Audio: Jorge de la Vega's Untitled
Jorge de la Vega (Argentinian 1930-1971)
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Jorge de la Vega (Argentinian 1930-1971)


Jorge de la Vega (Argentinian 1930-1971)
signed and dated 'de la Vega, 66' (on the reverse)
acrylic and fabric collage on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1966.
Acquired from the artist.

Lot Essay

"If you don't do what you must in painting, then where are you going to do it?"(1) Poised at the crux of freedom and aesthetics, De la Vega's question epitomized the countercultural impulse that fueled the young Argentine avant-garde in the 1960s. Among the most remarkable artists of this generation, De la Vega improvised a highly idiosyncratic visual language based on transformation and anamorphosis, developing a new artistic syntax taken from the objects and symbols of the contemporary world--plastic tokens and children's toys, pop culture and psychedelia. De la Vega was a member of Argentina's Nueva Figuración group, active between 1961 and 1965, and alongside Luis Felipe Noé, Rómulo Macció, and Ernesto Deira he evolved an expressionist idiom rooted in new existential and (anti-)aesthetic freedoms.

De la Vega's work underwent a dramatic change when he lived in the United States between October 1965 and April 1967, teaching at Cornell University and working in New York City in the company of Noé and fellow Argentines Antonio Berni, Marta Minujín, and critic Jorge Romero Brest. The present Untitled dates from this stay in America, during which time his work began to critically engage consumer culture and popular media stereotypes. "North America is such a powerful and artificial world that man acquires dimension by contrast," De la Vega explained of the transformation in his work. "I abandoned collage and dedicated myself to painting Americans' happiness."(2) Such happiness proves hollow and largely illusory in his work from this period, however, and his paintings suggest rather a deeply cynical interpretation of both the conventional American dream and the hippie counterculture of the time.

In the present work, De la Vega's figures take on grotesque deformations, whether in black-and-white or banded psychedelic colors, that smoothly belie the slick realism of facial features drawn with exaggeratedly TV-ready smiles. In switching from oil to acrylic paints, De la Vega flattened his images and introduced a brighter palette, with the result here of adding heightened spatial and tonal dissonance to the already uncanny doppelganger effect. In this Untitled, the dysmorphic central figure is suspended in a tilted space that vaguely resembles a television screen, his right hand dangling limply just beyond the frame. The rainbow-striped pigment of his double encroaches suggestively up his arm, connecting their bodies along a diagonal axis that extends to a disembodied hand reaching down from the upper right-hand corner. De la Vega actively cultivated these pictorial anomalies and circumstantial connections, explaining: "I want my painting to be natural, without any limitations or formulas, improvised like life that grows where I don't want it to and does what it feels like. Other times it's docile. I want my work to hit the viewer with the same intensity with which its parts collide with themselves, no matter how small they are. A mother-of-pearl chip on a blotch. The number next to a rock. A tinfoil animal. A chimera of smoke, beings measuring themselves against emptiness and a mirror so they can look at themselves."(3)

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.
1) J. de la Vega, quoted in Luis Felipe Noé, "Anti-Aesthetics," Listen, Here, Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, 66.
2) De la Vega, quoted in Mercedes Casanegra, Jorge de la Vega, Argentina, Alba, 1990, 112.
3) De la Vega, quoted in Mari Carmen Ramírez, Cantos Paralelos: Visual Parody in Contemporary Argentinean Art, Austin, Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, 1999, 255.

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