At MoMA, Joaquín Torres-García Toys with Modernism

THE DAILY PIC: The great Urugayan artist spots the absurd fun in modern art.


THE DAILY PIC (#1436): MoMA’s survey of Picasso sculptures is stunning, but the museum has got curating exactly right with its retrospective of Uruguayan modernist Joaquín Torres-García. There are no great risks (and therefore only modest rewards) in taking yet another dive into Picasso, but Torres-Garcia is just the kind of neglected figure that we can all really learn from, and about. MoMA only makes itself indispensable – only truly earns its keep – by doing shows like this.

Today’s Pic is a little almost-toy that Torres-Garcia carved and painted in 1930. It gets at the playful absurdity that lurks at the heart of almost all of the new art of his era, but that we’ve almost lost track of in our sober worship of that very art.

All of modernism, as Torres-Garcia seems to have understood, started life as something close to Dada art – it was a form of absurdist play that, like all good games, has to be played in deadly earnest to be worth the trouble. Maybe it took someone coming in from the periphery to truly understand what the modernist “center” was up to, and just how silly-great it really was.

I find that even Torres-Garcia’s most rigorous abstract grids (below) seem to come close to being cartoons of modernist griddings: They have some of the grim satirical humor that Philip Guston, the apostate abstractionist, achieved decades later. (© Sucesión Joaquín Torres-García, Montevideo 2015; photo by Joaquín Cortés Noriega)



‘Construcción en blanco y negro’, 1938. (Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of David Rockefeller; © Sucesión Joaquín Torres-García, Montevideo 2015; photo by Thomas Griesel)

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