Cecilia De Torres Ltd - Art Basel Miami Beach 2014


Art Basel Miami Beach 2014 December 4-7, 2014




For the debut of Art Basel Miami Beach's art historical Survey section, Cecilia de Torres, Ltd. presents a unified environment featuring furniture, ceramics, books, toys, paintings and sculpture created by members of the Taller Torres-García (TTG).  Considered the most significant Latin American workshop of its time, the TTG was founded by the artist Joaquín Torres-García and was dedicated to the teaching and dissemination of his concept of Universalismo Constructivo (Constructive Universalism).  Over the course of twenty years (1943 to 1962), the workshop produced numerous artworks in this idiosyncratic style, which bridged European modernism and ancient American artistic traditions.  While paintings, sculptures, and drawings by TTG members are today included in museum and private collections across the world, less well known is the workshop's production of decorative and applied arts.  Featuring rarely seen works, many of which were culled from the artists' personal homes and private commissions, TALLER TORRES-GARCÍA: FINE AND APPLIED ARTS, functions as a Constructive Universalist gesamtkunstwerk - a total work of art - providing a comprehensive view of this still little known and understood art movement from which artists of international stature emerged.

Torres-García and Universalismo Constructivo: An Introduction

Torres-García believed that Constructive Universalism, the name he gave to the signature style for which he is today known, could serve in modern times as the model for a unified aesthetic that would pervade all aspects of life.  Born in Uruguay in 1874, the artist was trained in Barcelona's academies and later pursued his artistic career in New York (1920-1922), Tuscany (1922-1925), and the South of France before settling in Paris in 1926.  There, he was in contact with such artists as Theo Van Doesburg, Jean Hélion, and Piet Mondrian, and co-founded the group, Cercle et Carré with Michel Seuphor in 1929.  It was around this time that Torres-García developed Constructive Universalism, a theory and style characterized by the representation of ideas by means of graphic symbols embedded in a modernist grid.

According to Torres-García, symbols are the only form of figuration compatible with the geometric structure.  Man and his universe are at the center of his theory, which like in Egyptian, Mayan, and Incan arts has a unique and distinctive visual vocabulary.  As with these ancient cultures, Constructive Universalism was not limited to painting and sculpture, but could also be applied to architecture and objects of everyday use. 

When the market crash hit Paris in 1932, Torres-García left for Madrid.  Within a year, he once again embarked and returned to his native Uruguay after forty-three years abroad.  It was only after arriving in Montevideo in 1934 that he was able to realize his vision of Constructive Universalism as a unified practice encompassing all of the arts: painting, sculptures, murals, decorative and applied arts.

The Taller Torres-García

In Uruguay, Torres-García attracted a cadre of followers who shared the artist's vision of developing an abstract, modern, and specifically American visual art.  In 1935, Torres-García created his first artist's group in Uruguay, the Asociación de Arte Constructivo (the Association of Constructive Art; AAC); after several years of collective exhibitions and lectures the AAC disbanded in 1940.  The Taller Torres-García was formed in 1943, but unlike the AAC whose members had included experienced and professional artists, the artists who joined the TTG were mostly young men and women who had received little prior artistic training.  These artists were inspired by Torres-García’s charismatic personality and the spirit of Constructive Universalism. 

Torres-García, who had worked for the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí at the turn of the century, modeled his atelier after Medieval and Renaissance artistic guilds.  According to this model, apprentices worked alongside the master in a collective creative environment.  A similar practice had already been adopted by other 20th century avant-garde groups in both Europe and North America, including the Omega Workshops in England, the Bauhaus in Germany, and Black Mountain College in the United States.

Torres-García believed in the knowledge of the craft of painting, though demanded that it remain free of academic routine.  To accomplish this goal, the artist created a unique method of teaching techniques that promoted abstraction in painting.  In addition to art making, Torres-García and TTG members also worked toward the advancement of modern art in Uruguay through an active program of exhibitions, lectures, publications and the study of Indoamerican cultures.

Among the most talented of the artists to pass through the ranks of the TTG were Julio Alpuy, Gonzalo Fonseca, José Gurvich, Francisco Matto, Manuel Pailós, Héctor Ragni, and Torres-García’s sons, Augusto and Horacio Torres.  Many of these artists were not only students at the Taller, but also served as teachers at the workshop as well, carrying on Torres-García's vision after his death in 1949.

Architecture and the Decorative Arts

Art historian and curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Mari Carmen Ramírez, asserts that the TTG served as a catalyst for the consolidation of Torres-García’s aesthetic philosophy, as well as for the elaboration of his theories concerning the role and function of modern art in Latin America.1  As a testing ground for ideas regarding the role of constructivism and abstraction in the production of an American art, the TTG functioned as a laboratory for experimenting with new and traditional materials and techniques. 

One aspect of this production was the creation of painting in conjunction with architecture.  In 1944, Torres-García and the TTG artists were invited to decorate the walls of the Hospital Saint Bois in Montevideo.  These murals were the culmination of Torres-García’s experience as a painter, theoretician and teacher.  A total of 35 murals were painted in bright primary colors depicting Montevideo’s streets and harbor with ships, docks, cranes, locomotives and streetcars. The project reflected Torres-García's call that painting be “strongly linked to the city: commenting on it and singing its life, emphasizing it, displaying it, and in a way even guiding it.”2   After the completion of the Saint Bois commission, TTG artists proposed to “flood” Montevideo with murals. During the 1950s and 1960s, murals were executed in a wide variety of mediums for homes, offices, restaurants, a church, and even a gas station. 

