The cities that witnessed the development of geometric abstraction in the Americas - including Buenos Aires, Caracas, Chicago, Montevideo, New York and São Paulo - were among the most advanced and cosmopolitan in the world in the first half of the 20th century. The geometry of the modern city’s architectural profile and grid plan, its technological and industrial forms, and the vitality pulsating through its spaces presented artists like Joaquín Torres-García, Stuart Davis, Charles Green Shaw and Geraldo de Barros with formal structures and experiences that they translated into an inventive abstract language. Artists and architects like Arshile Gorky and Carlos Raúl Villanueva actively contributed to the transformation of American cities through their large-scale abstract mural and architectural projects that integrated geometric abstraction with architecture.
Artists including Joaquín Torres-García, Francisco Matto, George L.K. Morris, Adolph Gottlieb, Josef Albers, Raymond Jonson, Lygia Pape, Joe Herrera and Leon Polk Smith turned to the indigenous art and cultures of the Americas as alternative models for crafting an abstract vocabulary unique from the machine-influenced constructivist tendencies. Inca stonework, indigenous weaving traditions and pictographic imagery inform much of this work. A small installation of Pre-Columbian and Native American art from the Newark Museum’s collection will accompany this section.
Many abstract artists rejected what they surmised as the false and deceptive “illusions” traditionally used to imitate and represent the natural world, arguing that the work of art is a reality in and of itself. Tomás Maldonao, José Pedro Costigliolo and Burgoyne Diller invented dynamically asymmetrical compositions that express intellectual order and unity, while Waldemar Cordeiro and María Freire paired geometric form with modern materials to invoke an industrial aesthetic. Others like Juan Melé and Charles Biederman developed entirely new art forms that challenged traditional artistic media through the creation of the marco recortado (structured or irregular frame) and the structural relief that wedded painting and sculpture.
From innovative kinetic sculpture to experimental film and photography, the works in this section incorporate movement, chance and time into the work itself. Artists like Alexander Calder, Gyula Kosice, and Jesús Rafael Soto invited viewers to interact with their art works, provoking them with variable compositions, unexpected sounds and optical effects. Film and light works by artists including Mary Ellen Bute and Abraham Palatnik playfully unite the science of optics and dynamics into modern art. Artists like Geraldo de Barros and Judith Lauand used Gestalt theory to create works that draw upon the viewer’s psychology to suggest that their paintings are in motion.
Banner images (left to right):
Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt) (Venezuelan, born in Germany, 1912-1994), Gegofón, 1959, Iron; 27 1/2 in. high, Henrique Faria Fine Art, New York, NY, © Gego Foundation
John Ferren (US, 1905-1970), Paris Abstract, ca. 1935, Oil on canvas; 25 1/2 x 31 3/4 in., Newark Museum, Gift of Jerry Leiber, 1984, © Estate of John Ferren
Raúl Lozza (Argentine, 1911-2008), Relieve n°. 30 (Relief No. 30), 1945, Oil on plywood and metal; 16 1/2 x 21 1/8 x 1 1/16 in., Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, © Raúl Lozza
Main images (top to bottom):
Joaquín Torres-García (Uruguayan, 1874-1949), Locomotora con casa constructiva (Locomotive with Constructive House), 1934, Oil on canvas; 28 1/16 x 23 ¼ in., Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Spain
Joe H. Herrera (US, 1923-2001), Untitled, 1951, Oil on canvas; 16 x 20 in., Jonson Gallery Collection, University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, NM
Juan Melé (Argentine, b. 1923), Marco recortado n°. 2 (Irregular Frame No. 2), 1946 Oil on board; 28 x 19 3/4 x 1 in., Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, © Juan Melé
Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998), Movimento contra movimento (Movement Counter Movement), 1952, Enamel on Kelmite; 23 5/8 in., Private Collection, Miami, FL, © Família Geraldo de Barros