"THE SCHOOL OF
THE SOUTH:

EL TALLER TORRES GARCIA"


by Margarita Nieto

 

Joaquin Torres Garcia, "Composicion
Constructiva," 1937.


Gonzalo Fonseca, "Cabezas",
painted wood sculpture, 1968.

 

 

Julio Alpuy, "Primary Colors
Still Life," 1948.

 

 

Jose Gurvich, "Still Life with
Orange," 1960.

(Iturralde Gallery, West Hollywood) A city of some three million inhabitants, of which approximately one-half are artists, Montevideo, Uruguay, lies at the American finisterre on a small strip of land surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Rio de la Plata. A landscape of water and pampa, horizon and sky. Along with its sister city, Buenos Aires, it is one of the most cultivated, intellectual cities in the Americas, and but for a twelve year interventionist and military reign of terror, the capital of a model of democratic governance. Concepts, theories, ideas are avidly discussed, debated and aired on a daily basis in salons (tertulias), cafés, and even on talk radio. Books are read and absorbed, not only in Spanish, but in French, English, German, Dutch and even the Central European languages (Postmodernist theories were already passe in Montevideo ten years ago). Things material are important in a utilitarian, not in an acquisitive sense. Vintage cars dominate the streets.

Montevideo is an anomaly: there, the love and quest of the thought, the idea is not a simple flirtation with the moment, a sophistic phantom. Consequently, it is also the birthplace of two important thinker/theorists, the writer and humanist Jose Enrique Rodo (1871-1917) whose essay Ariel is a seminal exposition on the nature of democracy, and Joaquin Torres Garcia, aesthetician, painter/sculptor and founder of a school of aesthetics rooted in modernism, but with a continuity relevant to the present.

This exhibition (amazingly the first to this writer's memory in L.A.) is centered around the presence of this master through three major paintings, works on paper, and replicas of toys, chairs and stained glass. Clustered around these are the works of pupils and followers, including Julio Alpuy, Elsa Andra, Dayman Antunez, Carmelo de Arzadun, Amalia Nieto, Manuel Pailos, Hector Ragni, Gonzalo Fonseca and the painter's sons, Augusto and Horacio Torres. Co-curated by Cecilia Buzio de Torres, guardian of the family legacy, with Mari-Carmen Ramirez, the exhibition on El Taller Torres Garcia focuses on the origin and development of a modernist and constructivist aesthetic which incorporated international ideas, but which also absorbed the specifics of the Latin American experience. Through the pragmatic application of these theories, Torres Garcia and the members of the Taller Torres Garcia produced paintings, sculpture, ceramics, wood and iron reliefs, furniture, murals and architectural projects in the Americas and Europe.

The Argentine art historian, Jorge Glusberg defines Torres Garcia's artistic trajectory as a "parabola" beginning in Catalonia with "Hellenistic decorativism," a period preceded by his collaboration with Antonio Gaudi on the stained glass windows of the Holy Family Church. By 1920, he was drawn to cubism and met Joan Miro. Later that year he departed Paris for New York where he worked under the patronage of Isabelle Whitney. By the end of that decade he had met Mondrian, Braque, Gris, Lipchitz, and Picasso. More important, he had discovered primitive expressionism and, as a result of the 1927 Paris Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art, he "discovered" America.

The parabolic analogy fits "Constructive Universalism" the basis of his world of painting and sculpture, and which he defines in a series of essays and manifestos written and published between 1913 and 1954. This combination served as a basis for the "Centro de Arte Constructivo" (Center for Constructive Art), established a year after his return to Uruguay in 1935. In 1944, he founded the Taller.

The grid as space rules these painters, as does economy of line and color. Harmony = Abstraction: ergo, dualism. Form must (con)form to those principles. Evident in Torres Garcia's Composicion Constructiva [1937] is the adherence to a "new primitivism," incorporating the symbolic narrative language of twentieth-century modernism. The monochromatic, sombre-toned palette would create the color parameters for Uruguayan painters for the next fifty years. While Torres Garcia himself continued to explore primary colors (Structure With Man and Animal [1946]), the Taller will eventually become an absolute that will define form and color for painters of succeeding generations.

Yet the powerful interplay between an aesthetic based on constructivist, surrealist and cubist principles in combination with a distinctly "American Primitivism" forms the basis for the two most prominent painters of the Taller, Julio Alpuy and Gonzalo Fonseca. Alpuy's The Snail [1991] reveals the extension of this pictorial narrative into a three-dimensional piece of curved planes that coincide with a shell-like form. Fonseca's Cabezas [1968], are totemic dualities with haunting references to Rufino Tamayo.

This ambitious exhibition brings up a new dialogue and fresh interrogations on the role of Latin American art in the historical construct of modernism and postmodernism as we approach the end of the century.