Juan Carlos Distéfano was applying the final layers of epoxy paint to El mudo II (The Mute II) in May of 1973; it is a work that would, in time, come to be understood as key to his artistic career. He was completing a process that had begun in 1972, when he made the first sketches for the piece (2). Deeply affected by the first denunciations of torture and forced disappearance that were beginning to circulate around the country, he also produced Figura acostada (Figure Lying Down) and Procedimiento (Procedure) that same year. Spurred by empathy with these social conflicts, the artist concentrated on a search for images that might have the eloquence to embody the pathos of violence. El mudo II is situated along the lines of these concerns, categorical testimony to the social reality from which it emerged.
The visual potency of the work did not go by unnoticed for those who saw it in his studio as soon as it had been finished. Hugo Monzón, a critic for the newspaper La Opinión, did not hesitate to describe Distéfano’s new investigations as “rough, eloquent and hermetic testimony to an era”. Daniel Martínez, Head of the MNBA’s technical area, visited his studio and managed to interest Samuel Oliver in the work, who in turn suggested—as the institution’s Director—to the Asociación Amigos del MNBA that they buy the piece for the Museum (3). In 1974, El mudo II was placed in the halls on the Museum’s first floor, where it quietly but persistently remained, avoiding the censorship that reigned at the time under the last military dictatorship.
While the human body and mankind’s diverse conflicts mark all of Distéfano’s plastic production, from the seventies on his work changed direction in formal as well as expressive terms. The volumes that had always been among the artist’s primary interests and a focus of experimentation in his painting were now freed from the two-dimensional plane, and as a result his concerns were displaced from pictorial elements to sculpture. With images bereft of the ironic devices of parody that were typical of his paintings from the preceding period, the human body emerged in relation to traumatic experiences. Twisted and tortured bodies denied the ability to move, to speak or to live would make up the central theme of his poetics from that point on.
By way of an anatomically impossible position, the human figure in El mudo II, just slightly larger than actual size, is presented in a situation of absolute immobility. The scene refers to a method of torture known as a “submarine”. It is a work loaded with violent references whose visual result, however, is not devoid of beauty.
Another important line of continual exploration in Distéfano’s work is his experimentation with materials. Beginning in the early seventies, his use of polyester resins would be a fundamental part of his work, due to the novel way in which he managed to incorporate color and the intense degree of expressiveness he achieved in his forms: for example, the alternation between positive and negative volumes that appear in this piece. Likewise, the transparency of the polyester resin emphasizes an essential element here: water, perceived to be in movement as a result of the head lifting out of the bucket and spilling onto the base, giving the idea of an action taking place that contrasts with the immobilized figure.
The expressive potency of El mudo II stems from the way in which the artist manages to synthesize and integrally link both formal and narrative aspects, conjugating his ethical and aesthetic positions in a single work.Mariana Marchesi
1— The first version, El Mudo I (1973, private collection) was done in a smaller size.
2— Two of these graphite on paper sketches also form part of the MNBA’s collection (inv. 8011 and inv. 8012).
3— The aim of Martínez’s visit was probably the show organized in Nice in June of that year, to which the artist sent a group of works including all of his recent sculptures.
1973. MONZÓN, Hugo, “Para Distéfano, el objeto plástico debe ser un factor de conocimiento”, La Opinión, Buenos Aires, 2 de mayo, p. 16.
1976. Revista Bosch, Buenos Aires, a. 1, nº 5, reprod. contratapa.
1979. MONZÓN, Hugo, “Juan Carlos Distéfano” en: Gabriel Levinas (ed.), Arte argentino contemporáneo. Madrid, Ameris, p. 150.
1981. PÉREZ, Elba, Distéfano. Escultores argentinos del siglo XX. Buenos Aires, CEAL, nº 80, p. 5, reprod. color nº 3.
1991. PÉREZ, Elba, Distéfano. Buenos Aires, Banco Tornquist-Crédit Lyonnais, p. 23-25, reprod. color p. 76-77.
2005. LÓPEZ ANAYA, Jorge, Arte argentino. Cuatro siglos de historia (1600-2000). Buenos Aires, Emecé, p. 408, reprod. color p. 409.
2009. MARCHESI, Mariana, “Cuerpos des-hechos. Destrucción y reconstrucción del cuerpo en la plástica argentina de los 70” en: AA.VV., XXX Coloquio Internacional de Historia del Arte. Estéticas del des(h)echo. México DF, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM.