It’s all over, this is other art | Alfonso de la Torre


by Alfonso de la Torre

*Text written for the exhibition “Zóbel and the Great Post-War Generation” (11th-21st March 2021) at the Fundación PONS in Madrid.

It’s all over, this is other art[1].
Manolo Millares


This exhibition allows us to contextualize the presence of the work of Fernando Zóbel (Manila, 1924-Rome, 1984), linked to certain essential abstract artists from our postwar period. From the tutelary perspective of Joan Miró or Pablo Picasso, the exhibition relates the central position of the former as an energy hub during the development of postwar art. Many of the abstract creators of that time could be found around him —that “unrepeatable generation”, in the words of Zóbel—, from the two main places of dissemination of those years, the cities of Madrid symbolized by the creation of El Paso in 1957 and previously Dau al Set in Barcelona.

Rigorous criteria, forward-looking with a desire to provide creation with a universal art, were the objectives outlined in the manifesto of El Paso (1957)[2]. There they were, said José Ayllón in the first letter, opening the group’s intense textual saga: “our spaces open, infinite; our signs; our microcosms and macrocosms…»[3]. This desire was marked by an inalienable craving to connect with a new time, in the sense of what is to come, a concern almost to come in contact “with the most up-to-date artistic currents”, which it was necessary to combine in a “revolutionary plastic” which would respond “to a universal activity”. The end of discussions on abstraction or figuration, Constructivism and Expressionism, individual or collective art, the objective was to promote “an authentic and free work, open to experimentation and investigation without borders”[4]. In his words, the extent of the opening made way for a deep, serious and significant art.

This allows us to understand that El Paso worked by symbolizing what was a context of young artists with a heartfelt open mind, which was emphatic but which avoided dogma and allowed very different proposals to be spread in our art, not only the Informalists, as can be seen in the (“democratic”, I have sometimes written) coexistence of very different trends, including the existence of a profound geometric current represented, among others, by the cases of the Equipo 57 or Jorge Oteiza (the list would be very long). This was successfully reflected in one of the main events of this time, the exhibition “Other art” (1957)[5], which permitted the presence in Barcelona and Madrid of artists representing international abstraction, until then hardly known, coinciding with a time of other international exhibitions on Abstract Expressionism or Informalism[6]. It was also a time of harmony in which our artists travelled between Barcelona and Madrid, in response to the events in these cities, many of them also travelling to the abstract Paris which received them in its Cité universitaire, allowing them to come into contact with the main international currents and artists, this being revealed in some elements of abstraction lyrique, which came here, for example, through Gerardo Rueda.

It was not, therefore, exactly a closed world, but rather those years of darkness were illuminated by the flashes of endless activity by the artists, in many cases moreover equipped with abundant information from outside, mainly through the arrival of the most important magazines and catalogues published at that time. Almost all the artists exhibited made international wandering one of their mottos and, thus, to quote Fernando Zóbel is to mention his American academic heritage, the extensive baggage from the East and his trips in Europe, transferred with extraordinary generosity on his arrival in our country at the end of the 50s. Zóbel thus became a true energy hub, and it is therefore good that this is reflected in this exhibition.

Following various figurative attempts, Zóbel soon became abstract, this artist who knew Jackson Pollock and whose exhibition by Bertha Schaefer in New York, in 1965, received a return visit from Mark Rothko, ah, his admired painter for whom he began almost everything in his painting[7]. Thus, almost in the 60s, Emmanuel Torres described Zóbel’s work as “new abstractions” in support of the motto “calligraphy, space, black and white”. The artist’s activity expressed through a certain informal Baroque style with a careful composition, Zóbel also became capable of travelling toward consumption, since his shapes, installed in the space, seemed to be linked to the concept of time, on occasions appearing to be capable of abandoning their place on the canvas to truly aspire to the surrounding space, signs, shapes like calligraphy evoking the oriental world, dynamism of elements inherited from drawing, movement of shapes like spirals, flights, waves, circles or even strokes appear to be left in permanent vibrato when falling on the fabric, or former constellations on the white, the appearance of his images rejecting any figurative reference.

