Audio: Rufino Tamayo, Women Reaching for the Moon
Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)
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Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)

Women Reaching for the Moon

Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)
Women Reaching for the Moon
signed and dated 'Tamayo, O-46' (lower right)
oil and sand on canvas
36 x 26¼ in. (91.4 x 66.7 cm.)
Painted in 1946.
Valentine Gallery, New York.
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Cleveland.
Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.
R. Goldwater, Rufino Tamayo, New York, The Quadrangle Press, 1947, p. 126 (illustrated in color).
"New York Exhibitions," in MKRs Art Outlook a Critical Commentary on People and Events in Art, New York, vol. 1, no. 30, 3 February 1947, p. 2 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Tamayo: Veinte años de su labor pictórica, Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Artes Plásticas, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1948, no. 47 (illustrated).
L. Cardoza y Aragón, "Rufino Tamayo en nuevo ciclo de la pintura de México," in Cuadernos Americanos, Mexico City, no. 4, July - August 1948, n.p. (illustrated).
"Tamayo: After 15-Year Exile, Mexican Painter Wins Fame at Home," Life, 16 March 1953, p. 100 (illustrated in color).
"Tamayo se hizo famoso en el extranjero antes que en México," in Life en español, New York, vol. 1, no. 8, 13 April 1953, p. 46 (illustrated in color).
P. Westheim, Tamayo: A Study in Esthetics, Mexico City, Artes de México, 1957, n.p. (illustrated).
The Cleveland Museum of Art, In Memoriam Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Cleveland, 1958, p. 78, (illustrated).
O. Paz, Tamayo en la pintura mexicana, Mexico City, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Dirección General de Publicaciones, 1959, p. 58, no. 34 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Segunda Bienal Interamericana de México: Cincuenta obras de Tamayo, Mexico City, Artes de México, 1961, no. 22 (illustrated).
E. Odio, "Tamayo y el reino de la luz," in Cuadernos de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, no. 7-8, July - August 1962, p. 81 (illustrated). Exhibition catalogue, Tamayo, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, 1968, p. 55, no. 37 (illustrated).
S. Lewisohn, Painters and Personality: A Collector's View of Modern Art, New York, Ayer Co. Pub., 1970, pp.XV & 174 (illustrated).
E. Genauer, Rufino Tamayo, New York, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1974, p. 55, no. 18 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo: Myth and Magic, New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1979, p. 19, no. 15 (illustrated in color).
E. Broome Green, "Tamayo enigma y magía," in Americas, Washington D.C., vol. 37 no. 3, March 1979, p. 39 (illustrated).
N. Dillar Simpson, ''An Art of Transfiguration,'' in Southwest, Houston, vol. 11, no. 4, September 1981, p. 63 (illustrated in color).
M.R. Velázquez & C. Somorrostro, Tamayo, Mexico City, Producciones Impresas, 1983, n.p. (illustrated).
O. Munzberg, "Rufino Tamayo: Eine mexikanische kontroverse," in Bildende Kunst, Berlin, no. 12, 1986, p.556 (illustrated).
J. Corredor-Matheos, Rufino Tamayo, Barcelona, Ediciones Polígrafa, S.A., 1987, p. 29 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo: Fifty Years of his Paintings, Washington D.C., The Philips Collection, 1987, p. 19, no. 15 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo: setenta años de creación, Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1988 (illustrated in color).
R. Tibol, "Tránsito de Tamayo hacia las fuentes," in Revista de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, vol. XLIII, no. 451, August 1988, p. 26 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Modernidad y modernización en el arte mexicano 1920 - 1960, Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Arte, 1991, p. 12 (illustrated).
C. López Tiana, "Tamayo: Alegría de vivir," in Plural revista cultural de excelsior segunda época, Mexico City, vol. XX - XXI no. 239, August 1991, p. 46 (illustrated in color).
E. Mendoza, "Volver al humanismo," in Revista médica, Mexico City, no. XVI, August 1991, p. 42 (illustrated in color).
J.C. Pereda, "Cien años de luz," in A! Diseño, Mexico City, no. 43, June - July 1991, p. 37 (illustrated in color).
O. Paz and J. Lassaigne, Rufino Tamayo, 2nd ed., Ediciones Polígrafa, S.A., 1994, p. 78, no. 30 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo: del reflejo al sueño 1920-1950, Mexico City, Fundación Cultural Televisa A.C., 1995, p. 41, no. 82 (illustrated in color).
D. Bayón, Hacia Tamayo, Mexico City, Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo, 1995, p. 48 (illustrated in color).
R. Elder, "El Espacio y la posguerra en la obra de Rufino Tamayo," Arte y espacio XIX Coloquio Internacional de Historia del Arte Estudios de Arte y Estética, Mexico City, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 1997, p. 241, (illustrated).
I. Suckaer, Rufino Tamayo Aproximaciones, Mexico City, Editorial Praxis Colección El Horcón, 2000, n.p. (illustrated in color).
O. Paz & R. Tamayo, Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, Presidencia de la República, 2003, n.p., no. 24 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Tamayo, A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007, p. 335, pl. 74 (illustrated in color).
J. N. Ávila, El arte cósmico de Tamayo, Mexico City, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Coordinación de la Investigación Científica Instituto de Astronomía, 2010, p. 46 & 65, (illustrated in color).
T. del Conde, et al, Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, Smurfit Kappa Cartón y Papel de México, S.A. de C.V., 2010, pp. 193 & 277 (illustrated in color).
I. Sukaer, "Erotismo de primera mano," in Artes plásticas y visuales en México siglos XX - XXI, Mexico City, Editorial Praxis, 2011, pp. 39, 40, 96 (illustrated in color).
A. Torres, Identidades pictóricas y culturales de Rufino Tamayo, un pintor de ruptura Mexico City, Universidad Iberoamericana, 2011, p. 169, no. 9 (illustrated in color).
New York, Valentine Gallery, Tamayo Recent Paintings, 3 - 22 February 1947, no. 2.
Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Artes Plásticas, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Tamayo: Veinte años de su labor pictórica, June - September 1948, no. 47.
Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Artes Plásticas Palacio de Bellas Artes, Tamayo en la II Bienal Interamericana de Pintura Escultura y Grabado de México, September - November 1960, no. 22.
Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Rufino Tamayo, March 1968, no. 37.
Washington D.C., The Philips Collection, Rufino Tamayo: Fifty Years of his Painting, 7 October- 16 November 1978, no. 15. This exhibition also travelled to San Antonio, Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, 6 January- 17 February 1979.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Rufino Tamayo: Myth and Magic, 17 May- 12 August 1979, no. 38.
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Rufino Tamayo, setenta años de creación, December- March 1988.
Mexico City, Fundación Cultural Televisa A.C., Rufino Tamayo: del reflejo al sueño 1920-1950, October 1995- January 1996, no. 82.
Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, 17 February - 27 May 2007. This exhibition also traveled to Miami, Miami Art Museum 22 June - 16 September, 2007 and Mexico City, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, 26 October 2007 - 21 January 2008.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.

