October 22, 2017


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Lot 218: Gunther Gerzso

Lot 218: Gunther Gerzso

Blue Square

Oil on canvas
Signed and dated lower right; title frame verso; signature, date, and title canvas verso
Canvas (vis.): 21.25" x 17.75"; Frame: 28.125" x 24.5"; (Canvas: 54 x 45 cm)
Provenance: Private Collection, Hollywood, California
Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000
Price Realized: $137,500
Inventory Id: 26218

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Pioneering Mexican Modernist Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000) was an acclaimed film and theater set designer in the 1950s when he turned his focus entirely to the creation of the "architectonic abstractions" for which he is now widely celebrated. Born in Mexico City to a German mother and a Hungarian father, the self-taught artist received a significant portion of his education in Switzerland, where his maternal uncle Hans Wendland, an influential art historian and collector in Lugano, took him under his wing. The young artist was introduced to Kandinsky's abstractions, the principles of psychoanalysis, Great Masters such as Titian and Rembrandt, the French Romantics, and the mystical prose of Hermann Hesse, who was his uncle’s neighbor. During this period Gerzso befriended the acclaimed Italian stage set designer Nando Tamberlani, who encouraged the young artist to pursue a career in the field, a path that would make Gerzso one of the most sought-after set designers of his time. During the 1930s and 1940s Gerzso collaborated with many avant-garde Latin American filmmakers, including Roberto Gavaldón, Chano Urueta, and Luis Buñuel, as well as Hollywood filmmakers who set their productions in Mexico, such as John Huston and John Ford.

Gerzso often described himself and his work as "European with Mexican eyes." Pre-Columbian visual culture and Western artistic movements, such as Surrealism, Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism, equally influenced his work. Surrealism in particular exerted itself forcefully in Gerzso’s earliest paintings, although Gerzso himself expressed reticence towards the idiom. "Surrealism is very theatrical," he once maintained. "Dalí is a great example. His early work was beautiful, but it had a lot of drama. There’s also great theatrical content in Tintoretto, who made wonderful paintings. I'm not against theatricality, but Cubism, Mondrian, and the Russians — Kandinsky, Malevich and others — just can’t be ignored. One has to follow their path without imitating them." The influence of artists such as Diego Rivera, Wolfgang Paalen, and José Clemente Orozco is particularly evident, but it is also easy to discern echoes of Picasso and Matisse in Gerzso's early work. The later style for which Gerzso is best known engages and synthesizes architectural elements and geometric structures, such as those found in the work of Le Corbusier, while also using motifs derived from both pre-contact Latin American culture and that of ancient Greece. Gerzso possesses a theatrical, almost cinematic sensibility of condensed and over-charged narrative.

Nobel Prize-winning Mexican author Octavio Paz, who called Gerzso a "glacial spark" and who lauded him as "one of the great Latin American painters," remarked that each of the artist's paintings holds a secret that continually unravels and conceals itself. This sensibility is evident in Blue Square (1964), where Gerzso's characteristically hyper-charged visual language is on full display. "His painting indicates its existence behind the canvas," Paz said. "The depicted rendings, mutilations and sexual hollows have a function: they allude to what lies on the other side." Expressing a reality that goes beyond the surface, his works take the unconscious and the intuitive as their bread and butter. "Many people say I am an abstract painter," Gerzso once noted. "Actually, I think my paintings are very realistic. They are real because they express very accurately what I am all about, and in doing so they are to some degree about everybody else."

Gerzso held solo exhibitions at several museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. His work was the subject of exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and at the Musée Picasso in Antibes, France.

Aldrete-Haas, Jose Antonio. "Gunther Gerzso." BOMB, Winter 2001, Web.
Kinzer, Stephen. "Just For Art, Mexican Broke The Mold; A Retrospective Is Gerzso's First Since His Death." The New York Times, 26 Aug. 2003, Web.
"Gunther Gerzso." Latin American Masters, 2017, Web. Accessed 18 Aug. 2017.