Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
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Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)

Forma con estructura y objetos

Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
Forma con estructura y objetos
signed 'JTG.' (lower left) and dated '43' (lower right)
oil on board
32 1/2 x 20 in. (83 x 51 cm.)
Painted in 1943.
Torres-García Family collection, Montevideo.
Galerie Marvin Moss, Paris.
Private collection, Paris.
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 17 May 1993, lot 37.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
"Structures et Symboles," Connaissance des Arts (Paris),1990, illustrated.
A, Gualdoni Basualdo, "A La Conquista de New York," Aperture Magazine (August 1993), p. 178, (detail illustrated).
C. de Torres, et. al., "Forma con estructura y objetos, 1943 (1943.29)," Joaquín Torres-García Catalogue Raisonné, (accessed April 24, 2022).
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, 18 works by Joaquín Torres-García, 18 September - 6 October 1971.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Paintings, Reliefs & Drawings by J. Torres-García, 4 - 29 October 1977, no. 30. This exhibition later traveled to: Gimpel & Hanover, Zurich, Switzerland, 1978; Gimpel Fils, London, 18 April - 20 May 1978.
London, Gimpel Fils, Joaquín Torres-García: Paintings & Constructions, 19 June - 14 July 1984, no. 12.
Paris, Galerie Marwan Hoss, Hommage a Torres-García: Oeuvres de 1928 à 1948, 30 May - 20 July 1990, p. 62 (illustrated).
Paris, Fondation d'Art Contemporain CNIT, Paris, La Defense, Collection de Collections, December 1990 -February,1991, p. 28.

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Lot Essay

“I come to achieve something concrete, something that ought to come about…something that is already fermenting,” Torres-García declared upon his return to Uruguay in 1934, more than forty years after he embarked on a transatlantic journey that led him to Barcelona, Paris, and New York. “Given our tradition, our…public, our latent virtues, the miracle would not lie in our producing something great, but in our failing to do so” (quoted in C. Buzio de Torres, “The School of the South: The Asociación de Arte Constructivo, 1934-1942,” ed. M. C. Ramírez, El Taller Torres-García: The School of the South and its Legacy, exh. cat., Austin, The Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, 1992, p. 7). A celebrated teacher, Torres-García catalyzed the development of modern art across Latin America, lecturing widely and forming the Asociación de Arte Constructivo (1935-39) and, in 1943, El Taller Torres-García. Proclaiming that “our North” is the South, he advocated a hemispheric approach to modern American art grounded in the shared, indigenous legacy of abstraction. The paintings from this final, Montevidean period—Forma, estructura y objetos signal among them—mark the culmination of Torres-García’s career and exemplify his theory and practice of Constructive Universalism, which combined the “reason” of geometry with the spiritual “intuition” of man and nature.

The principles of Constructive Universalism, Torres-García’s syncretic theory of abstraction, took root during a critical interval spent in Paris between 1926 and 1932. Working alongside an international avant-garde, including Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, he defined his mature practice around the ideal schema of the Neo-Plastic grid, whose geometric austerity (primary colors and straight lines) epitomized the totality of the universe and its highest, utopian order. His assimilation of schematic (“universal”) symbols within the grid, beginning in 1929, marked a watershed moment: recovered from pre-Columbian art, the pictographs became archetypal signs, transformed by geometry into a new paradigm for (Latin) American abstraction. By the time of his arrival in Montevideo, Torres-García aimed “to situate Constructive Art where it belongs, in the history of the Art of the Americas,” and he set out to advance Constructive Universalism as the ultimate means of “unify[ing] all the art of the Americas.” Venturing, “to some degree, to use the past to explain the present,” the AAC sought to articulate the “close theoretical kinship” between Constructivist and pre-Columbian art. “We base ourselves on the universal golden rule that governs both our philosophy and our art,” the AAC explained, “and since this is also found in the ancient cultures of the Americas, it is, one might say, the link that unites us across the centuries” (“Subscription Letter of the Asociación de Arte Constructivo,” M. C. Ramírez, op. cit., p. 52).

Torres-García convened the first meeting of the Taller in 1943, a particularly prolific and generative year, and began to consolidate his teaching and his own practice around an expansive understanding of abstraction. “Today among us, we say that painting is abstract and concrete at the same time, and without that having anything to do with representation, that is, independently of whether it is or is not figurative,” he asserted. “We say that it is abstract, because instead of imitating reality, it proceeds with absolute plastic elements. Because reality, then, becomes only a pretext for us to establish, on the canvas, an orchestration of hues or values” (quoted in C. Buzio de Torres, op. cit., p. 115). Forma, estructura y objetos evinces these reciprocal interests in abstraction and plastic order, integrating Torres-García’s own transatlantic narrative within a compacted, modular space. Less graphically dense and patterned than other works from this late period, Forma, estructura y objetos reconciles many of Torres-García’s most recurrent forms within the ideal schema of the Constructivist grid. Partitions of primary colors, rendered with visible brushstrokes, contain universal symbols of movement (train, boat, gear), emotion (heart, dog), and spirituality (fish, water); Abstract Man gestures toward a black arrow at the top of the painting, its upward direction suggestive of a transcendent state of being or consciousness. A microcosm of an integral American vision, the painting embodies Torres-García’s overarching cosmic sensibility and the precepts of Constructive Universalism.

“There was a strange atmosphere in Torres’ atelier,” wrote Taller student Gonzalo Fonseca, “with his wood structures looking like age-old ritual objects, with his canvases born from an earthy, dense and elaborate palette; an atmosphere invoking thoughts of the antiquity of the world, recalling, not what was old, but that essence of every great work that is unchangeable and therefore always modern” (“Torres-García’s Symbols within Squares,” ARTnews 59, no. 3, May 1960, p. 30). Already by this time, Torres-García’s influence had spread through the Southern Cone and attracted a rising generation of abstract artists, notably the Grupo Madí members Rhod Rothfuss, Carmelo Arden Quin, and Gyula Kosice, all of whom paid visits to the Taller. “There is developing, focusing, and evolving with the greatest intensity a movement of non-figurative art,” Kosice reflected in 1956. “One must recognize that most of the field had been prepared by the Uruguayan painter, Torres-Garcia. His constructivist workshop had a great influence on the young people of that period. Coming from Paris…he brought a wealth of skills that held great promise. . . . He broke the bonds of an art which was to acquire an unforeseen power (“Non-Figurative Art Trends in Latin America,” ed. American Abstract Artists, The World of Abstract Art, New York, 1957, p. 77).”

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

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