Buenos Aires Herald. Sunday, April 7, 2002
On, around and beyond abstraction
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
En torno a la abstracción 1940 – 1970 / en la colección del MAMba, the Museum of Modern Art is currently hosting a major show on abstract painting and objects from their collection, as reads in the title of the show.
Abstraction implies to take away from, to withdraw something from somebody or something; it can also mean: separating in thought. In art it refers to non figurative work, that is, drawing, painting or sculpture that do not illustrate in shape and volume the material world as we see it, since their physical attributes have been abstracted. It is a historical tendency that was first brought into the secluded limelight of the European avant-garde in 1910 by Wassily Kandinsky when he placed a watercolour painting upside down against a wall and realized that it looked beautiful and it still made sense visually. Kandinsky came across this discovery accidentally, but a few of his contemporaries like Mondrian, Malevitch, Vantongerloo and van Doesburg worked systematically towards the abstraction they eventually achieved.
On and off throughout the XX century there have been artists, or groups of artists, who redefined abstraction aesthetically and emotionally under different headings and ideologies. Walking all along the exhibition held on the ground and on the first floors may give the curious and attentive visitor an insight into some of these developments.
A subtle painting by Georges Vantongerloo, Forms and colours known as irrational, 1942 counter balances nicely a graceful, small wire structure or sculpture, Continuous line, 1948, by Enio Iommi. Vantongerloo (1866, Anvers–1965, Paris) was a member of De Stijl, the Dutch group founded by Mondrian and van Doesburg, which advocated utmost austerity in their abstract geometrical paintings and in architectural and furniture design. Iommi (1926, Rosario) was a co-founder of the Concrete movement in Argentina, inspired in the Russian Constructivists. These artists made minimal neutral objects with materials used in industry to move away from a bourgeois conventional concept of what beauty in art was. But as we see in this particular piece by Iommi on the ground floor, and in another one, Through acrylic, space, a later piece, on the first floor, his work is also beautiful in its own terms.
Abstract Expressionism in the US brought into the international limelight the first generation of what was called the New York School. This highly emotional work broke the boundaries between the small well-behaved picture on the wall and the environment, turning large canvases painted in rich paint and expansive gestures into embracing atmospheric detonators. In Argentina Alberto Greco, Kenneth Kemble, Jorge López Anaya, Luis Wells, and a few others, were part in the late 1950s of a movement they called “el Informalismo” –after the term coined by Michel Tapié in France “l’art informel” in 1952- staging controversial shows and performances to make quite clear their extreme disapproval of conventional attitudes in art and in society. Arte destructivo, an exhibition held at the Lirolay Gallery in 1961, in which several of these artists took part, was meant to convey that it was only through destruction that creativity could take place. One of them, Alberto Greco (1931, Buenos Aires – 1965, Barcelona), has been a major influence to several generations through his experimental attitude, his talent, his courage and his steadfast commitment to non-traditional values. Two of his paintings from 1960 and 1962 are part of the show.
Pieces by Rubén Santantonin (1919, Buenos Aires-1969) Egocosa, 1961, and by Emilio Renart (1925, Mendoza-1991, Buenos Aires), Introversión cósmica, 1961, are testimony of some of the more interesting experimental lines pursued by Argentine artists in the 1960s. Man, 1963, by León Ferrari (1920, Buenos Aires), an intricate abstract structure in thin wire like elements, creates a beautiful and elusive conceptual representation of man. There are two very different pieces by César Paternosto: a beautiful white minimal diptych and a rougher sensual black painting.
Work by Marta Boto, Clorindo Testa, Luis Alberto Wells and by many other artists make up this ambitious exhibition not to be missed. It is a good opportunity to see so much of this work together, some pieces that are little known and seldom seen, and many that are hard to see outside the context of this collection.
(En torno a la abstracción 1940 – 1970 / en la colección del MAMba, San Juan Av. 350. Until the end of April).