Composición Constructiva 16 was selected by Torres-García in 1949 for his solo show at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. It was to become a memorial exhibition because Torres-García died in Montevideo shortly after he sent the paintings to the United States.
Sidney Janis recalled the impact the exhibition had on American artists, "...Barney (Barnett Newman) would come almost every day and read the paintings to us. He would go into mythology, history and everything else, they were pictographs...You remember the pictographs Gottlieb used to do? Well I think Gottlieb was somewhat influenced by this type of thing." (1)
In the early forties, Adolph Gottlieb and other artists were looking for a way out of Cubism's exhausted potential, the impersonal aestheticism of Geometric Abstraction and the extravagance of Surrealism. In 1930, Torres-García had proposed to integrate the vital elements of the three movements in his lecture at the opening of the Circle et Carré exhibition. The audience gasped, since this was the first organized effort to present non-objective art in the Paris art scene as a unified front against the Surrealists who at the time dominated public attention.
For Torres-García, Constructive Art (Arte Constructivo), as he called this effort to align such contradictory styles, was far different from other aesthetic 'isms' of the time. This Art had to reflect the circumstances of its creation and also be timeless, classical and universal. Since pure Constructivist works were devoid of decorative qualities and aesthetic ends, the act of painting was almost irrelevant, as is evident in the flat powdery surface of Composición Constructiva 16. Although painted with oils, these symbols could have been carved on stone or in clay. Thus the palette during this period was reduced to black and white or to primary colors.
1943 was a year of great hope for Torres-García and his output was particularly prolific. After his disappointment over the break-up of the AAC (Association of Constructive Art) two years before, an enthusiastic and talented group of young artists were ready to embark with him in creating the legendary workshop-school, the Taller Torres-García. According to Tomas Llorens it was during this period "...when he painted the most beautiful and moving abstract compositions of his life." (2)
Among the symbols in the fine graphism of Composición Constructiva 16, some are as universal as the sun while others betray personal and autobiographical meaning, most prominently the name of Uruguay's capital city. Admitting to an unusually nostalgic view, Torres-García once referred to his birthplace as being, "...unique as its name, with those ten letters aligned hauntingly in expressionless evenness:
M O N T E V I D E O." (3)
Cecilia de Torres
New York, April 1997
(1) L. Levine, Arts Magazine, A Portrait of Sidney Janis on the Occasion of his 25th Anniversary as an Art Dealer, November 1973
(2) T. Llorens, Madrid, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and Valencia, IVAM, El Raque de la Atlántida, Torres-García, June-Nov., 1991, page 34 (exhibition catalogue)
(3) J. Torres-García, Universalismo Constructivo, Lección 30, La Escuela del Sur, Editorial Poseidón, Buenos Aires, p. 215
This painting will be listed under N.P. 1943.35 in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist being prepared by Cecilia de Torres