In addition to large-scale public commissions, TTG artists also created smaller works for private collectors, many of whom were architects.  For example, the large wood construction by Francisco Matto was originally made for an architect’s dining room in Montevideo.  After moving to New York in 1958, Gonzalo Fonseca was commissioned to make a table for an architect's Manhattan apartment.  At the time, Fonseca was working on a mosaic mural for the New School on 12th Street in New York, and he used the same glass mosaic tesserae imported from Italy for the table.  Fonseca's mosaic table is signed TTG instead of his name, reflecting a common custom among TTG artists who frequently opted for anonymity to underscore their unique collective style.

Another example of this practice is the tapestry signed MAOTIMA, an acronym for Manolita, Otilia, Ifigenia, and María Angélica.  Led by Manolita and Ifigenia, Torres-García's wife and daughter, these women formed a group associated with the TTG who embroidered and wove tapestries based on the workshop's production; the tapestry on view is based on a 1937 painting by Torres-García that is now in the collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.  Perhaps it is also for reasons of anonymity that the original creator of the "TTG chair" remains unknown.  Featured in a photograph of the workshop which shows Pailós seated on it, the chair was reconstructed from drawings and measurements found among papers at the home of Gurvich in 1990.

TTG artists also created objects for their own enjoyment and personal use, such as Alpuy's cabinet and table.  Characteristic of Alpuy's tendency to use found or humble materials, the incised decorations of this table are made from polished soup bones crafted to imitate ivory.  Horacio Torres made many of the details for his home in the suburbs of Montevideo, including the Constructive Universalist design for the iron grills which adorned his front doors.  Working in a purely abstract mode, Horacio also created a design for a lamp that originally hung above his dining room table.

The engraved wooden painter's box was created by the architect Luis San Vicente, an honorary member of the TTG who helped secure commissions for the group.  This functional object is engraved with buildings illustrating architecture’s great styles, from a Greek temple to a Gothic cathedral.  Providing a lesson on the history of architecture on its exterior, the painter's box opens to reveal compartments arranged according to a Constructivist grid.

Surviving as original artworks, replicas recreated from extant plans and drawings, and ephemera, the objects created by the TTG reflect the ideals of Constructive Universalism as championed by Torres-García.  Brought to the realm of everyday life, these works reflect the artist's conviction expressed in his book, La recuperación del objecto: "Let us decorate our objects or a piece of furniture in order to keep constantly before our eyes, and in our hands, the mystery in which we believe." 3



1. El Taller Torres-García: The School of the South and its Legacy. Ed. by Mari Carmen Ramírez (Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Press, 1992). 

2. J. Torres-García, “Lección XXX: La Escuela del Sur”, in Universalismo Constructivo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Poseidón, 1944), p. 217.

3. Joaquín Torres-García, "Leccion XIII," in La recuperación del objeto (Montevideo: Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de Montevideo, 1952), 1:153.



Private View
Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 11am to 8pm (by invitation only)

Thursday, December 4, 2014, 11am to 3pm (by invitation only)

Public Days
Thursday, December 4, 2014, 3pm to 8pm
Friday, December 5, 2014, 12 noon to 8pm
Saturday, December 6, 2014, 12 noon to 8pm
Sunday, December 7, 2014, 12 noon to 6pm

For a pdf of this text, please click here.

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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Julio Alpuy

b. 1919, Cerro Chato, Uruguay - d. 2009, New York City

Growing up in the Uruguayan countryside with little exposure to art, Alpuy first began drawing at the age of twenty.  Within a year, the young artist met Joaquín Torres-García.  Inspired by the master's theories of universal constructivism, Alpuy joined the Taller Torres- García, and is today recognized as one of the Taller's most important members. 

In 1944, Alpuy contributed two murals as part of the Taller's project to decorate the St. Bois hospital in Uruguay; he would continue to create murals throughout his career.  Encouraged by Torres-García, Alpuy and other Taller members travelled to the Andean region of South America in 1945; this experience, along with other periods of travel during the 1950s in South America, Europe, and the Middle East profoundly affected the themes and structural composition of his art. 

In 1961, Alpuy emigrated to New York, where he remained for the duration of his life.  Alpuy's art has been featured in numerous exhibitions about the Taller Torres-García, as well as in several international one-person exhibitions.  His works are included in major international collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The Morgan Library and Museum, New York; The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, New York; and Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, Montevideo, Uruguay.


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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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José Gurvich

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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Francisco Matto

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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Manuel Pailós

b. 1918 Galicia, Spain - d. 2004 Montevideo, Uruguay

The child of Spanish immigrants, Pailós studied painting at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Montevideo before joining the Taller Torres-Garcia in 1943.  Profoundly influenced by the pedagogy and theories of the workshop's founder, Joaquín Torres-García, Pailós was an important contributing member of the Taller throughout its existence, working as both a student and eventually a teacher. 

In addition to his drawing and painting production, Pailós executed sculptures in wood, granite, and other materials, and many of his reliefs and free-standing sculptures now grace parks and plazas in Montevideo.

 Works by Pailós have been exhibited extensively throughout Latin America, and in 1991 the artist was honored by the Spanish regional government of Galicia with a museum exhibition and sculpture commission for the gardens at the University of Santiago de Compostela.

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Héctor Ragni

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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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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