Buenos Aires Herald. Published Sunday, March 25, 2001
A man who knows what he wants
An exhibit of graphic work donated by the artist himself illustrates his deep talent
Antonio Seguí seems to have had a deep understanding of what he wanted to do as an artist, from the very start of his career. He was born in Córdoba in 1934, were he grasped the essentials of conservative provincial life and the strong family ethos and psychological implications that go with it. We can read in his work this language of manipulative interrelations, possessiveness and underhand eroticism that is at the root of claustrophobic, close family ties, little given to outside interests. He grasped this, and knew better than to stay put, so that after going to a local art school, he went away in 1951 to study in Madrid and in Paris, to return to Córdoba in 1954.
His first work shown in Buenos Aires in 1961 and 1962 were abstract compositions in thick sensual paint on canvas. In 1962 Seguí exhibited at the Galería Lirolay a series of ironic pieces called La familia de Felicitas Naón, manipulated photographs of an elegant bourgeois lady and her relationship with a lover who eventually murdered her. That was the time when young enterprising artists in Buenos Aires were arguing the merits of the “new” figurative painting against the older and, by then, conventional abstract art. Seguí did not take an active part in the discussions, nor did he join the group Otra figuración, whose members were the vociferous exponents of the new art. Though he developed a distinct figurative style, he kept apart because he preferred to work on his own, and because he did not partake for the taste for scandal and limelight that the artists of this group enjoyed so much.
The exhibition of Antonio Seguí’s graphic work held currently at the MAMba –the Museum of Modern Art of the city of Buenos Aires-, his generous donation to this museum, brings out clearly his strong psychological perception of character and environment. This body of work is a reassuring statement on his talent and sense of commitment to a profession and a way of life. From early pieces in 1953- 1954 to 2000, his articulate ability to draw, design, paint and print people and scenes, illustrate his capacity to work in a manner relevant to the time he lives in, spacing, constructing and deconstructing images, creating situations that draw from art history, from political history and from political and cultural contemporary realities. The result, which may be funny, ironic or sarcastic, is always vital.
The artist moved to France in 1964, keeping in touch with Argentina, always, keeping in mind the essence of ways of being which he discusses again and again in his work. In his best known pieces, paint on canvas of small men of sizes irrelevant to the urban scene about them, who walk up and down and across the scene, he brings out the characteristics of those city male dwellers he knew in his youth, who act and live according to old fashioned structured codes and habits which are the quintessential of the native porteño, arrogant in his indiscriminate knowledge of who he is and of what the world is about, in the wilful belief that life is what he thinks it ought to be. The way Seguí describes body movement and gestures speak of his own psychoanalytical perception, quite unlike the somewhat stubborn character he depicts: the native urban dweller, who cannot see much beyond his own neighbourhood. He has understood and taken in different cultural and artistic influences that have enriched his knowledge of men and of life. He has redefined popular iconography in art, drawing on the vernacular, beyond the American POP. He also plays with international popular cultural icons, such as the film and song, Tea for two, in a series of prints, 1982, in which the polite and stereotyped elements and manners of the original subject have been turned by the artist into rather violent and absurd situations.
In a series of prints for a book by Silvia Barón Supervielle, in which he reproduces scenes from the argentine countryside from a window, there is a strong reminiscence of the feelings stirred by La jalousie, the novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
A hard workingman, one feels the energy and the sound academic background that have gone into his work. Food, love, sex, violent politics, they are all there. Life has not gone by without this artist taking notice. No ivory tower for him. Unless we believe that intelligence and talent are an ivory tower in themselves.
As usual in this museum, the curartorship by Laura Buccellato, the director, and by Celia Taricco is clear and didactic. There is a well illustrated catalogue with a bland text by Damian Bayon, the late argentine art historian and poet who lived in Paris for many years, written for Puerto Rico in 1993. It is a pity that a better analytical text was not written to go with this very interesting show.
I recommend the guided visits by Jorge Zerda from Tuesday to Sunday at 5 p.m., except on Thursdays, when Zerda is to be found in the mornings.
(Antonio Seguí, MAMba – Museo de Arte Moderno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires-, on San Juan 350. The closing date is in May; there is no definite date yet).