A broad spectrum arches from the expressionist-style cover of Arturo magazine at one extreme to the painting Composición (Composition) at the other, and it aptly describes the diversity of the investigations undertaken by Tomás Maldonado in his meditations on the self-referential nature of painting. Composición is a work framed within the lines of the international concrete art movement. Paths across its white surface are traced by straight lines that differ in color and modulation, questioning the objectification of artistic discourse as an area of creative investigation.
Questions regarding spatial perception and paintings self-referentiality as a two-dimensional surface were central issues in the plastic investigations developed by groups associated with the invention movement, and particularly by the Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención (AACI). Tomás Maldonado was this group’s theoretician artist; although both he and his brother, Edgar Bayley, had the greatest capacity—at that time—to conceptualize in theoretical terms, the resulting debates and plastic investigations were the product of inter-relationships between the group’s members.
By 1947, the resolution that the shaped frame and coplanar pieces had contributed—as making forms and space concrete—had been put to the test by several members of the AACI (1). At the same time, Maldonado took a trip to Europe in the first semester of 1948 that would turn out to be significant because it involved a direct inter-relationship with the tradition of modern art which, up until that moment, was being recovered and discussed in publications, exhibitions, and accounts from those who had arrived in Buenos Aires seeking exile. In addition to visiting public and private collections, he made contact with the principal figures of reference in the constructivist tradition, such as Max Bill and Georges Vantongerloo.
The return to a rectangular format implied a return to studying the diverse abstract proposals that had emerged during recent decades. In a text written from Zurich, Maldonado analyzed the suprematists’ essays and neo-plastic projects that exalted the support by way of linear structures:
“The figure’s same optical level would have to be brought to the background, but not through a linear evaluation (neo-plasticism) but through tension in the figures. In practical terms it was a matter of a synthesis between the 2 most positive aspects of neo-plasticism and suprematism. Nevertheless, the results in general are objectionable. The problem still remains. This is why two great concrete artists, Vantongerloo and Bill, have recently suggested that the path just may be to surpass limited figures. In a word, to liquidate the figures, and make the background vibrate to a maximum degree (by way of subtle, non-figurable elements), that would be one way. The other would consist of diluting figures’ perimeters, to either chromatically or tonally soften the figures’ contours” (2).
Composición is based on neo-plastic postulates that seek to exalt the white surface by way of tension generated between different elements inscribed on that support. While in a large percentage of Piet Mondrian’s works, the colored place can be thought of as an essential element in the image’s composition, in Maldonado’s work, it is the fragmentation of line (the surface is organized based on segments) that activates the support (3). This resolution is a correlation of the explanation in his previously quoted text.
In Desde un sector (From One Sector, 1953, inv. 7004, MNBA), Maldonado returns to reflect on how to exalt the background through the organization of pictorial elements. In the first issue of nueva visión magazine, of which he was the Director, he surveyed the state of affairs concerning concrete art’s problems and possibilities (4). Maldonado analyzed concrete painting’s characteristics and the distance that its poetics maintained from contemporary tendencies:
“It is false to say that concrete art is removed from all pictorial feeling. What is actually the case is that it is made manifest in a different way here. That is to say, not as the material’s vulgar sensuality, but as a superior sensibility of pictorial intelligence. […] Filling the void is easy, it’s merely a question of meticulously and bureaucratically piling up facts; the difficulty begins when we want to organize the void aesthetically using subtle elements” (5).
In fact, if we consider both Composición and Desde un sector, we see that simple geometric units organize the painting’s compositional structure with the aim of activating the support. A moderate distribution of elements in some sectors looks to exalt ample, chromatically uniform planes.
It is worthwhile to highlight that Maldonado’s research was not circumscribed exclusively within pictorial issues. In the pages of Arte Concreto-Invención magazine in 1946, Maldonado emphasized the need to extend aesthetic action to human surroundings in their entirety, following the Russian model of post-revolutionary cultural development. If concrete art was to be the bearer of a program to renovate culture, everyday life and society at large, then it would have to expand its investigations to include architecture and design. Accordingly, in his article “El diseño y la vida social” (Design and Life in Society, 1949)—considered to be Latin America’s first text on industrial design—Maldonado conceptualized the production of objects as an essential pillar in taking on the contemporary world’s most problematic issues (6).María Amalia García
1— See the entry on Pintura nº 153 (inv. 9202), by Raúl Lozza in this same catalog.
2— Tomás Maldonado, El arte concreto y el problema de lo ilimitado. Notas para un estudio teórico. Zürich, 1948. Buenos Aires, Ramona, 2003. Facsimile edition of hand-written text. Underlining in the original.
3— Regarding this theme, see: García, 2008.
4— María Amalia García, “La ilusión concreta: un recorrido a través de nueva visión. revista de cultura visual, 1951-1957”, Leer las artes. Las artes plásticas en ocho revistas culturales argentinas (1878-1951). Buenos Aires, Instituto de Teoría e Historia del Arte Julio E. Payró, FFyLUBA, 2002, p. 169-191.
5— Tomás Maldonado, “Actualidad y porvenir del arte concreto”, nueva visión, Buenos Aires, nº 1, December, 1951, p. 5-8, 12.
6— Tomás Maldonado, “El diseño y la vida social”, CEA. Boletín del Centro de Estudiantes de Arquitectura, Buenos Aires, nº 2, October, 1949, p. 7-8. Regarding this theme, see: Carlos A. Méndez Mosquera and María Amalia García, “Notas sobre la revista nueva visión y sus recorridos” in: Tomás Maldonado. Un itinerario. Buenos Aires, MNBA/Skira, 2007, p. 178-189; Gui Bonsiepe, Del objeto a la interfase. Mutaciones del diseño. Buenos Aires, Infinito, 1998, p. 94.
1995. LOPEZ ANAYA, Jorge, “Hace 50 anos fue creada la Asociacion Arte Concreto Invencion”, La Maga, Buenos Aires, 5 de julio, reprod. p. 38.
1998. AMIGO, Roberto; Patricia M. Artundo y Marcelo E. Pacheco, Pintura argentina. Breve panorama del período 1830-1970. Buenos Aires, Banco Velox, reprod. p. 101.
1999. SIRACUSANO, Gabriela, “Las artes plasticas en las decadas del 40 y 50” en: Jose Emilio Burucua (dir.), Nueva historia argentina. Arte, sociedad y política. Buenos Aires, Sudamericana, vol. 2, reprod. p. 25.
2001. FORN, Juan et al., “Abstraccion I”, Pintura argentina. Panorama del período 1810-2000. Buenos Aires, Banco Velox, n. 20, reprod. p. 10.
2007. ESCOT, Laura, Tomás Maldonado. Itinerario de un intelectual técnico. Buenos Aires, Patricia Rizzo, reprod. p. 68. — SAVLOFF, Judith, “Eramos jovenes insoportables”, Perfil, Buenos Aires, 23 de diciembre, reprod. p. 12. — WILSON, Alfonso, Consonancia. La abstracción geométrica en Argentina y Venezuela, años 40 y 50. Caracas, Artesanogroup, reprod. p. 59.
2008. GARCIA, Maria Amalia, Abstracción entre Argentina y Brasil. Inscripción regional e interconexiones del arte concreto (1944-1960). Tesis de doctorado, FFyL-UBA, mimeo, fig. 66.
2009. GARCIA, Maria Amalia, “Max Bill on the Map of Argentine-Brazilian Concrete Art” en: Mari Carmen Ramirez (ed.), Building on a Construct: The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at the MFAH. Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts/Yale University Press, reprod. p. 45.