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Groundbreaking Exhibition of Abstract Art Organized by Newark Museum
Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998), "Movimento contra movimento" (Movement Counter Movement), 1952. Enamel on Kelmite; 23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in. Private Collection, Miami, FL. ©Família Geraldo de Barros.

NEWARK, NJ.- A groundbreaking exhibition presenting works by 68 abstract artists from Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela is being organized as a spectacular finale to the Newark Museum’s 2009-2010 Centennial Celebration.

The exhibition, entitled Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s–50s, is the first to bring together South American and U.S. geometric abstraction. Constructive Spirit provides a fresh and innovative look at this dynamic and cosmopolitan period of modernism in the Americas. The exhibition will be on view at the Newark Museum from February 17 through May 23, 2010.

Constructive Spirit includes many never-before-seen works from the Newark Museum’s preeminent collection of U.S. art. “The Newark Museum has collected and presented international and abstract art throughout its 100-year history,” said Director Mary Sue Sweeney Price. “The Museum’s collection boasts one of the most comprehensive holdings of early U.S. geometric abstraction in the country, which was built through early purchases made directly from artists and through the forward-thinking collecting vision of Director Emeritus Samuel Miller. Constructive Spirit allows us to showcase our superb collection while bringing a whole new context to the work.”

Constructive Spirit will feature works by such renowned artists as Alexander Calder, Joaquín Torres-García, Jesús Rafael Soto, Gyula Kosice and Arshile Gorky,as well as artists who deserve much wider recognition, including Charmion von Wiegand, Geraldo de Barros, Lidy Prati, and many others.

In the first half of the twentieth century South American and U.S. artists infused the hard-edge lines and geometric forms of constructive abstract art with new perspectives. This provocative exhibition, of more than 90 works, examines the connections, both conceptual and personal, among abstract artists working in such cities as Buenos Aires, Caracas, Montevideo, New York, and São Paulo, suggesting parallels that cut across time, national borders, and a range of media, including paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, drawings and films.

The exhibition time frame begins with the arrival of Joaquín Torres-García in New York City in 1920, and culminates in the 1950s, as North and South American abstract artists converged in the international arena in such exhibition venues as the Bienal de São Paulo. According to exhibition organizer Mary Kate O’Hare, PhD., the Newark Museum’s Associate Curator of American Art, “Each of these artists worked with a pictorial and sculptural vocabulary of simplified shapes that make little or no reference to the natural world. Their work demonstrates the flexibility of the geometric language, revealing its capacity for both systematic and intuitive approaches to abstraction as well as a broad range of goals spanning the spiritual to the political.”

From playful and interactive sculptures to works that draw upon ancient and indigenous signs and patterns, the works in Constructive Spirit are grounded in the plastic values of art, which artists believed could transcend individual differences and foster harmony. The exhibition title itself – Constructive Spirit – is taken from the 1946 manifesto issued by the Madí, a Buenos Aires-based abstract artists’ group that asserted the relevance of geometric abstraction for all countries.

The exhibition traces the origins and dispersion of this abstract ‘spirit’ across the Americas. The contributions of South American and U.S. artists to constructive abstract art have historically been overlooked, according to Dr. O’Hare. “The works in this exhibition challenge outmoded stereotypes that define Latin American Art as figurative and folkloric and that devalue the early contributions made by US artists,” she said. “By bringing together artists that are typically separated from one another in historical accounts, Constructive Spirit reveals conceptual and aesthetic parallels that linked artists across the Americas. The artists themselves called for exchange among one another and sought to transcend national and geographical borders. It is my hope that Constructive Spirit will inspire further scholarly reconsideration of the singular contributions to abstract art made by South and North American artists.”

In addition to works taken from the Newark Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition also includes major works on loan from private and public collections across both continents, including such acclaimed collections as the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Malba-Constantini Foundation (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), The Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo and Whitney Museum of American Art.

Following its premiere at the Newark Museum, Constructive Spirit will travel to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, where it will be on view June 26 through September 5, 2010.

Exhibition Overview
Organized thematically, Constructive Spirit brings together works based on conceptual and stylistic relationships that are not limited by chronology or movement. The four sections are titled “Urban Geometries,” “Universal Forms,” “New Realities,” and “Temporal Rhythms.”

The cities that witnessed the development of geometric abstraction in the Americas from the 1920s through the 1950s - including Buenos Aires, Caracas, Chicago, Montevideo, New York and São Paulo - were among the most advanced and cosmopolitan in the world. As seen in the opening section of the exhibition titled “Urban Geometries,” 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.

While the artists in “Urban Geometries” looked to the future and to machine-age science and technology, artists in “Universal Forms” looked to ancient and indigenous American traditions, including Pre-Columbian, North American Indian and native Brazilian cultures. Artists including Joaquín Torres-García, Francisco Matto, George L.K. Morris, Adolph Gottlieb, Josef Albers, Raymond Jonson, Lygia Pape 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 Museum’s collection will accompany these works.

“New Realities” brings together paintings and sculptures by artists whose intentions in turning to abstraction reflect their desire to convey the ‘concrete’ reality of art: pure line, color and form. These 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 were committed to the concept of invention, developing entirely new art forms that challenged traditional artistic media through the creation of the marco recortado (structured or irregular frame) and the structural relief, a new medium that wedded painting and sculpture.

The final section of the exhibition, titled “Temporal Rhythms,” features innovative kinetic sculpture and experimental film and photography that 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. In keeping with advancements in science and technology, films and light works by artists including Mary Ellen Bute and Abraham Palatnik reflect the spirit of invention and ingenuity and bring the science of optics and dynamics into modern art in an accessible and visually stunning way. 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. Each work in this section builds a new sense of the viewer’s importance directly into the work itself; the viewer is no longer just a passive observer but an active participant.

Newark Museum | Centennial Celebration | Exhibition of Abstract Art | Alexander Calder | Joaquín Torres-García |

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