“A painter like Aizenberg uses elements that seem to be beyond painting,” the critic Aldo Pellegrini wrote on the occasion of the artist’s acclaimed mid-career retrospective at the Di Tella Institute, the foremost forum for contemporary art in Buenos Aires, in 1969. “In his paintings, he tries to reveal those dreamt and sensed worlds, those worlds covered in fog that the painter wrests away and then offers with exacting precision. These worlds lie in a zone that belongs to neither life nor death, but rather to a dark aspiration that, for want of another term, we call immortality.” A crowning moment, the exhibition marked Aizenberg’s ascension within postwar Argentine art, his numinous paintings of towers, fans, cities, and skies a meditative riposte to the presumed “death of painting” at the hand of Happenings and Pop.
Born to middle-class Jewish immigrants from tsarist Russia, Aizenberg gravitated early on toward Surrealism, reading André Breton and Antonin Artaud, but not until his study under Juan Batlle Planas did he begin to apprehend automatism and the richness of metaphysical painting from Giorgio de Chirico to Xul Solar. Lucid and phantasmagorical, his mature paintings distill degrees of silence and overwhelming solitude, their poetics of space and light embodied in the humanist architectures for which he is best known. “For quite some time,” Aizenberg reflected in 1975, “I have been aware that my painting is a spiritual investigation, a sort of exercise or Zen archery or alchemist’s search for gold.” That existential searching took on more mundane meaning the following year when the military junta took power in Argentina, effectively forcing Aizenberg and his wife, Matilde Herrera, into exile. They lived in Paris between 1977 and 1981, a period of anxiety and sometimes frustrated work; they returned to Buenos Aires in 1984.
Dating to Aizenberg’s years in Paris, the present Untitled features a suggestively anthropomorphic form that, as in Dos figuras (1982) and Arlequín (1985), humanizes the increasingly barren and impenetrable geometry of his buildings. Faceless and abstracted, the figure balances on a point, its contours symmetrically divided into deepening facets of red; looming large against the low horizon line, it rises stoically from the crimson ground, a stark presence against a hazy, glimmering sky. A variation on his towers, which Aizenberg understood as proxies for man in the face of the divine, the figure incarnates the human drama of being in the world and, implicitly, the vicissitudes of life and death. “I have in my hands the elements of creation,” Aizenberg explained. “It is as if I had only one mission on earth. And that mission, which is the creation of artwork, is absolutely indispensable and inalienable. . . . When I draw or paint, I have no doubt that my life is at stake in each instance.”
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Aldo Pelligrini, Aizenberg: Obras 1947/1968 (Buenos Aires: Centro de Artes Visuales del Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, 1969), in Victoria Verlichak, Aizenberg (Buenos Aires: Centro de Estudios Para Políticas Públicas Aplicadas, 2007), 58.
2 Aizenberg, quoted in Verlichak, Aizenberg, 26.
3 Ibid., 36.