Critics’ Picks

Francisco Matto, Perspective with Ciudad Vieja, 1946, oil on cardboard, 26 x 26".

Francisco Matto, Perspective with Ciudad Vieja, 1946, oil on cardboard, 26 x 26".


Francisco Matto

Blanton Museum of Art
200 East Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
June 21–September 27, 2009

“The Modern and the Mythic: Francisco Matto” shows one of Joaquín Torres-Garcia’s most commercially successful students to also be one of the most resonant, though curator Gabriel Perez-Barreiro goes out of his way to disprove the existence of a causal relationship between the former and the latter. Matto’s economical use of forms and strokes, which remained constant from the 1940s to the ’90s, refreshingly obfuscates any narrative of stylistic development. To illustrate the cohesiveness of Matto’s oeuvre, the show wends through several clusters of galleries—some exhibiting vertical two-dimensional paintings, others with long platforms installed to support Matto’s rough, totemic, uncannily human-scale wooden sculptures. The result is a topography in step with the spiritual utopia that many of his works evoke.

The notion of provincialism is also challenged; photographs of Matto working in his native Montevideo are installed around the corner from the artist’s electrifying paintings of the city. Oils on cardboard—and perfectly preserved ones at that—like Geniol, 1956, and Perspectivo, 1957, turn sleepy port landscapes into proto-hard-edge abstraction. The pitch-perfect treasures of this show, however, are Matto’s pen-and-ink and watercolor works: succinct pieces, most smaller than a sheet of notebook paper, that reveal the more everyday tics of Matto’s practice. His painted grids, crammed with primary-colored lines and pictograms, will be familiar to devotees of Torres-Garcia’s workshop milieu, but the collection of lesser-known objects forms a gentle, insistent bas-relief whole that rings quietly long after the viewer absorbs their context.