Carmelo Arden Quin: modernity and invention
Carmelo Arden Quin is an Uruguayan artist who moved to Argentina in the mid-1930s. It is important to contextualize this historical period because, despite the coups that happened in different Latin American countries at that time, art flourished and reached a level which is being recognized worldwide only now. Arden Quin is part of the generation that succeds another Uruguayan artist, Joaquín Torres Garcia. The latter has allied in a highly qualitative way the constructive language - still taking its first steps in the Americas - cosmology and spirituality with a naïve trait without being naive in any way. Something close to Paul Klee’s research but with an amazing originality. Unfortunately, this production born in Uruguay that anticipates formal and conceptual issues and that as threads has ended up weaving ties with Brazilian constructive art is still little known to us. And hence the importance of this inaugural exhibition of Simões de Assis Galeria de Arte in São Paulo.
In 1938, Arden Quin leaves Uruguay and goes to Buenos Aires. He finds an Argentina in frank social and economic decline after being one of the greatest powers of the Americas. The country witnessed, just after the end of World War II, Perón’s rise to power and the continuing policy of nationalization. However, in the field of the plastic arts, in the middle of that decade, Argentina would inscribe its name in the history of art as the base of the Madí Group. As the group manifesto written in 1946 states:
Madí confirms man’s desire to invent objects on the side of humanity by striving for a classless society that releases energy and dominates space and time in all directions, and matter in its ultimate consequences.
It was the more mature beginning of a consistent practice of non-figurative art in Latin America. Arden Quin, Gyula Kosice, Lidy Prati, Rhod Rothfuss, among other artists, lay the foundation for constructive language in Argentina. Their research includes many interests and art schools, such as Constructivism, Cubism and even Surrealism. Arden Quin’s work, at that moment, was based on non-orthogonal propositions and mainly on the idea of ??deconstructing the limits of the frame. He was interested in having the frame not as a reducing element of the pictorial space but as an intrinsic part of the work. The frame became an element of dialogue consistent with the geometric forms built by the artist. This situation, moreover, is well demonstrated by a meeting of important works of this period in the exhibition. In Forme Madí 2B (1946), for example, observe how the line of the frame obeys or dialogues with the set in its interior, formed by the irregular geometric figures. There is a clear interest in metaphorically destroying barriers and integrating frame, shapes and colors as pictorial elements. The artists of the Madí group were interested in other planar forms apart from the orthogonal ones. They began to create other polygons, regular or irregular, that used to become pentagons, hexagons, circles and all sort of geometric figures.
It is interesting to notice that the concrete and metaphorical breaking principle of the frame also manifests itself a few years later in Brazil. Lygia Clark begins in 1952 to produce Superfície modulada [Modulated surface] and Planos em superfície modulada [Plans in a modulated surface]. In both series, the artist draws on the cardboard a series of regular or irregular polygons, always using for optical effects the relation between full and empty, due to the filling or not of the interior of these polygons with black or gray graphite. Thus, in the plane, a shuffle between the figure and background positions was created. These studies were changed into paintings made of industrial ink on wood, and what was once a pencil marking the boundaries between the polygons becomes a fissure. The artist spiked these border lines with a scalpel. It was an important step for what she called the “organic line” and that stayed with her until the famous series Bichos [Animals] (1960-64), since the polygons of the modulated surfaces detach themselves from the plane, reach the space and begin to be modified by means of hinges in the sculptures.
This was a brief commentary on the possible connections of Arden Quin’s work with Brazilian art. It also draws attention to his series entitled Forme Galbée (1971), present at the exhibition. That is his most splendid research on the kinetic. Another highlight is the opportunity to have access to a robust number of works by the artist at the same time as we perceive and reflect on the many interests and research that Arden Quin has performed. If during Madí his research dealt with studies on concrete art and the specific way by which Latin-Americans have absorbed and reinvented the planar, cubist and non-Euclidean researches of the concrete European movement, in the 1970s Carmelo turned to kinetic art and its ability to expand the concept of painting. He is not alone in this journey, since Argentina itself, with Le Parc and Tomasello; Venezuela, with Cruz-Díez, Otero and Soto; and Brazil, with Palatnik, Antonio Maluf, Lygia Clark, Mary Vieira, Sérvulo Esmeraldo, Willys de Castro, among many others, have also developed their research on kinetic art.
