Art Basel Online
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Alfonso de la Torre on Fernando Zóbel
The last ten years in particular have witnessed the indisputable recognition and rehabilitation of Zóbel, who died in 1984. A renewed encounter with his work within the context of the art history of our time reveals that his painting incorporated, with naturalness and far-reaching recognition, a revision of the international context of postwar art, with which he was, to be sure, permanently intertwined throughout his life. As with Zao Wou-Ki, the two men born a few years apart, we might subscribe to Michaux’s claim that Zóbel’s space is silence. Here is an artist who was capable of stealing a march on his time by presenting a contemporary vision that never lost sight of the tradition of the Pacific. Neither did he forego the ties that bound him to the Philippines and, becoming a greatconnoisseur of Oriental culture, his bonding with that culture became stronger through his travels and his intense knowledge of its past.
This allows his painting to represent the highly contemporary intersection of diverse worlds, without us ever having to lose sight of his American training and his vision of the events that occurred in the unfolding of Abstract Expressionism, while his work would traverse without hindrance the debates between abstraction and figuration that crisscross the twentieth century.
In his mythical Notebook (1974) Zóbel established certain intellectual bases which are relevant to 2019, the world of the future would be complex, nature ought to participate in our thinking and, of course, in such a way that therein he described artists of every time and place there, taking great care to make the modernity of the world of the East compatible with the thinking of so-called Western culture.
Dying at the age of 59, two posthumous exhibitions, the year of his demise, rendered him recognition. They occurred in the two places where, symbolically, his life unfolded, in the East and Europe, hence the Museum of Philippine Art in Manila devoted an explicit tribute to him, while the other was organized in the Fundación Juan March in Madrid, also being shown in the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca, which he had conceived ten years before. Numerous exhibitions began to reconstruct his trajectory, notably the show devoted to him in 1987 by his museum in Harvard, the Fogg Art Museum, and the retrospective held at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid in 2003.
This undoubtedly explains the attention paid to Zóbel’s work at the recent 57th Venice Biennale of 2017, where he’d already been present in 1962, with the 57th Biennale incorporating a big exhibition of his painting in the parallel programme, something which was documented in an intense catalogue. Furthermore, major international museums—this is occurring currently in the one in Boston, where Zóbel lived—reflect on his painting and his labours as an artist, as a creative force in postwar painting but also an indisputable intellectual instigator of museum projects.
Continual exhibitions of his oeuvre during this twenty-first century have done no more than underline the permanence of his knowhow in the investigation of the world of forms, as well as the necessity for possible revisions of this knowhow, which has to be considered universal, placing him among the great creative figures of the second half of the twentieth century, as the Galeria Mayoral has done in reconstructing his encounter with the sculptor Eduardo Chillida in the exhibition Zóbel / Chillida: Crisscrossing Paths.