Francisco Matto: The Modern and the Mythic


Francisco Matto: The Modern and the Mythic

June 21, 2009
September 27, 2009

About the Exhibition

June 21, 2009 – September 27, 2009

Following in the footsteps of the highly acclaimed School of the South and The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas presents another landmark Latin American exhibition with Francisco Matto: The Modern and the Mythic. The first comprehensive exhibition in the United States of this Latin American pioneering artist, the show examines the rise of modernist abstraction in Latin America — underscoring both the similarities and differences between Europe and South America — and chronicles Matto’s early work made as a student of Joaquín Torres-Garcia through his late work of the 1990s. First presented in 2007 at the 6th Mercosul Biennial in Brazil, the Blanton will organize a new version of the show, which will highlight over five decades of Matto’s paintings, sculptures (known as totems) and works on paper, and will present the principal themes that appear in artist’s life’s work. Ursula Davila-Villa, interim curator of Latin American art states, “This exhibition will be the first opportunity for many U.S. audiences to examine the beautiful landscapes, portraits, cityscapes, abstractions and sculptures of this modernist master. Museum visitors and scholars alike will be able to follow Matto’s artistic trajectory and discover the influence of Pre-Columbian art on the history of South American modernism.”

Francisco Matto
Construction in Wood, 1960
Oil on wood, 23 x 24 inches
Private Collection, Florida, USA
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The most significant student of El Taller Torres-García (the workshop established by master artist Torres-García), Francisco Matto (1911 – 1995) began his career with figurative and representational paintings that looked to his European contemporaries. Later, he began exploring the connections between modern abstraction and the Pre-Columbian traditions of the ancient Americas. Beginning in the 1930s, Matto began collecting what would become an extraordinary collection of Pre-Columbian art, and the abstract geometrical patterns of Nazca ceramics, Maya weavings, and Mapuche silver provided inspiration for his lifelong quest to create spiritual and timeless art. In the 1940s, his paintings became full of symbols, revealing the development of an artistic alphabet of mythic signs and signifiers for various ideas, which later would prove influential on artists like Adolph Gottlieb. His sculptures, which he termed “totems” and “constructions” further explored his commitment to the native arts as both a source of inspiration and visual vocabulary. Matto worked on a limited number of themes, but this in no way, hindered his creative interpretations of those ideas. Instead, he considered art making a deliberate and slow meditation, which required working and re-working. Unlike his contemporaries in the United States, who were obsessed with immediacy, ever-changing subjects and ultimately commerce, Matto found power in repetition and elemental forms.

Differing from his colleagues of the El Taller Torres-García, Matto remained in his native Montevideo, Uruguay for all of his life. Thus, his work rarely circulated in international exhibitions. Francisco Matto: The Modern and the Mythic provides a rediscovery of this important artist and highlights the tremendous influence that his five decades of landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, abstractions, and sculptural totems had on subsequent Latin American artists. Matto is revealed as a pioneering transitional figure between the generation of Torres-García’s modernism and abstract art of the Americas, and the later development of that impulse into Constructivist and Kinetic art of 1960s and 1970s, and beyond.

Francisco Matto: The Modern and the Mythic is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art and adapted from its original presentation at the 6th Bienal do Mercosul, Brazil. Major support for the exhibition is provided by Judy and Charles Tate and the Susan Vaughan Foundation.

Funding also is provided by Susan and Mac Dunwoody, Elizabeth K. Fonseca, Oscar Prato, the Still Water Foundation, and Cecilia de Torres. Additional support is provided by the Daniela Chappard Foundation, Fran Magee, Ernesto Poma, and Natalie Wexler and Jim Feldman.


The Blanton Museum’s collection of Latin American art is one of the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive in the country, and includes works by many significant artists not represented elsewhere in U.S. collections. In its recently opened new building, the Blanton captured public and critical attention with its groundbreaking permanent exhibition, America/Americas, featuring an integrated display of its Latin American and American collections, the first such long-term installation in anyU.S. art museum. The Blanton has further contributed to scholarship in the field with the publication of Latin American Art in the Blanton Museum Collection, and the symposium, Sin Titulo: An International Symposium on Latin American Art in a Global Context. In 2007, the groundbreaking exhibition, The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, received the Best Thematic Exhibition Award from the International Association of Art Critics.

View the work of another important Latin American artist nearby at the Harry Ransom Center—Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird—through January 3, 2010.

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