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    Sale 2005

    Latin American Sale Evening Session

    28 - 29 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 56

    Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)

    Fantasma (Ghostly Apparition)

    Price Realised  


    Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)
    Fantasma (Ghostly Apparition)
    signed and dated 'Tamayo, O-82' (upper left)
    oil, sand and marble dust on canvas
    51 x 37¼ in. (130 x 94.6 cm.)
    Painted in 1982.

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    *This painting is sold to benefit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. Accordingly, this lot may be exempt from sales tax as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice at the back of this catalogue.

    "As is the case with all great artists," the poet Octavio Paz reflected, "death is a constant presence in Tamayo's painting. It is a severe and introspective presence: not the vertigo of the fall, not the pomp and splendor of the putrefaction of Baroque, but the geometry of bones, their whiteness, their hardness and the infinitesimally fine dust they become."(1) Specters of death haunt Tamayo's imagery in the 1970s and 1980s, as the venerable artist finally confronted "the reality that cannot be sentimentalized," as Diana C. Du Pont has suggested. "These pictures do not treat its actuality but rather the process of reflecting on a life lived and anticipating what is to come."(2) Half skeleton and half human, the eponymous macabre figure of Ghost challenges us with the audacity of death itself. He is an ethereal presence, slipping into the silvery background behind him, faceless and all but disembodied. Only his bony ribcage, three-sided sacrum and uncanny white foot hint at a skeletal support; only the narrowest of blood lines suggests the breath of life. Yet in the grim austerity of the image Tamayo describes a universal condition: in the transfiguration of this unearthly body we witness the cosmic duality of life and death. Indeed, if his "obsession with bones begins by being satirical," Paz has remarked, it "later becomes a cosmic image. Tamayo's ferocity is not intellectual; it is satire and ritual, earthly mockery and magic ceremony."(3)

    For Paz, Tamayo's is "speculative painting" par excellence: "The object is seen, not as an idea or a representation but as a field of magnetic forces," infinitely suggestive but ultimately elusive in its meaning. The "tragic gaiety" of Ghost belies its morbidity, and Tamayo invites us to seek out for ourselves the realities of his existence in the mineral shadows of the grey-green field.(4) There, in the essentialism of the line and in the eerie illumination of the background, Tamayo contemplates the plastic realities of death in a painting pared to its most essential elements. The viscous materiality of death--its lines and volumes, color and gesture--is here carefully, lucidly probed. Painting has become an act of intimate introspection, an investigation into the metaphysics of being from an octogenarian artist whose nearing, if still distant proximity to death may lend to his Ghost a softly personal resonance.

    Celebrated for his color, Tamayo shows here his refinement and intelligence as a colorist. Within the limited palette of grey he draws out a richness of tones that suggests the ambiguities of being and of life itself. "As the number of colors we use decreases," he once explained, "the wealth of possibilities increases. From the pictorial point of view, it is more worthwhile to exhaust the possibilities of a single color than to use an unlimited variety of pigments."(5) Grey becomes an intimate metaphor for Tamayo's existential preoccupations, and in Ghost its grounded emotional range finds a natural complement in the gravity and quietude with which the artist treats his subject. "Though reflecting insecurity," José Corredor-Matheos has observed, grey "also gives a work a more lively, dynamic character. Grey in this sense may have connotations of flight, and also-or especially-a flight forward. . . . Grey introduces doubt, sincerity, naturalness. . . . And this does not necessarily mean that the painter is seeking medium tones; perhaps what he wants above all is an imprecision that gives life to the work itself."(6) Many of Tamayo's late works seem unfinished, and their imprecision, or indeterminacy, is an integral part of their meaning. Here, the flecked granite background, brilliantly speckled and suggestively organic, becomes the medium through which Ghost passes between the spaces of the living and the dead. This mottled greyness is a poignant foil to the provisional existence of Ghost and, by implication, to the conditional and transitory status of all human life. Gesturing broadly in an act of mock invitation or perhaps in knowing sympathy, Tamayo's Ghost seems to transform himself before our eyes as he extends his arms out to us, fellow and eventual participants in his ritual and universal dance of death.

    Abby McEwen

    (1) O. Paz, "Geometry and transfiguration," Rufino Tamayo, New York: Rizzoli, 1982, 15.
    (2) D. C. Du Pont, "'Realistic, Never Figurative': Tamayo and the Art of Abstract Figuration," Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007, 94.
    (3) Paz, "Geometry and transfiguration," 13.
    (4) Ibid., 8.
    (5) Ibid., 10.
    (6) J. Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo, New York: Rizzoli, 1987, 12.


    The Bernard and Edith Lewin collection of Mexican Art.
    Gift from the above to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Addendum For Book 'Rufino Tamayo', B. Lewin Galleries, Palm Springs, n/d, p. LXV (illustrated in color).
    J. Corredor-Matheos, Rufino Tamayo, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1987, no. 144 (illustrated in color).
    Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo, Santa Ana, The Modern Museum of Art, 1987, no. 59.


    Santa Ana, The Modern Museum of Art, Rufino Tamayo, September 19- November 30, 1987.