By the early 1940s, Rufino Tamayo had garnered widespread attention in his newly adopted home of New York. Drawn to the city, like so many artists from Europe and Latin America at the time, for its burgeoning cultural community away from the epicenter of World War II, Tamayo quickly found the enthusiastic support of museums, galleries, critics and collectors. Julien Levy and Valentine galleries held solo shows of his work while the Museum of Modern Art included Tamayo in the momentous exhibition of 1940 Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art. Tamayo's work stood out within MOMA's epic presentation, as the New York Sun declared in its review of the exhibition, "Among these living Mexicans it is Tamayo who carries aesthetics furthest." (1) The following year MOMA acquired Tamayo's powerful Animales (fig. 1) for its permanent collection. In 1947, the renowned art historian Robert Goldwater published the first monograph on Tamayo in the United States, opening the door to further scholarly studies on the artist that have continued to the present day. In short, New York in the 1940s was a turning point for Tamayo; there he was transformed from an artist barely known outside of Mexico to one accepted and lauded by the world's cultural capital.

Recognized early on as a major work by a promising artist, Women Reaching for the Moon entered the Cleveland Museum of Art's collection in 1947, the year after its completion. A particularly compelling rendering of two ebullient women striving for the stars and moon, the painting marks a shift in Tamayo's oeuvre. While Tamayo's work from the early 1940s appears dark and even menacing, as exemplified by Animales, his paintings from the latter half of the decade are distinguished by a joie de vivre. This dramatic change in temper is explained partly by world events. If Animales expresses the pervasive fear of the war years, Women Reaching for the Moon evokes the optimism palpable in New York in the post-World War II era.

