Exhibition

Juan Batlle Planas: The Surrealist Cabinet

May 24 – November 4, 2018

The Fundación Juan March is devoting the second exhibition in its series LA / Latin American Artists to Juan Batlle Planas (Torroella de Montgrí, Gerona, Spain, 1911-Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1966), a key figure in the Argentinean avant-garde of the 1930s but one who remains unknown in Spain. Although he lived in Buenos Aires from the age of two, Batlle Planas never acquired Argentinean nationality but nor did he ever return to Spain, even for a visit.

Juan Batlle Planas. "Paranoid X-rays", 1936. Giselda Batlle Collection Juan Batlle Planas. Paranoid X-rays, 1936.
Giselda Batlle Collection

Juan Batlle Planas: The Surrealist Cabinet is the first monographic exhibition to be presented in Spain on this artist, who created all his work in Argentina. Rather than a retrospective survey of his entire oeuvre, this is an anthology which focuses on various periods (the 1930s and 1940s), on works of one type (small-format collages and gouaches), and on a limited number of themes (excluding those which made Batlle Planas a popular artist in Argentina, namely his so-called Noicas or day-dreaming figures that guided the artist: muses, angels and young girls).

Well versed in psychoanalysis, Batlle Planas saw graphic automatism as a creative strategy with which to delve into the human soul. The theory of the unconscious and the internal processes of psychic energy are reflected in the different visual manifestations of his prolific oeuvre. Salvador Dalí, José Gutiérrez Solana, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Francis Picabia and Max Ernst were the reference points for his iconographic universe, which evolved from Surrealist concepts to Metaphysical painting and the language of abstraction, while also encompassing his sculptural output, his involvement in public art projects and his activities as a writer.

In the Paranoid X-rays the protagonists are skulls and skeletons, stripped-down, hollow silhouettes, mysterious beings from the subconscious which recall the artist's interest in the "Black Spain" of Francisco de Goya

Batlle Planas favoured small formats, combining geometrical and figurative forms with a powerful dream-like element in works created with collage and painting. He began as a self-taught artist who applied himself to copying from life but his dissatisfaction with these early efforts led him towards the method of automatic creation, which is essential for an understanding of his art. This is evident in the two types of work that constitute the core of this exhibition: the so-called Paranoid X-rays and an extensive and carefully chosen selection of collages, both pioneering examples of Surrealism in Argentina.

In the Paranoid X-rays the protagonists are skulls and skeletons, stripped-down, hollow silhouettes, mysterious beings from the subconscious which recall the artist's interest in the "Black Spain" of Francisco de Goya and José Gutiérrez Solana, and in the Dansa de la mort [Dance of Death] typical of various town in Catalonia. In his collages Batlle Planas created visual poems which fuse composition and content. Far from remaining static, his language constantly evolved in response to his own internal drive and following an initial use of drawing and graphic signs as basic elements in his work, he discovered the expressive potential of colour. These creations are also interesting as they date from the decade that saw the arrival in Argentina of numerous Spanish writers, publishers and intellectuals fleeing the Spanish Civil War. Batlle Planas met numerous members of this extensive community and the friendships he forged with many of them gave rise to fruitful collaborative projects, particularly with regard to book illustration, a facet of his activities which is also represented in the exhibition.

Juan Batlle Planas. Untitled, 1939. Silvia Batlle Collection Juan Batlle Planas. Untitled, 1939.
Silvia Batlle Collection

Juan Batlle Planas: The Surrealist Cabinet, to be shown at the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca and the Museo Fundación Juan March in Palma, comprises a selection of nearly 50 works in addition to a varied documentary section including preparatory material, magazines, books, illustrated notebooks, photographs, letters and more, all by an artist who was also a poet, illustrator, collector and above all the creator of universes filled with dreams and realities parallel to everyday ones.