December 06, 2005

The philosophically and spiritually inspired works of Xul Solar, one of Argentina's most important proponents of avant-garde art, are the focus of an exhibition to be shown for the first time in the United States at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Opening January 29, 2006, Xul Solar: Visions and Revelations features more than 90 paintings in oil, tempera, and watercolor, many of which have never before been exhibited, and includes Jefa (Patroness) (1923), newly acquired for the MFAH's Latin American art collection. The paintings reflect Solar's study of music, astrology, language and writing, and world religions, and are rendered in a unique style that incorporates flat backgrounds, geometrized figures, and image-word collages. The exhibition will be on view through April 16, 2006 in the museum's Caroline Wiess Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet Street.

"The MFAH introduced American audiences to Xul Solar in June 2004 in Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America," said Peter C. Marzio, museum director. "This exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to get to know the artist better and to fully appreciate his contribution to 20th century art. The show also continues the museum's commitment to expanding the visibility and knowledge of art created by Latin American and Latino artists."

The exhibition was organized by Malba-Colección Costantini (Museum of Latin American Art, Buenos Aires) in partnership with Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (Brazil), under the direction of curator Patricia Artundo. It is presented in thematic sections that trace Solar's artistic development from works made in 1913 through those completed in the early 1960s.

As a young man, Solar (1887-1963), born Alejandro Schulz Solari, traveled to Europe where he lived and worked for more than a decade. Those years, 1912-1924, influenced the course of his career. He first encountered Cubism, German Expressionism, and Futurism in that time, and began his exploration of theosophy, all of which contributed to the development of his avant-garde painting style. His study of the occult led him to change his name to Xul Solar, an approximate anagram of lux solaris, meaning sunlight. Before he returned to his country, he had experimented with architectonic design, investigated language theory, and began incorporating words and images from many different cultures in his paintings, all subjects that he would return to throughout his career. Upon his return to Buenos Aires in 1924, he joined Jorge Luis Borges, his close friend and collaborator of many years, and other intellectuals in the avant-garde group Florida, which established the influential magazine Martín Fierro. In later years, Solar's interest in musical notation, the zodiac, and tarot cards informed his work, adding further layers of meaning.

"The common thread throughout Visions and Revelations is the artist's relentless search for philosophical, spiritual, and aesthetic understanding of some deeper truth," said Mari Carmen Ramírez, the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art, who is in charge of the exhibition in Houston. "He chose to express his ideas and observations in his paintings by telling stories with images, symbols, and words that viewers can connect with on many levels."

Among the paintings in the exhibition from Solar's early years in Europe are Dos Anjos/Two Angels (1915), Tláloc, (o Tláloc (divo Iluvi)) (1923), and the MFAH's Jefa (Patroness), three watercolors that address the artist's varied interests. Dos Anjos depicts two long-haired, winged figures floating against a green background. One holds a scarf, the other holds an arrowhead-shaped pendant on a necklace. Solar's religion-inspired works express his notions of divine revelation, the afterlife, and reincarnation. Tláloc reflects Solar's interest in Pre-Columbian and Native American themes. In Jefa, a cat-like central figure is layered with Solar's symbols culled from Egyptian, Asian, and Pre-Columbian sources and labeled with the word "jefa."

Architectural elements appear in many works, while architectural renderings of fantastical cities are the focus of others. Ciudá y abysmos/City and Abysses (1946) depicts a city that looks at once futuristic and ancient, showing tall, domed buildings connected by walkways and bridges receding from the foreground into the distance. As part of his architectural inquiry in the 1950s, Solar created plans for new religious and social spaces, which were meant to accommodate modern people with updated patterns of worship and interaction. He designed the tapestries as well as all the decorative and utilitarian objects for these spaces.

One of Solar's primary goals was to create a visual and written language that would be simultaneously universal and uniquely American. To that end, he devised a new language, el neocriollo (neo-Creole), a fusion of Spanish and Portuguese. Throughout his career, he used writing in a variety of ways, sometimes to reinforce or clarify the painted images, sometimes to narrate parts of the work that couldn't be rendered pictorially, and sometimes to work against the image. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he returned to creating works based on writing, a method he had first pursued in the 1930s. He produced many works in his later years based on tarot cards, musical notation, and the zodiac. Examples in the exhibition include the colorful, abstract Pax, Worke, Love/Peace, Work, Love (1961) and San Paulo de Tarso/St. Paul of Tarsus (1961), a portrait created with symbols.

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