This exhibition, featuring more than 100 pieces and curated by Luis Puelles and Lourdes Moreno, explores how masks changed the representation of the human figure in modern art. Initially having a traditional, festive use linked to carnivals and fancy-dress costume, which lingered on in early avant-garde art in depictions of characters from the Commedia dell’arte, masks came to be identified with the grotesque in Goya’s work and emerged as a reference for portraying the face in modern art as a result of the influence of ethnographic masks of non-European cultures in the early 20th century.
Mirroring the sequence of a metamorphosis, the exhibition examines how masks were used in art as something absolute, beyond their well-known traditional associations with rituals, magic, the theatre and costume, showing how they went from being objects to artistic images. It traces the evolution of masks from physical objects –tangible elements placed over faces to conceal or replace them – to the gradual abandonment of the presence behind them, eventually leading to their loss of materiality and independence from the face and, ultimately, to the merging of mask and face into a new and ambiguous identity in modern portraiture.
Supernatural masks. The artists of the early avant-garde period became increasingly interested in non-western ritual masks as sources of inspiration for shattering the codes of figurative representation and imbuing works with new meanings and varied nterpretations. Modern artists’ espousal of the aesthetic principles associated with the ‘primitive’ – simplicity, coarseness, spirituality, a hieratic appearance –marked the abandonment of the academic conventions of beauty and harmony and from then onwards the mask acted as a modern synthesis of the human face.
Over the course of history artists have turned to masks and fancy-dress costume as strategies for shaping new identities. Carnival celebrations are a paradigmatic example of the collective release of irrational urges through masks. They are a means of subverting the rules and giving free rein to the most basic instincts. We find similar strategies in the theatre, where characters wear masks and are protected by a physical barrier between reality and appearance, in a universe that combines the grotesque, the comic and caricature.
As the last link in the genealogical chain of the presence of masks in the complex modern identity, we find portraits where faces function as ‘inhuman’ masks, with no communicative depth. The triumph of subjectivity, the absence of dogmas and loss of interest in achieving likeness gave rise to a repertoire of identities that were ambiguous, fragmented, disfigured, alienated or concealed by makeup. These ‘faceless’ portraits are an appropriate expression of today’s contradictory society.
Bilingual catalogue published on the occasion of the exhibition
The catalogue, illustrated with 147 colour plates, includes texts by the exhibition curators Luis Puelles Romero, Professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory at the UMA, Lourdes Moreno, Director of the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga, and contributions from the Museum’s curatorial team.
In the following links you can see two videos of the exhibition:
Museo Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Málaga From 28 July 2020 to 10 January 2021
Julio Gonzalez. Máscara austera. 1940
Walt Kuhn, Boy with chistera, 1948
The next is an Evgenya Petrova brochure for the Malaga Russian Museum Exhibition. It is a good choice to share with our followers a georgeous XX century Russian women art selection.
Antonina Gmurzynska was perhaps the first Western collector to show a deep and serious interest in the Russian art of the first decades of the 20th century, and her collection was very well known to art connoisseurs. Items from it have often been exhibited in various countries, and published in books, catalogues and albums.
For several decades now Krystyna Gmurzynska, daughter of Antonina, has been continuing and developing what her mother had started, and during this time the collection has, of course, changed. Some things are now in other hands, and some names and works that were unknown in the 1950s-1970s, when Antonina was collecting Russian art, became available and were acquired by Krystyna.
The theme of Female Artists in Russia does not form a special section as such in this collection. However, it turns out that quite a considerable number of exceptional artists in Russia were, in fact, women. Thus, Krystyna Gmurzynska’s collection provides a welcome supplement to the female theme displayed in this year’s exhibitions.
It includes works by artists who are rarely found elsewhere, such as Elena Guro (1877-1913), Xenia (1895(94?)-1955) and Maria Ender (1897-1942) and Anastasia Akhtyrko (1902-1968). Some female artists, such as Antonina Sofronova (1892-1966), are represented by a whole series of works that are known just by individual drawings in other collections. Many of the works in the Gmurzynska collection reveal unknown pages in the artistic careers of famous masters. Kazimir Malevich, for example, worked during the last few years of his life on the decoration of architectural structures. One of his faithful students and helpers was Anna Leporskaya, and together they produced a project for decorating the Red Theatre in Leningrad (1931-1932). Malevich’s concept consisted of an entirely new non-objective approach to decorating public spaces. In a letter from Malevich to Leporskaya his specific colouristic treatment is indicated with complete clarity. In this same letter we can see Malevich’s inflexible demand: if his idea was altered in any way he would abandon the project. The sketches for the decoration of the Red Theatre that are in the Gmurzynska collection, are extremely important illustrations of what the interiors could have looked like if the theatre had not burnt down in 1932.
This relatively small exhibition, showing a small part of the Gmurzynska collection that is devoted to female artists in Russia, displays a fitting complement to the Women Artists exhibition.