Jorge Eielson (1924-2006)
Jorge Eielson (1924-2006)

Quipus 32 D-7

Jorge Eielson (1924-2006)
Quipus 32 D-7
signed, dated and titled 'J. Eielson, PARIS, 71, Quipus 32 D-7' (on the reverse)
painted and knotted burlap mounted on wood
28 ¼ x 27 ¾ x 6 ¾ in. (72 x 70.5 x 17 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
Anon. sale, Binoche & Godeau, Paris, 30 April 1985, lot 112.
Private collection, Paris (acquired from the above by the present owner).
Sale room notice
Please note this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Archivio Eielson Saronno, and is registered in the archives under no. JE0726.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Archivio Eielson Saronno, and is registered in the archives under no. JE0726.

“As far as I am concerned, I consider the cycle of inquiries in which I was submerged in the past ten years exhausted,” Eielson wrote in 1969, just over twenty years after he had left Lima for Paris. A poet and a painter, Eielson evolved his creative practices in tandem over the intervening decades, his printed poem-objects emerging alongside painted and sculptural works that explored verbal-visual vicissitudes of meaning. The “geometric order and kinetic games” that characterized his early Mobiles, shown at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1949, soon ceded to textured reliefs made from sand, earth, and cement; by 1962, objects materialized out of “clothing, shirts and other rags that ended up knotted, torn, burned.” Drawing on the example of Pierre Restany and the torn-paper décollage of the Nouveaux Réalistes, as well as the burlap paintings of Alberto Burri, Eielson finally “arrived at a very reduced system of colored knots (quipus) governed by precise internal laws.” The symbolic structure and abstraction of the quipu, a device made of knotted strings used as a recording system by the Inca, became a “point of departure for a new freedom of action,” Eielson realized, one that posited his mature practice at the juncture of abstraction, poetry, and craft.[1]

Eielson studied under the Peruvian novelist José María Arguedas at the Colegio Alfonso Ugarte in the early 1940s and, in the course of their friendship, developed what would become an enduring interest in ancient Andean art. He doubtless recognized, as did artists including Fernando de Szyszlo and the Argentine César Paternosto, the conceptual sophistication of Inca stonework and weaving and the autochthonous tradition of abstraction that they represented. As a member of Agrupación Espacio, a modernist association founded in Lima by the architect Luis Miró Quesada in 1947, Eielson signed the group’s foundational “Expression of Principles,” which rebuked the “disorientation and apathy” of Peru’s cultural field and the dated ornamentation of neo-colonial revivals.[2] In rerouting Peruvian modernism through Andean aesthetics, he not only shook off an outdated folklorism and romanticism, but asserted the precedent of indigenous models of abstraction cultivated long before those of the European avant-garde.

An inventive and multivalent medium, the quipu became the means through which Eielson bridged ancient and modern forms. The quipu served the Inca as an accounting device, likely used for bureaucratic purposes (bookkeeping, census), and as a mnemonic aid; scholars have theorized that its semiotic system further encompassed an early form of writing, a possibility that Eielson may have found particularly suggestive. “I began to knot colored fabric in 1963,” he recalled. “My first gesture was decidedly instinctive. I later discovered that this gesture obeyed an intimate desire of mine to communicate in a form different from written language. Continuing my investigation into the symbolism of color and the study of the ancient quipus of the Andes, I established a code that has served me ever since. . . . This system allows me the maximum possibilities of writing, ranging from immediate and automatic experience—as in literature—to its more rigorous serial structuring.” Eielson exhibited early Nudos (Knots) at the Venice Biennale in 1964; he returned in 1972 with a solo presentation that incorporated a performance of his novel, El cuerpo de Giulia-no. “I carried out an analysis of the constituent elements of my ‘Quipus’; the knots, the ropes, the tensions, the colors, the fabrics,” he later wrote, addressing “their most elementary functions: the equilibrium between hot and cold and the fact of dressing and undressing a naked body, which implicated ([through] religious, sensual, ritual components) the greatest phenomena of pregnancy and death.”[3]

That latent corporeality imbues Eielson’s Quipus 32 D-7, distended in the twined burlap drawn across its gilded, monochrome surface. Stretched along a diagonal axis, the fabric distills the multiple cords of the Andean quipu into a single stream, compressing its encoded ethnomathematics—accountings of time, space, and history—into an elegantly suspended Gordian knot. In the context of postwar European painting, Eielson’s quipus bear comparison with Piero Manzoni’s wrinkled-canvas Achromes, Enrico Castellani’s tented reliefs, and Lucio Fontana’s slashed Spatial Concepts. They are similarly conversant with the twisted rice-paper Droguinhas made by the Brazilian Mira Schendel, whose interest in Eastern mysticism Eielson shared. Their formal abstraction notwithstanding, his quipus remain ontologically plastic, moving between meaning and matter—painting and text—as the opening stanza of his poem, “Nudos,” wryly acknowledges: “Hay nudos / Que no son nudos / Y nudos que solamente / Son nudos (There are knots / That are not knots / And knots that only / Are knots).”[4]

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

1 Jorge Eduardo Eielson, “París, enero 1969,” in Ceremonia comentada: textos sobre arte, estética y cultura (Lima: Fonda Editorial del Congreso del Perú, 2010), 119.
2 “Expresión de principios de la ‘Agrupación Espacio,’” El Comercio (Lima), May 15, 1947.
3 Eielson, “Jorge Eielson,” Flash Art 40 (March-May 1973), in Ceremonia comentada, 142.
4 Eielson, “Nudos,” in Arte poética, ed. Luis Rebaza Soraluz (Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2004), 313.


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