In the world of art, he belongs to the largest worldly tradition possible, stretching, at the very least, from Pythagoras, who most famously made the golden proportion—sacred geometry known in antiquity—to Vitruvius…down to Malevich, unlikely as that might at first seem, whose work is based on it and proportional thinking, as well as to Mondrian of Broadway Boogie Woogie. Bonevardi was modern and traditional as deeply and purely as he was spiritual and geometric.
—Ronald Christ on Marcelo Bonevardi
Although Marcelo Bonevardi was born in Buenos Aires, his childhood memories were rooted in Córdoba, Argentina, where he lived from the age of six. Córdoba was drastically more provincial than Buenos Aires in the early twentieth century, and Bonevardi was not privy to the work of the Argentinian capital’s nascent vanguard. Consequently, his first artistic cues came from his parents. His mother—a painter trained in Perugia, Italy—was intimately familiar with the Renaissance masters and kept a number of postcard reproductions of their work that Bonevardi regularly copied. These paintings and drawings left him with a strong understanding of traditional perspective and a lifelong interest in religious and mystical subjects, which was coupled with the time he spent with his architect father at his various projects. Bonevardi closely observed his surroundings at these sites, and from these observations developed a dynamic skill set in the craft, claiming that “at fifteen, I was a very well-trained architect … from observing. By sixteen I was reading plans, almost like an architect.” His efforts here led to precociously strong draftsmanship and a strong intuition for architectonic effects. He also familiarized himself with carpentry—learned from a builder frequently employed by his father—which he actively applied when constructing boxes for magic tricks.
Bonevardi followed in his father’s footsteps for his higher education, which guided him to Rome at the age of twenty-one. While this granted him the opportunity to witness the classical masterpieces of Italy, it would be his first encounter of Italian proto-surrealist Giorgio de Chirico—with his marriage of architectonic form with metaphysical concerns—that would most significantly inform Bonevardi’s practice. Although he took on an academic position in architecture when he returned to Argentina a few months later, he stayed committed to painting and developed an interest in the artistic trends emerging from New York during the 1950s. In 1958, he himself would end up moving to the city under the auspices of a Guggenheim fellowship and devote himself exclusively to making art.
Upon arrival in New York, he quickly entrenched himself in its artistic resources. Beyond visiting the city’s numerous institutional collections, he sought out the Abstract Expressionist and nascent avant-garde communities by frequenting the Cedar Tavern and the numerous galleries on Tenth street. His work in his early years evidences his commitment to better understanding the art around him, integrating Abstract Expressionism with a decidedly architectural affect. However, he soon found himself frustrated with the simplistically formalist concerns of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists and up and coming Pop artists, feeling that the work did not suit the spiritual needs whose presence he yearned for in his work. Telling of his feeling from this period was a journal entry in which he declared, “perhaps ethic is more important than esthetic.”
In 1963, Bonevardi had two critical experiences that would provide him with a solution to both his formal and spiritual frustrations: his discovery of Joseph Cornell’s boxes in a Whitney annual, and his newfound friendship with Gonzalo Fonseca. Both Cornell and Fonseca diverged from the norms of the New York art world to confront the respectively expressive and mythical concerns that had grown out of fashion since the first generation of Abstract Expressionism. Bonevardi was also compelled by their novel formal methods of communicating such subject matter; in Cornell’s work, Bonevardi learned how collecting and organizing objects in a certain fashion could de-contextualize them and endow them with a singular, convergent meaning. In Fonseca, he found an intellectual peer and received an introduction to Joaquín Torres-García’s “constructive universalism,” which productively integrated geometric abstraction with the metaphysical primitivism. These experiences would guide Bonevardi to what would ultimately become his chief artistic expression: the Painted Constructions.
