Matta (1911-2002)
Matta (1911-2002)
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MATTA (1911-2002)


MATTA (1911-2002)
indistinctly signed 'Matta' (lower right)
oil on burlap
57 x 55 1⁄8 in. (145 x 140 cm.)
Painted in 1960.
Galleria Gissi, Turin.
Galerie Aditti, Paris.
Daniel Cordier and Michel Warren Gallery, New York.
Private collection.
Arezzo, Museo Civico d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Da Picasso a Botero, capolavori dell'arte del novecento da una collezione privata, 27 March-6 June 2004, p. 225 (illustrated in color). This exhibition also traveled to Forli, Forli, Palazzo Albertini, 29 June-29 August 2004.

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Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Germana Matta Ferrari and is registered in the archives under number 60⁄43.

Matta used the decade following his separation from the Surrealists and subsequent departure from New York, in 1948, to take stock of his practice at mid-career. A time of intense introspection as he appraised the devastation of postwar Europe—“being with a horrible crisis in society,” he reflected—these years gave rise to a deepening of his humanitarian commitment. “My vision of myself was becoming blind for not being made one with the people about me,” Matta explained. “I sought to create a new morphology of others within my own field of consciousness.”[1] Based between Paris and Rome in the 1950s, he renewed his connections to Latin America, traveling to Machu Picchu and returning to Chile, where he publicly supported the leftist coalition of Salvador Allende. His historically-laden social morphologies, initiated in the 1940s, took on increasingly monumental proportions and drew international acclaim, notably in murals for the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris (1956) and for the University of Santiago (1962-63).

Matta’s canvases from this period probe the underlying energies and interconnections of the cosmos, rendering vast, labyrinthine spaces inhabited by mechanomorphic beings, cyphers of this strange new world. Modern totems, these personages have origins in primitive art—Matta felt particular affinities with the Northwest Coast Indians, collections of which he saw in New York, and with pre-Columbian Mexico—as well as in the Surrealist imaginings of Alberto Giacometti and André Breton, among others. Matta’s return to figuration engendered new, (post-) humanist meditations on mankind, caught in the perpetual flux of time, space, and matter. “He was discovering a new territory of the imagination,” the poet Octavio Paz observed of this transformation in Matta’s practice. “Painting that is myth, legend, history, anecdote, and riddle. What his painting tells, however, is not what is happening in the present, but what is happening above and below the present, the play of forces and impulses that compose us, discompose and recompose us.”[2]

A menacing, quasi-humanoid figure rises the full length of the present Untitled, its attention fixed on a pale, amorphous form that it grasps between thin, pincer-like appendages. Its flesh-colored, planar limbs gesture mechanically in different directions, cutting through the depths of a dimmed, dark-blue ground. In its close-up focus on a single figure, uncommon in Matta’s painting, Untitled recalls the side panels of the monumental Trittico (1960), which portray similarly isolated, cybernetic beings in states of conflict. “There is in man the need to re-act in the endless web on which we interplay with the world,” Matta acknowledged. “The artist is expected to see what is hidden, like the blind see with the mind. We live besieged by infra-reality, transparent-reality and a highly developed technology of mystification, camouflaging all that is relevant and a deliberate encourage of blindness. . . . The real scope of ‘modern’ art is to grasp, to see change, to see the passage from one reality to the next form of the same reality. When we shall acquire this prospective point of view our minds can then evolve a new reasoning.”[3]

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

1 Matta, quoted in William Rubin, “Matta,” The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art 25, no. 1 (1957): 9.
2 Octavio Paz, “Vestibule” (1985), in Matta: Surrealism and Beyond, exh. cat. (Milwaukee: Haggerty Museum of Art, 1997), 24-5.
3 Matta, quoted in Matta: Coïgitum, exh. cat. (London: Hayward Gallery, 1977), 7-8, 11.

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