Armando Reverón (Venezuelan 1889-1954)
Armando Reverón (Venezuelan 1889-1954)

Mujer ante el espejo

Armando Reverón (Venezuelan 1889-1954)
Mujer ante el espejo
signed 'A REVERON.' (lower right)
charcoal and crayon on paper mounted on masonite
38 1/8 x 37½ in. (96.8 x 95.3 cm.)
Executed circa 1950.
Private collection, Florida.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, May 19, 1993, lot 168 (illustrated in color).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Venice, XXVIII Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia, 1954, no. 580.

Lot Essay

The life of Armando Reverón gave rise to a legend among his contemporaries that continues to resonate in the present: that of an eccentric painter of mercurial temperament who decided to create his own world in primitive retreat and isolation. Yet Reverón was a celebrated artist of his time, recognized for his evanescent white and sepia canvases, ghostly female nudes, and enigmatic figural depictions, as well as for the uncanniness of the everyday-life objects and dolls that he fabricated and used in theatrical performances in his studio. Reverón's ritualistic approach to painting attracted the attention of the most prominent local critics, collectors, and even foreign visitors who often traveled to the artist's fortress, El Castillete, which he built in the coastal locality of Macuto. Bare-chested, plugging his ears to avoid outside noise, and fastening a rope around his waist to restrict his breathing, the artist performed idiosyncratic "painting actions" that have elicited a great deal of interpretation and commentary.

Paul de Man has suggested that life produces autobiographical accounts as acts produce effects. Nonetheless, these relationships are reciprocal, not mechanical. Autobiography is a project that shapes life. Equivalent to defiguration, autobiography corresponds to self-portraiture, an operation that in Reverón's case is rather complex in that through his schizophrenia, a fictional persona unfolded that was inextricably attached to his artistic practice. Mujer ante el espejo, 1950, is a drawing on charcoal produced at a time when the artist was about to complete a series of self-portraits. Its date also coincides with the last phase of Reverón's mental illness. The rapid strokes and blurry atmosphere convey a dream-like, intimate scene of a naked woman facing a mirror. While putting her hair up in a bun, the exuberant woman kneels in high-heels. Many scholars have pointed out that human figures in Reverón's work may often be confused with his dolls. Her back to the spectator, the woman appears surrounded by spectral figural presences, one of which might be a man and another, a doll or a woman. This very moment of intimacy also poses the question of desire, as the composition is directed at an individual viewer.

As the 2007 retrospective exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City certainly attests, it is evident that Armando Reverón created a distinct body of paintings and objects within the established narratives of modernity in Latin America. Luis Pérez Oramas has aptly observed: "Such are Reverón's 'white' paintings, so strange and extraordinary as to be unequalled in the repertoire of Latin American art of his time. In these paintings, structures dissolve, while in the work of other Latin American artists, the focus is on reinforcing structures."(1) The ethereal landscapes from the 1920s and 1930s which gained him a local reputation, are painted with sparse brushstrokes and a gestural potency that confront the viewer with the precariousness of the pictorial surface. They also propose an exceptional meditation on tropical light and its (im)materiality through an eerie image that emerges to suspend the distinctions between background and foreground, nature and landscape. If Reverón's hazy depictions of nature, all of which lack human presence, manifest a dilution of forms, his paintings of blurry female nudes such as Mujer ante el espejo defigure in order to attest the fictional nature of referents.

Gabriela Rangel, curator and writer.

1) L. P. Oramas, in "Armando Reverón and Modern Art in Latin America" in J. Elderfield, L. P. Oramas and N. Lawrence, Armando Reverón, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007, p. 98.

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