The Blanton’s special exhibition La línea continua: The Judy and Charles Tate Collection of Latin American Art closes this Sunday, February 15. The exhibition features highlights from the Tate collection, the latest contribution to the museum’s holdings in modern and contemporary Latin American art. If you only have half an hour to peruse the show over the next week, here are five objects you shouldn’t miss:
Tarsila do Amaral’s Barco is easy to overlook. At slightly under five-by-eight inches, it’s the smallest work in the exhibition. But within the simple, elegant composition is a metaphor central to the modern Brazilian experience. Do Amaral made the drawing in 1924 as a trial illustration for the writer (and her partner) Oswald de Andrade’s Pau Brasil manifesto. The manifesto contrasts the technology and academism of modern Brazil with the region’s wild landscape and indigenous past. Do Amaral’s response combines the modern with the tropical: a steamship set against a single horizon line with a palm tree. Through the use of local iconography, Do Amaral continued formulating theories of Brazilian identity over the next several years, leaving an indelible mark on her country’s culture and Latin American art history.
Nearby, you will find an evocative, large-scale painting by Rufino Tamayo, one of the most celebrated Mexican artists of the twentieth century. El astrónomo is among a series of depictions of the cosmos that the artist made beginning in the mid-1940s. In the painting, a simplified geometric figure gazes upward in contemplation at the luminous night sky that surrounds him. The image reflects Tamayo’s interest in the ancient Mesoamerican practice of sky gazing, an affinity rooted in part in the artist’s own indigenous Zapotec ancestry. The influence of Olmec and other Pre-Columbian figuration is also visible in the geometric features of the figure. Tamayo absorbed the lessons of Pre-Columbian artisans as a draftsman at Mexico’s National Museum of Archaeology in the 1920s.
Though José Gurvich was a devoted disciple of the Uruguayan artist and theorist Joaquín Torres-García, much of his work fuses the lessons of the maestro with his own eclectic style. This is evident in his 1958 naturaleza muerta, or still life, which consists of a dense grid of rectangles that house symbols and words, some of which are painted over sections of lace. We can identify the sliver of a clock, a bottle labeled “house wine,” a vase, a broom, the word “yerba” (shorthand for the popular South American beverage yerba mate), as well as various cooking and dining implements. The composition clearly relates to the signature style of Torres-García, who used a grid of pictograms to convey his vision of a timeless and universal human spirit. However, the local references, incorporation of words, and use of lace as a collage element all point to Gurvich’s affinity for Cubism.
Along with several other Brazilian artists in the exhibition, Willys de Castro belonged to the Rio de Janeiro-based Neoconcrete group, which formed in the late 1950s. The Neoconcrete artists sought to make objects that invited viewer participation– an aspect absent from the cool geometric abstraction of Brazilian concrete art. This sculpture marks Castro’s return in the late 1970s to Neoconcrete ideals. Combining shifting planes, industrial textures, and reflective surfaces, the work invites the viewer to move around it and experience it from different perspectives. In this way, every viewer’s experience with the sculpture is unique.
As geometric abstraction came to dominate the Argentine art scene in the late 1940s and 1950s, some artists chose to go in a different direction. The painter Ernesto Deira took his inspiration from European Expressionism and Old Masters like Francisco de Goya, using a limited, bold palette to depict imagined figures and traumatic events. In 1961, he joined Otra Figuración [Other Figuration], a group of like-minded artists committed to liberating the figure in painting. In La edad de la razón, Deira employs some of the group’s key stylistic strategies: a gestural, expressive brushstroke, strong primary colors, and the distortion of the figure. The work takes its name from British-American revolutionary Thomas Paine’s polemical text challenging institutionalized religion – a detail that is in line with the disruptive quality of the image.
Beth Shook is the Blanton’s Curatorial Associate for Latin American art.
For more information about the exhibition, please visit our website.