Antonio Seguí

1934 Antonio Seguí born in Córdoba (Argentina).

1951-1954 Travels in Europe and Africa. Studies painting and sculp­ture in France and Spain.

1957 First solo exhi­bi­tion in Argentina. Travels throughout South America and Central America. Spends time in Mexico where he studies all the tech­niques of engraving.

1961 Returns to Argentina.

1963 Moves to Paris, then Arcueil, where he lives cur­rently.

Edward Lucie-Smith, Surtout les cha­peaux, 2003.

Like many major artists from Latin America, Antonio Seguí has spent a large part of his career away from his native country, which in his case is Argentina. He nev­er­the­less remains pro­foundly linked to Latin American cul­ture.

Even within the immense diver­sity of this cul­ture, Argentina is a spe­cial case. Never the seat of a great Indian civil­i­sa­tion, and neglected by Spain, it only became a Spanish vice-roy­alty as late as 1770. Less than fifty years later it achieved inde­pen­dence from the Spanish royal gov­ern­ment. At the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury there was an immense influx of European immi­grants, the majority Italian. Most arrived in the very short period between 1905 and 1910. They trans­formed the cul­ture of Argentina and made it the most con­sciously «European» of all the great Latin American republics. Not sur­pris­ingly in these cir­cum­stances, Argentinean cul­ture never felt nos­talgia for the great Pre-Columbian empires the Spanish con­quis­ta­dors dis­placed - some­thing that has been such a pow­erful factor in the modern artistic devel­op­ment of both Mexico and Peru. Nor was it eth­ni­cally mixed, with pow­erful indige­nous ele­ments, as was and is the case in Brazil.

The hero figure in Argentina was not the proud Inca or Aztec, but the free-spirited Gaucho or cowboy roaming the immense Argentinean grass­lands. It is a gaucho who is the hero of the national epic, the poem Martin Fierro, pub­lished in two parts, in 1873 and 1879. This poem gave its name to the avant-garde review of the same title, which first appeared in 1924 and served as a ral­lying point for the first gen­er­a­tion of Argentinean Modernists.
This gen­er­a­tion was, how­ever, urban, not rural, and its main impulses came from Europe, not from the Argentinean hin­ter­land. In the visual arts the fig­ure­head of this gen­er­a­tion was the painter Emilio Pettoruti (1896-1971). Pettoruti trav­elled to Italy on a schol­ar­ship awarded by the gov­ern­ment of the state of Buenos Aires, and fell in with the group of Italian futur­ists who gath­ered round the magazine named Lacerba. Later, he exhib­ited in Berlin, at the gallery «Der Sturm», run by Herwath Walden, one of the most impor­tant artistic impre­sarios in Germany in the years that imme­di­ately fol­lowed World War I. Finally he went to Paris and met the great Spanish painter Juan Gris. Gris had a deci­sive influ­ence over him. Pettoruti returned to his native country as a com­mitted Cubist.
An impor­tant con­tem­po­rary of Pettoruti’s was Alejandro Xul Solar (Schultz Solari, 1897-1963). Xul Solar was also affected by Cubism, but his work, which is always on a small scale, shows many other influ­ences as well. He trav­elled widely in Europe between 1911 and 1924, and seems to have had some knowl­edge of the Berlin Dada of the imme­di­ately post-war period, and in par­tic­ular of the draw­ings of George Grosz. His draw­ings, like those of Grosz, often make use of let­tering and graphic signs. Another influ­ence seems to have been the work of Paul Klee.

Xul Solar is in many respects an imme­diate artistic ancestor of Seguí. Many of the devices he uses appear in a dif­ferent form in some of Seguí’s most typ­ical works.
Another ancestor, speaking in a more gen­eral sense, is a slightly younger Argentinean artist, Antonio Berni (1905-1981). Berni is now chiefly remem­bered for the work he pro­duced at the end of his career, from the 1960s onwards - two great nar­ra­tive cycles that com­bine painting with col­lage, in which the artist expressed his feel­ings about the social con­di­tion of his country.