Engaging in an intense life between painting and drawing, engraving, photography, artists both from his time and from before, museums and exhibitions, works of art, friendships, conferences, travels, readings or collections. Seeing, but not just bearing witness, since he also acted as an interpreter of the world, that of the past and the pulsating world around him. An intense existence, the full life of a painter, but also the writing of a diarist and critic, immersed in an infinite curiosity which embraced various spheres, including archaeology and musical knowledge and its practice. This painter uncovered artists, new interpretations of those already acclaimed and new looks at extremely rare movements, writings or museums and, more importantly, specific artworks —those considered to be great, but also others vanished in history— which, tempted by his knowledge, were transformed into events. He helped make reparation possible, from that world of thistle and ash which he inhabited, in the words of Antonio Saura.[8] The figures of Picasso and Miró were among the examples of freedom that many artists of this time moreover saw.

The same could be said about many of the creators of that time; in those years it is difficult to find someone who had not travelled to Paris, London or Venice, some to New York. A few of them were represented by international galleries, establishing roots early in foreign collections and present in exhibitions abroad, among others in the numerous group exhibitions promoted by the regime (Alexandria, Venice, São Paulo, Pittsburgh, Tokyo or South America, among those that I recall now). In some cases, José Guerrero was paradigmatic (like Esteban Vicente), in contact with American Abstract Expressionism, almost revealed in that beautiful 1959 Composición (Composition). Zóbel wrote that he perceived that our best artistic examples were already staying in foreign collections in the 60s, which led him to collect the El Paso artists, represented here by Feito, Francés, Millares, Saura and Serrano. Together with those who arose in the Catalan sphere, mainly in the context of Dau al Set, exemplified now in the presence of Tàpies. Together with the consideration that Zóbel always had for the sculpture of his time, symbolized here in that beautiful Casa del poeta IV (The Poet’s House IV) (1983) by Chillida. It was the end of the years of darkness; our artists were set in the context of the world during that time, some of them maybe becoming what Françoise Choay called outsiders in the labyrinth of the world.

Indeed, the mid-60s brought an extension of the gallery world in our country, and also the opening of the Museo de Arte Abstracto in Cuenca (1966), with Zóbel’s collection, an unlikely location fashioned by artists, with a colony of creators, a true example which fit in with other international experiences, such as those which arose in the States; I am thinking of Greenwich Village in New York or Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs. Despite everything, the world forges ahead; that was Millares’s prophecy[9].


[1] MILLARES, Manolo. OTRO ARTE O EL TIEMPO PERDIDO (Comedia de un solo acto para no ser representada). El Paso, letter no. 2, Madrid, April 1957.

[2] “To this end, we have brought together whatever we currently consider to be valid, with rigorous criteria, looking toward a more Spanish and universal future art”. Manifesto of El Paso, Madrid, 15 April 1957.

[3] AYLLÓN, José. EL PASO 1. Madrid, March 1957.

[4] EL PASO. EL PASO 3.  Madrid, summer 1957.

[5] Sala Gaspar (Galerie Stadler-Galerie Rive Droite, Paris and sponsored by Club 49), “Other art”, Barcelona, 16 February-8 March 1957. Travelled to the Sala Negra, Madrid, 24 April-15 May 1957. Appeared in the catalogue. From the Galerie Stadler: Appel, Bryen, Burri, Falkenstein, Francker, Guiette, Hosiasson, Imai, Jenkins, Mathieu, Riopelle, Saura, Salles, Serpan, Tàpies; from the Galerie Rive Droite: Fautrier, Wessel; from private collections: Domoto, de Kooning, Pollock, Tobey, Wols; from the Sala Gaspar: Lazlo Fugedy, Tharrats, Vila-Casas. The Madrid version incorporated: Canogar, Feito and Millares.

[6] I refer mainly to: Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo, The New American Painting-La Nueva Pintura Americana, Madrid, July 1958.

[7] Rothko visited Zóbel’s solo exhibition at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, New York, on 7 April 1965, devoting a long time to the visit and praising it.

[8] SAURA, Antonio.Viola y Oniro. Madrid: Cuadernos Guadalimar, no. 31, 1987, p. 6. Series of texts written in 1936, sent to Antoni García Lamolla.

[9] “To bring into operation the museum that we all dream of and desire with full honours and integrity. A Museum of Contemporary Art which truly reflects our time (…) because the world, my dear friend, always forges ahead”. Letter from Manolo Millares, Las Palmas, 2/I/1955 to José Luis Fernández del Amo.