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Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)
Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)


Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)
oil on canvas
25 3/8 x 31 5/8 in. (64.4 x 80.4 cm.)
Painted in 1949.
Galleria Gissi, Turin.
Galleria Sianesi, Milan.
Gary Nader Fine Art, Miami.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 15 May 1991, lot 29 (illustrated in color).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Private collection, Miami.

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the Matta archives under no. 49/24.

"There is in man the need to re-act in the endless web on which we interplay with the world," Matta once reflected. "The artist is expected to see what is hidden, like the blind see with the mind."(1) Matta painted sparingly between 1948 and 1950, working out his existential doubts and humanist ethos during an intensely self-reflexive period of peripatetic wandering. Retracing an earlier journey through the hauntingly mystical Mexican landscape in 1947, Matta faced expulsion from the Surrealist group upon his return to New York the following year, a consequence of the suspect reappearance of socially-oriented, symbolic forms in his work. Matta's rupture with the group, compounded by his affair with Gorky's estranged wife and Gorky's subsequent suicide, was profoundly demoralizing, as was his initially cool reception upon his return to Paris. Settling eventually in Rome, Matta began to draw out the dimensions of his subjectivity in his painting, temporarily abandoning the monumental size of his later American work for a more intimate scale, as in this Composición, and claiming the psychic universe of the mind as his subject.

"I want to replace perspective," Matta explained, "by a kind of prospecting and simultaneously to replace the space of distance with the space of feeling. . . . All extremes and everything that is found within them-should be seen in terms of prospecting and be expressed in a special kind of space: a space of feeling."(2) This affective space grounds Matta's universalism in the anguish of his own experience, lending a compelling intimacy to painting that became increasingly non-referential. As Claude Cernuschi has observed, Matta "conceptualize[d] emotional and psychological states-though they [had] no literal physical extension--as if they were endowed with all of the properties intrinsic to three-dimensional space." This telescoping effect appropriated "the more tangible physical realm to convey the more intangible emotional or psychological realm," turning Matta's world-consciousness inward to the deepest recesses of his psyche.(3)

Inviting in its lyrical abstraction and lush color, Composición travels through the mind's eye of its creator into the lambent inner spaces of intense emotion and dynamic energy. Working within a kaleidoscopic palette of iridescent magentas and introspective olive-greens, Matta activates this interior space through the offsetting curvilinear forms that arc across the center of the canvas and the ambient fields of color that lean in from all sides. "Matta's space is space in motion," Octavio Paz reflected, "in continuous bifurcation and recomposition. Plural space that flows. Space that possesses the properties of time: elapsing and dividing, uninterruptedly, into discrete entities. . . . Temporalized space."(4) Drawing energy from the velocity of the spheres propelled along the bottom of the canvas and shooting upward, the painting becomes a metaphor of perpetual evolution, of the shape-shifting forces that create and defy equilibrium. "Rather than being a cosmonaut," Matta declared, "I consider myself to a beingonaut," a solo and singular traveler in the inner space of human consciousness.(5)

Abby McEwen

(1) P. Selz, "Matta," Roberto Matta: Paintings & Drawings: 1971-1979, La Jolla, CA: Tasende Gallery, 1980, 8.
(2) C. Cernuschi, "Mindscapes and Mind Games: Visualizing Thought in the Work of Matta and his Abstract Expressionist Contemporaries," Matta: Making the Invisible Visible, Boston: McMullen Museum of Art, 2004, 62.
(3) Ibid., 61, 65.
(4) O. Paz, "Vestibule," Matta: Surrealism and Beyond, Milwaukee: The Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art, 1997, 25.
(5) Quoted in Cernuschi, 61.

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