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The Presence of Black, 1950-1966
Fundació Suñol. Paseo de Gracia, 98, Barcelona, 1ª planta
Inauguration: 7th May 2015, at 19:00 h
Exhibition: From 8th May to 5th September 2015
Curators: Yolanda Romero and Francisco Baena
Just arrived at the Fundació Suñol, José Guerrero - The Presence of Black, 1950-1966, an exhibition with which the José Guerrero Centre in Granada pays tribute to one of Spain's most international artists, José Guerrero (Granada, 1914 - Barcelona, 1991), on the centenary of his birth. This is the first monographic exhibition that explores the painter’s American years in depth. Canvases, engravings, drawings and «portable frescoes» are the stars of an exhibition of over 50 works from private collections and Spanish and American museums, most of which have never been on show before in Barcelona. The exhibition, one of the most important artistic events in Spain in recent months, is organized by the José Guerrero Centre in Granada and the Council of the Alhambra and Generalife, with the collaboration of Spanish Cultural Action (AC/E). After its presentation in 2014 at the José Guerrero Centre itself and in the Chapel of the Palace of Charles V (and also in the Casa de las Alhajas of the Fundación Obra Social y Monte de Piedad in Madrid), part of the exhibition is now going on show in Barcelona, a city with which the artist had very close links and where he lived out his last years. The aim of the exhibition, which is curated by Yolanda Romero the ex-director of the José Guerrero Centre and by Francisco Baena its exhibition coordinator, is to reaffirm Guerrero's position as one of the most influential Spanish artists in the second half of the 20th century. It reveals the painter's first incursions into abstraction, his later immersion into American abstract expressionism and lastly his reencounter with his Spanish past.
The Presence of Black, 1950-1966 is divided into various sections. The first section deals with the biomorphic abstraction in the first paintings by José Guerrero after his arrival in New York, a city dominated at that time by abstract Expressionism. In the other works in this section for example Lavanderas (Washer women - 1950), it is possible to appreciate the tension between two barely compatible languages: the need for figurative ground and abstraction. There is also a series of engravings which he made in the Atelier 17 in Paris, whose founder, William Hayter, had brought to New York. In these pictures we can trace Guerrero’s evolution towards the outer reaches of abstraction. We then enter the section entitled ‘From Bioforms to Gesture’, which is made up of works from the first half of the 1950s. Works such as Black Followers (1954), Signos (1953) and Ascendentes (1954) prove that biomorphic abstraction did not necessarily imply the complete absence of figurative expression. According to the art critic Juan Manuel Bonet, Guerrero did not evolve towards abstract impressionism or indeed towards minimalism and instead remained faithful to the concepts of the first generation of abstract expressionism, trends that converged in the exhibition, The Presence of Black held at the Betty Parsons Gallery, in New York in 1958. According to Bonet, the title of the exhibition referred more to the painter's state of mind than to the dominant presence of black in his paintings.
After The Presence of Black exhibition, Guerrero never looked back. He immersed himself in a gestural form of painting that prioritized the gesture tempered by irregular chromatic masses dominated by his feelings of anxiety and doubt. The next section, entitled ‘Abstract Expressionism’, shows how black came to dominate together with blues, yellows and ochres in creations which were increasingly close to action painting. It was in this period between the late 1950s and the early 1960s that José Guerrero consolidated his status as an abstract expressionist thanks to canvases such as Presencia del negro con amarillo (Presence of black with yellow - 1958), Blues and Black (1958) and Yellow and Brown (1958).
In the last exhibition rooms we come to the final section ‘Memory Reviewed’ which displays the moment when Guerrero began to hark back to his origins. From 1962 he gave Spanish titles to many of his works including for example, Albaicín (1962) and Sacromonte (1963). His defence of his roots reached its high point in 1965 when he returned to Spain. From that moment onwards there was a clear change in the scenario although his creative language remained constant. This phase ended with his visit in 1965 to the gulley in Víznar, where the poet Federico Garcia Lorca was murdered during the Spanish Civil War. This location inspired his picture La brecha del Víznar (The wound at Viznar 1966), which proved to be a watershed in his career. As José Guerrero himself said: «I think it opened a new window [...], I got many paintings out of that picture [...], one well drawn line in the right place is just as important as a picture full of lines».
Finally the last space has pictures from the section ‘Painting and Architecture’ in which we can discern the artist’s intention to present himself as a muralist. What made Guerrero unique was that instead of working on walls he wanted to bring painting to the new materials appearing in the construction industry impregnating his paintings with materials such as sand, cement, corrugated roofing and refractory bricks. This is the first time that these pieces, which he called ‘portable frescoes’ have been on show in such numbers since the original exhibition itself. In short, ‘José Guerrero - The Presence of Black, 1950-1966’ is a retrospective exhibition that reviews the painter's American years, which were to mark the rest of his career, and in so doing rediscovers his artistic language. The exhibition concludes with a space devoted to photographs, documents and catalogues that complement the artworks on display.