This is not the first time that the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes has dedicated an exhibition to Clorindo Testa’s work. The Museum has followed the career path of this great Italian-born Argentinean artist very closely. Today, five years after his death, we are proud to present this show, which offers an opportunity to reconsider his important and singular legacy in the visual arts from a current perspective.
While he pursued the crude truth of the materials that sustain the act of inhabiting in architectural brutalism, emphasizing abstract geometry as that which modulates buildings and urban life, Testa replicated the gesture in his visual works, defying the conventions of art and its circuits of legitimization. There is a particular dialectic in the spontaneity of the strokes in his drawings and paintings that enters into dialog with the crude, ordinary materiality of the supports he used. This disposition regarding elements considered banal or undignified makes them the active subjects of his expressive aims, where they are proposed as the constructive instances of his visual discourse. This is clear in his wood and cardboard installations, works that contain the structural indications that are the keystone to his aesthetic, and also in his freehand drawings, where quick strokes capture every instant of a unmistakable search for authenticity. Even in prints and collages, Testa proceeds with a certain studied form of abandon, composing pieces that he charges with a vitality that is unusual for abstract geometry.
This paradox that makes architecture a static moment, frozen in time, recovers disturbing dynamism in his visual production. Without abandoning the question of how to frame raw material within a regulated mathematical order, he manages to recover the power with which we humans undertake our existence, overstepping these boundaries. In this way a fluid exchange with the architect’s craft unfolds, where his plastic works (and his buildings must be included among these) constitute its very soul, a realm of solace and for experimentation with his conception of space and inhabiting. His entire career can be thought of as one long reflection on the unresolved tension between ways of life and the mechanisms—house, museum, gallery, street—through which they take place. There is a liberating pulse that convokes the metaphoric potency of color and form, and as naked material becomes allegorical, it pervades his works, like a suggestive indication that an enigma always gives meaning to the things that weave our lives together. In the face of his works, we find ourselves on the eve of a revelation, and this presence alone makes acts illusory. Perhaps it is there, in the invitation to go back to seeing the world free of veils, that his work’s vitality can be found, its posthumous calling.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Clorindo Testa: “this is my house”
Both an artist and an architect, Clorindo Testa built “houses” of many kinds: for money, the ex-Banco de Londres (Bank of London, 1966); for healing, the Hospital Naval (Naval Hospital, 1970); for books, the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library, 1971); or for art, the Centro Cultural Recoleta (1980), along with others destined for use by the inhabitants of this world in general. His image is definitively associated with these landmarks in the city of Buenos Aires.
In 1968, Testa challenged “his house”, the home of art, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, with a critical yet humorous gesture: the Apuntalamiento para un museo (Buttressing for a Museum). With this metal tubular structure, he was introducing a clearly architectural device into the art world, in a unification of both of his passions.
This exhibition explores the intersection between these disciplines in Testa’s work: the ways in which his drawing and visual thinking feed off of architectural techniques for representing space, which he uses in his painting on themes pertaining to urban planning and ecology. In this way the artist criticizes the modern and rationalist standards in architecture that have led to overcrowding, stress and de-personalization in today’s cities.
European and American history also provided Testa with elements he used in conceiving “other houses” that served as refuges from plagues and catastrophes. Beginning in 1975, he was formally a member of the Grupo CAYC, and with them he connected architecture’s logic of project development with diverse social and cultural issues. Inspired by childhood or historical events, he enunciated a social and ecological message that shows how hegemonies lead to political catastrophes where plagues are a “natural” punishment for war.
His installations are always gestural, dedicated to the beauty of the ephemeral and to developing images more than form; they demonstrate that humor, irony and play are the deep-seated motivation for his creativity, his contribution to inventing a “house” that might enable better living.
María José Herrera – Mariana Marchesi