Esteban Lisa: The Abstract Cabinet

February 1 – May 20, 2017

Organized by the Fundación Juan March, the exhibition Esteban Lisa: The Abstract Cabinet will be shown at the Museu Fundación Juan March (Palma, Majorca), the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (Cuenca, June 2 – September 3, 2017), and the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College (September 15 – December 10, 2017). It comprises a selection of thirty-seven works produced between 1930 and 1968 by Esteban Lisa (Hinojosa de San Vicente, Toledo, Spain, 1895−Buenos Aires, 1983), one of the pioneering figures in twentieth-century Latin American abstract art.

Esteban Lisa "Composición" [Composition], ca. 1940. Private collection © Fundación Esteban Lisa
Esteban Lisa Composición [Composition], ca. 1940
Private collection. © Fundación Esteban Lisa

Starting in the 1980s, both Lisa and his work—hitherto largely unknown—attained posthumous public recognition thanks to several solo exhibitions and a number of group shows focusing on the avant-garde and abstract movements that, though not central to the canon, flourished in Central and South America from the 1930s onwards. Over recent years, works by many leading exponents of these movements have featured in major exhibitions and have been acquired by renowned public and private international collections. In Lisa's case, his work has been included, among other major exhibitions, in América fría. La abstracción geométrica en Latinoamérica (1934−1973) [Cold America: Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934−1973)], a group show organized by the Fundación Juan March in 2011, and has featured numerous international solo shows, such as those held in Argentina, the United States, and Lebanon. Since 1998, Lisa's work has also been the focus of relevant exhibitions in Spain, the country where he was born.

Esteban Lisa painted mainly oils on paper or cardboard. The fact that—especially in the 1930s and 1940s—he often painted on both sides of these hints at limited economic means. Although at the start of his career his oeuvre comprised mostly small landscapes and occasional figurative still lifes, he was soon moved to explore the possibilities of geometric composition—his early abstract work, with its cubist echoes, gradually gave way to the expressionist lyricism of his later compositions. The present exhibition provides a chronological survey of an artist who, in his devoted quest for abstraction, may rightly be regarded as a loner, yet ranks—with Joaquín Torres-García, Emilio Pettoruti and Juan del Prete—among the pioneers of abstract art in Latin America.

...in his devoted quest for abstraction, may rightly be regarded as a loner, yet ranks … among the pioneers of abstract art in Latin America.

In addition to being an artist, Lisa was also a teacher, a role he undertook with an almost-missionary zeal. He was fascinated by philosophy and science, by ancient and modern visions on the world, and by the space race of the 1960s, which awoke a passion for the unknown in many intellectuals. This interest prompted him to develop (and publish) an intriguing "theory of cosmovision, " which he also expounded in courses and lectures. Lisa taught painting and drawing both privately at home and in a night-school for adults. Later, on retiring from his job as a postal worker, he founded "The Four Dimensions" School of Modern Art, a platform that allowed him to hail abstraction as the true modern artistic idiom. However, Lisa was more concerned with teaching than with publicizing his own work, which he never exhibited or sold during his lifetime.

"Composición" [Composition], ca. 1935 (front). Private collection © Fundación Esteban Lisa
Composición [Composition], ca. 1935
© Fundación Esteban Lisa (front). Private collection © Fundación Esteban Lisa

As its title suggests, this is a small, room-sized exhibition that deliberately focuses on a limited number of carefully-selected works. Accompanied by an equally-concise catalogue, it has been conceived in this reduced scale because the small format was a hallmark of Lisa's oeuvre, one that he repeatedly used throughout his life. This exhibition is also the first in a series of small-scale exhibitions seeking to provide an overview of leading figures in twentieth-century Latin American art within the broader context of the Fundación Juan March's collection of contemporary Spanish art and its exhibition program devoted to international modern and contemporary art.

AL / Artistas de Latinoamérica

Esteban Lisa: The Abstract Cabinet opens a new series of exhibitions organized by the Fundación Juan March with the aim of presenting the artistic universe of a selection of twentieth-century Latin American plastic artists on a succinct scale. The publication that accompanies each exhibition strives to become a new source of information on the artist as it enhances the knowledge of his or her life and work.