Selected Modern Artworks from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros to MoMA

This post was originally published by MoMA as a digital exhibition—presenting a selection of the extraordinary artworks given by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, and animated by the reflections of 16 MoMA curators—on January 10, 2018.


The Museum of Modern Art has received a major gift from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros of 90 contemporary works by artists working in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. This gift significantly enriches MoMA's holdings of works by Latin American artists, enabling the Museum to trace the shift toward video, performance, photography, and more participatory forms of art in the region, many by artists that are entering the collection for the first time.

This most recent gift complements hundreds of others given to the Museum by Patricia and Gustavo Cisneros and the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. They join 40 works previously given over the last 16 years, and an unprecedented gift in 2016 of 102 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper made between the 1940s and 1990s by artists working in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Together these works allow the Museum to present more expansive narratives of modern art, highlighting Latin America’s integral role in the establishment of geometric abstraction as one of the pillars of art in the 20th century.


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Raúl Lozza (Argentine, 1911–2008). Relief no. 30. 1946. Casein on wood and painted metal. 16 1/2 x 21 1/8 x 1 1/16 in. (41.9 x 53.7 x 2.7 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund

 

This relief expands the picture plane beyond the confines of the canvas and stretcher. The founder of his own experimental micro-movement in Buenos Aires in the 1940s, Lozza dedicated his career to the exploration of a kind of art that was non-illusionistic and non-metaphorical. He hung works like this one on a long wall painted in a single color; freed from the border of a canvas or frame, Relief No. 30 is meant to exist in an actual three-dimensional space, rather than a simulated one.

Laura Hoptman, Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture


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Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923–1998). Diagonal Function. 1952. Lacquer on wood. 24 3/4 x 24 3/4 x 1/2 in. (62.9 x 62.9 x 1.3 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund

 

This painting suggests Barros’s twinned talents as a painter and a photographer: he limits his palette to black and white, and applies the paint with mechanical precision to erase evidence of his hand. In his photographs Barros plays with the tension of compressing the three-dimensional world into a flat surface, while here he methodically reduces the scale of his geometric forms to suggest depth within the single plane of the painting.

Sarah Meister, Curator, Department of Photography


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Carlos Cruz-Diez (Venezuelan, born 1923). Project for an Exterior Wall. 1954–65. Painted dowels and synthetic polymer paint on wood. 15 3/4 x 21 3/4 x 2 1/2 in. (40 x 55.2 x 6.4 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Carolina Rodríguez-Cisneros

 

It's thrilling to have this early Project for an Exterior Wall join the Museum's collection; it announces what would become Cruz-Diez’s career-long interest in colorful, architecturally scaled, viewer-activating public art projects. The artist would go on to become one of the great pioneers of Latin American Op and Kinetic art.

Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture


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María Freire (Uruguayan, 1917–2015). Untitled. 1954. Oil on canvas. 36 1/4 x 48 1/16 in. (92 x 122 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro

 

Freire simultaneously worked in both painting and sculpture in her native Uruguay. This rhythmic composition features a constellation of geometric shapes that appear to protrude and recess behind a swirling black line, exploring the apparent three-dimensionality of the pictorial space. It’s an extraordinary example of her virtuoso command of the language of Concrete art.

Karen Grimson, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints


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Alejandro Otero (Venezuelan, 1921–1990). Pampatar Board. 1954. Lacquer on wood. 126 x 25 5/8 x 1 1/16 in. (320 x 65.1 x 2.7 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Adriana Cisneros de Griffin and Nicholas Griffin

 

Otero constantly pushed the envelope on the possibilities of painting. Titled after a beach city in the Venezuelan Isla Margarita, Pampatar Board launched Otero’s well-known Colorhythms series: vibrant compositions in which he experimented with the optical effects of superimposing lines and colored shapes. Pampatar Board began what would become the first serial typology of abstract geometric works in Latin America.

Karen Grimson, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints


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Jesús Rafael Soto (Venezuelan, 1923–2005). Double Transparency. 1956. Oil on plexiglass and wood with metal rods and bolts. 21 5/8 x 21 5/8 x 12 5/8 in. (55 x 55 x 32 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Ana Teresa Arismendi

 

This relatively early work by Soto, made while he was working in Paris, tells you a lot about where he’s going. The striped transparent planes jut forward from the support to create a three-dimensional construction. When you walk in front of it, adding motion to the equation, these planes seem to vibrate optically. Soto kept exploring ideas like these: how could you create a sensorially rich environment to be activated by the viewer?

