Alejandro Otero's Colorhythms

By Luis Pérez-Oramas

Originally published in MoMA's post on April 13, 2017

This essay is the eighth in a series of texts commissioned by MoMA's post initiative about the works and artists that are part of the CPPC's modern art gift to MoMA. It is our pleasure to republish it here and to translate it into Spanish for our readers. Over time, we will publish and translate additional post essays that describe other works in the gift.


Colorhythms, a group of works by Venezuelan artist Alejandro Otero made in the 1940s and 1950s, are vertical or horizontal rectangular paintings that unfold in countless serial compositional variations. Otero strove for rhythmic-chromatic resonances in these radical works. Colorrhythms represent the very first repetitive, serial typology within geometric abstract art in Latin America, anticipating the serial achievements of Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark in the late fifties.

Alejandro Otero (1921–1990) is unanimously acknowledged in Venezuela as the father of abstraction. He achieved pure abstraction through a series of radical synthetic paintings done in Paris between 1949 and 1951 and known as Colored Lines on White Background. Otero is mostly known internationally for his series of abstract serial compositions titled Colorhythms, first conceived in the early 1950s, but which he addressed throughout most of the remainder of his career. The Cisneros Gift includes three Colorhythms and a rare study for a fourth.

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Alejandro Otero. Pampatar Board. 1954. Lacquer on wood. Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Adriana Cisneros de Griffin and
Nicholas Griffin. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. Colorhythm 12. 1956. Lacquer on wood. Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Clara Rodriguez-Cisneros.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. Colorhythm 39. 1959. Lacquer on wood. Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. Untitled (Study for Colorhythm). 1959. Gouache on cut paper. Promised gift of Patricia
Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

These works will complement our very own Colorhythm 1, acquired by Alfred H. Barr Jr. in 1956, as well as a series of landmark collages known as Orthogonals, done by Otero in 1951, following his first contact with the work of Piet Mondrian in Holland.

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Alejandro Otero. Colorhythm 1. 1955. Enamel on plywood. Inter-American Fund. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. Ortogonal (Collage) 1. 1951. Cut-and-pasted colored paper, mounted on paper.
Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. Ortogonal (Collage) 7. 1951. Cut-and-pasted colored paper, mounted on paper.
Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. Ortogonal (Collage) 9. 1952. Cut-and-pasted colored paper on colored paper.
Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

The Colorhythms unfolded from the Orthogonals, but they were fundamentally the consequence of Otero’s involvement in a series of commissions for public, monumental works within major architectural projects during the 1950s in Venezuela, notably at the University City of Caracas. Working for the first time on a project for a public space, Otero aimed with his Colorhythms to embrace the space by transcending the conventional limits of painting through rhythmic-chromatic resonances.

Colorhythms are oblong, rectangular paintings, either vertical or horizontal in orientation and following a similar typology in terms of dimensions (most are eighty by twenty-one inches), made on Duco (a shiny industrial lacquer), and unfolding in countless serial compositional variations. They all are based on a system of black and white stripes within which colored elements are inserted, fused, or spaced out, allowing a rhythmic reading of the composition.

Colorhythms were the very first repetitive, serial typology within Geometric Abstraction in Latin America, anticipating the serial achievements of Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark in the late fifties and setting a landmark precedent for artistic seriality in the Americas.

The Cisneros Gift includes, beyond these three Colorhythms, a number of other works by Otero that represent the arch of his career—from his late 1940’s post-Cubist and abstract paintings to his experiments with Informalism in the 1960s to the ultimate conclusion of the Colorhythmic logic in the 1970s. Without a doubt, this ensemble of thirteen works makes MoMA’s the richest holdings of Otero outside of Venezuela.

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Alejandro Otero. Blue Coffee Maker. 1947. Oil on canvas. Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Sharon Schultz. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. Bloody Mary. 1961. Oil on wood. Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Alejandro Otero. My Dear Friend. 1962. Industrial paint, paper, and leather on wood. Gift of Patricia Phelps
de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund. The Museum of Modern Art, New York


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