Scheduled to end in November, the 57th Venice Biennale has reached the halfway mark, drawing thousands of sophisticated, globe-trotting visitors to Venice to check out the latest in art.
After the spectacle of vernissage week in May, amidst the panoply sleepers have emerged whose impact is delayed but continues to get stronger as time passes. One such exhibition is Zóbel. Contrapuntos about the work of Spanish-Filipino painter, Fernando Zóbel (1924-1984). One of 22 collateral events selected by festival artistic director Christine Macel, Zóbel. Contrapuntos is organized by the Ayala Museum, the first Philippine museum to participate in the Venice Biennale.
Curated by Ditas Samson of Ayala Museum and Madrid-based intermedia artist Guillermo Paneque, Zóbel. Contrapuntos focuses on the artist’s Saetas and Serie Negra paintings produced between 1957 and 1962. Stark and meditative, the artworks showcase Zóbel’s signature style synthesizing Asian and Western painting techniques. The exhibition also comes with an informative and engaging catalog that elucidates further on the man and his art.
The Saetas (1957-1959) marked the beginning of his journey to abstraction. The long, fine, calligraphic lines of these paintings were executed and controlled with the use of a surgical syringe. Saeta means arrow or dart or a Flamenco style of singing. Zóbel recalled that this series came together from encounters and experiences with the luminosity of Mark Rothko, the drippings of Jackson Pollock as well as Chinese calligraphy, and the elegant Ryoan-ji garden in Kyoto.
The fretwork of the Saeta compositions evolved into the painterly and vigorous gestures in Serie Negra paintings (1959-1962). In these black-and-white canvases, the energetic gestures resemble the paintings of Hans Hartung and Franz Kline but are balanced by the discipline and restraint of Japanese sumi-e, given Zóbel’s affinity with Zen Buddhism.
In juxtaposition, select abstract sculptures by twentieth century Spanish artist Pablo Serrano (1908-1985) complement Zóbel’s paintings with unexpected and enlightening comparisons of their work’s idiosyncrasies. Both Serrano and Zóbel exhibited in the Spanish Pavilion in the XXXI Biennale Arte in 1962.
Zóbel. Contrapuntos is designed as an organic mise-en-scene—a contemplative, cerebral sphere rather than inanimate scenography. The exhibition space allows paintings, sculpture, artifacts, texts, music, and publications to linger as aspects or presences in a dialogue about how an artistic practice could be reimagined as a lively form of contemporary expression.
Low Sze Wee, Director (Curatorial, Collections & Education) of the National Gallery of Singapore says, “It was very elegantly curated and I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of works… it provided just the right counterpoint to the overabundance of contemporary art!”
Three months into its run, visitors have eagerly left comments in the exhibition guest book, most describing Zóbel‘s art as “beautiful” and the exhibition “wonderful,” “a great discovery,” and “one of the best laid out exhibitions.” One guest writes, “From the syringe to the bold strokes, Zóbel is an amazing artist. His work allows the imagination to soar.”
Karim Raslan, writing for the South China Morning Post, says Zóbel. Contrapuntos is “exquisitely curated, the exhibition captured the essence of this binational figure with his joint Spanish/Filipino roots as it explored his ‘controlled elaboration’ of aesthetics.”
Described as a transnational artist, Fernando Zóbel thrived in three cities in diverse continents. He studied at Harvard University, majoring in history and literature (1946-1949) and had an artist residency at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1954. In Manila where he was born, Zóbel figured in the introduction and education of modern art, especially in non-objectivism in the 1950s. When he settled in Spain in 1960, he found collegiality and identity in the company of his generation of Spanish artists.
He purchased the work of young Filipino artists in the postwar period and donated this collection to the Ateneo de Manila University when he moved to Spain in 1960. This core collection formed the nucleus for the Ateneo Art Gallery, which is recognized as the first museum of Philippine modern art. Zobel also collected the work of young Spanish artists and established the Museo del Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca in 1966. In 1969, Ayala Museum—the museum he envisioned—was established, dedicated to the education and appreciation of arts among Filipino artists and the public.
Zóbel. Contrapuntos runs until November 26, 2017. It is free to view at Fondaco Marcello, San Marco 3415, Calle del Traghetto o Ca’ Garzoni, 30124 Venezia, open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 am – 6pm. For more information, visit http://biennalezobel.ayalamuseum.org.
THE FERNANDO ZÓBEL CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ PROJECT:
The Ayala Museum is tasked to gather information about all known paintings by Zóbel in public and private collections in the Philippines and the rest of Asia, including China & India.
The development of the project entails locating, identifying, photographing, and cataloguing the works, and aims to be the source of accurate and documented information about the artist’s body of work. Works on paper will not be included in this catalogue raisonné.
Collectors and owners of the artist’s paintings based in the Philippines and Asia Pacific are requested to register Fernando Zóbel works in their custody here: http://www.ayalmuseum.org/zobelcatalogue/