Leah Dickerman, Director, Editorial and Content Strategy


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Lygia Pape (Brazilian, 1927–2004). Book of Creation. 1959–60. Gouache on board, each: 12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm). Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros

 

Pape said of her Book of Creation that it "told the story of how the world came about with colors and shapes alone, no words.” It's a book without a spine, made of discrete pages that come to life through their manipulation, suggesting that the objective world exists only through subjective experience.

Christophe Cherix, The Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints


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Lygia Clark (Brazilian, 1920–1988). Sundial. 1960. Aluminum with gold patina. Dimensions variable, approximately 20 7/8 x 23 x 18 1/8 in. (52.8 x 58.4 x 45.8 cm). Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Rafael Romero

 

One of the audacious pioneers of the postwar era, Brazilian artist Lygia Clark reinvented not only what a sculpture could look like, but how a spectator could behave in its presence. This work, part of her Animal Series, was fabricated to be handled and manipulated. The sculpture is all about potentiality: Clark offers it as an open-ended proposition to be considered and explored. And although the Museum cannot allow its visitors to touch the sculpture, the sense of free experimentation inherent in its segmented form remains vividly alive.

Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture


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Willys de Castro (Brazilian, 1926–1988). Active Object (Red/White Cube). 1962. Oil on canvas over wood. 9 13/16 x 9 13/16 x 9 13/16 in. (25 x 25 x 25 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Tomás Orinoco Griffin-Cisneros

 

Castro expanded the logic and problems of abstract painting into three dimensions in what he called his “active objects.” This elegant cube is one. Its form is only fully disclosed as a viewer moves around it or handles it. I have always wondered if Castro’s interest in the way a composition reveals itself over time was related to his deep immersion in the world of music: he was a talented musician, composer, and singer.

Leah Dickerman, Director, Editorial and Content Strategy


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Hélio Oiticica (Brazilian, 1937–1980). Box Bolide 12, 'archeologic'. 1964–65. Synthetic polymer paint with earth on wood structure, nylon net, corrugated cardboard, mirror, glass, rocks, earth, and fluorescent lamp. 14 1/2 x 51 5/8 x 20 1/2 in. (37 x 131.2 x 52.1 cm). Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Paulo Herkenhoff

 

Oiticica's Box Bolide 12 marks an important point of transition in the artist's career—from more conventional paintings and sculptures which hang on the wall or from the ceiling to interactive objects with which the viewer could engage physically. The construction is filled with rocks, sand, and earth and was intended to be handled, allowing a multisensory experience combining both touch and sight.

Paulina Pobocha, Associate Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture


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Mira Schendel (Brazilian, born Switzerland. 1919–1988). Untitled from the series Graphic Objects (Objetos gráficos). 1967. Graphite, transfer type, and oil on paper between transparent acrylic sheets with transfer type. 39 5/16 x 39 5/16 x 3/8 in. (99.8 x 99.8 x 1 cm). Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Luis Pérez-Oramas

 

This Graphic Object, an inscribed sheet of Japanese paper sandwiched in transparent acrylic, comes from an intense moment of experimentation in the mid-1960s, when Schendel was exploring experimental writing, minimal abstract gestures, elliptical configurations, and repetition of letters and lines over translucent thin sheets of paper like this one. Hanging from the ceiling, the work forces us to navigate it, to move around and interact with it, rather than just letting us be passive viewers.

Sarah Suzuki, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints


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León Ferrari (Argentine, 1920–2013). Planet. 1979. Stainless steel. 51" (129.5 cm) in diameter. Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Mirriam Levenson through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund

 

Ferrari made Planet shortly after he went into exile in Brazil (1976–91) and three years after the disappearance of his son Ariel. Much of his earlier work was stridently political, but in Brazil he explored more formal, even utopic, ideas. The thin wires he used to construct Planet make it seem as delicate as a dust mote or a dandelion blossom, and I have often wondered if this sense of fragility was meant as a metaphor for the precariousness of life.

Glenn D. Lowry, Director, The Museum of Modern Art