Aladdin Transformable Toys, ca. 1920; painted wood
In this season of giving thanks I am grateful to the museums and galleries which mount great, and even not so great, shows. I am especially grateful for the joy of discovering art that I love that is new to me. I was thrilled recently while seeing the current exhibition at MoMA, Joaquin Torres-Garcia: The Arcadian Modern. The first thing that caught my eye were painted abstracted figures, and a group of wonderfully fanciful toys!
Grafismo Infinito, 1937; oil on cardboard mounted on wood, 21 1/4 x 33 1/4 in.
Image courtesy Sotheby's
What I'd known of Torres-Garcia's work were paintings such as the one above, which are like complex hieroglyphics, hidden stories of life. He was born in Uruguay in 1874 and died there in 1949, but between those years he lived for many years in Europe, and was active in the avant-garde; he also lived in New York from 1920-22. The toys grew out of his teaching at a progressive school in Barcelona. While in New York, he exhibited his toys at the Whitney Studio Club.
Forms on White Background, 1924; painted wood
The work by Torres-Garcia that most excited me––work I'd been completely unaware of––were painted wood constructions: simple, lively, sophisticated, playful, beautifully composed and colored.
Many were wood reliefs, painted in subdued colors. The one above was somewhat unusual in the variety of its forms.
Abstract Form, 1929; painted wood
Some of the pieces were free standing, and to my eye, although abstract, related to the figure.
Wood, 1929; oil on wood
This work has a very spare geometry, with beautifully balanced elements, painted in subtly rich hues.
Structure in White and Black, 1930; oil and nails on wood
I so enjoyed seeing the range of Torres-Garcia's ideas for his constructions: this one freestanding, the painted elements making it seem as though it's made of several pieces of wood; but, moving to the back, it's one board, with a shelf. This is an interesting kind of illusionism: making a whole feel like parts put together.
Superimposed Forms, 1931; painted wood
Here a complex layering of forms is made even more lively by the addition of color shapes within each physical shape. It is playful, and serious.
Two Superimposed Forms, 1931; oil and nails on wood
A curved shape atop a rectangular one, this is another work playing lightheartedly with allusions to the figure, an amusing portrait.
Construction with Curved Forms, 1931; oil and nails on wood
Another aspect of these works that makes them so rich is the rough character of the wood, all looking as though it was salvaged from scrap heaps and utterly transformed. There is a lively contrast between the irregular surfaces of the wood and the carefully balanced compositions.
Abstraction, 1932; oil and nails on wood
I love the way the small yellow circle stops the red vertical on its way down. It's a small emphasis within the vertical and horizontal geometry.
Assembled Abstract Forms, 1937; tempera on cardboard
There were many paintings in the show, but the ones that most interested me were those that felt influenced by the wood constructions in their dramatic illusion of form; these were painted after Torres-Garcia returned to Uruguay. This painting feels built to me, sculpted rather than painted.
Abstract Tubular Structure, 1937; mixed media on canvas
This very large painting (perhaps 6 feet wide or more) has a powerful presence. Its masterly construction of closely packed forms gives it a sizzling energy. It references architecture....
Abstract Tubular Structure detail
....and when seen closely, the paint looks like the artist was feeling the solidity of these forms as he worked. You'll notice that the color in my photos is different in the detail and entire painting: I'm not sure which is closer to the actual painting, so I left them a bit different.
This show was very exciting, a real treat, and it's on until February 15.