The end of the war also meant the beginning of Tamayo's exploration of a new subject, as he explained, "Immediately after World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I started thinking about the implications of a new space age and did the first paintings of constellations shooting through space." (2) From astronomers and stargazers to vast night skies, the cosmos became an enduring theme for Tamayo, so much so that NASA invited him to discuss the relationship between science and art.(3)

Tamayo's celestial musings have a resonance with contemporaneous paintings of the New York School. Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning were fascinated by outer space and the heavens which both literally and metaphorically appear in many of their works from the 1940s and 1950s. Pollock's paintings from the early 1940s in particular share an affinity with Tamayo's art from this same period. During this time, Pollock executed a series of works that associated women with the moon (fig. 2). While certainly aware of these paintings by the New York School, Tamayo first developed his cosmological curiosity as a young man in Mexico while serving as chief draftsman for the Department of Ethnographic Drawing in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía where he was responsible for disseminating pre-Hispanic designs to Mexican artisans so that they could be copied and enjoyed. The cosmos was of paramount importance to ancient Mesoamerican societies and indeed their art and architecture is replete with images of skywatchers, the sun, moon and stars. This intimate experience with pre-Hispanic art profoundly impacted Tamayo as an artist, as he asserted, "[The museum] opened a world to me: it put me in contact with pre-Hispanic art and with popular art. Immediately, I discovered the source for my work."(4) Years later, that pre-Hispanic wellspring of inspiration took the form of monumentalized geometric figures who lung and leap for the stars or quietly stand in contemplation of the night sky.

In Women Reaching for the Moon, two impossibly stretched figures stand on a rocky precipice attempting to catch hold of the unattainable. In a play of perspective, Tamayo creates an absurd disparity in size between the two figures by shrinking the woman in the background to a dramatically diminutive stature in order to monumentalize her companion in the foreground. Silhouetted against an expansive gray-blue sky punctuated by twinkling stars, the women, like the majority of figures in Tamayo's oeuvre, are not individuals but anonymous types, that here represent hope and human potential. The central figure is distinguished only by her red dress and yellow-soled shoes that enliven the otherwise somber palette. A constant color in Tamayo's work, the striking red is repeated in the sky, subtly encircling the shooting stars and their delineated pathways. A hint of red also appears in the form of the extra "O" that Tamayo added to his signature, a practice he began in the early 1940s in deference to his wife Olga.

Years later, still exploring the theme of the cosmos and man's place within it, Tamayo painted the mural El hombre (fig. 3) for the Dallas Museum of Art. Women Reaching for the Moon was clearly Tamayo's point of departure for El hombre as the works share markedly similar compositions. El hombre depicts a central figure with mammoth legs and a minute head grasping at a star-streaked night sky. Less jubilant than Women Reaching for the Moon, El hombre exudes a heaviness as its strangely abstract figure seems rooted to the earth by massive webbed feet. These distorted figures, present in many of his works, lend themselves to comparisons with the art of Picasso, which Tamayo would have had ample opportunity to see at exhibitions in New York in the late 1930s. Particularly relevant to Women Reaching for the Moon is a series of seaside scenes that Picasso executed in the late 1920s, featuring radically foreshortened female forms (fig. 4). In these images, Picasso rendered the figure's feet and legs, those areas of the body closest to the viewer, monstrously large while the head, receding into the distance, appears absurdly small. Aware of the comparisons made between his work and Picasso's, Tamayo asserted, "In New York I came to know all the schools of painting, even though there was no shortage of critics who said I was influenced by Picasso. Perhaps, but I believe that the major influence on me is the spirit of all contemporary painting; that is to say, that in my work all the problems of contemporary painting are present. There are those who speak of the influence I received from the School of Paris. I don't accept that. In the first place, the School of Paris does not exist as such. A group of painters from all over the world united in Paris. The importance of the School of Paris radiates, then, from its universality."(5) Drawing from a rich repository of influences, found in Mexico, New York and Paris, Tamayo's oeuvre radiates that same universality. Women Reaching for the Moon, flecked with Picasso, informed by New York and rooted in Tamayo's Mexican heritage, evinces this truth.

(1) Quoted in I. Suckaer, 'Chronology,' in exhibition catalogue Tamayo: Modern Icon Reinterpreted, (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007) 420.
(2) Rufino Tamayo, quoted in E. Genauer, Rufino Tamayo, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1973) 58.
(3) Ibid., 27.
(4) Rufino Tamayo, quoted in D.C. du Pont, "'Realistic, Never Descriptive: Tamayo and the Art of Abstract Figuration," Tamayo: Modern Icon Reinterpreted, 48.
(5) Ibid., 45.

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