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Fanny Sanín
b. 1938 Bogotá, Colombia

All of Fanny Sanín’s production starts with geometry and color. She has kept away from transitorily more attractive systems such as Optic Art and Kineticism. She has used geometry to perceive the world as something quiet and intense, as a stable structure that can be perfectly permeated by emotion without disruption.[1]

—Marta Traba on Fanny Sanín

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Fanny Sanín listens to music while she works. A variety of compositions—from folk music, to classical music, and the atonality of Béla Bartók[2]—catalyze improvisations rendered in acrylic on paper: her “Studies for Paintings.” She completes several of these studies before moving to canvas to render permanent her chosen composition. A band of color that stretches the entire height of one study might become truncated in another or cut with a differently colored weft. Her brushstrokes, while visible in these sketches, are not perfunctory; each study is considered, the results meditative. The Colombian curator José Ignacio Roca has written that these works on paper constitute “a series of formal decisions, of which the final [painting] is only one more stage of a complex process of infinite meanings.”[3] Though the resulting paintings appear strongly final—the immediacy of Sanín’s brushstrokes now subsumed within color units of evenly applied acrylic—they follow from a process of composing and recomposing that could have unfolded in another way at another time.


In Sanín’s rhythmic compositions, color takes the lead with the warmest and brightest tones pushing forward as the dullest and most earthen tones are drawn inward. Her works, whether on paper or canvas, are marked by a dual consideration: a simultaneous attention to both the surface of her paintings and the unfolding of virtual space within them. “I want [the canvas] to look very clean, very flat,” Sanín has remarked, “although I consider the paintings not flat at all.”[4] Her compositions are therefore architectonic exchanges of mass and void, engaging in a careful Albersian game of projection and recession. Sanín’s colors, however, are improvised, and therefore diverge from the systematic approach of the German theorist who meticulously tracked and recorded his color mixtures.


Sanín arrived at the foundations of her current practice in the late 1960s, after having already made a name for herself in Colombia with expressive paintings rendered in oil. Her 1965 solo exhibition at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, then under the directorship of the renowned Argentinian curator Marta Traba, is a testament to her early stature. While continuing her artistic studies in London at the end of the decade, however, other painterly possibilities came into view upon visiting the traveling exhibition Art of the Real, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “I will never forget,” she later reminisced, “the scale and color of the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Mark Rothko, and Frank Stella.”[5] Sanín subsequently developed a language of hard edges and abandoned oil for acrylic, placing herself in an art historical and formal dialogue with those North American artists of the mid-twentieth century who explored the possibilities of color. Moving first from compositions built solely of vertical bands, Sanín gradually integrated horizontals and structured her canvases according to a bilateral symmetry.[6] In the late 1980s—nearly a decade and a half after first beginning her hard-edge aesthetic—she introduced diagonals as well as the occasional, graceful curve.[7]


Currently living and working in New York, Sanín continues her systematic and patient approach to exploring the fundamental components of structure, animating and combining them into chromatic, sonorous harmonies. She has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including those held at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogotá (1965, 1987); Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas (1967); Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (1979); Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogotá (2000); and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC (2017). Group shows include Latin American Women Artists 1915­­–1995, Milwaukee Art Museum, WI (1995; Traveled to: Phoenix Art Museum; Denver Art Museum and the Museo de las Americas, Denver, CO; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; Center for Fine Arts, Miami); Silence, Rumor, Shout, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (2014); Pan American Modernism: Avant-Garde in Latin America and the US, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL (2013); and The Illusive Eye, El Museo del Barrio, New York (2016). Her paintings are featured in prominent collections in both North and South America, among them the Biblioteca Luís Ángel Arango, Bogotá; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; Minnesota Museum of Art, St. Paul, MN: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Bogotá; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Monterrey; Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogotá; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; Museo La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia; and Museum of Art of the Americas, Washington, DC.



[1] Quoted in Fanny Sanín 1987­–1999 Color y Simetría, exh. cat. (Bogotá: Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, 2000), 81.

[2] Clayton Kirking in conversation with Fanny Sanín, May 23, 2016, at Leon Tovar Gallery, New York. YouTube, June 2, 2016. For the Bartók reference, see Patrick Frank, “Fanny Sanín and Latin American Abstract Art,” a lecture on October 4, 2017, at L.A. Louver, Venice, CA. YouTube, October 10, 2017.

[3] José Ignacio Roca, “Presentation,” in Fanny Sanín 1987–1999, Color y Simetría, exh. cat. (Bogotá: Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, 2000), 7.

[4] Clayton Kirking in conversation with Fanny Sanín, May 23, 2016.

[5] “Fanny Sanín on Her Life and Art,” in Fanny Sanín: Drawings and Studies 1960 to Now, exh. cat. (New York: Frederico Sève Gallery, 2012), 7.

[6] For an account of the progression of Sanín’s abstract practice, see John Stringer’s essay in Fanny Sanín: Obras de 1960 a 1986, exh. cat. (Bogotá: Museo de Arte Moderno, 1987).

[7] Germán Rubiano, “Color and Symmetry,” in Fanny Sanín 1987–1999, Color y Simetría, exh. cat. (Bogotá: Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, 2000), 14–15.

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