Matta - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Collection of María Martins, São Paulo
    Thence by descent to Private Collection
    Sotheby's, New York, Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Part II, November 16, 1994, lot 209
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    L’impossible de l’une et de l’autre, 1943 is an amalgamation of concepts that embodies Matta’s innovative brand of Surrealism, which ultimately contributed to the expansion of the international Surrealist movement as well as the development of American Abstract Expressionism, greatly influencing artists such as Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Arshile Gorky.

    After initially studying architecture in Chile, followed by a brief period of working in Le Corbusier's Paris Atelier in 1935, Matta turned to a new form of artistic expression. Living in Paris and interacting with a number of the Surrealist artists working there, Matta’s early drawings already evinced a deep understanding of the Surrealist objective: to create a liaison between the world of dreams and the waking state. As his drawings evolved, he demonstrated a lucid understanding of landscapes derived from the geometry of forms. More importantly, the iconography he developed during this period evinced stunning introspective compositions that allow viewers to discover the imagery on their own terms. It was precisely these compositions that impressed the leading Surrealists of that time, such as Gordon Onslow Ford, Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró and Marcel Duchamp. André Breton was particularly enthusiastic about Matta’s drawings. Not only did Breton purchase two of Matta’s early works on paper, but he would later include Matta’s work in the famous 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalism in Paris. When Minotaure published their review of the exhibition in 1939, Breton declared Matta as the most important emerging Surrealist artist of the time. However, the eruption of World War II soon forced Matta, as well as many of his peers, to flee from Europe in search of less turbulent places to live and work.

    In 1939 Matta settled in New York, where he further developed his unique brand of Surrealism, soon creating a sensation in the art world. Matta titled the works from this period Psychological Morphologies because they represent a depiction of the artist’s psyche as landscape, full of swirling forms tumbling and crashing through space. Matta based these painting on the technique of automatism, an experimental method used by other Surrealists of the time, where it was believed that the artist's unconscious hand would move faster than the mind could think, and thus the artist's thoughts would spontaneously flow onto the canvas. This development coincided with the fact that Matta, who had previously focused on drawing, had recently begun painting thanks to his colleague Gordon Onslow Ford. At this time Matta also developed a personal technique whereby he applied small quantities of color next to each other at the edge of his palette knife and then mixed them in many unpredictable ways with extremely rapid brushstrokes. This first stage was completed fairly quickly, at which point he would begin to further develop the composition resulting in remarkably unique surface quality to his paintings.

    Another pivotal characteristic of Matta’s work is found in the way the artist achieves a background and foreground that are spatially interchangeable, as exemplified in the present lot. When standing in front of this magnificent painting, the viewer is confronted by a feeling of movement because the foreground appears to metamorphose into the background and vice versa. Through his delicately transparent veils and clouds of petrol blue and soft white, Matta has achieved a continuous sense of change and transformation within a static surface, a remarkable feat for a painter. This painting likewise evinces Matta’s concept of infinite space as well as an exploration of how our existence is defined by boundaries, boundaries that according to Matta reflect a fourth dimension. The hard edged lines in this work imply the existence of a border and there is an implied horizon, yet there is simultaneously a hint of chaos due to the lack of recognizable forms grounding the viewer in space.

    When examining Matta’s work, one cannot avoid acknowledging how the atrocities of the War and the Holocaust impressed upon him a horrific and negative view of the world. It was during this time that Matta visited Mexico with Robert Motherwell. The trip imparted a lasting effect on Matta as he was deeply perplexed by the class inequalities between the indigenous population and the people of European descent. This form of class violence caused Matta much angst, which he expressed in his later work through the inclusion of ominous biomorphic figures. Although these later figures had not yet been conceived by 1943 when Matta executed this particular painting, we see their primordial predecessors represented by the black biomorphic form in the central upper left quadrant of the painting. This dark, heavy shape contrasts the thin layers of white paint that Matta often included in his Psychological Morphologies to create a feeling of veiled and limitless space.

    As a result of these significant artistic innovations and his early promotion by André Breton, Matta’s talent was readily acknowledged in New York. Soon after arriving in the United States, Julien Levy Gallery, well known for exhibiting Surrealist artists, offered Matta a solo show in 1940, which was later followed by an invitation to show his work at the renowned Pierre Matisse gallery in 1942. Matta’s work mesmerized the public and his success continued to grow, paving the way for future opportunities and bringing him into the realm of successful pioneering artists based in New York such as Marcel Duchamp. Matta’s intense investigation into the inner working of the human mind as well as other complex subjects such as science and magic continued to profoundly affect his work, leading to a constantly transforming body of work that would affect many generations of artists to come. The extraordinary value of this painting, L’impossible de l’une et de l’autre, 1943, lies in the fact that it embodies this seminal period in Matta’s oeuvre, combining the fundamental strands that define his work and depicting a world that is at once representative of the cosmos while simultaneously an intimate depiction of the perplexing inner workings of the human psyche.

  • Artist Biography


    Chilean • 1911 - 2002

    After graduating from university in Santiago in 1935 with a degree in architecture, Roberto Matta traveled to Europe where he met André Breton, the founder of the Surrealist movement in Europe. In 1938, he began painting and moved to the United States for ten years. During this period he sought to evoke the human psyche in his work, inspired by Freudian psychoanalysis. Matta's works became increasingly dominated by a socio-political element, which broke from the conventions of Surrealism.

    Matta was also a seminal figure in Abstract Expressionism but broke away from this too to develop a highly personal artistic vision. His mature works blend abstraction with elements of figuration and fantastically-conceived, multi-dimensional space. He was heavily involved in the social movements of the 1960s and '70s and a strong supporter of Salvador Allende's socialist government.

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L'impossible de l'un et de l'autre

oil on canvas
20 x 25 in. (50.8 x 63.5 cm)
Titled "L'impossible de l'un et de l'autre" on the reverse stretcher. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Germana Matta.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

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Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm