By Alejandro Prieto
Montevideo, Nov 29 (EFE) – Researchers and artists’ family members have tracked down and recovered hundreds of works by students of a mythical workshop in Uruguay run by Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874-1949), the creator and developer of a style of art known as Universal Constructivism.
Blues, reds and yellows. Squares, circles and triangles.
Those are the basic elements of a singular language of artistic expression that now grace the walls of three museums in Montevideo: the Gurvich Museum, the Cabildo Historical Museum and the Carlos Federico Saez room of the Transportation and Public Works Ministry.
But various obstacles had to be overcome in putting together this exhibition of works from the Torres-Garcia Workshop, also known as TTG and the School of the South, the president of the Gurvich Foundation, Martin Gurvich, told Efe.
“We had to go to Argentina to look for some (paintings) because the work had been taken to Argentina and wasn’t in Uruguay,” he said. “A whole rescue effort was needed, a Sherlock Holmes-type investigation to get the works, contacting relatives and going to Buenos Aires or different parts of Uruguay.”
One of the curators, Maria Eugenia Mendez, pointed out that the most recent research exhibition on the TTG – titled “The School of the South: The Torres Garcia Workshop and Its Legacy” – was held in 1991, initially at Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum.
The current exhibit, which was inaugurated on Nov. 23, is notable for the extensive research that went into the project, according to Mendez, who called it the most comprehensive look at the work of that school since the period the TTG was active from 1934 to 1963.
Gurvich said the exhibit now constitutes the most important public collection of the school’s works, adding that it merits being showcased outside the country as well.
“It would be interesting to take it to Argentina, which is where there’s the most interest,” he said. “In 2024, the 150th anniversary of Torres-Garcia’s birth (in Montevideo), part of this collection could be presented at some museum in Buenos Aires,” he said, adding that “arrangements will be made shortly.”
Mendez is responsible for the Gurvich Museum’s section that features a collection of the TTG’s early works, which comprise nudes, still lifes, portraits and landscapes, as well as a selection of works by Torres-Garcia, who emigrated to the Spanish region of Catalonia as an adolescent and began his career as an artist there before returning to Uruguay in 1934.
The curator said the most characteristic elements of the workshop are on display – “pure color studies” and constructivist art (featuring the use of stripped down, geometric forms and modest materials) “with or without symbols.”
The exhibition also provides a clear sense of the versatility that existed at the workshop, she said, noting that while a large majority of the works are paintings, “we also have applied arts in ceramic, metals.”
One key focus was the lessons imparted by Torres-Garcia, according to Mendez, who said they went “much deeper” than aesthetics and that a “great conceptual/philosophical framework” underpinned the school’s teachings.
The director of the Cabildo Historical Museum, Rosana Carrete, curated a selection of works that students created after the TTG was shuttered in 1963 and said she found “very dissimilar derivations,” with some artists taking well-known paths and others ending up being relegated more to the sidelines.
“One of the things that’s striking is the variety of media. We have pieces in stone, in brick, in wood, jewelery, jewelery boxes, flat works, oil on wood, on cardboard … it’s very dissimilar,” she said.
“Uruguay owes a sort of debt to the Torres-Garcia Workshop,” said Gurvich, whose father, Jose Gurvich, was a key figure in the Constructivism art movement and a regular participant in the TTG. “Because there’s a lack of public visibility, there’s no Workshop museum (and) there are few works in public institutions.”
Mendez, who noted that the Torres Garcia Museum and the Sodre cultural organization also will host exhibitions of work by TTG artists starting on Dec. 7, said it is important to highlight the legacy of this generation of artists, many of whom have perhaps been unfairly forgotten.
“If we don’t do something to cultivate, to teach about the most important school of art that (Latin) America has had, it’ll be forgotten,” she said. “And that school was here in Uruguay, and that’s where it’s important for us as Uruguayans to preserve the school’s value.” EFE