Modernism: Montevideo & Buenos Aires 1930s-1960s
In the years before World War II through the end of the 1960s, the two capital cities on the banks of the Rio de la Plata enjoyed a vibrant art scene, the result of great prosperity and an active trans-Atlantic dialogue with the European avant-garde. This exhibition consists of abstract paintings, drawings and wood constructions by artists who participated in the seminal modernist movements of the region: the Asociación de Arte Constructivo (AAC), the Taller Torres-García (TTG), Arte Concreto Invención and the Madí group.
Very few works of the 1930s survived the public's lack of appreciation, causing them now to be even more precious to the history of Modernism. The exhibition includes two delicate watercolor and ink compositions by Amalia Nieto, an artist who at 92 is the only surviving witness to the modernist struggles of the AAC. A bold composition in ink and a subtle painting by Augusto Torres, were inspired by the refined Graphisms of Paul Klee. A 1936 oil by Héctor Ragni on the other hand, is strictly geometric - composed of a circle, a triangle and rectangles. It was painted the same year that the AAC artists participated in the Salon des Surindépendants in Paris and re-issued the 1930-1 Parisian art publication Cercle et Carré as Círculo y Cuadrado in Montevideo. Published until 1943, it circulated abroad to institutions like MOMA and to artists including Piet Mondrian, Georges Vantongerloo and Julio González.
A 1947 wall relief by Gonzalo Fonseca uses thin wood strips to create a form reminiscent of two figures. A schematic drawing for an outdoor mural and a hanging sculpture/ceiling lamp by Horacio Torres attest to the effort to introduce Constructivism into all aspects of daily life. Two rare 1959 oils by José Gurvich in black and white drift from geometric to organic abstraction - all curves and rhythm, inspired by his efforts to apply the rules of musical composition to painting.
By 1956 when Volutas was painted, Alfredo Hlito (1923-1993) had abandoned the irregular frame or shaped canvas characteristic of the Madí group. Volutas is an exploration of color and its interrelation with dynamic form; its three curlicues in bright red, green and ochre on a blue background echo Kandinsky's concept that color is the materialization of the "inner sound."
Positive-Negative, two panels painted in gray, black and white by Antonio Llorens (1920-1995) investigates the optical possibilities of the space-color relation in opposition. This work exemplifies the Concrete-Invention and Madí group ideas as defined by one of its members, the sculptor Gyula Kosice: "Nothing similar to what is invented exists in the external world, it makes real what is non-existent, itself becomes a reality."
A painted border surrounds the all white front of the picture plane in César Paternosto's Evidence, 1969. By emphasizing the "outer" edge over that of the front, the familiar frontal viewing experience is put to the test by this oblique mode of seeing. The work shown here and in two other current exhibitions that study the sources and development of Abstraction in North and South America: Abstraction: The Amerindian Paradigm at the IVAM in Spain, and Abstract Art from the Rio de la Plata, Buenos Aires and Montevideo 1933-53 at the Americas Society in New York, have yet to be fully integrated into the history of 20th Century abstract art.
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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b. 1927, Lithuania – d. 1974 New York City
Populated with figures and images that reflect his Jewish upbringing, his participation with the Taller Torres-García, and his profound admiration for the European art masters Breughel and Bosch, Gurvich's artworks combine a unique personal style with technical mastery.
The child of Jewish immigrants, the artist was born in Lithuania and moved to Uruguay with his family in 1932. There, Gurvich excelled at both music and the visual arts, and it was while studying the violin alongside Horacio Torres that the young artist was introduced to Horacio's father, Joaquín Torres-García. Soon after, Gurvich joined the Taller Torres-García, participating in the workshop's exhibitions, writing for its publications, executing mural projects, and teaching. Gurvich's role at the Taller later influenced the creation of his own workshop, the Taller Montevideo, where he taught the next generation of Uruguayan artists.
In 1954 and again in 1964, the artist travelled to Europe and Israel, where he lived as a shepherd on the Ramot Menasche kibbutz. These experiences profoundly influenced the iconography of his paintings and sculptures. Moving to the United States in 1970, Gurvich joined his fellow Taller Torres-García artists Julio Alpuy, Horacio Torres, and Gonzalo Fonseca in New York City, where he continued to produce art until his premature death in 1974.
