Joaquín Torres-García. Construction in White and Black. 1938. Glue tempera on cardboard mounted on wood, 31 3/4 x 40 1/8" (80.7 x 102 cm). Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of David Rockefeller

“A great School of Art should arise here, in [Uruguay…]. I call it School of the South; because in reality, our north is the South.... From now on, we place the map upside-down, so we have a fair idea of our positioning, and not how they would want it in the rest of the world.”1

The Uruguayan-born artist Joaquín Torres García was 60 years old when he returned to his native country in 1934, after living abroad in Spain, France, Italy, and the United States for more than four decades. His repatriation coincided with a period of heated debates about the role of art in Uruguay and beyond. An authoritative tone and pluralistic forms of address characterized Torres García’s theoretical approach to art, which combined teaching, publications, and lectures, and became more and more ardent during the last 15 years of his life.

Born in Montevideo in 1874, Torres García came of age in Barcelona, where he began his formal art training under Josep Vinardell and the Escola Municipal d’Arts i Oficis at night. He assisted Antoni Gaudí, architect of the Sagrada Familia church, and eventually became the official painter for the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of Catalan presidency. In 1901, in his first published text,2 he defended the need for authenticity in art, advising artists to refer to their own experiences and renounce copying historical models. This firm belief in artistic autonomy became a crucial comfort for Torres García when his contract with Catalonia’s Commonwealth was suddenly terminated in 1917, and it would continue to inform his practice.

Between 1920 and 1922, Torres García and his family lived in New York City. During this period, his paintings became more dynamic, with scenes depicting the density and vibrant rhythm of the streets infused with signage, carriages, trains, and pedestrians. Some of the works produced in New York first bore the appearance of grid-like structures, their various compartments containing symbols. These elements made up a highly personal style that the artist would crystallize by the end of the decade. In New York, Torres García produced modular, reconfigurable wooden toys with the hope of commercial profit. He launched the company Artist Toy Makers and exhibited toy prototypes at the Whitney Studio Club.

In March 1921, when Joseph Stella invited him to attend the Society of Independent Artists annual ball, Torres García created a legendary costume to wear for the occasion. With the help of his wife, Manolita Pina, he painted a pair of white overalls with an imaginary map of the City, representing the artist’s understanding of his place and time; the costume caught the attention of the local press and was written about in the New York Times.3 Equally fascinated and distraught by his urban experience, Torres García wrote “This is New York—the city of seven million people—which crushes the artist.—But New York is New York—one of a kind,”4 before leaving the city to return to Europe.

While living in Paris in the late 1920s, Torres García became acquainted with Theo van Doesburg, Michel Seuphor, Piet Mondrian, and Georges Vantongerloo, artists who were united in their opposition to the Surrealist movement’s predominantly narrative figuration and fascination with the unconscious. In 1930, Torres García became a central figure in the organization of the short-lived but hugely influential Cercle et Carré group, and in the dissemination of the group’s ideas through their namesake journal, which published three issues in 1930 before the group’s dissolution. This collective experience would carry over into the development of Torres García’s “Universalismo Constructivo” (Constructive Universalism), a painting method of grid-like structures underlying compositions and containing graphic symbols.5

In 1934, upon his return to Uruguay, Torres García wrote a manuscript for his critical lecture “La Escuela del Sur” (“The School of the South”), addressing the need for the foundation of a national art school in Montevideo. On the manuscript’s cover is the first iteration of Torres García’s celebrated inverted map of the Americas, which visually represents his call for regional empowerment; it later appeared in the first issue of Círculo y Cuadrado magazine (published between 1936 and 1943 as a Spanish-language continuation of Cercle et Carré). More than any other single image, this cartographical inversion has become a visual manifesto and banner for a modernity of, and from, the South. The image’s subsequent appearance on many products—from mugs and T-shirts to mate cups and flags—signals the endlessly forceful impact of Torres García’s ideas about Latin America.

Karen Grimson, independent scholar, 2024

  1. Joaquín Torres García. “La Escuela del Sur. Leccion 30” in Universalismo constructivo: Contribución a la unificación del arte y de la cultura de América (Buenos Aires: Poseidón, 1944), 279.

  2. Joaquín Torres García. “Impresiones”, Pel i Ploma no. 78 (July, 1901).

  3. “Greenwich Village Tops Artists’ Ball,” The New York Times, March 12, 1921, p. 11

  4. J. Torres-García: New York (Montevideo: Fundación Torres García and Casa Editorial HUM, 2007), p. 75

  5. “Universalismo Constructivo” was also the title of Torres’ anthology of 150 lectures published in 1944.

Wikipedia entry
Introduction
Joaquín Torres-García (28 July 1874 – 8 August 1949) was a prominent Uruguayan-Spanish artist, theorist, and author, renowned for his international impact in the modern art world. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, his family moved to Catalonia, Spain, where his artistic journey began. His career spanned several countries including Spain, New York, Italy, France, and Uruguay. A founder of art schools and groups, he notably established the first European abstract-art group, Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square), in Paris in 1929 which included Piet Mondrian and Kandinsky. Torres-García's legacy is deeply rooted in his development of Modern Classicism and Universal Constructivism.
Wikidata
Q520713
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Nationalities
Uruguayan, Central American, South American, Spanish
Gender
Male
Roles
Artist, Publicist, Teacher, Publisher, Art Theorist, Fresco Painter, Glass Designer, Muralist, Restoration Architect, Collagist, Illustrator, Painter, Toymaker, Sculptor, Theorist
Names
Joaquín Torres-García, Joaquin Torres Garcia, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Joaquín García, Joaquim Torres-García, Joaquim García, Joaquín Torres- García, J. Torres-García, Joaquím Torres-García, Joaquím Torres- García, Torres-Garcia
Ulan
500031259
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License

Works

13 works online

Exhibitions

Publications

  • Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 240 pages
  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Lincoln Kirstein's Modern Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 224 pages
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