Torres-García rejected the opposition of figuration and abstraction, preferring to think of his painting as “constructive” and emphasizing facture rather than the final image. In this example, the contrast between black and white is the sole means used to construct a syncopated grid which seems to protrude outward as much as it recedes into the picture plane. The effect of volume and irregular geometry evokes ancient architectonic structures, like those of the Incan stonework in which Torres-García was particularly interested.
In the late 1930s, Torres-García developed a personal philosophy of art that he called Constructive Universalism. Through it he advanced his views of art as a means to organize the natural world and human experience according to universal laws of unity. His ideas were influenced greatly by the geometric abstraction practiced by the artists in the group Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square), which he helped found in Paris in 1930. When Torres-García returned to his native Uruguay in 1934, he worked to synthesize European modernism and indigenous traditions. The inscription “AAC” in the lower-right corner of this painting refers to the Asociación de Arte Constructivo, a group the artist established to disseminate modern art in South America and to adapt it to local traditions.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
This painting belongs to the series of gridded, bichromatic, abstract compositions Torres–García made between 1935 and the early 1940s. In this work, irregular, geometric forms evoke primal architectonic structures, and the dramatic contrast between light and shadow on the many planes creates an effect of depth and volume. The painting reflects the artist's deep engagement with the indigenous art and architecture of the Americas and, in particular, his interest in Incan stonework. The strong shading in each rectangular compartment gives the impression of stacked blocks, visually mimicking Incan masonry.
Gallery label from New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930–2006: Selections from a Decade of Acquisitions, November 21, 2007–February 25, 2008.