Discover South American Abstraction at the Royal Academy of Arts

Radical Geometry is a comprehensive show from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros exploring a dynamic period in South American art from the 1930s to 1970s. It seeks to prove that, during this time, abstract art was fully present and vibrant not only in the United States – but in South America as well. 

South American artists were inspired by the constructivist abstract movement, and aspired to build new worlds and transform reality. This is clearly shown when you walk through the selection of 80 exhibited works.

The exhibition is curated to highlight the major movements that developed through out South America in five major cities: Montevideo (Uruguay), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Caracas (Venezuela), Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo (Brazil).

Joaquín Torres García, Construction in White and Black, 1938. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honour of David Rockefeller, 2004. Photo Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. Image source.

The show begins with Joaquín Torres García. After decades in Paris, Torres García returned to Montevideo in the 1930s with a rich knowledge and understanding of geometric abstraction. He declared a new revolutionary art, which later became the ‘School of the South’. He sought to elevate the level of Uruguayan and South American art, and to incorporate the unique language of Latin American and pre-Hispanic cultures into this new abstraction. Construction in White and Black (1938) emphasizes the engagement with indigenous art as the ‘strong shading in each rectangular compartment gives the impression of stacked blocks, visually mimicking Incan masonry.’ 

Jesús Soto, Nylon Cube, 1990. Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photography: Benedict Johnson. / © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2014. Image source.

Among the works that stand out is Nylon Cube by Venezuelan artist Jesús Soto. Its black and silver threads distort your perception and create an intriguing, dynamic work that changes as you walk around it. It is quite magical. Soto is known for creating works that emphasize the link between movement and presence, and in many cases the body itself. With Nylon Cube he creates an ambiguous sense of aesthetic space: one space defined within the work and another defined by the viewer’s position.

The Royal Academy is effective in conveying the radical aspirations of a young generation of artists and examining the position of Latin America within the contemporary global art world. 

Radical Geometry is at the Royal Academy of Arts until 28th September 2014.