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Estructura con formas trabadas

Estructura con formas trabadas
signed 'J. Torres-GARCIA' (lower left) and dated '33' (lower right)
tempera on board
29 1⁄2 x 20 3⁄4 in. (75 x 52.8 cm.)
Painted in 1933
Estate of the artist.
Horacio Torres, Montevideo.
Rose Fried Gallery, New York.
Royal S. Marks, New York (by 1985); Estate sale, Sotheby's, New York, 20 November 1989, lot 3.
J. Steiner, New York (by 1991).
Private collection, Europe; sale, Christie's, New York, 19 November 2007, lot 20.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
A. Badrinas, "J. Torres-Garcia," Art, vol. I, no. 3, December 1933 (illustrated).
"Beyond the Fringe," Building Design, 17 January 1986, p. 21 (illustrated).
A. Maslach, Joaquín Torres-García: Sol y luna del arcano, Caracas, 1998, p. 457, no. 312 (illustrated).
L. Driben, "El Cono Sur en México," Letras Libres, March 2002, p. 94 (illustrated).
C. de Torres, et al., Joaquín Torres-García: Online Catalogue Raisonné (, no. 1933.03 (illustrated in color).
London, The Arts Council of Great Britain; Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró; Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Miami, Center for the Fine Arts; Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts and New York, The American Federation of Arts, Torres-García, Grid-Pattern-Sign: Paris-Montevideo, 1924-1944, November 1985-April 1987, p. 68, no. 73 (illustrated).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (IVAM) Centre Julio González, Torres-García, June-November 1991, p. 128, no. 84 (illustrated).
New York, Americas Society and Mexico City, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1933-1953, September 2001-April 2002, p. 102, no. 12 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Madrid, Fundación Telefónica and Málaga, Museo Picasso, Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern, October 2015-January 2017 (illustrated, p. 145; illustrated again in color, on the back cover).

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Lot Essay

A trailblazing figure within the transatlantic history of abstraction, Joaquín Torres-García projected a universal world view in his art, drawing from the European avant-garde and the pre-Hispanic Americas. Born in Uruguay, he moved to Barcelona in 1892, gradually absorbing a 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 own syncretic theory of abstraction, began to take root during a critical interval spent in Paris between 1926 and 1932. Torres-García defined his mature practice around the ideal schema of the Neo-Plastic grid, whose geometric austerity of primary colors and straight lines epitomized the totality of the universe and its highest utopian order. His assimilation of these 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 abstraction. An exemplar of Torres-García’s mature style, Estructura con formas trabadas deftly assimilates Amerindian motifs within his modernist grid, thus linking past and present through the essential language of abstraction.
“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 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 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. “Quite simply, we met within the universal,” Van Doesburg explained. “That is the palette which Torres-García uses” (quoted in “Torres-García’s Planism,” Torres-García: Grid-Pattern-Sign, Paris-Montevideo, 1924-1944, exh. cat., The Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, pp. 101-102). Torres-García’s first Constructivist paintings 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 color-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 unlike 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, The Antagonistic Link: Joaquín Torres-García, Theo van Doesburg, Institute of Contemporary Art, Amsterdam, 1991, 34). The mutability of Torres-García’s abstraction is among its most distinctive and radical aspects, demonstrated creatively in his contemporary sculpture—the maderas (or objets plastiques)—and in works like Estructura con formas trabadas, which incorporate pre-Hispanic source material and anticipate his long-awaited return to the Americas.
Torres-García reluctantly left Paris for Madrid in December 1932, a move necessitated by the global Depression and the retrenchment of the art world. Over the following year, he frequented the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, where he studied Bronze Age Iberian, Egyptian, and Amerindian art and artifacts. He had encountered pre-Hispanic art as early as 1928 when the major exhibition, Ancient Art of the Americas, opened at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. His eldest son, Augusto, worked for a year cataloguing Nazca pottery at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in 1929-1930; Torres-García visited often and would have seen the museum’s plaster replica of the Gate of the Sun, a monolithic archway made by the people of Tiwanaku (present-day Bolivia). Its iconography references Nazca ceramics and Andean textiles, conventions of which surface in a number of his paintings from 1933, among them Formas trabadas anímicas, Formes avec structure, and the present Estructura con formas trabadas.
“Grid and symbol are integrated in a meandering line, and defined by the flat color, the positive and negative spaces and the image,” wrote curator Margit Rowell of these works. “The strong contrasts and decorative patterning appear to derive from Nazca pottery” (“Order and Symbol: The European and American Sources of Torres-García’s Constructivism,” in exh. cat., op. cit., 1985, p. 18). Yet he resisted “a superficial approach that would simply extract decorative, exotic, or folkloric elements from earlier art,” Cecilia Buzio de Torres explains. “By sensing the way in which the relative or the particular was illuminated by a universal concept,” Torres-García “sought to enter the spirit of the Indoamerican cultures,” and in that way “more accurately isolate and consolidate the geometry and the particular proportions that defined American art” (“The School of the South: The Asociación de Arte Constructivo, 1934-1942,” El Taller Torres-García: The School of the South and its Legacy, Austin, 1992, p. 15).
Estructura con formas trabadas elegantly distills these sources—scalloped and jagged lines from Amerindian ceramics and textiles, flat pattern and universal grid from Neo-Plasticism—into a highly original and transatlantic abstraction. The palette of muted red, blue, ocher, and brown is characteristic of this period; the shapes interlock within a shallow space, their forms defined by a fluid rhythm of curved, straight, and serrated lines. In its absorption of pre-Hispanic and European sources, the painting epitomizes Torres-García’s vision of a modern American art grounded in a shared and indigenous legacy of abstraction. His theory and practice of Constructive Universalism spread throughout the Southern Cone following his return to Montevideo the next year, spearheading the rise of postwar geometric abstraction across the Americas.

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

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