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    Sale 12166

    Latin American Art

    25 - 26 May 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 102

    Matta (1911-2002)

    Seuil d'incertitude

    Price Realised  


    Matta (1911-2002)
    Seuil d'incertitude
    signed 'Matta' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    40 x 33 3/4 in. (101.6 x 85.7 cm.)
    Painted in 1973.

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    This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Germana Matta Ferrari and dated 7 April 2016.

    Matta’s first contribution to surrealist painting, and the most important, was the discovery of regions of space until then unknown in the field of art.
    —Marcel Duchamp[1]

    By mid-century, Matta had been cast from the surrealist group for abandoning abstraction and pursuing an increasingly narrative and socio-political context in his work. But far from lamenting this break, Matta seemed to relish the opportunity to investigate new areas of creativity unencumbered by the precepts and limitations of Surrealism. Moreover, by the 1950s, the artist’s diaphanous and mysterious landscapes suggesting inner worlds or what he described as “psychological morphologies” and his dynamic and pulsating physical scapes in a persistent state of transformation and turmoil had themselves morphed into biomorphic abstractions inhabited by tubular humanoids partially inspired by mythical totemic figures culled from such myriad sources as pre-Columbian, Native American, and Oceanic arts. It seemed that against the backdrop of world events unfolding Matta could no longer afford to merely focus his practice on expressing the subconscious world or distant cosmic realities and phenomena. Rather, his practice assumed a sense of urgency that posits the dehumanizing effects of technology, war, social injustice, and political corruption. Thus, Matta’s post war production evinces cosmic and social landscapes indicative of recent historical events, while providing a metaphorical glimpse into the timeless struggles of humanity.

    By the 1960s and 70s, Matta’s heightened concerns about social inequalities and the perennial struggles of man led the artist to embark on a number of significant trips, most notably he traveled to Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua where he actively engaged with artists and supported political movements that opposed exploitation. Likewise in his own work he continued to engage more humanistic concerns and current events such as racial strife, political injustice, and the Vietnam War, whilst never abandoning the core tenets of his practice—the search to visually convey a cosmic reality that transcended traditional notions of time and space. During this period, Matta’s subject matter also gravitated to mythological themes, futuristic warfare, and phantasmic creatures in undersea or other chimerical worlds. Painted in 1973, Seuil d'incertitude reinforces Matta’s ongoing interest in exploring unknowable worlds. Here a galaxy of free floating forms cascade and collide across a liminal space simultaneously repelled and attracted by a gravitational or magnetic force. Five pod-like vessels appear to have annexed themselves to a larger vessel or mechanized structure perhaps in search of energy or some other regenerative force. Whether ominous or benign, here as elsewhere Matta transports us to worlds heretofore unknown.

    Perhaps the inherent ambiguity of this painting, as further underscored by its title—The Threshold of Uncertainty—may also be linked to the political events of 1973 unfolding in the artist’s homeland of Chile. Just two short years after his election, the democratically elected Salvador Allende—and whose victory Matta had acknowledged in an allegorical utopian mural titled The First Goal of the Chilean People[2]—was violently ousted from his presidency in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet. Ushering in a seventeen-year military dictatorship, the Pinochet regime ruled through oppression and violence and Matta’s mural was immediately painted over with sixteen coats of paint. The present work was painted against this dystopian backdrop, and here as elsewhere throughout his prolific career, Matta consistently oscillated between exposing the uncertainty and angst of the modern world while remaining firm to his own artistic vision, perhaps as a strategy for expressing that which is unspeakable or unimaginable—to give visual form to that which exists at the very threshold of our perception.

    1 As quoted in Martica Sawin, “Matta: The Early Years, 1937 to 1959” in exhibition catalogue Roberto Matta: Paintings and Drawings 1937-1959 (Beverly Hills and Mexico City: Latin American Masters and Galería López Quiroga, 1997), unpaginated.
    2 Painted in 1971, the mural was rescued and returned to its original state in 2008 after a three-year restoration period. It is currently on view at La Granja city hall outside of Santiago.


    Galería de Arte Nader, Santo Domingo.
    Private collection, New York.
    Anon. sale, Gary Nader Fine Art, 8 January 1995, lot 51 (illustrated in color).
    Private collection.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Exhibition catalogue, One Man Show, Coral Gables, Florida, Gary Nader Fine Art, 1994 (illustrated in color).
    Exhibition catalogue, Picasso and The School of Paris, Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, 2006 (illustrated in color).


    Coral Gables, Florida, One Man Show, Gary Nader Fine Art, 4 November 1994.
    Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Visiones, 20th Century Latin Art, 2003.
    Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Picasso and The School of Paris, 2006-2007.