He reached this point by a some­what cir­cuitous route. Berni studied in Paris for five years on a gov­ern­ment schol­ar­ship, leaving Argentina in 1925 and returning in 1930. In Paris he studied under minor but fash­ion­able Cubists such as André Lhote and Otto Friesz, but also came into con­tact with the dynamic new Surrealist Movement through the poet Louis Aragon. After he returned to Buenos Aires, he was in con­tact with the Mexican Muralists, working with Siqueiros on a mural in a pri­vate house when the latter vis­ited Buenos Aires in 1933. Later still, he felt the impact of Picasso in his most Communist phase, and was influ­enced by the Socialist Realist artists iden­ti­fied with the French Communist party during the 1950s, such as André Fougeron (1913-1998) and Boris Taslitzky (b. 1911).
Berni, too, counts as one of Seguí’s fore­bears, though Seguí’s doesn’t take his pol­i­tics quite so seri­ously. What he shares with Berni is an interest in nar­ra­tive, and a capacity for social obser­va­tion. In addi­tion, he is fas­ci­nated, just as Berni was, by cer­tain typ­i­cally Argentinean myths, par­tic­u­larly the myth of the tango.

The selec­tion of Seguí’s work pre­sented here shows not only the nature of his artistic roots in Argentina, but the remark­able orig­i­nality and verve of his own con­tri­bu­tion to Latin American Modernism. One of the true dis­tin­guishing marks of Seguí’s work is its won­derful sense of humour. In the cat­a­logue of an exhi­bi­tion called «À vous de faire l’his­toire», shown in 1998 at «La Maison de l’Amérique Latine» in Paris, he com­ments: «A sense of humour is the only thing that can save us... Yes, I’m for the glob­al­i­sa­tion of humour! In art, too, this is some­thing that can save us. In France, humour is sar­castic, some­times cyn­ical. In Argentina, and above all in Córdoba (the city of Seguí’s birth), which is a city of stu­dents, humour is deri­sive - it deals with the absur­dity of daily life. People will say of someone that he’s "as use­less as an ash­tray on a motor-scooter..."».

One does not have to look far for exam­ples of this spirit of deri­sion in Seguí’s work. Look, for example, at his large urban and crowd scenes, such as Gente de las Azoteas (1992), Se Llamaba Charles Atlas (2001) or Pasar Desapercibido (2001). The first of these speaks of the claus­tro­phobic nature of the modern urban envi­ron­ment. The other two paint­ings, which form a pair, have no build­ings, but con­sist simply, in each case, of a vast crowd of scur­rying flgures, cov­ering the whole sur­face of the canvas. Some of these fig­ures are nude, but their com­pan­ions con­trive to ignore this, so com­pletely intent are they on the urgency of their own errands. These crowd scenes are rem­i­nis­cent of what one finds in the Berlin draw­ings of George Grosz, but the mood is sub­stan­tially less harsh. There are other ele­ments as well - the delib­er­ately stylised drawing seems to derive from aspects of chil­dren’s art, and is a reminder of the work of Jean Dubuffet, a dom­i­nant figure in the Paris art world when Seguí first arrived there in 1951.

One notice­able thing about Seguí’s clothed male fig­ures is the fact that they very nearly always wear hats. The artist notes, in «À vous de faire l’his­toire», that «In my child­hood, every­body wore a hat. When I went with my father and uncles to a foot-ball match, to a recep­tion or on a hunting-party, they all wore very hand­some hats, most of all my father, who was a real ama­teur of head­gear...». The hats are cel­e­brated in another, much ear­lier, work included in this show, Surtout les Chapeaux (1967). This is a com­bi­na­tion of painting and sculp­ture, with cut out shapes clinging to a rect­an­gular, white-painted pillar.
Surtout les Chapeaux intro­duces another aspect of Seguí’s art - the fact that, though he is usu­ally classed as a painter, he has always worked in a large number of dif­ferent media, with equal facility in each case. The pre­sent exhi­bi­tion show­cases a number of bronze sculp­tures, made at the very begin­ning of the 1980s. Though Seguí is far from being a «clas­sical» artist, in any of the usual senses of that adjec­tive, two of these sculp­tures even allude to a clas­sical myth, The Fall of Icarus.

