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MFAH Showcases Painter Joaquin Torres-Garcia from Houston Collections

Composición simétrica en rojo y blanco (Symmetrical Composition in Red and White) by Joaquín Torres-García, 1932

Composición simétrica en rojo y blanco (Symmetrical Composition in Red and White) by Joaquín Torres-García, 1932

Opening September 6 and on view through November 29, 2009, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will showcase a selection of key paintings by Joaquín Torres-García, one of the most influential Latin American artists and theorists of the first half of the 20th century. Organized by Mari Carmen Ramírez, the Wortham Foundation curator of Latin American art at the MFAH, Joaquín Torres-García: Paintings in Houston Collections features a dozen paintings all culled from major Houston collections. The exhibition complements Joaquín Torres-García: Constructing Abstraction with Wood, an exhibition of over 80 wooden constructions also curated by Ramírez, which will open on September 25 at the Menil Collection and is an MFAH/Menil collaboration. These two exhibitions will be the first to present Torres-García’s work in the United States in over forty years. As such, they provide a unique opportunity to acquaint Houston audiences with the work of this major exponent of the international avant-garde. To celebrate this special moment there will be a series of joint events and programs organized around both exhibitions.

“This very special show will reveal the pioneering role Houston collectors played early on in accessioning works by Torres-García at a time when his work was not well-known in the United States,” said MFAH director Dr. Peter C. Marzio. “With the exception perhaps of New York, I cannot think of any other city in this country that can boast this many Torres-García works.”

“Joaquín Torres-García has long been recognized as a charismatic avant-garde painter, teacher, and theoretician who influenced the development of avant-garde abstract and constructive art movements in Barcelona, Paris, Madrid, and Montevideo, where he exhibited with Picasso, Mondrian, van Doesburg and Duchamp, among many others,” added Ramírez. “Though born in Montevideo, Uruguay, the artist spent most of his early productive life in Europe and New York before returning to his native country in 1934. Since the 1980s, a series of exhibitions organized in Europe—specifically in Spain, France, and England—have explored the artist’s extraordinary accomplishments. In the United States, however, the Uruguayan master remains an under-exposed and under-appreciated figure.”

Despite early monographic shows organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Art Museum in 1970 (in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa) and the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery of the University of Texas at Austin (now the Jack S. Blanton Art Museum) in 1971 and 1974, and his inclusion in many important group exhibitions in this country over the last three decades, Torres-García’s art has for the most part remained the exclusive province of academics and art cognoscenti. Ramírez hopes that “in keeping with the mission of the MFAH’s Latin American Art department and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas, this exhibition will provide an eye-opening introduction of Torres-García’s painting production to museum visitors.”

The paintings for the Houston show include half-a-dozen loans from Houston collectors, such as Mr. and Mrs. Meredith J. Long, Mary and Roy Cullen, Mr. Fayez Sarofim, Dr. Luis and Cecilia Campos, and a couple of private lenders. Additionally, the exhibition will feature five paintings from the Brillembourg Capriles Collection of Latin American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, a major long-term loan addition to the museum’s Latin American holdings. This is the first time that all these works will be shown together. The paintings in the MFAH show vividly exemplify the diversity and multiplicity of solutions to which the Uruguayan artist arrived in his attempt to expand upon key issues posed by the early constructivist and abstract movements in Europe. That is, within a short span of time the artist not only produced works in different media but he also employed a variety of stylistic vocabularies, freely moving back and forth between them. Each painting on view at the MFAH show represents a different period of Torres-García’s production, ranging from an early landscape painted in France in 1928 to an oil on paper and canvas work made in 1945, giving viewers a rough overview of his career.

Torres-García’s paintings often balance nature and reason through a combination of Constructive elements and signs. To convey this balance he elaborated his own particular language based on the neo-Plasticist grid (reason) and pictographic symbols (nature). He called this language Constructive Universalism. Convinced that the impulse towards abstract modes of abstraction lie at the core of all civilizations, the system of Constructive Universalism incorporated symbols from ancient cultures such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the ancient cultures of the Americas. One outstanding work on view is an untitled oil painting from 1932, depicting the outline of a fish. Inside of the fish are painted a number of other objects, which are all familiar symbols from Torres-García’s Constructive Universal repertory: precise references to the cosmos (the sun), the ideal pentameter (the number five), human emotions (the heart and the anchor, representing hope), nature (the fish), and references to North American Indian art (the teepee framed by a crescent moon and the sun, such as is found on painted hides). These symbols can also be found in other paintings on view.

