Gris and the Power of Geometry

With world premiere of Cubism in ColorThe Still Lifes of Juan Gris opening at the DMA this month, an illustrated catalogue that reconsiders the artistic practice and legacy of this important yet underappreciated modernist master was simultaneously published. Read the below excerpt from one of the book’s contributing authors, Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art.

Guitar and Fruit Dish, 1926-27, Oil on canvas 
Telefónica Collection, Madrid 
Photo © Fernando Maquieira; courtesy Fundación Telefónica

Joaquín Torres-García was arguably the greatest proponent of abstract art in the Americas. After a long and diverse career in Europe from 1891 through 1934 (interrupted by a stint in New York from 1920 to 1922), he moved back to his native Uruguay to establish the School of the South, which would go on to influence some of the most important artists to emerge from Latin America. . . . Gris’s influence resonates in the work of artists who followed in the Uruguayan master’s footprints, notably the groundbreaking Argentine concretists and the Brazilian Neoconcretists. Through Torres-García’s influential pedagogy, Gris’s forms would find new life in important aesthetic developments in South America. . . .  

. . . Torres-García had flirted with several styles before coming to his signature brand of post-Cubist abstraction, which he developed as he was exposed to, and collaborated with, some of the most important artists of the day. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, soon after Gris’s death, he would partake in the development of international Constructivism with the diverse group of artists living in Paris. . . . 

However, Torres-García diverged with . . . artists on the role of figuration, which he believed could co-exist with the ideals of abstraction. In this way, he follows closely Gris’s love of the depicted object, which, distinguishing itself from Picasso’s approach, was not utilized as a mere premise for abstraction. Gris thus pointed the way toward a revolutionary reconfiguring of the depiction of reality within abstraction as developed by [South American] artists. . . .  

. . . Torres-García lauded Gris’s creation of a new world made of geometric abstract forms, never losing his love of the object in his quest for mathematically precise geometry. [In Brazil, contemporary artists Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Lygia Pape] exemplify this complex duality, highlighting how Torres-García’s unique translation of Gris spoke to the organic and environmentally contingent innovations for which their work is known. . . .  
. . . Tracing [Gris’s] legacy through the works of his successors in Brazil and Argentina offers a salient reminder that these South American artists have only recently come into mainstream critical acclaim for their own contributions to our new understanding of the transformative power of geometry. 


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