A “pan-chess” board included in “Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges: The Art of Friendship.”
By LARRY ROHTER
Significantly, it is the painter rather than the writer who gets top billing in “Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges: The Art of Friendship,” an exhibition that opens this week at the Americas Society. The show focuses on Xul Solar’s watercolors, but also includes manuscripts by both men, documents, photographs and first editions of works they created together that are little known outside their native Argentina.
“Borges never stopped expressing his admiration for Xul Solar, who he considered a citizen of the cosmos,” Gabriela Rangel, the show’s main curator, said. “This was an intellectual dialogue of two people that was profound and far-reaching, but has not yet been fully appreciated.”
Borges and Xul Solar, who was also a poet, translator, inventor and astrologer, met in 1924, shortly after both had returned to Buenos Aires from long stays in Europe. Frequenting the same avant-garde circles, they quickly became collaborators, with Xul Solar providing illustrations for books that Borges wrote and magazines he edited, a symbiotic relationship that would continue until Xul Solar’s death in 1963, at 75.
Borges was a dozen years younger than Xul Solar, and clearly looked up to his older friend. “Xul Solar is one of the most singular events of our era,” he once wrote in an essay that is excerpted in the catalog for the Americas Society exhibition, “a man versed in all the disciplines, curious about all arcana, father of writings, languages, utopias, mythologies, sojourner in hells and heavens.”
In the same essay, written for a one-man show of Xul Solar’s work in Buenos Aires in 1949, Borges characterizes his paintings as “documents of the extraterrestrial world.” That description helps to explain the intellectual affinities and strikingly similar worldview the men shared, which is a point of emphasis for this exhibition.
“For both, the relationship between reality and dream was porous, and the material world and written text flowed into one another,” a wall label notes. “They rejected realism in any form: Borges in his fiction, painstakingly creating hermetic fantastic worlds, and Solar in the execution of his metaphysical paintings that strived to look beyond the quotidian and see into a truer reality.”
Several paintings chosen for the exhibition, which will continue to July 20 then go to the Phoenix Art Museum, do indeed evoke alternate universes or draw on letters, flags or arcane symbols. Ms. Rangel said that Borges for a time owned one of those watercolors, “Tlaloc,” which employs Aztec-inspired images and word fragments.
Other works on display incorporate words from two languages Xul Solar invented, “Neo-Criollo” and “Pan-Lengua,” and poems written in those languages are also featured. There is even a peculiar, one-of-a-kind “pan-chess” board that Xul Solar devised, in which the pieces represent letters and symbols and the squares (12 by 13 instead of the conventional 8 by 8) syllables; together they create new words in the invented tongues.
The exhibition also shows some of Xul Solar’s correspondence with and notes from a meeting with Aleister Crowley, the English occultist who introduced him to the I Ching. That became an important motif in the painter’s later works, like the uncharacteristically dark and foreboding “Desarrollo del Yi Ching,” included in the show.
The extent to which the painter directly influenced Borges’s writings is hard to determine, Ms. Rangel said. But as the exhibition notes, Xul Solar appears as a character in one of Borges’s most complex and influential stories, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” which applies some of the painter’s esoteric theories.
“In his writings, Borges often referred to Solar as an inventor of languages and religions” and “evoked Solar’s linguistic creativity,” another wall label notes. “Borges’s fiction absorbed Solar’s insightful ruminations about language with a ciphered and understated humor that characterized his mature prose and intellectual pursuits.”
Like Borges, Xul Solar does not fit into the conventional narratives of artistic creativity in the 20th century and seems essentially self-contained. In Ms. Rangel’s view, that suggests why the painter has until recently been overlooked, minimized or even ignored.
“He is a real mystic, and that’s an aspect of the avant-garde that historians don’t want to have to acknowledge,” she said. “He developed a complete metaphysical system. It’s not surrealism, it’s fantasy,” based on the visions Xul Solar had and transformed into paintings.
Patricia M. Artundo, an Argentine professor and expert on Latin American art who contributed an essay to the catalog and is in New York for the show’s opening, said that the assessment of the painter’s legacy was beginning to change — one of his sculptures and some other works are to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale this fall.
“Both Borges and Xul Solar are key figures in Argentine culture,” Ms. Artundo said. “Xul is an artist who is inexhaustible. His path was always different, and he was different from his contemporaries. But people now realize it is difficult to address Argentine art without thinking of him and how singular he was.”
“Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges: The Art of Friendship” continues through July 20 at the Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, at 68th Street; (212) 277-8361, as-coa.org.
Fuente : New York Time
Published: April 18, 2013