Permanent Collection

Gustavo Torner

Cuenca, 1925
Stainless Steel and Silver-Plated Scrap Metal, 1961–1962Stainless Steel and Silver-Plated Scrap Metal, 1961–1962

In the isolated, provincial Cuenca of the late 1950s, Torner produced one of the most extreme aesthetic experiences of his time. It is no coincidence that he was greatly influenced by Juan Eduardo Cirlot, a poet and art critic who had been involved in the Dau al Set enterprise in Barcelona, and who was among the first to underline the importance of the move towards abstraction undertaken by Antoni Tàpies in 1953.

In his work of this period, Torner used a wide range of materials, such as roots, earth, wood and sheet metal, for many years. The found object—scrap metal in this case—has something of Duchamp's objets trouvés. The manipulation is minimal, limited in this case to a simple juxtaposition between rust-deformed and polished metal. The same composition is repeated work after work—two horizontal areas, the one underneath being smaller than the upper one. While in other works the contrast is less accentuated, here Torner strives for greater metaphorical charge and a more obvious counterpoint between the polished and the rust-worn, between what is made perfect and the dilapidated.

Torner's Cuenca studio overlooks the bareness of the Huécar River Gorge, which he photographed on several occasions, searching for its most intimate secrets, around the time this work was made. It comes as no surprise that there are those, like Julián Gállego, who see Torner's work literally as a landscape of "mountains and sky."

Juan Manuel Bonet, en Catalog Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, Cuenca, Fundación Juan March, Madrid, 2016

Green, Black and Yellow with Red Circumference, 1963Green, Black and Yellow with Red Circumference, 1963

One can appreciate an opposition between the natural and the cultural, between the rough and the polished, the organic and the geometric, even between material shape and image, in many of Torner's works. All these are visible in Verde, negro y amarillo con circunferencia roja, where two fields, or separate areas, are divided by a large tear. In the lower field this allows for the emergence of a clean, glossy yellow that, in contrast with the black out of which it emerges, highlights the organic, earthy and irregular character of the area. On the other hand, the upper field is dominated by a shiny red circle, an image of geometric perfection and rigor, as well as of intellectual construction.

This painting, which is part of Torner's typical early 1960s' binary compositions, belongs to a series of which this museum holds other examples. It marks a transition in Torner's work, with an accentuation of two pictorial worlds: expressionist painting, of which the split in the lower part would be a motif, and normative art, of which the geometric perfection of the circle is a paradigm.

One appreciates a strict control of both worlds throughout the series. In this painting, harmony allows the circle to levitate, sublime and serene—like the heroic lines of Barnett Newman's paintings—above the temperamental world, represented here by the tear. Above all, order prevails, always searching for the "rectitude of things," for the perfection embodied by the circle, which becomes the protagonist of the work by elevating itself, weightless, above the cracks of matter in the bottom of the painting.

Inner World, 1972Inner World, 1972

In parallel with his work as a painter, Torner has produced some important work as a sculptor. Besides interior pieces such as this one, he has mainly worked on commissioned monuments, many of which border on the architectural—Laberinto [Labyrinth, 1973], in Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands), is a good example. The first of these commissioned works was the Commemorative Monument of the 6th World Forestry Congress (1966), which stands in the mountainous countryside of Cuenca. With this work, created the same year the museum opened, Torner bid his final farewell to the world of mountains and forests, which for many years had been his other undertaking.

Mundo interior is a typical Torner sculpture. It is a bare but complex work, geometrical but also containing elements that cannot be explained in purely rational terms. Consisting of an immaterial acrylic glass sphere within a cedar wood cube, it is a work that suggests, rather than declaring, its intentions, adding up to far more than the sum of its parts.

The cube, so often featured in Torner's paintings and sculptures, and an almost invisible sphere take us to the realm of geometrical figures. However, we already know from his binary compositions or from the silkscreens he made to accompany Heraclitus' Fragments, that geometry, in Torner's hands, is merely a springboard for the metaphorical, for the reflection on beauty, loyalty, and the order and chaos of the world.

Javier Maderuelo, en Catalog Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, Cuenca, Fundación Juan March, Madrid, 2016