Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)
Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)


Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)
signed 'Matta' (lower right)
oil and sand on burlap
70¾ x 117¾ in. (180 x 299 cm.)
Painted circa 1961-62.
Cordier and Warren Gallery, New York.
Sidney Mishkin, New York.
Gift from the above to the present owner (October 1991).
Sale room notice
Please note the correct circa date for this work is 1961-62. This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Mme. Germana Matta Ferrari and dated 19 April 2010.

Lot Essay

"There is in man the need to re-act in the endless web on which we interplay with the world," Matta once reflected. "The artist is expected to see what is hidden, like the blind see with the mind."(1) Matta used the decade following his departure from New York, in 1948, to take stock of his practice at mid-career, working out his existential doubts and humanist vision during an intensely self-reflexive period of peripatetic wandering. Resettling in Paris and living for a time in Rome, he renewed his connections with Latin America, studying the pre-Columbian ruins at Machu Picchu and beginning more regular travel to his native Chile, where he was celebrated as his country's most important artist. Matta continued to invest the poetics of his art with a keen social and psychic consciousness, and his mature canvases bear witness to the artist's moral outrage at the humanitarian injustices and violence of the modern world.

"Although many of his paintings are incomprehensible in precise terms," curator Mary Schneider Enriquez has remarked, "the created effect imparts a blending of the conscious and unconscious, the literal and the imaginary, that rarely fails to unsettle the viewer." Certain visual tropes nevertheless recur throughout the artist's post-New York career, she notes, and as in the present work, Matta demonstrates a characteristically masterful evocation of "an endless, shifting space that conveys a palpable level of movement throughout the field. He manipulates pigments so that, both in color and in the means of application, they conjure up vaporous, unearthly spaces."(2)

Monumental in scale and in effect, the present work resonates on that cosmic scale, rendering an uncanny iconography of world-consciousness in which rotating, mechanical parts and quasi-humanoid figures coalesce against a grim, turbid background. Here, Matta works within a darkly luminous palette of grey-blues and browns, in a range from tawny beige to burnt umber, extracting a somber, enigmatic quality from colors that appear almost to glow from within the deep space of the canvas. The rough, tactile surface of the burlap and the grainy texture of the sand particles impart a material, almost telluric quality to the image, providing a counter to the more ethereal, atmospheric feeling suggested by the richly glimmering colors. One of the most far-reaching and profound painters of his generation, Matta devoted the last fifty years of his career to the exploration of what the poet Octavio Paz deemed "a new territory of the imagination." Matta's painting always narrates a story, his friend observed; it is "myth, legend, history, anecdote, and riddle. What his painting tells, however, is not what is happening in the present, but what is happening above and below the present, the play of forces and impulses that compose us, discompose and recompose us."(3)

1) P. Selz, "Matta," in Roberto Matta: Paintings & Drawings, 1971-1979, La Jolla, Calif., Tasende Gallery, 1980, 8.
2) M. Schneider Enriquez, "Roberto Matta: International Provocateur," in Matta: Making the Invisible Visible, Chestnut Hill, Mass., McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 2004, 37-8.
3) O. Paz, "Vestibule," in Matta: Surrealism and Beyond, Milwaukee, The Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art, 1997, 25.

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