MEMPHIS.- This fall, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art presents The Baroque World of Fernando Botero, the first major U.S retrospective of the artist's work in more than 30 years, through January 11, 2009. Recognized as one of the most well-known and commercially successful artists to emerge from Latin America, the Colombia native now has his work exhibited and collected by major museums around the world.
Fernando Botero (born 1932) is a painter, sculptor, and draftsman who highlights the comedy of human life-moving or wry, baroque in expression, sometimes with a mocking observation, sometimes with a deep, elementary emotion. Working in a broad range of media, Botero has created a world of his own, at once accessible and enigmatic, with a particular blend of violence and beauty. Fernando Botero has spent most of his years as an artist away from his native country, Colombia, but his art has maintained an uninterrupted link to Latin America.
The 100 paintings, drawings, and sculptures in this exhibition span the length of Botero's career-from paintings executed in 1959 in Colombia, to sculptures executed as late as 2005. The works were selected by John Sillevis, curator of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, and editor and contributor to the accompanying exhibition catalogue. The exhibition is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia.
All of the works are generously on loan from the artist himself. This collection, assembled over the last 50 years, includes favorite works that Botero was heretofore unable to part with, as well as pieces reacquired years after they left his possession. Many of these objects are being exhibited in public for the first time, providing an opportunity to investigate the complex workings of this artist not only by viewing some of his most renowned masterpieces, but also by studying his most personal works of art.
The Baroque World of Fernando Botero presents a selection of the best works from various stages in his development as an artist, with occasional "flashbacks" to the early works of the 1950s, when Botero devised images of children that resembled giant dolls with frightening expressions. Here his struggle to define his own style is still evident. In 1957 he painted "Still Life with a Mandolin," enlarging the volume of the musical instrument in a manner that we now identify with Botero's style. He continued in this vein, painting a figure of a young girl inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." This painting was acquired-against the current of abstract expressionism that was dominating the art world in the United States at the timeÑby Dorothy Miller, curator at the Museum of Modern Art for that collection. After her initial support of Botero, museum curators the world over soon followed suit, presenting Botero's works in major solo exhibitions.
The exhibition also follows Botero in his extensive studies of the history of European art. In Spain he was particularly entranced by Velázquez's Infantes-the daughters of the Spanish king-in their elaborate court dresses. In France he studied Ingres, the nineteenth-century master of neoclassical perfection in line, and Delacroix, the master of romantic color. Botero would find inspiration in Italy through artists from the Renaissance, including Uccello and Piero della Francesca.
As a young boy he had already admired some contemporary artists, such as Pablo Picasso. He was now confronted with the paintings and sculptures of Giacometti, who was in the habit of reducing his figures to an extreme slimness. These encounters were important for Botero's development. He was inspired by European art, but not seduced. He turned his attention to Mexico, where the monumental murals by Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros had a profound impact. Botero absorbed the dramatic self-portraits of Frida Kahlo and her idiosyncratic interpretation of Latin American folklore, and was intrigued by the mysteries of pre-Columbian artifacts.
The Baroque World of Fernando Botero is divided into eight sections, corresponding to epochs and themes in Botero's oeuvre. First, early works from the 1950s, the period during which Botero first defined his unique style. Second, paintings which draw from colonial baroque pieces Botero observed in Latin America, including religious images of clergy, Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Mary. The third section contains works inspired by European masters, ranging from Titian to Vincent Van Gogh. Fourth, are Botero's eerie still lifes of lush and decaying fruit and flowers. Fifth, are images of power and violence in Latin America: scenes of presidents, earthquakes, and executions. The sixth section is based on memories from Botero's childhood in Colombia: street scenes, intimate interiors, and local figures. The seventh section focuses on Botero's works on paper, including detailed chalk drawings and watercolors. Lastly, the exhibition closes with Botero's elegant and imposing monumental bronze and marble sculptures.