CONSTRUCTIVISM, INTERNATIONALISM, AND THE INTER-AMERICAN AVANT-GARDE
Art Museum of the Americas, June 21 to October 7, 2012
The exhibition brochure is downloadable here.
Drawn from the permanent collection of the Art Museum of the Americas, Constellations surveys the dynamic, inter-American history of geometric abstraction across the twentieth century. The works on display illustrate the rich cultural and visual history of geometric abstraction as it evolved into a range of expressive and divergent practices across the region. The universal and timeless structures of geometric forms and colors took on specific local meanings, and Constellations suggests the different values – modern, utopian, collective, transformative – that abstraction embodied at critical moments across the Americas. In line with the broader mission of AMA and the Organization of American States, Constellations recognizes the socially constructive role that the arts have played in fostering democracy and freedom of expression at intense historical moments of social and political change.
Taking its cue from the work of Joaquín Torres-García, the Uruguayan constructivist who pioneered abstraction in the Southern Cone, Constellations shows the evolution of the geometric impulse through four complementary movements. These interrelated “constellations” – Constructivist Americas, Figuring Geometry, Constructive Geometries, and Geometry in Motion – explore the visual and ideological versatility of abstraction from the 1930s through the 1950s and ‘60s. The four constellations resist linear chronologies and national paradigms, instead describing a history of synergies and encounters across time and space. From the Taller Torres-García and the Argentine Madí group to Colombian Constructivism, Cuban Concretismo, and Venezuelan Kineticism, abstraction encompassed optics and technology, political activism and dissent, and inter-American dialogue and exchange. As interest in geometric abstraction has surged over the past decade, AMA’s foundational holdings in this area provide an essential touchstone for both scholars and contemporary artists. The artworks featured in Constellations suggest the multifaceted aspirations and motivations of avant-gardes across the Americas and the vitality of geometry as a structural and social metaphor.
Curated by Abigail McEwen
In 1943, the year in which he painted AMA’s iconic Constructivist Composition, Joaquín Torres-García founded the Taller Torres García in Montevideo. A prolific teaching workshop, the Taller became a creative nexus of abstraction in the Americas, disseminating Torres-García’s theory of Universal Constructivism through pedagogy and print media. An integral aesthetic rooted in the union of pre-Hispanic (“universal”) motifs and plastic geometries, Universal Constructivism defined American abstraction in both avant-garde and indigenous terms. This gallery suggests the range of this earliest constructivist thread through the work of Torres-García and members of the Taller (Manuel Pailós, José Gurvich), its later reprise in work by the Grupo de Arte No Figurativo (María Freire, José Pedro Costigliolo), and its North American parallels (Gunther Gerzso, Carlos Mérida).
Abstraction and figuration were not always mutually exclusive practices, and the artists in this constellation engage a figural, or somatic, presence vis-à-vis geometric form. Elder-generation artists like Mario Carreño and René Portocarrero found their way to abstraction through a gradual distillation of earlier, representative forms, here suggestively imaged through totemic outlines and structuring blocks of color. Their younger contemporaries were more apt to begin with the precepts of geometry and then intimate bodily and often erotic associations – seen here in works by Agustín Fernández, Gaston Garreaud, and Miguel Ocampo. Tomie Ohtake and Venancio Shinki moved between geometric and gestural modes of abstraction, and the veiled expressionism of their work imparts an existential and metaphysical dimension to otherwise coolly rational and non-objective forms.
Co-founded by Gyula Kosice, Argentina’s groundbreaking Madí movement ranks among Latin America’s most innovative, interdisciplinary and international expressions of geometric abstraction. The euphoric, postwar utopianism of the Madí artists stands in contrast to the comparative sobriety and spartan feeling of constructivism in Colombia. Working through a time of civil conflict known as La Violencia, Edgar Negret, Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar and Omar Rayo plied elemental, planar geometries in works that explored stark contrasts of color and spatial relief. Overlooked and all but unknown during this time, women artists – Loló Soldevilla in Paris and Havana; Fanny Sanín in Bogotá, London, and Monterrey – simultaneously experimented with the constructive vocabularies, and possibilities, of geometric form.
Geometry in Motion
Among the highlights of AMA’s collection are classic examples of geometric and optical art from Venezuela and Argentina. Alejandro Otero and others embraced the universality of geometric forms as a means of transcending nativist nationalism, and the optical vibrations of his Colorritmos, Jesús Rafael Soto’s Escrituras, and Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Fisicromías invite sensorial experience and viewer participation through essences of color, space, and light. Argentine kineticism evolved out of the concrete and Madí movements of the 1940s, seeking to destabilize vision (Rogelio Polesello). Formed in 1968, the Arte Generativo group sought a return to questions of aesthetics, and its members – Eduardo Mac Entyre, Miguel Angel Vidal, and Ary Brizzi – contemplated the cosmic energies and visual dynamism of lines and color in motion.