Macció opened his first solo exhibition in New York, at Galeria Bonino, in May 1965. Named “one of the two or three Argentine painters with the strongest claim to a top international position” in the New York Times, he was lauded for “the apparent psychological, social and subjective content of his art” – pace his own assertion that his paintings “do not pretend to be psychological or social, nor do I think they are subjective.” Macció disavowed affectation of all kind, and his anti-aestheticism materialized early on in visceral, sometimes grotesque images of the body amid socially bankrupt, abstracted landscapes. His paintings from this period brought him widespread recognition, beginning with the prestigious Torcuato di Tella Institute International Prize (1962) and continuing with his inclusion in the Guggenheim International Award exhibition (1964) and the Argentine pavilion at the Venice Biennale (1968). They remained a touchstone for his development in ensuing years as he explored what he already recognized in his work as “the incorporation, in an abstract expressionist language, of a human image placed in an abstract geometric space — that is to say, two languages considered antagonistic. . . . I became conscious of this contradiction which, I think, is characteristic of my painting. Why not break with sectarian conformity?”
An entirely self-taught artist, Macció held his first solo exhibition at Galería Gatea (Buenos Aires) in 1956 and in the span of a decade became part of the ascendant Argentine avant-garde that emerged against a backdrop of political unrest. He was a member of the group that formed around the Surrealist magazine Boa (1958-60), among them Clorindo Testa, Rogelio Polesello, and Victor Chab. By 1960, Macció’s early experiments in biomorphic abstraction gave way to an expressionist turn, and the following year he emerged alongside Ernesto Deira, Luis Felipe Noé and Jorge de la Vega in the landmark exhibition, Otra figuración, at Galería Peuser. Active between 1961 and 1965, the Nueva Figuración group declaimed against the aesthetics of what Macció deemed “bonita, rosa bombón,” channeling countercultural angst into the urgent, existential drama of art that broke irreverently with the North American dogma of autonomy and medium specificity. Macció’s paintings from this period, such as To Live: With a Pure Heart (1963) and To Live: Without a Guarantee (1963), evoke the disenchantments of the time in their monstrous visages and gestural angst.
Macció embarked on a nomadic life, living mostly in Europe, after the group disbanded and enjoyed international success in the decades that followed. His exhibition at New York’s Center for Inter-American Relations, which opened in early 1969, referenced the labyrinthine worlds of Jorge Luis Borges in its title – Fictions – and suggested the sustained duality of his work between expressionism and geometric abstraction. “The great clarity of color and drawing derives from hard-edge abstraction, but is here used for partly surrealist, partly expressionist purposes,” Hilton Kramer observed. “Indeed, the feeling that pervades these pictures is essentially an expressionist feeling – intense, problematic and inward – and yet the formal vocabulary has the sunny disposition of a hard-edge abstractionist with nothing on his mind but the objective realization of a strong design.” Macció continued to probe the ironies of human nature and subjectivity, often with blistering dark humor, through the 1970s and 1980s, and he again represented Argentina at the Venice Biennale in 1988.
Sun and Cold on Nassau Street belongs to a number of New York scenes that Macció painted in 1989 and 1990. Like other paintings in this series, including Dubuffet on Wall Street and Yuppies Lunch in Trinity Church, the present work meditates on the faceless urban workers of the city’s financial district and their stark, skyscrapered milieu. Ensconced in a gleaming, winter-white coat, a black woman moves blindly forward, her eyes closed; she is framed by a sea of dark suits streaming out from the canyon of office buildings behind her, their shadows cast long on the ground. A portrait of loneliness at the epicenter of the world’s financial capital, the painting suggests the implacable numbness of the capitalist machine. The predominant grisaille is interrupted by scant glints of color: a yellow taxi awaiting its passenger; the reflected image of a figure in red, blurry and running; a subway post, ubiquitous and green. “It was natural for him to see New York with the same analytical and objective prism,” wrote Pierre Restany, for whom Sun and Cold on Nassau Street marked “a scene of urban life perhaps like any other, but also a global and synthetic narrative of the metropolitan world.”
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 John Canaday, “Argentine’s One-Man Debut is Impressive,” New York Times, May 15, 1965.
2 Rómulo Macció, quoted in Latin American Paintings: From the Collection of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York: Center for Inter-American Relations, 1969), 20.
3 Macció, quoted in Laura Buccellato, “Macció,” Pintores argentinos del siglo XX (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1981), 3.
4 Hilton Kramer, “Art: From Argentina, Rómulo Macció,” New York Times, February 22, 1969.
5 Pierre Restany, “Rómulo Macció ciudadano universal,” Macció: Ritratti de New York (Milan: Castello Sforzesco, 1991).