The others tackle sub­jects not gen­er­ally thought of as suit­able for sculp­ture – for example Secondary Residence (La Maison Secondaire) lightly satirises the French cult of the hol­iday home, with the house itself, its puffed up mistress and the tree in her garden all assem­bled on a little plat­form. The mood is kindly, but the obser­va­tion of bour­geois pre­ten­tious­ness is deli­ciously acute. The fact that Seguí’s sculp­tural style easily encom­passes two such dif­ferent kinds of sub­ject-matter is a tribute both to his con­fi­dence and to his sheer inven­tive­ness as an artist.

In painting, though Seguí has usu­ally been thought of as a painter of multi-figure com­po­si­tions, he has also made a large number of can­vases where single fig­ures are dom­i­nant. Examples here are Sacando la Lengua (1965) and EI Fumador (1966). These are inter­esting for a number of dif­ferent rea­sons. One is that they raise the slightly vexed ques­tion of whether Seguí at one time counted as a Pop Artist. On the whole Pop Art and Latin American cul­ture did not mix, and most attempts at Pop by Latin American painters seem super­fi­cial. These paint­ings, which date from the high point of the Pop era, do nev­er­the­less have an undoubted resem­blance to the work made by the Hairy Who, a group of semi-Pop painters working in Chicago, who held their first col­lec­tive exhi­bi­tion in 1966. Sacando la Lengua is espe­cially close to some paint­ings of heads made by one of the most promi­nent mem­bers of the group, Jim Nutt (b. 1938). The resem­blance is cer­tainly coin­ci­dental, as Seguí, then living between Paris and Buenos Aires, had no con­tact with the Chicago art world of that epoch. However, it is also sig­nif­i­cant because it sig­nals the fas­ci­na­tion felt by a large number of impor­tant artists of the post-World War II period with child art and Outsider art.

EI Fumador sug­gests another, much more firmly estab­lished con­nec­tion – with Xul Solar, whom Seguí met in Buenos Aires in the very early 1960s, and, either through Xul Solar either directly, with the art of Paul Klee. An espe­cially amusing aspect of EI Fumador is the figure’s checked shirt, which looks like a direct tran­scrip­tion of one of Klee’s more abstract com­po­si­tions.

A more nos­talgic, very specif­i­cally Argentinean aspect of Seguí’s art is rep­re­sented by the paint­ings and draw­ings he has made related to the story of Carlos Gardel (1890-1935). Gardel, killed while still rel­a­tively young in a plane-crash at Medellín, Colombia, was the greatest com­poser and singer of tango, Argentina’s national music. Indeed Gardel him­self thought of tango as a kind of nation­ality in its own right. He was in fact born in France as Charles Gardes, and was brought to Argen- tina by his mother when he was just over two years old. When he was on a tour of Spain in 1927, a reporter asked him what was his true nation­ality. Gardel replied: «My nation­ality is the Tango and its cap­ital is Calle Corrientes». Corrientes was the street in Buenos Aires where all the tango bars were located.

For Seguí, tango is pri­mary Argentinean myth. In the two paint­ings called Retrado con Codigo (1978), which show a figure – Gardel – from behind, with a free brush­stroke above him, he seems to sug­gest that there is a close analogy between dancing the tango and the act of painting. As the lyric of one famous tango – not as it hap­pens by Gardel – puts it:

Así se baila el tango
Mientras dibujo el ocho
Para estos fil­igranas
Yo soy como un pintor…
[This is how the tango is danced
when I “draw” a figure eight
doing this fancy foot­work
I am like a painter…]

The Gardel series reminds one that Seguí’s art has a pow­er­fully lyric com­po­nent that tran­scends his satir­ical inten­tions, just as the tango trans­forms the joys and sor­rows – most of all in this case the sor­rows – of ordi­nary life.

