Homage: Geometria Sensível - 25 Years Later, Sensitive Geometry Recalled
At daybreak on July 8, 1978, a devastating fire reduced the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro to ashes. It was the worst catastrophe suffered by a museum since World War II.
Although its origin was never conclusively established, the blaze spread rapidly. The New York Times of July 9 reported the fire on its front page, describing how hours later, the building's concrete shell was still smoking, littered with piles of dirty gray sludge and broken glass. Twenty-five years later, there are several things worth recalling about this sad event.
It is believed that over one thousand works of art were destroyed, although the exact number will never be known because the archives were incinerated along with the museum. Works in the permanent collection by Picasso, Dalí, Miró, Marx Ernst, and Magritte were lost, along with their comprehensive collection of Brazilian art. There also were two temporary exhibitions on view: America Latina:Geometria Sensível, a survey of Latin American abstraction which included more than a hundred works by 26 contemporary artists and Torres-García, Constructions and Symbols, an exhibit of murals, paintings, and wood objects that had originally opened in 1975 at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and then traveled to Rio.
The exhibition America Latina:Geometria Sensível, curated by the late Roberto Pontual was the first conscious effort to define what made Latin America's geometric abstract art different from its European counterpart.
The exhibition presented at Cecilia de Torres Ltd., curated by Henrique Faría, pays homage to the great art the fire consumed a quarter-Century ago. Presented are works of the period by Marcelo Bonevardi, Waldemar Cordeiro, Carlos Cruz Diez, Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt), Ana Mercedes Hoyos, Alejandro Otero, César Paternosto, Jesús Rafael Soto, and Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, artists who participated in America Latina:Geometria Sensível or whose work was discussed in the catalog; and one painting by Torres-García, the 1943 Arte Constructivo. It was one of the few works in the Paris show that wasn't lost in Rio; its owner had refused to lend it to the Museum. It is a symbolic reminder of the other 73 constructivist works by Torres-García that were destroyed.
Waldemar Cordeiro (Italy 1925- Brazil 1973)
Born in Rome, his family moved to Brazil when he was a child. In 1949, Cordeiro participated in the historical exhibition Do Figurativismo ao Abstracionismo, (From Figuration to Abstraction), at the recently opened Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo.
Later, working and showing with the group "Ruptura," he first exhibited Idéia Visível also at the Museum. In 1968, Cordeiro pioneered computer art research in Brazil by gathering a group of mathematicians, engineers, and artists to develop ideas for this new field. His 1971 exhibition, Arteonica, explored the use of electronic medium in the arts.
Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar (Colombia 1922-2004)
In the late 1950s he forayed into mainstream geometric abstraction painting, making hard-edged geometric works in dramatic colors. In the 1960s he taught in New York and created large murals for numerous projects, eventually turning to sculpture.
Ramírez Villamizar was influenced early on by the work and writings of Torres-García, occasionally producing pieces with pre-Columbian titles. But after a trip to the Andes in 1983, he began a series of works inspired by his experience of the architecture of the Incas, Remembrances of Machu Picchu.
Carlos Cruz Diez (Venezuela 1923)
An art school graduate, Cruz Diez came to New York to study art and advertising. After his first trip to Paris in 1956, his preoccupation with color as a source of energy, the relation of color and form and how they animate the pictorial surface became the subject of his work.
In 1959, influenced by Cinétisme, (Op Art), he created Physichromies, works composed of vertical lines of color, interspersed at regular intervals by colored bands of Plexiglas that produce shifting geometric images that emerge, intensify, change and fade through the displacement of light when the viewer moves. In Paris, 1965-1969, his installation Chromosaturation Labyrinth and Chromatic Promenade exposed the passers-by to blue, red and green light as they walked through intensely lit booths.
Among his most renowned large scale projects are: Additive Color, the mosaic floor of the airport in Caracas and Chromatic Induction, huge painted silos at La Guaira harbor, also in Venezuela.
Alejandro Otero (Venezuela 1921-1990)
As a young artist, Otero traveled to the United States and Europe in 1945, where in Paris he created the magazine Los Disidentes (The Dissidents) in 1950. Verticality is the main feature in the series of paintings on wood panel he titled Coloritmos, where the visual attention is constantly shifted in an upward and downward motion by the rhythm of color combinations. One of Otero's first Coloritmos was purchased for MoMA by Alfred Barr in 1955.
An important aspect of his work was his collaboration with architects; two examples are Policromía, painted on the exterior walls of the 8-story School of Architecture of Caracas University; and a large vertical panel for a Shell Gas station, made of aluminum and concrete.
Awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1971 to study at MIT, his ideas were radically altered by concepts of dynamics, physics and art, interacting with natural elements. He designed large structures in steel or anodized aluminum, which are set in motion by wind or water, like the Ala Solar he built in Bogotá, and Estructura Solar, 1977, for Olivetti in Milan.
Ana Mercedes Hoyos (Bogotá 1942)
Hoyos works in sculpture, drawing and painting both figurative and abstract. In the early 1970s, an open window framed Hoyos' landscapes, as a progression towards abstraction ensued, sky and light became the main elements that surround both the stretcher and the implied window frame.
In these canvases, color is practically eliminated so as to achieve "an atmosphere unburdened by gravity." By omitting the horizon line and working with subtle and ethereal tones and technique, in paintings such as the 1978 Atmosphere, she created the illusion of unlimited open space and light.
Her interest in photography and the cropping of images resulted in her large figurative canvases: close-ups of still lives of tropical fruit or details of a figure in brilliant colors. Her new sculpture, slices of watermelon, which taken out of its context of scale become large abstractions.
