Nicolás García Uriburu (1937-2016)
Nicolás García Uriburu (1937-2016)

Untitled (Guggenheim Museum from the Green Series)

Nicolás García Uriburu (1937-2016)
Untitled (Guggenheim Museum from the Green Series)
signed 'URIBURU' (lower left)
oil on canvas
74 7/8 x 71 in. (190.2 x 180.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1975.
Private collection, London (acquired directly from the artist, circa 1975).

Lot Essay

“I denounce with my art the antagonism between nature and civilization,” Uriburu stated in 1974. “That’s why I color my body, my genitals, and the waters of the world. The more evolved countries are in the midst of destroying the water, the earth, the air—whose future reserves are in the Latin American countries.”[1] Among the pioneers of land art, Uriburu made waves at the politically charged Venice Biennale in 1968 when he dyed the waters of the Grand Canal fluorescent green for a day, making conspicuous the despoliation of the environment and issuing a clarion call for ecological activism. Declared a “masterstroke” by the leading critic Pierre Restany, his act precipitated similar “hydrocromías” elsewhere—from New York’s East River to London’s Trafalgar Square and the Río de la Plata, between Uruguay and Argentina—that diffused “Uriburu green,” created by the organic compound fluorescein, around the world. “Every time I color water, it’s a baptism for me,” he explained. “It’s a rite of water purification, to make everyone think about defending rivers and oceans.”[2] The “Colorations” extended from his own body—face, hair, sex—to the arena of social reform, seen in his “greening” of the Riachuelo basin, a highly contaminated riverway in Buenos Aires, in 2010. His actions also encompassed large-scale plantings, first of 7,000 oak trees at Documenta 7 in Kassel (1981), in a collaboration with Joseph Beuys, and later in Uruguay and Argentina, where he chose species native to South America.

Uriburu gained early accolades for his painting, including the Braque Prize from the French embassy in Argentina, and his easel practice evolved in tandem with his ecological interventions. Trained as an architect and an early adherent of informalism, he turned to Pop art following his move to Paris in 1965, depicting scenes and characters from both places: colectivos, Carlos Gardel, Evita Perón, Marie Antoinette. His later Green Series, to which the present work belongs, began in the early 1970s and staged encounters between nature—through the metaphor of chlorophyllic color—and the built landscape of North American modernity, seen in juxtaposed images of the Guggenheim Museum and a cow, for example, and the Chrysler Building and a giraffe. The present work washes Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building in green monochrome, rendering its geometric structure in clean, precisionist lines that highlight both the abstraction of its concrete form and its displacement of nature, present only in the ersatz greenery of the planters. “I have been trying to sound an alarm against the contamination of rivers and oceans for over forty years, and it is through my actions in different parts of the world that I have transformed my work into a kind of contestational, globalizing alert,” Uriburu lately reflected. “Today, and with even more reasons than forty years ago, I continue to denounce the contamination of water, and our savage destruction of our planet’s reserves. A planet that in our blind omnipotence we believe inexhaustible and indestructible.”[3]

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

1 Nicolás Uriburu, quoted in Effie Stephano, “Paris,” Art & Artists 9 (August 1974): 42.
2 Uriburu, quoted in Nathanial C. Nash, “Argentine’s Art Delivers Ecological Messages,” New York Times, December 31, 1992.
3 Uriburu, quoted in Elena Oliveras, “Nicolás García Uriburu: Ecological Activism from the South,” Art Nexus 10, no. 81 (June-August 2011): 59.

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