aThis exhibition looks at the career of Roberto Matta Echaurren (Santiago de Chile, 1911 - Civitavecchia, Italy, 2002) through over one hundred works produced on canvas and paper between 1936 and 1998. More than solely a retrospective, the exhibit represents an exercise in considering Matta's work and its place in the history of twentieth century art.
Due to the artist's own discourse on his work, his personal history can be found inside his output. His presence in Paris in 1937 determines his inclusion in the Surrealist group - the close ties, both artistically and in his friendships, with Spanish artists like Alberto Sánchez, Esteban Francés, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso influence his pictorial language and the themes in his work. For instance, the iconography of the crucifixion through Picasso generates numerous pieces throughout his career, To both of You (1937), Les Golgoteurs (1952-53) and L´alto, il basso, la sinistra, la destra del cuore (1971).
The exhibition includes a collection of works on paper (1936-1945), representing the consolidation of his Surrealist language and the space from which his personal universe begins to be shaped, located on a cosmological, rather than human, level. Given his academic education, the first drawings reveal the impact of architecture on his spatial design, while his later ones consider compositions with barely discernible spatial references where figures are subject to ongoing distortions yet with anthropomorphic volumes.
From the very beginning large-scale pieces are present as Matta sees the canvas as the essence of and the setting for his visions of the human race; the use of painting takes on a kind of magical meaning, backgrounds diffused with bold colours, as in Science, conscience et patience du vitreur (1944) and the series Être Atout (1960). This idea endures right up to his final works, for instance in Les métaux fondus reviennent au feu de la terre (1988) and Youniverso (1998).
In terms of his role in Art History, he stands out for his emergence in the Thirties, representing a new approach to Surrealism based on practices of Automatism and abstract-organicist language that is oriented towards oneiric expressionism. Moreover, Matta formulates the principle of “psychological morphology” whereby he encapsulates the notions that form his artistic practices. Thus, he declares, “I call psychological morphology the graph of transformations due to the absorption and emission of energy on the part of the object, from its initial appearance to its final form in the geodesic psychological medium.”
In the exhibition catalogue, art historian and curator of the exhibition, Josefina Alix, highlights how Matta inspires, from the shadows, what should have been the Third Surrealist Manifesto. She also talks about how, thanks to the positive recognition of his work at the beginning of the Forties, Matta disseminates Surrealist practices in the New York art community; thus, young artists such as Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky burst onto the scene with a new language, style and artistic conscience that subsequently gives rise to Abstract Expressionism.
La Pedrera. Fundació Caixa de Catalunya, Barcelona (January 20 - April 5, 1999)