Two additional and quite rare (only four of these exist and two are in Houston) tempera works, Forma anímica entrecruzada (Intersected Animist Form), 1933, (Fayez Sarofim Collection) and Formas cortadas por estructura (Forms Intersected by Structure), 1934, (Private Collection)—painted in Madrid, shortly before returning to Montevideo—were directly inspired in the designs of Nazca pottery from the collection of the Archaeological Museum in Madrid.

About the Artist

Torres-García is revered not only as a Modernist painter, but also as a teacher and author. Born in 1874 and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, Torres-García moved with his family to Barcelona, Spain, at age 17. A self-taught artist, he soon began to explore styles from modern Classicism to the potential of creating a Catalan Classicism. He also moved frequently throughout his adult life, dividing his time between Spain, Italy, France, and New York, and exhibiting with the renowned artists of his time, including Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Marcel Duchamp. It was not until he was in his 40s that the artist began to work in the Modernist and Constructive style for which he is so renowned, going on to found Constructive Universalism. At age 60, Torres-García returned to his birthplace with the intention of introducing Modernist and Constructive art to Uruguayan artists. He gave hundreds of lectures, organized over 20 exhibitions, and founded the Sociedad de los Artes del Uruguay and the Asociación de Arte Constructivo, followed by the Taller Torres-García, fulfilling his dream to influence the next generation of artists. Torres-García died in 1949.

Latin American Art Department and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The mission of the Latin American Art Department and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) is to collect, exhibit, research, and educate audiences on the diverse artistic production of Latin Americans and Latinos, which includes artists from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, as well as from the United States. Established in 2001, the Latin American Art department and the ICAA have organized major exhibitions of Latin American art and several international symposia, publishing the proceedings in bilingual format. Additionally, a number of important works by artists such as Joaquín Torres-García, Armando Reverón, Xul Solar, Jesús Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Alejandro Otero, Antonio Berni, Oscar Muñoz, León Ferrari, Gunther Gerszo, Beatriz González, Gego, Mira Schendel, and Julio Le Parc have been acquired for the collection. In 2007, the museum also acquired the Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art, the most prestigious collection of post-World War II Brazilian art in private hands. More than 100 works by 65 artists make up this leading collection of art from Latin America.

The ICAA is the research arm of the Latin American Art department, which oversees research leading to special exhibitions, lectures, and symposia. It also heads the international collaborative undertaking Documents of 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project, which aims to make accessible writings by artists, critics, and curators from this region in both digital and book format. By establishing the ICAA, the museum seeks to bring about a long-term transformation in the appreciation and understanding of Latin American and Latino visual arts in the United States and abroad. The ICAA is committed to offering a rigorous curatorial and art-historical foundation for its exhibitions and its research-based programs that is unparalleled in the museum field.

Composición simétrica en rojo y blanco (Symmetrical Composition in Red and White) by Joaquín Torres-García, 1932

Composición simétrica en rojo y blanco (Symmetrical Composition in Red and White) by Joaquín Torres-García, 1932

MFAH Collections

Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, houses an encyclopedic collection of more than 57,000 works, and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. Featured are the finest artistic examples of the major civilizations of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Italian Renaissance paintings, French Impressionist works, photographs, American and European decorative arts, African and Pre-Columbian gold, American art, and European and American paintings and sculpture from post-1945 are particularly strong holdings. Recent additions to the collections include Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1633), the Heiting Collection of Photography, a major suite of Gerhard Richter paintings, an array of important works by Jasper Johns, a rare, second-century Hellenistic bronze Head of Poseidon/Antigonos Doson, major canvases by 19th-century painters Gustave Courbet and J.M.W. Turner, distinguished work by the leading 20th- and 21st-century Latin American artists, and The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art.

MFAH Hours and Admission

Hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; and Sunday, 12:15–7 p.m. The museum is closed on Monday, except for holidays. Admission to this exhibition is included with general admission to the museum. General admission is $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 6-18, students, and senior adults (65+); admission is free for children 5 and under. Admission is free on Thursday, courtesy of Shell Oil Company Foundation. Admission is free on Saturday and Sunday for children 18 and under with a Houston Public Library Power Card or any other library card.

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