Joaquín Torres-Garcia at MoMA

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Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern is a new show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is a major retrospective of the Uruguayan artist (1874–1949) with works ranging from the late 19th century to the 1940s, including drawings, paintings, objects, sculptures, and of a rarer nature, his personal notebooks and original publications. Structured in a series of major chapters in the artist’s career, the show displays his œuvre in a chronological, and invariably, thematic approach. The emphases are on two key moments:  when Torres-García spearheaded European early modern avant-garde movements, meanwhile honing his signature pictographic/Constructivist style (1923 to 1933); and his late return to Uruguay where he produced one of the most distinguished repertoires of synthetic abstraction (1935 to 1943).

Torres-García remains one of the most complex and relevant artists of the first half of the 20th century, and his art paved the way for modern art on both sides of the Atlantic. Owing to his close affiliations with many early avant-garde movements—from Catalan Noucentismo to Ultraism-Vibrationism, Cubism to Neo-Plasticism—entitles him as a significant figure whose work is due for critical reappraisal in the U.S.

This piece is one of the numerous gems of the show, a late drawing of wood from his mature Uruguay period. A visual manifesto dappled with minute symbolic elements (pyramid, fish, male, cross), names of prominent musicians and thinkers he labeled ‘prophets’ (Beethoven, Bach, El Greco, Pythagoras), and historical periods (the Renaissance, Middle Ages, prehistory).

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