David Alfaro Siqueiros - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Park-Bernet Galleries, New York
    Galería Feldman, Buenos Aires
    Christie's, New York, Important Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures, Part II, November 21, 1995, lot 150
    Private Collection, Texas

  • Catalogue Essay

    The image of the city in front of our eyes is both a starting point and an end point. It is an aerial perspective. We watch a cloud of smoke rise from the charred remains of a tiny city in the middle of the desert. This painting, which is almost definitively a study for the famous painting identically titled to the present lot, Explosión en la Ciudad [Explosion in the City] (Collection of the Museo Carrillo Gil), explores the phantasmagoric possibilities of the fanciful forms of clouds of fire and smoke.

    In the present lot, "the plastic uproar" that forms the base of the composition of this small, yet monumental painting is the result of modeling silicate paint, traditionally used to coat automobiles, on the canvas as if it were play dough.

    In 1932 in Los Angeles, Siqueiros had already begun to investigate the use of coloring materials that would be appropriate for painting exterior walls. In Buenos Aires in 1933, Siqueiros learned about a type of industrial paint that Keim, a German company, had recently introduced in the market, which he would go on to utilize for his mural Ejercicio Plástico [Plastic Exercise], painted that same year. It is highly probable that when Siqueiros returned to New York in 1934 he would have known about pyroxylin made by Dupont as well. In other words, by 1935 Siqueiros was already well versed in the types of materials he used to execute this painting.

    This painting, as well as the painting at the Museo Carrillo Gil, comes from a period of sparse artistic production in Siqueiros’s career, and the two works turn out to represent a kind of missing link. They demonstrate how Siqueiros went from the abstract modeling of "real" clouds, in these two cases, to the types of "controlled accidents" he created in his Experimental Workshop in New York. Beginning with Nacimiento del Fascismo [The Birth of Fascism] in 1936, Siqueiros created paintings from the Experimental Workshop period by spraying streams of paint from cans of paint at random onto supports placed on the floor, which he would later superimpose with figurative designs.

    The present lot was one of Siqueiros’s first experimentations in a sculptural handling of coloring materials. As this work was painted on canvas rather than wood, we are led to believe it is a study for the larger painting in the collection of the Museo Carrillo Gil. The present lot depicts a sinister black cloud that detaches itself from a city in flames, constructed like a plastering of bright black, red, white and yellow industrial paint - the infinite horizon is marked by a blue diagonal line on the right side - on gray and brown backgrounds. This 1935 study is one of the first attempts by Siqueiros to not only transmit the appearance of the explosion, but also the sensation of its form. The almost identical appearance of the present lot to the sculpted painting Explosión en la Ciudad at the Museo Carrillo Gil gives us ample reason to believe that both were painted in 1935. This adds to the importance of the present lot as it refutes the argument of researcher Esther Acevedo that the larger painting was executed in 1945 and therefore depicted the atomic bomb. Siqueiros would however go on to paint the atomic mushroom cloud in his 1955 painting, Hiroshima.

    Explosiveness and monstrosity are two significant themes in the work of the artist from the 1930s onwards. These paintings represent the artist’s forebodings of war before he enlisted as a soldier in the army of the Spanish Republic in 1937-38. The shape of the burning cloud in this impressive small painting is the result of a calligraphy of concentric circles that cross space in a threatening manner and culminate in a diagonal in the upper right hand corner. The circles are craters that leave innumerable holes and volumes that implode. The yellow circle in particular suggests a head with implied features being catapulted from a bulky, winged body. Seen from top to bottom in the composition, the modeling of the figure is the starting point of the great foreshortened images the artist would paint in the following decades such as his depiction of a Promethean figure at the Hospital de la Raza (1953) in Mexico City. The shape of this figure, which becomes significant in Siqueiros’s later work, appears to accidentally or unconsciously arise from the abstract tumult of the present lot. The minuscule city, which is seen from above the explosive cloud, is the point of escape and, in this case, the starting point for the flames made with pencil strokes. This painting is all about an expressionistic and realistic explosion. The brushstrokes and pencil strokes are vibrant and swift moving like the ire and smoke that they represent.

    In conclusion, this painting, like some of Siqueiros’s most famous works, such as Tempestad [Tempest] (1939) and Fin del Mundo [End of the World] (1936), is a powerful, seminal work because it marks a key moment in the history of the experimental painting of David Alfaro Siqueiros and of modern art of the third decade of twentieth Century.

    Irene Herner Reiss, Ph.D


Explosión en la ciudad

pyroxylin on canvas
16 7/8 x 19 1/4 in. (43 x 49 cm)
Signed "Siqueiros" lower right; further signed, inscribed and dated "Este cuadro lo pinté yo en 1935 Siqueiros Mex 3/5/70" on the reverse.

$80,000 - 120,000 

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Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm