins and automatons of his later murals and paintings. His 1936 Cosmos & Disaster is a metaphysical view of war. Rufino Tamayo appropriates De Chirico's eerie sense of arrangement in order to create a rhythmic tension between the seemingly isolated elements in the two gouaches on exhibition.

In the late 1940s under the spell of De Chirico, the Taller Torres-García artists Gonzalo Fonseca, Jonio Montiel, Augusto and Horacio Torres, painted numerous landscapes using Montevideo's plazas and harbor as their focus. Fonseca's later sculptures contained the inexplicable, and he often employed unexpected objects in his work. Both Montiel and later Juan Storm contemplated the metaphysical in many of their paintings. In Horacio Torres's mature nudes the sense of mystery is palpable. And Augusto Torres continued to paint with a metaphysical edge throughout his life.

At the turn of the century, when they were young, both Torres-García in Barcelona and De Chirico in Munich, were drawn to the dreamy, mysterious atmosphere of Arnold Bšcklin's canvases. Torres-García's 1946 Iglesia Metafísica, is a rare example of his incursion into the "metaphysical aesthetic." After all, the aim of the Parisian group Cercle et Carré that he co-founded in 1930 with Michel Seuphor had been to fight Surrealism, the offspring of De Chrico's Pittura Metafisica.



Joaquín Torres-García

b. 1874 Montevideo, Uruguay - d. 1949 Montevideo, Uruguay

When Torres-García arrived in Montevideo on April 30, 1934 after forty-three years of absence, Torres-García told the press that he had returned to his native country of Uruguay in order to "develop a wide range of activities, to lecture, to teach courses, to achieve... on walls what I have already achieved on canvas,... to create in Montevideo a movement that will surpass the art of Paris."  These lofty ambitions were achieved through the creation of his world famous workshop, the Taller Torres-García, where he taught his theory of Universal Constructivism to future generations of Latin American artists.

Before returning to Uruguay, Torres-García had arrived at the concept of Universal Constructivism after a long development during which his painting evolved from Mediterranean classicism through periods of Vibrationism, Cubism, and Fauvism.  A truly global artist, Torres-García lived in Spain, New York, Italy, and Paris, where his theories and aesthetic style culminated into his characteristic incorporation of symbols located in a geometric grid based on the golden section. 

The uniqueness of Torres' proposal consisted of his incorporation of essential elements of indigenous American art into the basic principles of European constructivism and geometric abstraction.  Today, he is recognized as a canonical figure in both Latin American and modern art in general, with works in prestigious public and private collections worldwide.

An online catalogue raisonné, which includes comprehensive information about Torres-García’s art, exhibition history, and literary references, as well as a chronology with documentary materials related to the artist’s life and career, is available online at www.torresgarcia.com


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Lidya Buzio

b. 1948, Montevideo, Uruguay -  d. 2014, Greenport, New York

A unique talent in the world of ceramics, Buzio learned to create, form, and shape clay sculptures from the master ceramicist José Collell, based on ancient Amerindian practices.  Buzio continued to work within this same method, cutting earthenware slabs into geometric shapes, and then combining these cylinders, cones, and hemispheres to form the body of her sculptures.  Using special pigments which she mixed herself, the artist drew and painted directly onto her unfired works.  Before firing, Buzio burnished her pieces; this step serves to fuse the paint into the clay and results in the unique luminosity and distinctive hues that characterize her artworks. 

After moving to New York in the early 70s', Buzio's pictorial vocabulary shifted to reflect her new urban surroundings, inspiring her to create her New York Cityscapes, with their evocative rooflines, cast iron architecture, and water towers.  Her last series of abstract geometric designs executed in bright primary colors, represented a new direction in her practice. 

Buzio's ceramics are found in the Brooklyn Museum New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York; the Racine Art Museum, Wisconsin; the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas; the Honolulu Academy of Art, Hawaii; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the National Museum of History and the Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan.  Buzio’s work is also included in several other international museums and private collections.


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Gonzalo Fonseca

b. 1922 Montevideo, Uruguay - d. 1997 Seravezza, Italy

In 1942, Fonseca quit his architectural studies in order to pursue an artistic career.  Working under the direction of Joaquín Torres-García, Fonseca joined the artist's workshop, where he participated in the group's collective exhibitions. In 1945 Fonseca traveled with other Taller Torres-García members through Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia to study pre-Columbian art.  This experience, along with numerous trips throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa during the 1950s, profoundly affected Fonseca's formal and theoretical approach to art.

Although Fonseca left the College of Architecture in Montevideo as a youth, an emphasis on structure and architectonics is present throughout his oeuvre.  As a teenager, he taught himself to sculpt in stone and later returned to such sculptural practices after studying ceramics in Spain in 1953.  Fonseca moved to the United States in 1958, and later divided his time between New York and Italy, where he created large-scale marble sculptures. 

Artworks by Fonseca are included at The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museo Municipale, Pietrasanta, Italy; and the Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, among other collections.  The artist's works are also featured in numerous public spaces around the globe, including Tokyo; Palo Alto, California; New York; Reston, Virginia; and Montevideo.


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Augusto Torres

b. 1913 Tarrasa, Spain - d. 1992 Barcelona, Spain

The eldest son of Joaquín Torres-García, Augusto was an active participant in his father's artistic life.  Growing up primarily in Italy and France, the young artist met many of the great figures of twentieth century art, including Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Joan Miró.  During the 1930s, while living in Paris with his family, Augusto was the apprentice of the sculptor Julio González and studied drawing in Amedée Ozenfant’s academy.  Introduced to North African and American Indian art by the painter Jean Hélion, it was also in Paris that the artist developed his lifelong passion for tribal and primitive art. 

After Torres-García brought his family to Uruguay in 1934, Augusto participated in all the activities of his father’s teaching atelier, the Taller Torres-García.  One of the Taller's most well known students, Augusto later went on become a teacher himself, instructing subsequent generations of artists.  Throughout his life, Augusto traveled widely, including two years living in New York. From 1973 on, he divided his time between Barcelona and Montevideo.

The art of Augusto has been displayed internationally in both solo and group exhibitions, and his work is included in the collections of such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the Miró Foundation, Barcelona; and the Museo Torres-García, Montevideo.


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Horacio Torres

b. 1924 Livorno, Italy - d. 1976 New York City

Of the many painters who studied with his father, the great Constructivist artist Joaquín Torres-García, Horacio Torres made the quantum leap into the Contemporary art world of abstract and expressionistic painters in New York's 1970s. That he did so with figurative canvases was a singular achievement. Taken under the wing of the critic Clement Greenberg, who understood that Horacio's work was really about painting and was thoroughly modern, Horacio explored the thunderous territory of Titian, Velasquez and late Goya with a unique background of skill and aesthetic education in a contemporary way. Thus the series of headless nudes and of figures with faces obscured, make clear his painterly intentions and concerns. His monumental canvases are wondrous exercises of painted imagination formed with the structure of the depicted figure, but they are not about nudes, they are about painting.


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