Commentary on Introduction to hope (Introducción a la esperanza)
For many art historians and theoreticians, by mid-way through the 20th Century, certain symptoms in the international art world pointed to the expiration of the modern art cycle. In Buenos Aires, Ernesto Deira, a member of the group known as Nueva Figuración, which also included Jorge de la Vega, Rómulo Macció and Luis Felipe Noé, defined it this way: “There has been an explosion of painting since the Second World War. Several of the movements from that era took one part of painting into account: either the gesture or the material”. For Noé, who also theorized about his own work and that of the group, that particular moment in the history of 20th Century art was the end of the “Painting God’s strip-tease”. In Noé’s view, this “divinity” represented the painting tradition as it had been understood since the Renaissance, with its attributes of centralized perspective, illusionistic space, volumetric handling of form, drawing as the delimitation of volumes and color subordinated to all the rest. Deconstructing these conventions—or the cited strip-tease—began in the Romantic period during the early 19th Century and concluded during the mid-20th Century, when no more than the brushstroke and the gesture behind it cried out their evidence: “Painting is naked!”, as Noé affirmed.An artist like Marcel Duchamp had not appeared in Argentina, nor had there been a movement like dadaism, that might have produced an inner revolution within the “institution of art”, including a corresponding notion of anti-art. In Buenos Aires, this rupture was first marked with the advent of informalism in 1956. From then on, there was a chain reaction of events: the first action art carried out by Alberto Greco, destructive art by Kenneth Kemble and the Nueva Figuración movement. Neo-figurative artists’ objective was to look for a new image of human beings (of mankind, as they said at the time) and their context. They conjugated widely divergent elements, taking that “explosion of painting” as their point of departure. Noé and de la Vega were the ones who took the group’s conceptual attitude to the furthest extremes. Between the two, they germinated a structural rupture that Noé would later call “broken vision”. They promoted subverting whatever may have still been left of the codes pertaining to traditional painting. These proposals began in 1962 when all four members traveled to Paris together.From 1960 until today, Noé’s poetics have been hinged on the term “chaos” as a conceptual goal. At that time, the way he carried this out consisted of an escalation of radical steps, destructuring his pictorial support in a gradual crescendo. The first instance in this process was the idea of the “divided canvas”, as the artist called it, and it consisted of a simple division of the stretcher’s rectangular support. However, in ever larger gestures, the division not only continued, but grew increasingly extreme to include structures that were added, placed in opposition and combined to create diverse, multiple structures. For Noé, the term “chaos” has historical and philosophical significance that is expressed through art, among other means. With it, he referred to reality as a multiform and chaotic thing. To the extent that such a thing may be possible, he adopted an idea from Fernando Maza in an attempt to finish defining it: “Chaos does not exist; the thing is that we call anything that we lack the modules to comprehend chaos” (1). Introducción a la esperanza (Introduction to Hope) is one of the most emblematic examples of that very intense, albeit not very prolonged process and it is situated roughly half-way through a timeframe that would culminate in January 1966 with his solo exhibition at the Bonino gallery in New York. The pictorial rectangle is as yet conserved in this piece in the lower part, and other structures are added to it; as they emerge from the former, they exercise structural opposition to it. The work’s theme collaborated to a large extent in materializing Noé’s objective; one of the era’s typical political protests served as the perfect excuse for projecting formal destructuring. This expressionist demonstration, with figures in black and white in an attitude somewhere between petitioning and desperation recalls James Ensor’s work. The graphic expression of the demands, the signs and the protesting are all taken to their fullest potential in terms of eloquence and the vitality of popular discourse by exceeding the habitual format. Introducción a la esperanza was presented at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella’s national competition in 1963 along with other examples of the author’s work, and he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Pintura, while Rómulo Macció won the event’s international distinction. In the catalog, Noé wrote about—as had already become his custom— what he proposed at that time, explaining the new direction that his own work had taken during this process. Prior to the trip to Europe, he had conceived of “new figuration” founded on the term “relation”, a fusion of atmosphere between figures. Based on the new results of his experimental investigation, he understood that the relation should be “by opposition” and therefore had come to conceive of works like the one we refer to here. A painting’s primordial unity had to be broken up, either by opposition or tension, and this is precisely what he achieved in this piece.The process that is accentuated in Introducción a la esperanza continued during 1964 and 1965. In 1964 he traveled to New York for the first time. He met critic Lawrence Alloway in that city, the creator of the term pop art, then curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. He had been in Buenos Aires and had visited Noé’s studio; he told him that what he was doing was to use “chaos as the work’s structure”. Noé adopted this concept, identifying with it completely. On that occasion he began to write Antiestética (Antiaesthetics), a book that would be published the following year. In 1965 he organized Noé+experiencias colectivas (Noé + Group Experiences) at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires. On this occasion he declared that his hypothetical objective was an accumulation of works that could reach infinity, and he accordingly invited several friends to add their productions to his own. In January of 1966 he organized an exhibition at the Bonino gallery in New York. He presented an installation of works, some of which had broken or intersecting stretchers, etc., which he finally opted to throw into the Hudson River, thus bringing a great phase of his production to a close. His anguished conceptual searching reached a final point and he made the decision to stop painting, which produced a nine-year hiatus in his specifically pictorial development. He declared that painting had abandoned him, because it could no longer constitute an adequate instrument for reflecting the surrounding chaos.
by Mercedes Casanegra
1— Luis Felipe Noé, Antiestética. Buenos Aires, Ediciones de la Flor, 1988, p. 198.
1988. CASANEGRA, Mercedes, Noé. El color y las artes plásticas. Buenos Aires, Alba, p. 44, reprod. color p. 45.
1993. GLUSBERG, Jorge y Luis Felipe Noe, Lectura conceptual de una trayectoria. Buenos Aires, CAYC, p. 27 (esquema de la obra).
2001. GIUNTA, Andrea, Vanguardia, internacionalismo y política. Arte argentino en los años sesenta. Buenos Aires, Paidos, p. 201- 202, reprod. byn p. 202.
2005. AMIGO, Roberto, “Letanias en la Catedral. Iconografia cristiana y politica en la Argentina: Cristo obrero, Cristo guerrillero, Cristo desaparecido” en: Mario Sartor (ed.), Studi Latinoamericani/Estudios Latinoamericanos, Udine, Forum, n. 1, p. 184-227.
2009. LEBENGLIK, Fabian, Luis Felipe Noé en la Bienal de Venecia 2009. Buenos Aires, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Comercio Internacional y Culto, [s.p.].