Published: June 24, 2003
SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. – The Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) will present the first major exhibition in 30 years of the art of Mexico’s premier abstract painter, Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000), July 12 through October 19.
“Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso” gathers 130 of the best examples of the artist’s paintings and works on -paper drawn from both private and institutional collections across the United States, Mexico and Europe. Some of these works have never before been exhibited, while others represent hallmarks of an extraordinary career. Far more than a retrospective, the exhibition examines the internationalization of art and culture and the related development of abstraction in Mexico in the post-World War II period.
“Risking the Abstract” is curated by SBMA’s curator of modern and contemporary art, Diana C. du Pont, and organized in cooperation with the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, through the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico.
After its Santa Barbara premier, the exhibition will proceed on an international tour to the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City and The Mexican Fine Arts Center in Chicago. “Risking the Abstract” is accompanied by a major publication with groundbreaking scholarship by leading authorities on modern Mexican art, Luis-Martín Lozano, Cuauhtémoc Medina and Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro.
Major themes of the exhibition include Gerzso’s affiliation with the Surrealist exiles in Mexico; his fascination with Mexico’s ancient civilizations, which led him to redefine indigenismo, or the emphasis on Mexico’s native art and culture; his deep connection to Abstract Expressionism; and the risk Gerzso took by devoting himself to abstraction when muralism was still predominant in Mexican art.
“Gerzso’s work represents a new direction in Mexican painting at the mid-Twentieth Century,” said du Pont. “A pioneering form of abstraction, it proves that Surrealism in exile in Mexico was as crucial to the development of Gerzso’s painting as it was for the New York Abstract Expressionists. His paintings exemplify the shift inward among international vanguard artists like Adolph Gottlieb, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko to a new focus on the self and on myth, psychoanalysis and in-digenous art of the Americas.”
Organized into specific sections, the exhibition charts Gerzso’s chronological and thematic development and shows how his particular achievements stand as a defining example of modern abstraction. The sections are his formative years, his Surrealist period, his early mature years and his fully mature years.
Gerzso’s work on location as a film set designer encouraged his love for Mexico and its pre-Columbian architecture. The publication accompanying “Risking the Abstract” examines the development of film in Mexico as a mass medium and the significant achievements that Gerzso made to this new form of entertainment.
The exhibition’s centerpiece — the fully mature years of 1950s and 1960s — features the singular achievements that distinguish the artist’s career. This section explores Gerzso’s important relationship to Abstract Expressionism in the United States and to Informalismo/Art Informel in Europe and how he responded to these latest ideas in art by developing a poetic form of abstraction that was at once indigenous and international.
The museum is at 1130 State Street and is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm; Sunday, noon to 5 pm; and Friday 11 am to 9 pm. For information, 805-963-4364, or visit www.sbmamuseart.org.
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