RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)
RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)
RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)
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RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)
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The Rosa de la Cruz Collection
RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)

Buscador de estrellas (Star Gazer)

RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)
Buscador de estrellas (Star Gazer)
signed and dated 'Tamayo, 56' (upper right)
oil and Vinylite on canvas
39 ¾ x 31 ¾ in. (101 x 80.6 cm.)
Painted in 1956.
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Robert Windfohr, Fort Worth, Texas
Glen A. Larson, Los Angeles
Joseph Mirisola, New York
Latin American Masters Gallery, Beverly Hills
Anon sale; Christie's, New York, 18 May 1988, lot 29
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
P. Westheim, Tamayo: A Study in Esthetics, 1957 (illustrated).
“Turnout for Art in Texas,” Life Magazine, 29 April 1957, V. 42, N. 17, p. 168 (illustrated in color).
O. Paz, Tamayo en la pintura Mexicana, 1959, p. 104 (illustrated).
E. Genauer, Rufino Tamayo, 1974, no. 43 (illustrated).
J. Alanis and S. Urrutia, Rufino Tamayo: Una cronología, 1899-1987, 1987, no. 49, p. 72 (illustrated).
L. Langley, "TV Producer Glen A. Larson's Art Collection," Antiques and Fine Arts, April 1987 (illustrated in color).
Mexico City, Galería Antonio Souza, Tamayo: Exposición de los últimos cuadros, September 1956.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Recent Works By Rufino Tamayo, 30 October-17 November 1956.
San Antonio, McNay Art Museum, Fifty Paintings from Fifty Texas Collections, April 1957.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, More/Less, December 2018-November 2019.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, From Day to Day, December 2019-September 2020.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, A Possible Horizon, September 2020-November 2021.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, There Is Always One Direction, November 2021-November 2022.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Together, at the Same Time, November 2022-November 2023.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, House in Motion / New Perspectives, December 2023-March 2024.
Further Details
We are grateful to Professor Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.

Brought to you by

Julian Ehrlich
Julian Ehrlich Associate Vice President, Specialist, Head of Post-War to Present Sale

Lot Essay

“If to this conscious and original concept of form we add the unexpected but always harmonious color of Tamayo’s paintings, we find in them a magnificent theory of reinvented human figures, a universe of human nudes and zoomorphic figures that are in some way frightening and spectral.”

- Xavier Villaurrutia (in Excelsior Oct 8, 1950, reprinted in Under the Volcano, 1991, p. 213)

A young Tamayo pointed to his artistic goals and aspirations with the early painting Nueva York desde la terraza (New York from the Terrace) of 1937. A male figure, presumably the artist, his back to the viewer holds up a telescope through which he gazes at the distant cityscape of Manhattan. As if standing on the bow of a ship progressing towards a horizon, the banister of this balcony bifurcates his canvas, demarking a geographical and psychological space of separation. The figure stands in his native land of Mexico firm in his Mexican identity indicated by large ripe watermelon slices, their national color scheme of red, white, and green spotlighted. Through the telescope’s eyepiece he gazes past the suspended United States flag into his future, confident in his imminent leap from the margins to the international mainstream.

Late in life, in conversation with interviewer Cristina Pacheco in 1980, Tamayo thought back to the late-1930s recalling when he had stood next to his wife Olga on 57th Street, which housed, in his opinion, the best galleries, and promised her that she would see his artwork exhibited there in the future. In addition to conveying through this story his determination and artistic ambition, he also acknowledged to Pacheco that “New York represented such an important influence for me. It was there that I encountered, and I absorbed all contemporary painting” (La luz de México: Entrevistas con pintores y fotógrafos, 1995, p. 586-588).

Tamayo resided in New York City during the 1940s, and Paris in the subsequent decade, while spending summers in Mexico. In November of 1950, following his successful exhibition opening at the Gallerie Beaux Arts in Paris, Tamayo explained to the press that “Currently there exist two opposing tendencies in Mexican art. One is social realism, and the other is poetic realism, to which I pertain…I do not trust a purely national attitude, I lean towards universality” (in “El realismo poético : reciente escuela pictórica nacida en México que aceptan gustosos en París,” Visión, 26 December 1950, p. 30). Six months later in the Mexican daily Excelsior he expounded, “While others carry nationalism to such an extreme as to segregate Mexico from the international arena, my fight has always been the opposite: that Mexico contribute with its art while also engaging with international lessons” (Rosa Castro, “Rufino Tamayo: Ha influido Europa en su arte?,” 17 June 1951, p. 7). Buscador de estrellas (Star Gazer) exemplifies Tamayo’s search for a universal language in his art, a stylistic synthesis or “fusion modernism,” as coined by art historian Diana C. Du Pont in her extensive essay “‘Realistic, Never Descriptive.’ Tamayo and the Art of Abstract Figuration” in the volume Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2008, p. 67).

High above the Earth’s curve, the star gazer stretches his long, mechanical neck leaning out from his observatory window; his fingers press evenly against the ledge to counterbalance the weight of a broad, bulbous head set against an azure backdrop of shooting stars and a low, heavy, waxing crescent moon. A fractured face, simplified and geometricized, turns fully toward the viewer, starlight¬ carving out its sharp contours, full lips, and flared nostrils. While so often Tamayo’s two-dimensional figures took their inspiration from the three-dimensional forms of the West Mexican pre-Columbian sculpture that he collected, here the mask-like face invokes his contemporaries Pablo Picasso and Wifredo Lam’s particular engagement with African masks, with relevant examples found in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles de Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) of 1907 and Lam’s La jungla (The Jungle) of 1943. The star gazer’s bug-like, protruding eyes recall a gastropod’s retractable, optical tentacles ending in light-sensitive eyespots; these point skyward to observe distant celestial bodies. They echo eyes shaped as tubular outgrowths on Grebo West African masks, which suggest the gift of divination. A human ear and spiky hair complete this hybrid human-zoomorphic constellation; the Star Gazer produces an unsettling mixture of whimsy and menace nodding to Jean Debuffet, Joan Miró, and Francis Bacon’s figurative distortions. Even so, Tamayo also launches us into the past with the reminder that his ancestors, the Zapotec, looked to the stars from their astronomical observatory, today known as “Building J,” on the pre-Columbian site of Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca.

Painted in 1956 at the beginning of the Space Race, the Cold War competition between the United States and the U.S.S.R. to launch a rocket that could land a man on the Moon, Star Gazer aligns with Tamayo’s insistence over the course of his long career on making humanity’s place within an expansive universe, visual. Numerous of his canvases feature the human figure stretching to impossible heights to reach the stars as in Mujeres alcanzando la luna (Women Reaching for the Moon) of 1946 and his monumental mural El hombre (Man) of 1953 or contemplating the night sky as in El hombre frente al infinito (Man Confronting Infinity) of 1971, while scientific advancement takes the form of a whirling robot in El astrónomo (The Astronomer) of 1954 or a monstrous being who threatens nuclear destruction in Terror Cósmico (Cosmic Terror) of 1954. This hybrid human telescope, the Star Gazer, embodies that alternative vision of Tamayo’s—at once bridging Mexico and the international, the contemporary and ancient, and the poetically semi-figurative and semi-abstract.

Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

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