A modern convert to the tradition of direct carving, Atchugarry stands today among the most celebrated and sensitive interpreters of sculptural form. Familiar with Uruguay’s Constructivist legacy through his father, a onetime student at the Taller Torres-García who “allowed [him] to enter the world of art almost without realizing it,” Atchugarry “discovered volume” while modeling forms with clay. “I realized that I was entering the world of the third dimension,” he reflected, and soon left Montevideo for Europe; he eventually settled on the shores of Lake Como and later found his way to Carrara, where he made his first sculpture in marble in 1979. Still based today between Lecco and Manantiales, Atchugarry has cultivated an artistic practice grounded in the most essential, plastic values of the medium: light, surface, texture, space. The vitality of his sculptures belies the sheer physicality of their often massive forms, which take on extraordinary qualities of weightlessness and transcendence. Atchugarry participated in the Venice Biennale in 2003 with the eight-piece installation Soñando la paz, a response to the war in Iraq, and his monumental works are installed in public spaces around the world, from Monaco to Belgium, Uruguay to Italy.
The classical aesthetics and universality of Atchugarry’s works situate his practice within a venerable lineage of sculptors, and he has embraced an art-historical inheritance that stretches from Michelangelo – “I don’t know which came first, my love of marble or Michelangelo” – to the modern masters Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, and Antonio Canova. Although he has recently begun to work in bronze, his choice to work principally in marble, which he considers “the epitome of the classical material,” dates to his first arrival in Carrara, where the revelation of its quarries transformed his practice. “By frequenting the marble quarries of Carrara, I learned to love marble, to listen to its voice (it told me its secrets),” he recalls. “I felt the presence of the giants who have loved marble, men such as Michelangelo and Brancusi.” His reverence for marble endures in his commitment to direct carving and in the dexterity with which he gives shape to its form. “I disagree with those who say that carving is an antiquated art,” he explains. “Carving has almost surely been present in man’s expression since its origins, from the prehistoric Venuses in stone to the sculptures of Cyclades. Sculpture that is born ‘by taking away,’ that is, direct carving, has been the main form of expression of the great artists of all times.”
The visual poetics of his sculpture suggest rich metaphysical themes, and Atchugarry considers his work as an “aspiration toward an ideal,” ascending perpetually upward toward “limitless horizons.” “There is always a vertical stress in my works,” he notes. “All these vertical works of mine, all those points, are nothing but invocations, a questioning, a going forth to see the stars, to hear them take part in our lives. Like a prayer, an invocation to the infinite.” This insistent verticality, as in the present work, conveys an idea of infinity in its formal drama of rising, tapering curves. As a meditation on “spiritual yearning and transcendence,” as Jonathan Goodman remarks, “the sculptures describe a soaring upward motion…much like the ascending spires of a church or, more secularly, like the skyscraping heights of a modern building.”
The softly luminous undulations of Untitled evoke the plastic rhythms and evolved, free flowing lines for which Atchugarry is renowned. Similar to his monumental work, Vida en movimiento (2013), Untitled builds around two elongated cut-out shapes that amplify the work’s three-dimensionality, its energy releasing from the inside out and spreading upwards through the cascading creases and shadows of gleaming white stone. The nearly symmetrical outline of slender, lengthwise folds creates a striking silhouette of movement in the round as the forms cast upward around an integral, open center. “After a beginning in which the figure was present, an abstract sculpture gradually emerged through a constant metamorphosis where human essence and energy connect with the cosmos,” Atchugarry has explained of his work. “I have reached my current sculpture after a long path of synthesis where the human being and his relationship with nature are the center of my topics.” This inculcation of cosmic harmony, embodied in the assiduous carving of stone, inflects Atchugarry’s body of work with humanist poetics and grace. At a human scale, Untitled manifests the eloquence and stability of the white Carrara marble, channeling its energy endlessly upward.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Pablo Atchugarry, quoted in Jonathan Goodman, “Pablo Atchugarry: Heroic Activities,” Pablo Atchugarry: Heroic Activities (New York: Hollis Taggart Galleries, 2011), 14.
2 Atchugarry, quoted in “Fragments of Life: A Conversation with Valeria Campagni,” Pablo Atchugarry: A Journey between Matter and Light (Oostkamp: Stichting Kunstboek, 2006), 54, 247.
3 Atchugarry, quoted in Goodman, “Pablo Atchugarry,” 14.
4 Atchugarry, quoted in “Fragments of Life,” 128-29, 251.
5 Goodman, “Pablo Atchugarry,” 10, 14.
6 Atchugarry, quoted in Goodman, “Pablo Atchugarry,” 16.