Meanwhile, how are we to place that Seguí does in the com­plex artistic sit­u­a­tion that now pre­vails at the begin­ning of the 21st cen­tury? Seguí is a vet­eran of 20th cen­tury Modernism, and he is one of the few artists of his gen­er­a­tion (he was born in 1934) who has sur­vived with his rep­u­ta­tion intact and who is still cre­ating work of great orig­i­nality. The reason for this sur­vival is, in my view, his pop­ulism, his keen sense of what is likely to com­mu­ni­cate imme­di­ately with the ordi­nary spec­tator, the prover­bial «man in the street». He is keenly aware of the way in which the sup­pos­edly exper­i­mental avant-garde has in fact been trans­formed into a kind of academy, and he is deter­mined not to be caught in this trap. At the same time, he remains keenly aware of what the orig­inal Modernists achieved, and is not afraid to incor­po­rate some of their dis­cov­eries in his own work.

Edward Lucie-Smith, Surtout les cha­peaux, in Antonio Seguí, Frissiras Museum, Athens, Greece, 2003.


Colección de Arte de la Cancillería Argentina, Buenos Aires
Fondo Nacional de las Artes, Buenos Aires
Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas de la Manzana de las Luces, Buenos Aires
MALBA-Colección Costantini, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Buenos Aires
Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires
Museo Nacional del Grabado, Buenos Aires
Museo de Arte Religioso Juan de Tejeda, Córdoba
Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes Dr. Genaro Pérez, Córdoba
Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes “Emilio A. Caraffa”, Córdoba
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Córdoba
Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes, La Plata
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Latinoamericano – MACLA, La Plata
Museo Castanigno, Rosario
Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes, Tucumán

Ministère de la Communauté Française, Brussels
Cercle Culturel des Riezes et des Sarts, Cul-des-Sarts (Couvin)
Centre de la Gravure et de l’Image Imprimée, La Louvière
Musée du Petit Format, Nismes

Museu de Bellas Artes, Porto Alegre
Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro
Museu de Arte Contemporânea, São Paulo

Museo de la Solidarida, Fundación Salvador Allende, Santiago

Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Banco de la República de Colombia, Bogotá
Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, Cali

Museum of Contemporary Art, Vela Luka

Casa de las Américas, Havana

Czech Republic
Národní Galerie, Prague

Casa de la Cultura, Quito

Universal Graphic Museum, Cairo

Sara Hildenin-Taide Museum, Tamper

Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar
Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture, Grenoble
Musée Martiniquais des Arts des Amériques – M2A2, Le Lamentin (Martinique)
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons
Musée Cantini , Marseilles
Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris
Mobilier national et les Manufactures nationales des Gobelins et de Beauvais, Paris
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, Marseille
Fonds Départemental d’Art Contemporain, Seine Saint-Denis
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tourcoing
MAC/VAL, Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, Vitry-sur-Seine
Galerie Municipale, Vitry-sur-Seine

Kunsthalle Darmstadt
Kunstverein zu Frechen
Städtische Museum, Leverkusen
Städtische Kunsthalle Recklinghausen

Frissiras Museum, Athens

Musée National d’Art Moderne, Bagdad

Fondazione Michetti, Francavilla al Mare
Museo all’aperto di Arte Contemporanea “Cre­ator Vesevo”, Ercolano

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Bois-Le-Duc

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano, Managua

Museo de Arte Moderno, Asunción

Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo, Lima
Museo de Arte Moderno - Fundación Gerardo Chávez, Trujillo

International Print Triennial Society, Cracow
Museum Sztuki, Lodz

Porto Rico
Museo del Grabado, San Juan

Muzej Savremene Umetnosti, Belgrade

Maison des Arts, Bratislava

Musée d’Art Moderne, Ljubljana

Fundació Stämpfli, Sitges
Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao
Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo, Badajoz

Kunsthalle Basel, Basel

United States
Window South Collection, Glendale, California
MoLAA - Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California
Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California
Oakland Museum, Oakland, California
First National Bank of Chicago, Illinois
University Museum, Eastern Michigan
Walker Art Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, N.Y.
Vassar Art Gallery, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Pittsburgh National Bank, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Interamerican Development Bank, Washington D.C.
Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Latinoamericano, Punta del Este

Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas
Universidad Central, Caracas

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