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b. 1911, Montevideo, Uruguay - d. 1995, Montevideo, Uruguay
A founding member of the Taller Torres-García, Matto studied painting as a child before meeting Joaquín Torres-García, the atelier's founder in 1939. Following this encounter and encouraged by the creative environment at the Taller, Matto's artistic production shifted from his early Surrealist-influenced work to paintings and sculptures with markedly orthogonal compositions; these works were often executed on humble material supports such as cardboard and found wood pieces.
At the age of 21, Matto traveled to Tierra del Fuego and acquired the first Pre-Columbian pieces of what was to become a major collection and an important influence on his art. In 1962, Matto opened his collection of Amerindian art to the public. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art housed ceramics, textiles and sculpture from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.
The Central Bank of Uruguay commissioned Matto to design a silver coin for the F.A.O. (United Nations Organization for Agriculture and Food). It was in circulation in 1969 and won the first prize from the Gesellschaft für Internationale Geldgeschichte, an international numismatic association based in Frankfurt, Germany.
In 1982, Matto was invited to participate in the First International Meeting for Open Air Sculpture in Punta del Este, Uruguay. He made a U shaped form sculpture in cement placed next to the beach.
His recent exhibitions include "Francisco Matto: Exposição Monográfica," 6a Bienal do Mercosur, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2007; "Francisco Matto: The Modern and Mythic," The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas, 2009; “Constructed Dialogues: Concrete, Geometric, and Kinetic Art from the Latin American Art Collection," The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas, 2012-2013. His work has also been included in group exhibitions in Paris, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Germany, Moscow, Tokyo, New York, and throughout Latin America.
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b. 1920, Montevideo, Uruguay - d. 1995 Montevideo, Uruguay
Antonio Llorens was a student at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, Montevideo and became a member of the MADÍ group during the 1940s. Also a founder of the Uruguayan Group of Abstract Art, his work was in numerous exhibitions of the MADÍ group including the important 1958 Parisian MADÍ International, Groupe Argentine at the Galerie Denis René; the 1961 15 Years of MADÍ Art, Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires; Vanguardias de la década de los 40, Arte MADÍ Perceptismo, Museo Sivori, Buenos Aires in 1980; the 2001 Abstract Art From the Rio de la Plata, 1930s to 1950, Americas Society, New York and Tamayo Museum, Mexico City.
Llorens was an influential proponent of geometric and abstract art in Uruguay. He was commissioned to paint public and private murals, taught from 1962 to 1972 at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in Montevideo, and in 1987 was awarded the National Prize Pintura INCA in Montevideo. Llorens work is in the prestigious Blaquier Collection, the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, the Cisneros Collection in Caracas, Venezuela, and the CIFO collection in Miami, among others.
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b. 1897 Buenos Aires, Argentina - d. 1952, Montevideo, Uruguay
Ragni´s family moved to Montevideo in 1915 where Héctor continued his art studies and activities. In 1918, Ragni sailed for Europe, living in Barcelona and returning to Uruguay after ten years abroad. In 1934, Ragni met Torres-García and joined the Asociación de Arte Constructivo. Active in the artistic and cultural movements of the time and a participant in the numerous exhibitions of the AAC and later the Taller Torres-García, Ragni had a strong graphic sense coupled with superb technical mastery. His line drawings are highly coveted as there are few canvases extant.
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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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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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b. 1931 La Plata, Argentina – lives in Segovia, Spain
Around 1957, César Paternosto started creating artworks based on Geometric Abstraction. After attending a serial music concert, he was enthralled by Anton Webern's pregnant silences, which influenced the next development in his art. By the end of the 1960s, Paternosto moved the emphasis of depicted matter in his paintings to the outer-sides of the canvas, leaving the front blank. By shifting the attention to the sides, he was questioning the traditional viewing of paintings frontally, and as the range of the pictorial field was expanded to the sides, the three dimensionality of the painting turned it into an object. His 2012 essay, “Painting as Object: Geometric Forms and Lateral Expansions,” explained the evolution and continuity of his idea, from the early lateral vision canvases, to his most recent work.
In 1977, Paternosto began to travel to Bolivia and Peru to study the archaeological sites Tiwanaku, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. These trips marked an important turning point in his work sparking new formal explorations in form, composition, and color. By rooting his art in American autochthonous traditions rather than in the modern European model, Paternosto created a new and original type of abstraction based on the centuries-old woven textiles and sculptural stones of the Inca.
Paintings by Paternosto are found in various prestigious collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland; and the Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Germany, amongst others.
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