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

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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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 his theories on Constructive Universalism, Alpuy joined the Taller Torres-García.

In 1944, Alpuy painted two murals as part of the Taller's project to decorate the St. Bois Hospital in Uruguay. He would continue to paint 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 his work. For Alpuy, nature functions as a framework for his archetypal personal symbolism, based on a fascination with the organic and the primordial.

In 1961, Alpuy immigrated to New York, where he remained for the duration of his life. Alpuy's work has been featured in numerous exhibitions about the Taller Torres-García, as well as in several international solo exhibitions. It is also included in major international collections, including: the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Morgan Library and Museum, New York; The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, New York; and the Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, Montevideo, Uruguay.


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Gonzalo Fonseca

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

In 1942, Fonseca chose to leave his study of architecture 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 Egypt during the 1950s, profoundly affected Fonseca's formal and theoretical approach to art. 

Although Fonseca left the College of Architecture in Montevideo as a young man, 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 sculpture after studying ceramics in Spain in 1953.

Fonseca moved to the United States in 1958, settling in New York. He later spent his time between New York and Italy, where he created large-scale marble sculptures. In 1965, Fonseca contributed a playground and site-specific sculptures to the Lake Anne Village Center in Reston, Virginia, a collaborative project with architects James Rossant and William Conklin. He was invited to create a monumental concrete tower for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and he also participated in the Faret Tachikawa Fund project in Tokyo, Japan in 1995. Fonseca also illustrated books by authors including Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Michel de Montaigne.

Artworks by Fonseca are included in the collections of: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin; the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; the Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Valencia, Spain; and the Palacio Libertad, 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, Gurvich’s participation with the Taller Torres-García and his profound admiration for the European art masters Breughel and Bosch, his artworks combine a unique personal style with technical mastery.  

Gurvich was born in Lithuania and moved to Uruguay with his family in 1932. There, he 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 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.

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 artists, Julio Alpuy, Horacio Torres, and Gonzalo Fonseca in New York City, where he continued to produce art until his premature death in 1974. The Gurvich Foundation was created in Montevideo in 2001, and is now known as the Museo Gurvich.

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Francisco Matto

b. 1911, Montevideo, Uruguay - d. 1995, Montevideo, Uruguay

At the age of twenty-one, 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 Museum of Pre-Columbian Art housed ceramics, textiles, and sculpture from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

In 1969, Matto won the first prize for the silver coin he designed for the Central Bank of Uruguay, awarded by the Gesellschaft für Internationale Geldgeschichte, an international numismatic association based in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1982, he was invited to participate in the First International Meeting for Open Air Sculpture in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Art, for Matto, was a means of communicating with the divine, and the elemental forms of his sculptures became vehicles to facilitate the quasi-religious function of his art. In his Totem Series, Matto sought to develop the animistic principle through the liberation of the sign.

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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 was born in Terrassa in the province of Barcelona. While living in Paris in the 1920s, Augusto met many of the great figures of twentieth century art, including Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Joan Miró. During the 1930s, he worked as an assistant and apprentice to the sculptor Julio González and studied drawing in Amedée Ozenfant’s Academy. It was also in Paris that Augusto developed his lifelong passion for tribal and primitive art. The artist was introduced to American Indian art by the painter Jean Hélion, a friend of his father’s. He later formed a great collection of American Indian art.

After Torres-García brought his family to Uruguay in 1934, Augusto participated in the Taller Torres-García. He later went on become a teacher himself. In 1945 he began his long collaboration with the Spanish architect Antonio Bonet. In 1960, he was awarded a grant by the New School in New York where he lived for two years. During this time, Augusto traveled to Montana to visit Blackfoot Indian reservations. From 1973 on, he divided his time between Barcelona and Montevideo. 

Augusto Torres’ art is included in the collections of the Museo Artes Visuales, Montevideo; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Santa Bárbara Museum of Art; the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Miró Foundation, Barcelona.

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Horacio Torres

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

Horacio Torres was born in 1924 when his father, the painter Joaquín Torres-García was living in Livorno, Italy. The family moved to Paris in 1926 where Horacio grew up, and was introduced to Alexander Calder's Circus. In 1934 the family left Europe to settle in Montevideo. Horacio was a member of the Association of Constructivist Art and The Taller Torres-García. In 1942 he traveled to Perú and Bolivia with his brother Augusto to study pre-Columbian Art. He painted two large constructivist murals in the walls of a hospital in Montevideo, a collective project launched by his father with the Taller Torres-García artists. In 1947, Horacio won a competition to paint a large mural for the offices of A.N.C.A.P. the state owned "National Administration of Fuels, Alcohols and Portland." After his father's death in 1949, he traveled to Europe, lived at the Maison du Mexique in the Cité Universitaire, and travelled throughout Europe visiting the great museums. Having returned to Uruguay, Horacio began collaborating with the architects Antonio Bonet, in Buenos Aires, and in Montevideo, with Mario Paysee Reyes, who commissioned large wall reliefs in cut brick for the church of the Archdiocese Seminary.

In 1969 he settled in New York where he began painting large representational canvases of nude figures. Curator Kenneth Moffet wrote “that this change to the figurative involved perceiving that his veneration for tradition and his desire to be modern were problematic and related impulses. His modernity had to be won, his traditionalism justified, and the friction that their conjunction generated proved fruitful." The figurative canvases were first shown at the Noah Goldowsky Gallery in 1972, and two years later, in an individual exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Horacio died in New York in 1976.

His work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Brandeis University Museum, Waltham, Massachusetts; Hastings College, Nebraska; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence; Musée d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Edmonton Museum, Alberta, Canada; the Biblioteca Nacional, Montevideo; and the Museo Blanes, Montevideo, Uruguay.

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