Jorge de la Vega (1930-1971)
Jorge de la Vega (1930-1971)

Los exquisitos monocromáticos

Jorge de la Vega (1930-1971)
Los exquisitos monocromáticos
signed, titled, and dated 'de la Vega, Los Exquisitos monocromáticos, 1961' (on the back stretcher bar)
oil on canvas
45 ¾ x 35 1/8 in. (116.2 x 89.2 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy collection, Buenos Aires (acquired directly from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate signed by Ramón de la Vega, dated 21 December 2016.

“If you don’t do what you must in painting, then where are you going to do it?”[1] Poised at the crux of freedom and aesthetics, de la Vega’s question epitomized the countercultural impulse that fueled the young Argentine avant-garde in the 1960s. Self-taught, he improvised a highly idiosyncratic visual language based on transformation and anamorphosis, developing a new artistic syntax taken from the objects and symbols of the contemporary world—plastic tokens and children’s toys, pop culture and psychedelia. De la Vega was a member of Argentina’s Nueva Figuración group, active between 1961 and 1965, and alongside Luis Felipe Noé, Rómulo Macció, and Ernesto Deira he evolved an expressionist idiom rooted in new existential and (anti) aesthetic freedoms.

After abandoning early architectural studies, de la Vega worked as a perspective draftsman in the late 1950s and early 1960s as he developed his artistic practice, with acknowledged influences from Modigliani to the lyrical abstraction of Sarah Grilo and José Fernández-Muro. Stimulated by Victor Vasarely’s exhibition in Buenos Aires (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1958), he continued to work in a nonobjective mode, experimenting briefly with Op Art, before embracing figuration by the end of 1959, doubtless influenced by his deepening friendship with Noé, who invited him to share studio space in a converted hat factory in San Telmo. “Under Noé’s influence,” de la Vega later remarked, “my Informalism was converted, much to my surprise, into a rare form of figuration.”[2] He contributed expressionist canvases to the group’s first exhibition, Otra Figuración, which opened in August 1961 at Galería Peuser, many of them with fraught titles—The Rescue, Asphyxiation by Rapid Ascent, The Dangerous Game—that may hint at Argentina’s devolving social and political economy at the time. “It was not exactly I who introduced human figures into my painting,” de la Vega wrote in the exhibition’s catalogue. “I think they themselves used me in order to come into being; it was not a voluntary imposition, but rather a natural encounter.”[3] He left for Paris with Noé in the weeks following the exhibition’s close (Macció and Deira followed soon after), settling in Issy-les-Moilineaux for a year and engaging with the European movements Nouvelle Figuration and Un Art autre.

The title of Los exquisitos monocromáticos nods wryly to de la Vega’s prior work in geometric abstraction and its affinity for the monochrome, and yet the painting belongs among such early expressionist compositions as Los náufragos (1960) and Formas de respiración (1961). Minimally outlined in the rough white impasto, its spectral subjects appear at the top of the painting, their grimacing expressions betraying both gallows humor and despair. Their bodies merge one into the other, their disfigurement rendered in whorling grey lines that cut across the canvas, looping in a wild, disordered frenzy. Adrift in an entropic vortex, the alienated heads and bodies have no center of gravity; their painted precariousness, punctuated by black cavities and splotches of turbid red and orange, draws a subtle parallel to the aporia of post-Peronist Argentina.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1 Jorge de la Vega, quoted in Luis Felipe Noé, “Anti-Aesthetics,” in Listen, Here, Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004), 66.
2 De la Vega, quoted in Juan Forn, “El hombre que vivió su vida,” gina 12 (September 17, 2000), in Patrick Frank, Painting in a State of Exception: New Figuration in Argentina, 1960-1965 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016), 36.
3 De la Vega, quoted in Otra figuración (Buenos Aires: Galería Peuser, 1961), in Frank, Painting in a State of Exception, 40.

The noted Argentine architect Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, is credited as being the lead designer of the classic, modernist butterfly chair, also known as the BKF chair (named after the three designers who headed the Austral firm--Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan and Ferrari-Hardoy). Originally designed for an apartment building in Buenos Aires in 1938, the BKF chair was acknowledged internationally for its innovative design. In 1940 architect and then MoMA design director, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. praised it as one of the "best efforts of modern chair design” and immediately secured a pre-production sample for the museum’s collection and another for the Kaufmann family home, the landmark Fallingwater house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.


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