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Rue no. 2 (Paisaje constructivista)

Rue no. 2 (Paisaje constructivista)
signed 'J. Torres GARCIA' (upper right) and dated '29' (upper left); signed again, titled and inscribed ‘J. Torres-GARCIA, RUE No. 2, 3 rue Marcel Sembat, PARIS XVIII’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 3/4 x 36 1/4 in. (73 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1929
Roberto Sapriza, Montevideo.
Private collection, Buenos Aires.
Galería Ruth Benzacar, Buenos Aires.
Private collection, Buenos Aires.
"Homenaje a la memoria de Torres-García," El Plata, 2 August 1951 (illustrated).
R. Pereda, Joaquín Torres-García, Uruguay, 1991 (illustrated in color, p. 132).
M.H. Gradowczyk, Torres-García: Utopía y Transgresión, Montevideo, 2007, no. 5.1 (illustrated in color, p. 126).
C. de Torres, et al., Joaquín Torres-García Catalogue Raisonné,, no. 1929.22 (illustrated in color).
Montevideo, Comisión Municipal de Cultura, J. Torres-García, August 1951, no. 182.
Montevideo, Comisión Nacional de Bellas Artes, Torres-García: Colección Privada de Montevideo, December 1962, no. 86.
Montevideo, Museo Torres García, Homenaje a Esther de Cáceres, December 1971-March 1972, no. 17.
Madrid, Galería Biosca, J. Torres-Garcia, June 1974, no. 17 (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Institute of Contemporary Art, The Antagonistic Link: Joaquín Torres-García/Theo van Doesburg, 1992, no. 90 (illustrated in color, p. 154).
Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Barradas/Torres-Garcia, August-September 1995, no. 27 (illustrated in color, p. 81).

Lot Essay

A trailblazing figure within the transatlantic history of abstraction, Torres-García projected a universal worldview in his artwork, drawing in different measures from the European avant-garde and the pre-Hispanic Americas. Born in Uruguay, he moved to Barcelona in 1892, gradually absorbing modernist doctrine—Cubism, Constructivism, Neo-Plasticism—in Europe (and briefly, New York) before making his celebrated return to Montevideo in 1934. The principles of Constructive Universalism, his syncretic theory of abstraction, began to take root during a critical interval spent in Paris between 1926 and 1932. Working alongside an international avant-garde, Torres-García 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 late 1930, marked a watershed moment: recovered from pre-Hispanic art, the pictographs became archetypal signs, transformed by geometry into a new paradigm for (Latin) American abstraction. Rue No. 2 captures the creative flux of this period, reprising a familiar and enduring theme—the bustling streetscape in the city—within a planar ground of primary colors.
“As the painter Torres-García says, we must live within the universal,” wrote Theo van Doesburg of his friend, with whom he shared a commitment to Neo-Plastic (and Platonic) precepts of ideal and balanced harmony. “To watch the painter at work in his studio in Montmartre is to discover a creator,” he continued. “A new world opens up, an intimate world of human creation. You are in close contact with a spiritual environment in which everything partakes of the promorphic atmosphere of creation” (“Torres-García’s Planism,” Torres-García: Grid-Pattern-Sign, Paris-Montevideo, 1924-1944, exh. cat., London, 1985, pp. 101-2). Torres-García had arrived in Paris in September 1926 and circulated among an international group of artists exploring paths within geometric abstraction, among them Jean Hélion and Jean Xceron as well as Piet Mondrian and van Doesburg, the co-founders of the Dutch De Stijl movement. He drew closest to van Doesburg, whose progressions within abstraction and humanist universalism suggested a natural, intellectual kinship. Torres-García’s first Constructivist paintings, among them Rue No. 2, evolved out of their dialogues and culminated in his co-founding, with Michel Seuphor, of Cercle et Carré, the short-lived but influential group of abstract artists, in 1929.
The rapid, prolific progression of Torres-García’s work during this time evinces his absorption of De Stijl’s utopian vision, seen in an axiomatic geometry of straight lines and blocks of primary colors, and the early consolidation of Constructive Universalism. “Torres-García expresses his plastic intuition immediately and spontaneously by using colour-planes and elementary lines,” van Doesburg stated. “Creating with no intermediary but the means specific to painting gives us the only freedom worthy of the universal spirit. At this stage of plastic expression, we go beyond the world of things that can be weighed and measured. Structure and structure alone sustains the painting” (ibid., p. 102). For Torres-García, cosmic order was embedded in the gridded, relational structure of the image; but pace van Doesburg, he never committed to non-objective art, a disagreement that surfaced in their correspondence by the year’s end. “You know I am incapable of staying totally within a framework of completely abstract and pure art,” he wrote, reproaching his friend for privately organizing a group—the short-lived Art Concret—inimical to the diversity of Constructivist practice (Torres-García to van Doesburg, December 3, 1929, in The Antagonistic Link: Joaquín Torres-García, Theo van Doesburg, exh. cat., Amsterdam, 1991, p. 34).
In Rue No. 2, Torres-García distills the façade of the street—likely rue Marcel Sembat, in the 18th arrondissement, where he lived and worked—into blocks of primary colors. Like other street scenes from this year, among them Ulica (1929.13), Pintura constructiva (1929.63), and Estructure avec rue (1929.67), Rue No. 2 expresses the vitality of the city through the delineation of architectural elements—roof line, stairs, windows—and the abstracted, geometricized person of Universal Man. Here, the figures are not yet bounded by the strictures of a grid; they exist rather at the threshold between private and public worlds, at once at home and in the modern world. “The tradition of civilization is the tradition of ABSTRACT MAN,” Torres-García declared. “Awareness of this relationship produces knowledge of profound reality: Life and Geometry. Man Universe” (“The Tradition of Abstract Man [Constructivist Doctrine],” Torres-García, exh. cat., op. cit., p. 105 and 110).
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.

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