MARTIN BLASZKO

b. 1920, Berlin

d. 2011, Buenos Aires

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I feel that in all fields and on different levels the struggle of two antagonistic forces is at the root of every action and development . . . the attraction and repulsion between electrified bodies, as well as the expressions of human feelings can be described, it seems to me, by a bipolar law of nature.

 

—Martin Blaszko [1]

 

The sculptures of Martin Blaszko are monuments to order and harmony, assuming a grandeur that belies their often intimate size. Conceived as a reflection of a highly structured cosmos, Blaszko’s endeavor to balance opposing horizontal and vertical tensions informed the understanding of his sculptures at a universal scale. “My faith in the existence of universal harmony,” the artist writes, “leads me to find a certain relationship between man and the universe. It also leads me to give a monumental character to my works, in spite of the fact that I realize how small man is relative to the size of the universe.”[1] Often photographed outdoors against a backdrop of sky, his sculptures enact their own shift in scale, assuming a stoic and timeless grace, whether sleek and highly finished or foregrounded rough materiality.      

 

Born in Germany in 1920, Martin Blaszko fled his home country in the face of rising fascism. Settling in Poland in 1933, the young artist studied with both Henryk Barczyński and Jankel Adler before he moved to Paris, where he met the painter Marc Chagall.[2] In 1939, the family arrived in Argentina and would have continued onward to Bolivia but for a chance encounter with a Yiddish-speaking man who persuaded them to stay in Buenos Aires.[3] By the middle of the 1940s, Blaszko would begin to make a name for himself as a painter within the young, progressive avant-garde scene in Buenos Aires, spearheaded by those who advocated a revolutionary approach to geometric abstraction. Blaszko befriended one such figure, Carmelo Arden Quin, at an exhibition staged at the home of the Bauhaus-trained photographer Grete Stern. It was there, Blaszko remembers, that he " . . . discovered those cold and calculated paintings, rendered with straight lines and devoid of any curves, which had an enormous effect on me. I became fascinated by the logic and serenity of these works. This is how I encountered the work by Carmelo Arden Quin for the first time.”[4]

 

Several months later, Arden Quin and the Hungarian-émigré Gyula Kosice informed Blaszko of their intention to form the Madi group, which formally launched in 1946.[5] Alongside these artists, as well as well as several others, Blaszko promoted a radical re-thinking of the traditional limits of art. His paintings from this time reflect the Madi group’s use of irregularly shaped frames and picture surfaces, as well as a playful geometry that was alive with movement. The group splintered in 1947, with Arden Quin and Kosice both theorizing and expanding their own versions of the movement. Blaszko would ally himself with Arden Quin who shared his a commitment to a sense of order inspired by the “golden mean.” As the artist states, “The golden mean of the ancient Greeks has a great importance to me in searching for harmony of proportion. When I consider the vast number of possible proportions in our surroundings, I find that the golden mean is still the most helpful to me for gaining control over the structures in my works.”[6]  

 

The year of the Madi group’s fracturing, Blaszko began to produce sculptures in which he continued to search for harmonious proportions. Important in this process was his theorization of what the artist referred to as the principle of “bipolarity,” which was based on a harmonious structural arrangement of opposing directional forces and proportions. “When focusing my sight on bipolar forms,” the artist writes, “which are in opposition in a sculpture, I experience an automatic sensation of relief and liberation. The phenomenon of bipolarity in life and its corresponding expression in sculpture became for me the essence of all my succeeding works.”[7] Blaszko’s sculptures are therefore defined by internal antagonisms that reflect larger structures of order, growth, and change on a universal level, skirting the line between order and chaos.

 

Before his death in 2011, Blaszko’s sculptures and paintings were showcased in numerous group and solo exhibitions across the Americas and Europe. In 1952, his work was presented at the São Paulo Biennial and in 1956 at the Venice Biennale. He was the recipient of a bronze medal at the 1958 Brussels World Fair and won first prize at the Salón de Mar del Plata in 1959. Blaszko participated in the 1961 Exposition Internationale de Sculpture Contemporaine at the Musée Rodin in Paris. In 1992, Blaszko’s artwork was included in the major international traveling exhibition Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century, which opened at the Plaza de Armas, Seville, before continuing to the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Josef-Haubrich Kunsthalle, Cologne; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Additional exhibitions include, Arte Madi, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (Traveled to: Museo Extremeño e Iberoaamericano de Arte Contemporáneo, Badajoz); Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1933–1953, The Americas Society, New York; Desde la geometría: 2+10, Salas Nacionales de Exposición, Palais de Glace, Buenos Aires; The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, Blanton Musuem of Art, University of Texas, Austin (Traveled to: Grey Art Gallery, New York University); Mouvement MADI International: Buenos Aires 1946–Paris 2008, Maison d’Amerique latine, Paris; and Cold America: Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934–1973), Fundación Juan March, Madrid. Blaszko was the subject of a retrospective exhibition in 2001 at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires.

Leon Tovar Gallery represents the Estate of Martin Blaszko.

[1] Martin Blaszko, "Sculpture and the Principle of Bipolarity," Leonardo 1, no. 3 (1968): 223.

[2] Ibid., 229.

[3] See the artist’s biographical note in Cold America: Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934–1973), exh. cat. (Madrid: Fundación Juan March, 2011 ), 366.

[4] Celeste Tarricone, “Movement of Contradictions,” Buenos Aires Herald, January 21, 2001, 10.

[5] Victoria Verlichak, “Martin Blaszko: Obituary,” ArtNexus. Online.

[6] See Blaszko’s account of events as quoted in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, “Geometric Abstraction and Madí Art,” in Arte Madi, exh. cat (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: Madrid, 1997), 288.

[7] Blaszko “Sculpture and the Principle of Bipolarity,” 229­–232.

[8] Ibid., 223.

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