For this Art Basel 2022 edition, Galería RGR is honored to present a select group of works by Venezuelan painter and muralist Oswaldo Vigas (1923-2014).
The pieces included in Oswaldo Vigas: A Sensuous Abstractionism offer highlights of the artist’s work during the ‘50s, a decisive moment that marked his production towards abstractionism, which was provided by his participation in the murals of the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV).
Inaugurated in 1954, the UCV was part of a wave of national university renovations across Latin America that sought to send a message to the world: we are modern, and just like the French, we have our own Cité universitaire. Architect and urbanist Carlos Raúl Villanueva was in charge of the Síntesis de las Artes project, also known as Conjunto Central. This space is the most relevant element in the development process of the campus, since it is where most of the pictorial and sculptural works would be placed.
Although it took more than 25 years to complete, this project demonstrated Venezuela’s accelerated process and would come to represent the highest ideals and proposals of urban planning, architecture, and modern art in the Western Hemisphere. A select group of Venezuelan artists such as Alejandro Otero, Gego and Jesús Rafael Soto, alongside internationally renowned masters like Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Wifredo Lam, and Victor Vasarely, were commissioned to create large-scale public artworks, which were installed in situ throughout the campus.
The cultural relevance of the UCV, as one of the main representations of Latin American modernism, was recently made explicit when it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000, confirming Vigas' importance in the Art History.
Five of the mural projects realized by Oswaldo Vigas were integrated to the building facades of the Ciudad Universitaria. Proyecto para mural en naranja and Proyecto para mural VI are some of the various preparatory paintings made by Vigas in 1953, as part of the works commissioned for the UCV, and which give place to the series Proyectos para murales. The schemes in these pieces are characterized by repetition of symbols, such as the circle, a curved edge triangle, and the set of tiny triangles on a curved line resembling teeth. These elements are distributed on a surface and subsequently segmented by a series of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, generating geometric compartments to contain a specific color. Although these works were not materialized as a wall, from a plastic point of view, they do not lose their self-sufficient character, due to the emphasis on the relationship between vivid colors, lines, and shapes.
Oswaldo Vigas was constantly attracted to the human figure. He reinterpreted it in different ways in his works. In Personaje Naciente, figurative language is maintained and combined with abstraction to reveal two silhouettes whose gender is unknown. In a game of planes and depth, these elongated characters, warm colors, and incomplete lines are part of a plastic expression that combines prehispanic culture elements with formal avant-garde concerns, like the geometric and constructivist idiom, with a modern recovery of local identities.
El Encuentro is one of the paintings that followed the mural compositions Oswaldo Vigas was commissioned to produce for the Ciudad Universitaria in Caracas. It is possible to perceive he left aside symbolic figure compositions to continue exploring the limits of abstraction. Under a series of different dense strokes, the grid that predominates in the work is configured. From a detailed study of lines and spatial structures —accompanied by green and ocher tones— the artist generates a warm atmosphere in balance and movement throughout the entire composition. This work was part of the XVIII Venice Biennale in 1954, a period in which Oswaldo Vigas was part of important group exhibitions in Europe, such as the IX Salon de Mai at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Between 1954 and 1956, Oswaldo Vigas worked on his Objeto series, in which through an emphasis on form, strength produced by the use of dense and black strokes, and compositions based on positive and negative space, traces of the influence acquired from Cubism and his relationship with Pablo Picasso can be glimpsed. Gran objeto vertical shows a radical abstraction and a balanced composition thanks to a bichromatic palette, light distribution in the upper and lower parts, texture given by freedom in the brush, and the combination of almost expressionist strokes, giving way to works where form and subject are dematerialized. This artwork —being part of a technical experimentation that leaves aside oil and uses Chinese ink to generate other nuances and plastic sensations— allows to see Vigas' refined compositional language.
In Objeto negro, the apparent composition's simplicity on a gray scale with white at the base, produces a plastic force achieved by an elaborated arrangement of forms, which creates rhythm through straight and curved contours generated by solid brushstrokes. Vigas' interest in perspective and planes is left aside to focus on the way of conceiving tones and lines in the pictorial space. Simplicity predominates in this series compositions, since the artist eliminates what he considers not essential for the aesthetic contemplation of the work.
In the same way, Vigas' gouaches suggest a continuous interest in going beyond figuration, assuming a geometric sign language in which he tried to create balance, unity and an equivalent relationship between forms, planes and colors. The properties of the materials used, as well as the artist's interests in that period, reveal his versatility, making Oswaldo Vigas a key figure in the context of Latin American modernism. He became a central link in the quest for unique and novel visual languages in the region.
What Vigas proposes is a sensuous abstractionism, whose referents are not the pristine philosophical outlines of pure thought, but the noisy exuberance of the jungle and the earthly contrasts of everyday beliefs (in witches, in spirits, in religious icons...). In Vigas’ abstractionism, Latin America’s modernity is located not in the mirror images of Eurocentric thought, but in the historical depths of syncretism: cultural mixes and mestizaje. The works that this project will show directly link Vigas’ pieces for the UCV to later developments that privilege the abstract art angle, and in which symbols and the vivid colors of the Latin American cultural landscape reign.