"The only realist painting is, for me, the one that searches to affirm its material reality before anything else..."
Although known today for his participation in the Asociación de Arte Concreto-Invención, Manuel Espinosa (1912-2006) was an established artist in Buenos Aires several years before the group was formed. His first solo exhibition, held in 1940 at the Teatro del Pueblo, included oil paintings and pastels featuring a mélange of surreal symbols and figures such as mannequins, musical instruments, mechanical appliances, and birds. But Espinosa’s artistic trajectory changed dramatically in 1943. That year, he visited Montevideo and met Joaquín Torres-García, who inscribed a copy of his book La ciudad sin nombre for him. Within a year, Espinosa had moved away from his surrealist compositions, and he began making paintings and works on paper marked by spare outlines of recognizable shapes. Art critic Julio Payró described the works as having a note of “mystery or mocking wit in…fresh and chromatically seductive compositions…”
In the early 1940s, Espinosa befriended artist, designer, and theorist Tomás Maldonado. Tapping into international concrete art movements as well as the non-representational movements centered in Buenos Aires, Espinosa and Maldonado, along with Alfredo Hlito and Raúl Lozza, founded the Asociación de Arte Concreto-Invención in 1945. Their work broke entirely from figurative traditions, focusing instead upon geometry and color studies. “The artistic era of the representational fiction has reached its end,” they proclaimed in a 1946 manifesto. After the group dissolved in 1949, Espinosa traveled often to Europe, where he met members of the De Stijl movement and artists in the Italian groups Movimento di Arte Concreta and Forma. In the 1960s and 1970s, Espinosa arranged squares and circles in serial patterns in his paintings and drawings. These variations investigate subtle effects of space and color, and explore optical sensations of depth and movement. In these works, Espinosa embraced an idea proposed by Swiss architect Max Bill, who believed that the practice of creating variations upon a theme could offer a systematic and precise understanding of a particular form.
Music and literature were important subjects for Espinosa throughout his career, but in the late 1960s and 1970s he titled several of his works in homage to specific composers and writers. Espinosa’s painting titled Gnossionnes III (1973) takes its title from a series of piano pieces by Erik Satie, who coined the term “gnossionne” to describe a new musical form that broke from established structures such as a piano prelude or sonata. Espinosa was fascinated by the rhythmic simplicity and poetic nature of Satie’s work. In other paintings, Espinosa makes more oblique references; for a 1977 exhibition, he titled his paintings after James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. For example, Dublin, 16 de junio de 1904 (1977) refers to the day the novel takes place. Espinosa was drawn to Joyce’s use of language, which resonated with the artist’s method of structuring his complex compositions around seemingly simple pictorial elements. Writing about Espinosa in 1974, art critic Marta Traba described him as “a man who, with no exhibitionism, is capable of making silences have a glowing intensity.”
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2014: Manuel Espinosa, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK
2013: Manuel Espinosa: Geometría en Movimiento, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Buenos Aires (MACBA), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Manuel Espinosa: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1960s and 1970s, Sicardi Gallery, Houston, TX, USA
2010: Manuel Espinosa: Drawings and Paintings, 1950s – 1970s, Sicardi Gallery, Houston, TX, USA
2009: Espinosa, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Neuquén, Argentina
2003: Manuel Espinosa. Anthology on Paper, Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires, Argentina
2001: Manuel Espinosa: Rosario Prize 2001, Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes, Rosario, Argentina
1981: Manuel Espinosa, Galería del Retiro, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Manuel Espinosa's work has also been included in numerous important group exhibitions, including Real/Virtual, Arte Cinético argentino de los años sesenta, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires (2012); 50 Years of the Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención, Instituto Cultural Iberoamericano (1995); Abstraction in the XX Century, Museo de Arte Moderno Buenos Aires (1985); Vanguards of the 1940s, Arte Concreto-Invención, Arte Madí, Perceptismo, Museo Eduardo Sívori, Buenos Aires (1980); Two Trends: Geometry--Surrealism, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires (1975); Manuel O. Espinosa--Tomás Maldonado, Sociedad Argentina de Artistas Plásticos, Buenos Aires (1947); and First Exhibition of the Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención, Salon Peuser (1946).
Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX, USA
Fondo Nacional de los Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas Sofía Imber, Caracas, Venezuela
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Latinoamericano, La Plata, Argentina
Museo de Artes Plásticas Eduardo Sívori, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Museo Municipal de Arte Juan C. Castagnino, Mar del Plata, Argentina
Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emilio Pettoruti, La Plata, Argentina
Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, USA
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), TX, USA
Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, New York, NY, USA
For full CV please download the PDF below.