Joaquin Torres-Garcia: Constructing Abstraction with Wood, The Menil Collection, Houston, TX


Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Planos de color con dos
maderas superpuestas (Planes of Color with
Two Superimposed Wood Pieces), 1928
Collection: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona

September 24, 2009 – January 3, 2010

The exhibition will center chiefly on works from the 1920s to the 1940s, spanning the time from when Torres-Garcia lived in Spain, New York, Italy, and France, developing toys and the vocabulary for his wood constructions, to his eventual settlement in Uruguay as the founder of a Constructivist art movement. These sculptural works will be accompanied by a selection of Torres-García’s oil paintings and drawings, which demonstrate the connections between his experiments in two and three-dimensional forms.

Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874–1949) is revered today as one of the most influential artists of the early twentieth century to have emerged from Latin America. A charismatic figure of the international art scene, he exhibited with the most famous artists of his time, including Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, and Jacques Lipchitz in Paris, and Marcel Duchamp in New York. Though Torres-Garcia was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, the artist spent most of his life in Spain, Italy, France, and New York before returning to his native Uruguay in 1934 and settling in Montevideo. There he founded the “Taller Torres-Garcia,” a school that promoted avant-garde experimentation and sought to blur the hierarchical distinctions between arts and crafts.

Celebrated for his work as a modernist painter, teacher, and author, Torres-Garcia is also known for breaking new ground in the realm of wooden constructions or “maderas.” Beginning in the late 1920s in Paris, Torres-García adapted the language of Neo-Plasticism from his colleagues Mondrian and Van Doesburg into a new three-dimensional concept for grids and planes made of wood. These maderas informed his simultaneous experiments in children’s toys, which he promoted and sold as educational tools for young minds. His unique innovations in the medium of wood would foreshadow later artistic developments in Europe and the Americas, one example being the work of Louise Nevelson.

Curated by Mari Carmen Ramírez, the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with Josef Helfenstein, director of The Menil Collection, this exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by Ramirez, Margit Rowell and Cecilia de Torres, as well as an illustrated chronology and newly translated texts by Joaquín Torres-García.

This exhibition will travel to the San Diego Museum of Art from February 20–May 30, 2010.