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Focus On: Roberto Matta | A Pioneer of Surrealist Art

Miami— September 1, 2023 — Roberto Matta (Chilean, 1911–2002) stands as a pivotal figure within the Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist movements, making significant contributions to the evolution of modern art. Matta is credited with bridging the figurative dreamscapes of Surrealism and the emotive gestures of Abstract Expressionism. His ability to fuse abstract biomorphic forms with architectural elements created a distinctive visual language that continues to resonate with contemporary artists and audiences, cementing his position as a pioneer of surrealistic art and a trailblazer in exploring the human experience through the canvas.

Roberto Matta’s artistic relevance rests on his groundbreaking contributions to the Surrealist movement, which transcended conventional artistic boundaries and delved into the uncharted territories of the subconscious mind. His innovative approach, often referred to as “inscape,” reimagined traditional artistic representation by capturing the inner landscapes of the human psyche. Professor Claude Cernuschi, Ph.D., an Art History expert at Boston College, writes, “Matta’s key ambition to represent and evoke the human psyche in visual form was filtered through the writings of Freud and the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the ‘inscape’.” Through his dynamic and fluid compositions, Matta explored the interplay of emotions, dreams, and reality, inviting viewers to navigate the intricate connections between the conscious and unconscious realms. These inscapes are characterized by bright colors and the fusion of architectural space and biomorphic forms. His mature work blended abstraction, figuration, and multi-dimensional spaces into complex, cosmic landscapes.

Throughout his illustrious career, Roberto Matta achieved several remarkable milestones. He initially worked as an architect before joining the Surrealist movement under the mentorship of André Breton. His association with Surrealists, including Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, led to iconic pieces such as “The Earth Is a Man” (1942) and “Psychological Morphology” (1938). Matta’s first solo exhibition was held at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York in 1940, followed by shows at the Pierre Matisse Gallery and Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century. Since then, nearly 400 solo exhibitions of his work have been mounted, including a retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York (1957), which traveled to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (1957) and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (1958). Retrospectives were also held at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris (1985), and at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (1999). In 2001, an exhibition of Matta’s paintings and drawings made during his time in the United States opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Additionally, in 2006, the San Diego Museum of Art hosted an exhibition featuring Matta’s work alongside that of his son, Gordon Matta-Clark.

In the realm of auctions, Matta’s works have commanded substantial prices, with notable pieces like “La Révolte des Contraires” selling for over $5 million, underlining his lasting impact on the art market. Furthermore, Matta’s artworks are part of prestigious collections around the world, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the MoMA, the LACMA in Los Angeles, and the MALBA in Buenos Aires, as well as Tate Britain in London. His pieces continue to captivate art enthusiasts and scholars alike, exploring the intricate connections between the subconscious, the cosmos, and the human experience. Matta’s legacy endures not only through his prolific body of work but also through the generations of artists he inspired to question reality and tap into the depths of their creativity.

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Photo: Roberto Matta in his studio, Paris, c. 1956