Carlos Rojas (Colombia 1933-1997)
Studied architecture and art in Colombia before traveling to Rome in 1957 to take design courses. He exhibited in New York at the Center for Inter American Relations, (Americas Society), and at the XII Sao Paulo Biennial in 1973.
In Geometría Sensível he showed several paintings titled Transparencies that were delicate grids painted with vegetable dyes. Concurrently he began to work in sculpture, his minimalist pieces resembled frameworks.
Rojas explored Cubism stretching its possibilities, and in Untitled, 1972, a precursor of his steel sculpture, he used several types of wood molding as in Cubist collages, to create an open structure that while suggesting its origins, is free of any direct reference to reality.
Jesús Rafael Soto (Venezuela 1923-2005)
Soto sought "an optical vibration of the painting," as he stated that he wanted to "dynamize" Mondrian. In works such as White and Pink T's, he superposed two elements to create this using thin black lines painted on the white background and the white and pink wire T's rising from the surface. From the superposition of the two, optical vibrations result when the viewer passes in front of the stationary work.
He is renowned for his huge Penetrables, like the one he built for a Renault factory in France where 250,000 metal rods suspended from the ceiling create a "full universe," where space, time and matter become one in a continuum of infinite vibrations.
He founded the Museum of Modern Art Jesús Soto that houses an outstanding collection of his own work and that of other major Latin American artists.
Marcelo Bonevardi (Argentina 1929-1994)
"If my dreams had the persuasive persistence of time, if while meditating I could contemplate the mystery of my own skeleton and climb over the rainbow to find the Great Silence, and then in my ship risk the labyrinths of a mystic geography, maybe one day I could build that object I once glimpsed in a small wood box together with a dead beetle." Artist's statement: Geometria Sensível exhibition catalog, 1978.
Bonevardi, studied architecture in Córdoba, Argentina, receiving a Guggenheim grant in 1958. When he settled in New York, where most of his mature work was produced, Bonevardi, like a minority of artists there in the early sixties, was reacting against abstract expressionism.
In his assemblages made of superimposed planes of wood and burlap he combined painting, sculpture and architecture in a single mode. Bonevardi inserted mysterious, painstakingly made objects in his reliefs, whose deep diagonal planes and ingenious foreshortenings create daring perspectives that recall De Chirico.
Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt, Germany 1912-Venezuela 1994)
Reflecting her German architectural schooling she developed a structural connective system based on the triangle and the square. An example is Partiendo de un rectángulo II, (A Rectangle as the Point of Departure II), whose parallel lines curve and rotate in space, then close upon themselves, producing volumes that integrate empty space as part of its totality.
Reticulárea, 1969, the title plays with the word retícula, (in Spanish mesh, and area) a net that according to Gego represents life, now permanently installed at the Galería de Arte Nacional, in Caracas is considered her major work. True to its environmental character, it was completed during the process of assembling it. Robert Storr, in the June 2003 issue of Art in America described it as, "an astonishing tessellation of suspended, interlocking stainless-steel wire elements that fills a large white room whose corners have been rounded so that viewers can more easily lose themselves and their sense of scale in the triangulated, volumetric webs that surround them, webs through which they move like planes navigating the gaps in a cloud bank."
New York Times Article "Blaze in a Rio de Janiero Museum Ruins More Than 1,000 Artworks" (July 9, 1978)
Essay by Cecilia de Torres
b. 1874 Montevideo, Uruguay - d. 1949 Montevideo, Uruguay
The Uruguayan painter, muralist, sculptor, teacher, writer, and theoretician, Joaquín Torres-García was born in Montevideo to a Catalan father and a Uruguayan mother. When he was seventeen years old, his family returned to the father’s homeland in Catalonia, Spain. Torres-García would not return to Montevideo for another forty-three years, living in Spain, France, the United States, and Italy.
In Barcelona, he studied at the Academy La Llotja and at the Cercle artistic de Saint Lluc. In 1903 he worked at Antoni Gaudí's studio. Commissioned to decorate a large hall for Barcelona's Palace de la Generalitat, he traveled to Italy in 1912 to study fresco. By 1916, he had completed four large fresco murals. He contributed essays to magazines and newspapers, and his first book, Notes on Art, was published in 1913. In 1917, Torres-García began to design manipulable, didactic wood toys for children, which he continued to do until the 1930s in Paris.
In 1920, Torres-García left Barcelona for good. He settled in New York, and after two years, he returned to Europe; first, he lived in Tuscany, and then in 1926 he moved to Paris. It was there that he met the French artist Jean Hèlion who introduced him to the artists of the avant-garde. He became friends with Jacques Lipchitz, Theo Van Doesburg, Alexander Calder, Piet Mondrian, Le Corbusier, Luis Fernandez, and Amédée Ozenfant. He also renewed his friendship with the sculptor Julio González. With Michel Seuphor, Torres-García founded the group and journal, Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) in 1930. At the end of 1932, due to the economic effects of the stock market crash, he moved to Madrid.
After eighteen months in the Spanish capital he returned to Uruguay. In Montevideo, he first founded the “Asociación de Arte Constructivo” (AAC) (“The Association of Constructivist Art”) with a group of Uruguayan artists. In the first issue of Círculo y Cuadrado, a magazine inspired by Cercle et Carré which the group renewed, the seminal drawing of the Inverted Map of South America was published. Torres-García’s statement was: “Nuestro norte es el sur” (“Our North is the South"). In 1943, he founded the “Taller Torres-García” (TTG), where he imparted his teachings onto the next generation of artists. He died in Montevideo in August of 1949. In Torres-García's Constructive Universal compositions, he aimed to express a total world view, forging a unique style which united elements of European modernism with the ancient cultures, particularly with the Americas. It appeals equally to reason, to the senses, and to the spirit.
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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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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