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


Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)
signed 'Matta' (lower right)
oil on canvas
78 7/8 x 118¼ in. (200 x 300.4 cm.)
Painted in 1960.
Rothschild collection, Paris.
Donà delle Rose collection, Rome.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Germana Matta Ferrari and dated 3 January 1990 and is registered in the Matta archives under No. 60/33.

Matta used the decade following his separation from the Surrealists and subsequent departure from New York, in 1948, to take stock of his practice at mid-career. Resettling between Paris and Rome, he renewed his connections with Latin America, studying the pre-Columbian ruins at Machu Picchu and beginning more regular travel to Chile. As in his earlier practice, Matta continued to explore the nexus between science and subjectivity, mediating postwar humanist and technological realities in panoramic paintings of inner and outer worlds. "There is always the need to grasp 'more reality'; for only in this way can we create a truly human condition," he explained. "Art always has been a reflection of the need to represent reality."(1)

Among Matta's most ambitious paintings from this period, the present Untitled unfurls a cerebral vision of reality across the vast spaces of the canvas. A protean environment interlaced with bodies both mechanical and vestigial in kind, Untitled breathes sinuously, its somatic energy settling into a diffuse, elliptical rhythm. The painting appears almost as a pendant to a major earlier work, The Unthinkable (1957), of the same size. Writing on the occasion of Matta's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, William Rubin noted the recent appearance of "a non-anthropomorphic 'synoptic' creature which gives graphic expression to man, not as an isolated being, but as a complex of biological and social interactions within his world." The totemic figure at the right of The Unthinkable (and also, of Untitled) functions "like a battery of the mind providing energy to charge and set in motion the synoptic creature on the left," Rubin continued. "Through the creature's interpenetration of the surrounding planes we see how its primitive sentiments or ideas are metamorphosed in various applications to the realities around it."(2)

As an after-image of The Unthinkable, Untitled describes the visual atomization of Matta's "synoptic" creature: breaking through the planes, it dissolves into a milky, vaporous ground, releasing its innermost intelligence and feeling into the world. In its place remains a gleaming white sphere, suggestively ovoid in shape -- a cosmic image of conception for the postwar world.

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

1) Roberto Matta, quoted in Matta: A Totemic World: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture (New York: Andrew Crispo Gallery, 1975), n.p.

2) William Rubin, Matta (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1957), 9.

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