Joaquín Torres-García Construction in White and Black 1938

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 512 The David Geffen Wing

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)
Additional text

Construction in White and Black is characteristic of Torres-García’s use of the golden section to create harmonious grids within his paintings. It also shows his interest in the structure of indigenous art and architecture of the Americas. The shaded, rhythmic rectangular sections of this simple grid evoke Inca masonry. Torres-García strove to create a visual language that he termed “universal constructivism.” It combined visual traditions from across history and geography, in order to create a symbolic language which could be understood by all people.

Gallery label from 2020
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
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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The artist.
1949, Estate of the Artist, Montevideo.
? - 1989, Galeria Gmurzynska, Cologne.
1998 - 2004, Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, New York, and Caracas, purchased through Christie’s, New York, "Important Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture", Sale 8888, lot 25, May 29, 1998.
2004, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as gift from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.

Exhibition history

MoMA Exh. #1931: "Painting and Sculpture: Inaugural Installation", 5th Floor, gallery 9, November 20, 2004 - August 7, 2005

Mexico City, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, "Cruce de Miradas Tradiciones Plásticas de América Latina en la colección CPPC", August 2 through October 22, 2006

Austin, Blanton Museum of Art, "The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Geometrical Abstraction from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection", February 17, 2007 - April 5, 2007

MoMA Exh. #2022: "New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930-2006: Selections from a Decade of Acquisitions", 3rd Floor, November 21, 2007 - February 25, 2008

Albany, New York State Museum, "Latin American and Caribbean Art: Selected Highlights from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art", May 17 - October 13, 2008

Madrid, Fundación Juan March, "Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934-1973)", February 11 - May 15, 2011

MoMA Exh. #2178: "Painting and Sculpture Changes 2012", 5th Floor, gallery 10, added July 16 - November 27, 2012

Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, "La invención concreta. Collección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros", January 22 - September 16, 2013

London, Royal Academy of Arts, "Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection", July 5 - September 28, 2014

MoMA Exh. #2339: "Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern", 6th Floor, The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art Gallery, October 25, 2015 - February 15, 2016 and tour:
Madrid, Fundación Telefónica, May 19 - September 18, 2016
Malaga, Museo Picasso Malaga, October 3, 2016 - January 29, 2017

MoMA Exh. #2424: "Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift", 3rd Floor, 3 East, October 21, 2019 - September 12, 2020

MoMA Exh. #2462: “Collection: 1880s-1940s”, 5th Floor, gallery 512, “Circle and Square, Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Piet Mondrian”, November 14, 2020 -


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