Some works of the series Forme Galbée allude to a score. This sensitivity of the artist to perform rhythms and sinuosities of great visual impact reveal his specificity. It is important to emphasize that the kinetic character of the works is due to the way in which the spectator stands in front of the work, that is, with each change in the perspective, the work creates new perceptions and images. Another highlight is the fact that it has concavities in the support of wood, causing a sensation of optical mirage. This is similar to Palatnik’s Relevos Progressivos [Progressive Reliefs] from the 1960s. In these works, the sequence of cuts on the surface of the material – cardboard, metal or wood – creates layers or waves that vary according to the depth and location of the cut, composing its own dynamics. The use of cardboard, in particular, is somewhat surprising, because the production of reliefs used by the artist leads to the execution of rhythms and sinuosities of great visual impact. In the Arden Quin’s series, not only the game of lines, shapes, and colors creates an intense vibration, but also the support on which they are installed – taking into account this perspective of the concavity – reaffirms and emphasizes the optical experience. In addition, the line is transformed by optical illusion into vibration, the material into energy. When the spectator moves in front of these works, the background fragments the line of colors or objects impregnated on the surface (they are mostly small structures of wood), so that it presents itself as a series of small points floating in the space. This is mathematics morphing into vibratory structures at the service of a new experience of the world for the subject.
In the Plastique series, from the mid-1980s, the artist adopted a form of experimentation using built surfaces and modular visual units made of acrylic and wood that resized his work. There is not only concern, as if that were not enough, to experience new kinetic capacities but also the perception in constructing and organizing a pictorial state. This analogy is present in the choice and order in which it composes the acrylic beams on the wood. In one of the works, a cut in acrylic, formed by three lines in parallel running along its length and on them a set of small metallic hoops, clearly refers to the arm of a guitar. This beam longitudinally travels the surface of the plane composing a (musical) jump to the space with the arranged colors and geometric forms. There is the thought of a painter in the articulation of shapes and colors on that surface. Arden Quin re-actualizes the celebrated works of Picasso, but also institutes his own brand and authenticity: to reflect on the place of art and its commitment to invention and to the present. He is an artist connected to the modern and all critical forms of cultural thought. His painting from the beginning has a link with other arts, like music, design or architecture. Unlike his contemporaries linked to figurativism, young Carmelo challenged the rules and wished that his work would reach space, and so it did.
In one of his last paintings, also in the exhibition, Domaine n. 18 (2006), once again the celebration of music is present. Body of a guitar, strings, background, bands. Everything is there. Fractionated and arranged in intervals separated by fullness (areas painted in black) and emptiness (light zones), these parts make up a whole. The trimmed frame continues and reinforces this effect of plane mobility. The geometric units seem to be in a continuous balance, even if it is a painting, of course. This sensation is also fueled by the fact that the artist magically curves the lines, enabling another language and visuality for the concrete element. Realize that this “magic” is a consequence, no doubt, of the experiments of modern architecture that go hand in hand with his work.
This is a important exposition in history. First, because it deals with the work of a remarkable artist who has more than 60 years of production and a name celebrated by the history of art. It is also the opportunity for the Brazilian public, in particular, to take a deeper contact with a work that has been characterized by its commitment to invention. This concept in Arden Quin’s work is mixed up with the incessant research that he has realized on the movement. Under the most diverse circumstances, formal and conceptual operations to have the spectator as an accomplice of his plastic investigations were his interests. From the 1930s to the first decade of this century, his work has provoked new optical perceptions moving along with the technological, artistic and cultural innovations that the world was experiencing. In a pioneering way, and it is good to point out it, his production stimulates the movement, whether in the intrinsic relations that the work promotes between color, form and plan, raising the painting to the space, or in the kinetic works, stimulating the participation of the spectator and promoting the multiplication of images. That is the work in question, threatening its limits and experiencing its various possibilities in an intense way.
 QUINN, Arden; KOSICE, Gyula. Manifesto Madí. In: AMARAL, Aracy A. (org). Projeto construtivo brasileiro na arte: 1950-1962. Rio de Janeiro: MAM; São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 1977, p. 62-64.