The legacy of the School of the South

CHAPTER 3: The School of the South

In 1934, Joaquín Torres-García returned to his native Montevideo, Uruguay, after being active in Europe for many years. He advocated a theory of art called Constructive Universalism, in which simplified universal symbols, including references to pre-Columbian cultures, were set within grids proportioned according to the Golden Section. Embracing his new geographic context, he proposed a new constructive art centered in South America and grounded in the geometry that is sometimes found in ancient American arts and architecture. He disseminated his ideas through the Taller Torres-García [Torres-García Workshop], whose lasting influence came to be known as the School of the South.

Untitled

Joaquín Torres-García
Montevideo, Uruguay, 1874 - 1949, Montevideo, Uruguay

Untitled
Watercolor over pencil on paper mounted on cardboard
16.6 cm x 12 cm (6 9/16 in. x 4 3/4 in.)
Gift of John and Barbara Duncan, 1971
G1971.3.51

Joaquín Torres-García was an advocate for modern and abstract art, but he also admired the art of the past. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, he developed a keen interest in ancient American art, which he saw in ethnographic and archeological museums in Paris and Madrid. In this work, forms and symbols inspired by indigenous cultures are integrated into the compositional grid along vertical and horizontal axes. The simplified geometry of these figures and their earthy colors evoke ancient textiles and ceramics from Peru and Bolivia. Decades later, Latin American artists would see in this integration an invitation to ground their own work in the ancient traditions of the Americas.

Constructif en rouge et ocre [Construction in Red and Ochre]

Joaquín Torres-García
Montevideo, Uruguay, 1874 - 1949, Montevideo, Uruguay

Constructif en rouge et ocre [Construction in Red and Ochre]
Oil
86.5 cm x 58.9 cm (34 1/16 in. x 23 3/16 in.)
Purchase as a gift of the Eugene McDermott Foundation in honor of Barbara Duncan, 1981
1981.40

Joaquín Torres-García characteristically organized his works using an underlying grid containing universal archetypes. The figure, temple, heart, clock, hammer, bottle, and vessel with its anchor symbolize different aspects of human existence, ranging from the natural, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. "Constructif en rouge et ocre" also demonstrates Torres-García’s understanding of abstraction as a process of simplification, accomplished in part through the use of a limited palette.

Untitled

Joaquín Torres-García
Montevideo, Uruguay, 1874 - 1949, Montevideo, Uruguay

Untitled
Ink with pencil on paper mounted on heavy paper
22 cm x 16.7 cm (8 11/16 in. x 6 9/16 in.)
Gift of Charmion von Wiegand, 1969
G1969.2.2

In 1934, Joaquín Torres-García returned to his native Uruguay with the objective of developing his theory of Constructive Universalism into a major art movement. He Americanized his project by using local references and pre-Columbian symbols in his work. At top, Inti, the Inca sun god, shines over all realms of existence, while at bottom, a figure stands next to a stepped building. These archetypes symbolize the indigenous peoples of the Andean region and their great cultural and architectural contributions to human history.

Graneros III [Graneries III]

Gonzalo Fonseca
Montevideo, Uruguay, 1922 - 1997, Seravezza, Italy

Graneros III [Graneries III]
Red travertine
20.3 cm x 54 cm x 50.1 cm (8 in. x 21 1/4 in. x 19 3/4 in.)
Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1983
1983.14

Gonzalo Fonseca’s fascination with history led him to spend time traveling through Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe to see the excavated remains of ancient cities. "Graneros III" suggests the experience of the modern visitor confronting such archaeological sites. The unexplainable architectural features may be puzzling, but their mystery captures our imagination. Fonseca enhances the need to engage directly with the piece by providing movable objects that can be placed in different areas of the work—if one only had access and permission from the curator. Alas, the piece must remain a tempting yet remote enigma.

Trilce II

César Paternosto
La Plata, Argentina, 1931 -

Trilce II
Acrylic
166.3 cm x 166.3 cm x 10.5 cm (65 1/2 in. x 65 1/2 in. x 4 1/8 in.)
Barbara Duncan Fund, 1982
1982.18

César Paternosto began his career as a hard-edge geometric artist, but in the late 1970s he set out to research ancient American sources of geometrical abstraction. Traveling throughout the Andean region of northern Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia, he studied and acquired scholarly expertise about traditional textiles and Inca stonework, finding in them a source of artistic inspiration. This painting, titled in homage to Peruvian César Vallejo’s 1922 book of poetry "Trilce," exemplifies Paternosto’s artworks after his Andean travels. The four parallel lines, stacked symmetrically in the center, reference the symbolism of numbers within Andean culture, while the earthy monochrome evokes the texture of stone or sand.

Image credit:
Joaquín Torres-García
Untitled, 1929-1930 (detail)
Watercolor over pencil on paper mounted on cardboard
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Gift of John and Barbara Duncan, 1971

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