Typically executed in acrylic paint on a wood substrate, the Constructions’ minimalist surfaces featured sparse geometric forms that evoked Torres-Garcia’s modernist mythologizing and the Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman’s early “zip” paintings. Carved within these surfaces were several niches that contained a number of found or hand-carved objects. Bonevardi earliest pieces featured simple targets and geometric forms that resembled the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg’s mysterious Scatole Personali. He then began carving fetishes— described as “Psuedo-Talismanic” by art historian Ronald Christ—that imaginatively harkened to the pre-Columbian. Spheres also became ubiquitous his work during this time—an homage to the magical constructions he made during his childhood and a potential allusion to the ancient, pan-cultural characterization of the shape of the soul. These fantastic, metaphysical, and cosmopolitan journeys through an imagined past and present is reminiscent of and frequently related to the writing of his Argentinian compatriot Jorge Luis Borges. Over time, his wooden objects grew larger in scale, beginning with ancient navigational instruments that corresponded to his interest in cosmic navigational points that affect the world on the ground. These interests also manifested themselves in his employment of the aesthetics of astrology, as can be seen in the zodiacal signs and natal charts he integrated into his work. In such pieces, one can sees how psychic locations inform a corporeal sense of place. Also clear from this is Bonevardi’s circuitous notion of temporal presence as a “where” rather than a “when.”
His work grew darker in the 1970s, likely the product of the civil unrest that ravaged Argentina throughout the decade that commenced with the “Cordobazo”—an uprising in his hometown. A sense of doom began to permeate his work, seen first in his drawings’ labyrinthine environments furnished by dark, sharp instruments reminiscent of the hooks that lined the streets near his home in lower Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. His constructions from the decade turned away from instrumentations for celestial navigation toward abstracted “traps” for celestial beings. Curator Estrellita Brosky frames these works as “images of sadistic tools used by interrogators rather than those of a benevolent magician.” The violence began to peak in Argentina in 1976 during the “The Dirty War,” in which the military government violently suppressed, kidnapped and killed often innocent civilians. The junta also imposed themselves on culture, and an exhibition of Bonevardi’s work was banned in 1978 after being deemed “medio-Marxist.” Although Bonevardi’s only spoke vaguely about the chaos’ effect on his psyche, such impositions on both himself and the people of Argentina almost certainly left an imprint of violence would stay present in his work until the end of his life.
In his late work, Bonevardi focused on minimal forms and religious subject matter. Orientalist patterns and saturated color became integral elements of his work and his distinctively shaped objects seemed to be free of representation once again. There were additionally fewer object and nooks employed in his work save his omnipresent spheres and larger circular patterns. His highest accomplishment from this period was the 1980 Annunciation, in which he incorporated the classical subject matter of the piece into an ostensibly non-objective abstraction that employed the traditional perspectival framing of the scene from into a decidedly novel context. He continued producing work until his death in 1994, moving back to Córdoba in the late 1980s.
Bonevardi received many accolades over the course of his lifetime, including the International Prize at the 1969 São Paulo Bienial, induction into the Guggenheim jury of Latin American art from 1979–89, and representation at the 1983 Venice Biennial. He received retrospective exhibitions at the Musée de Art Contemporain de Montréal in 1974; the Center for Inter-American Relations, New York, in 1980; and in 2019 at the Lowe Art Museum, Miami. He is represented in the collections of several major museums, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1Ronald Christ, “Constructing Magic,” in Bonevardi: Chasing Shadows—Constructing Art (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 2006), 418.
2 Ibid, 321.
3 Marcelo Bonevardi, quoted by Ronald Christ, “Constructing Magic,” 321.
4 Christ, “Constructing Magic,” 322.
5 Dore Ashton, “The Shadow Chaser,” in Bonevardi: Chasing Shadows—Constructing Art
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 16.
6 Bonevardi quoted by Dore Ashton, “The Shadow Chaser,” 17.
7 Dore Ashton, “The Shadow Chaser,” 19.
8 Ronald Christ, “Constructing Magic,” 348.
9 Ibid, 368.
10 Estrellita B. Brodsky, “Marcelo Bonevardi: A Metaphysical Absence,” in Marcelo Bonevardi:
Magic Made Manifest, exh. cat (Miami: Lowe Art Museum, 2019), 13.
11 Marisa Lerer, “30,000 Reasons to Remember: Artistic Strategies for Memorializing Argentina’s
Disappeared,” PhD diss., (City University of New York, 2012)
12 Ronald Christ, “Constructing Magic,” 364.
13 Dore Ashton, “The Shadow Chaser,” 29.
14 See the artist’s CV
Leon Tovar Gallery represents the Estate of Marcelo Bonevardi exclusively worldwide