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    Sale 2054

    Latin American Sale Evening Session

    19 - 20 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 51

    Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)

    Hombre contra un muro

    Price Realised  


    Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)
    Hombre contra un muro
    signed and dated 'Tamayo, O-75' (upper right) and titled 'HOMBRE CONTRA UN MURO' (on the reverse)
    oil and sand on canvas
    37¾ x 51¼ in. (95.8 x 130 cm.)
    Painted in 1975.

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    Rufino Tamayo, an internationally-recognized Latin American painter, fused a cubo-surrealist modernist approach with Mexican-inflected color and light. The artist's textured surfaces, while painterly and lyrical, also evoke the primitive and savage.

    Born August 26, 1899, in Oaxaca, Mexico, Tamayo was of mestizo descent. He attended the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas "San Carlos" in 1917 and in 1921 he was appointed head of the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Mexico City, where he remained until 1926. Tamayo spent from 1926 to 1928 in New York, and then returned to Mexico. Although a noted figure on the art scene there, he had major differences with the reigning Mexican muralists over didactic content and style. In 1936, he relocated to New York, where he remained until 1948, when his homecoming to Mexico was marked by a solo exhibition at the Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes. Tamayo exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1950, and created murals for the Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1952-1953 and UNESCO in Paris in 1958. He traveled in Europe and lived in Paris from 1957 to 1964. Tamayo then permanently resettled in his country, where he died on June 24, 1991, in Mexico City.

    Hombre contra un muro, 1975, is a work that was bracketed and contextualized by two major gestures which Tamayo made towards his country. In January 1974, the Museo de Arte Prehispánico de Mexico Rufino Tamayo opened, celebrating the important collection of pre-Columbian art that Tamayo amassed over his lifetime, and donated to Oaxaca. At the end of 1975, government funds were approved to begin construction on Tamayo's second museum project in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City, to house the artist's collection of international modern art. With this, Tamayo planned to donate a number of his own works contextualized amidst those he admired and considered his world-wide peers: artists such as Bacon, Matta, de Kooning, Tápies, Lam, Soulages, Hartung, and Dubuffet. Such a project would bring global art to Mexico, and alleviate the focus on Mexican figures. This second project was fraught with problems; Tamayo fought with the leading Mexican political party while artists and intellectuals challenged this use of public land. France and Switzerland tried to woo his project abroad by offering alternate locations. Cultural kingpins tried to outsmart each other and fought with the artist. Finally, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo opened in 1981.

    Tamayo continued to hold major, one-man exhibitions during this challenging time between his two museum projects. In October 1974, the artist had a solo exhibition at Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. In November 1974, one hundred works were presented in Tamayo: Peintures, 1960-1974, at the Muse d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In 1976, Tamayo presented a second solo exhibition at Museo de Arte Moderno. From April 10 to May 30, 1976, Tamayo exhibited 103 paintings and graphics in Japan at Tokyo Kokuritsu Kindai Bijutsukan (National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo), in an exhibition entitled Tamayo, Modern Mexican Art and Japan. The exhibit traveled to Kyoto and Kobe. Hombre contra un muro was the work Tamayo himself selected for the cover of the Japanese catalogue.

    The solitary figure is a signature motif of the artist. He painted numerous "personages" (as he called them), reduced to the simplest volumes. This straightforward expression of clear forms and strong lines against a richly textured surface is iconic of the artist's later work. However, the image can be seen also to refer to the stress and isolation that the artist was experiencing at this time. Tamayo purposefully did not involve himself in the unorthodox art practices challenging Mexican art strongholds, such as conceptualism or the grupos with their performative, ephemeral practice. While he fought for his international painting museum, these alternate forms were erupting, in part, as a response to the brutality surrounding the 1968 strikes and student protests, and the need younger artists felt to forge new forms of communication. The figure stiffened against the wall, with a ginko-like hand splayed in anxiety at the painting's heart, summons not only the specter of the country's recent violence, but might allude to Tamayo's sense of isolation against the cultural inundations he felt in Mexico at the time.

    Deborah Cullen, Director of Curatorial Programs, El Museo del Barrio, New York.


    Sra. Olga Tamayo collection, Mexico City.
    Acquired from the above by Roberta and Avy Lewis Miller, Encino, California.
    By descent to the present owners.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note the correct provenance for this work is:
    Sra. Olga Tamayo collection, Mexico City.
    Acquired from the above by Roberta and Avy Lewis Miller, Encino, California.
    By descent to the present owners.


    Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo: Obras Recientes, Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1976, no. 15 (illustrated in color).
    Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo, Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art, 1976, no. 59 (illustrated on cover).
    L. Suárez, "La abstracción reencuentra la figura: Rufino Tamayo en Venezuela", Siempre!, Mexico, 16 March 1977 (illustrated in color). O. Paz, "Tamayo: que outros expliquem", Artes, São Paulo, XII no. 50, November-December 1977, p. 24 (illustrated).
    O. Paz and J. Lassaigne, Rufino Tamayo, Barcelona, Ediciones
    Polígrafa, S.A., 1982, p. 230, no. 205 (illustrated in color).
    O. Paz and J. Lassaigne, Rufino Tamayo, 2nd ed, Barcelona, Ediciones Polígrafa, S.A., 1994, p. 232, no. 205 (illustrated in color).


    Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo de Arte Moderno, Rufino Tamayo: Obras Recientes, February 1976, no. 15.
    Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art, Rufino Tamayo, April 10th- May 30th, 1976, no. 59.
    Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Picasso to Pop: Aspects of Modern Art, December 23rd, 2006- November 30th, 2007. Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (on extended loan).