This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Cecilia de Torres, and dated 11 February 2017.
One more thing: poetry is not manufactured; art is not manufactured; both of them come from the understanding of a profound harmony and from living in accordance with it. That is why it is equally possible to speak of Constructive art and of Constructive life, because they are one and the same. And whoever doesn’t understand this neither “sees” nor “hears.”
Standing over 9 feet tall and over 19 feet wide when fully opened, the double-sided folding screen created by Augusto and Horacio Torres is among the most monumental furniture designs to be realized by members of the Taller Torres-García. The screen reflects the collective ethos of the so-called School of the South as the result of a joint collaboration by the two sons of Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García. Working together, each brother took responsibility for the execution of one side of the ten-panel screen, adorning the work with the modernist grid embedded with canonical symbols from the vocabulary of Torres-García’s Constructive Universalism.
Leaving the first two panels of the screen undecorated to emphasize the texture and color of the natural wood, Augusto Torres created an incised constructivist composition on his side of the screen, lightly brushing his work with muted, earthy tones. On the other side, Horacio Torres alternated carved constructivist panels painted in blue, yellow, black and white enamel with undifferentiated panels of luminescent gold leaf. With neither side defined as the front nor the back, Augusto and Horacio’s varying approaches function in complement to one another, creating a unified and balanced constructivist design.
The constructivist screen reflects an integral if often overlooked aspect of the legacy of the Taller Torres-García: the production of a substantial body of work of decorative and applied arts, and their related contribution to the built environment of the Rio de la Plata region. Consistent with the unified aesthetic and utopian philosophy promoted by Constructive Universalism, Torres-García and his students infused the concept into all areas of life, uniting art, architecture, and everyday experience. Thus, in addition to creating paintings, drawings, engravings, and sculptures, artists at the workshop also produced utilitarian objects, including ceramics; tables, chairs, beds, and other furniture pieces; jewelry; toys; carpets; and other constructive arts and crafts intended for daily use. In this respect, the Taller Torres-García followed a similar tradition as that of the Wiener Werkstätte or the Bauhaus, although, in contrast to such predecessors, mass or industrial production was never the intention of the Uruguayan studio, who instead created their unique and individualized objects by hand. These works were typically created in such humble materials as wood, iron, glass, cement and brick, with artists often turning to frugal and inventive solutions, including Horacio Torres’s use of colored plastics to simulate the effect of stained glass. However, because it was commissioned for a private apartment along Buenos Aires’ fashionable Avenida del Libertador, such modest substitutions were not necessary in the case of Augusto and Horacio Torres’s constructivist screen, either in terms of scale or the sumptuous use of gold leaf.
While much of the furniture and applied art produced at the Taller Torres-García were often created for use in the artist’s own homes, the studio also received a number of projects from local architects receptive to the vision of Constructive Universalism. Such is the case of the constructivist screen (originally made for a private residence in Buenos Aires) which belongs to a series of furniture and murals commissioned by the architect, Antonio Bonet. A Catalan native, Bonet had begun his career alongside famed Spanish architect Josep Lluis Sert as a member of the forward-thinking GATCPAC [Grup d'Arquitectes i Tècnics Catalans per al Progrés de l'Arquitectura Contemporània]. In 1938, the Spanish Civil War forced Bonet into exile. Landing in Argentina, Bonet co-founded the Austral architecture group with Juan Kurchan and Jorge-Ferrari Hardoy, previous associates whom Bonet knew from their joint studies with Le Corbusier in Europe. The Austral group quickly became recognized as the most avant-garde architectural group in Latin America of the period, with the collaboration of Bonet, Kurchan, and Ferrari leading to numerous successes including the famous B.K.F. or “Butterfly” chair, that is still in production today.
Although the Austral group is credited with promoting a modernist, International Style in Argentina, Bonet’s commissions from Augusto and Horacio Torres reflect his simultaneous interest in developing a regional aesthetic. This interest coincides with Torres-García’s original aim to develop a constructivist tradition in the Americas following nearly fifty years abroad, including a significant period in Bonet’s natal city of Barcelona. Although created nearly a decade after the death of the visionary artist, Bonet’s commissions from Augusto and Horacio Torres thus reflect the realization of Torres-García’s dream, with the constructive screen representing an impressive example of living with and within the tenets of Constructive Universalism.
Susanna Temkin, Ph.D., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University