Osvaldo Romberg: Brazilian Papers/Goodbye to Malevich

Henrique Faria, New York is pleased to present Brazilian Papers/Goodbye to Malevich, Osvaldo Romberg’s fourth solo exhibition in the gallery. This selection of works focuses on Romberg’s career-long relationship with the Russian Suprematist artist, Kazimir Malevich, and how the artist’s landmark use of color has served to influence Romberg’s own theories and applications. In concentrating on Malevich’s use of color rather than his didactic writings, Romberg was able to center on the action of reducing color to its most basic elements: the experience of viewing color and the designation of the color’s name. For Romberg, the two most significant Malevich paintings have been Black Square (1915) and White on White (1918), from which he has generated a series of Homages to Malevich investigating the tonal variations of black and white in a quadrilateral format. However, it is Romberg’s two latest series of works made in his open-air studio in Ilha Grande, Brazil, Brazilian Papers and Goodbye to Malevich (2016-2017), which pronounce a departure from this strict pictorial relationship with Malevich and allow for new ways for Romberg to express his experience of color. Bringing together paintings and works on paper from the 1970s through the present, this exhibition tracks the artist’s formal evolution in his depiction of color and demonstrates throughout his dedication to the search for, what Cézanne called in his 1904-1906 letters to Emile Bernard, the “truth in painting”.

In creating his Homages to Malevich, Romberg imposed on himself an explicit set of conceptual guidelines that informed the visual results. By exploring and isolating the tints, values and saturations of black and white mixed with other colors of the chromatic circle, he indicated the importance of analysis in his approach to understanding and knowing color. 1-160 White Spots from Yellow to Yellow, Homage to Malevich (1976) presents a grid of 160 squares in which Romberg advances from yellow, orange, red, violet, blue, green and back to yellow adding gradually more and more white pigment to each color, tracing the progression back to white. Black Malevich, also from 1976, looks specifically at the interaction between red and black across a grid of 130 squares. Romberg treats his investigations into the nature of color as if they were blueprints. By filling them with handwritten notes of his methods and findings, he displays the evidence of his quest to understand the basic composition of what he sees, of what constitutes the essential elements of color. 

However, also apparent in these works are marks of imperfection–daubs of color are mixed together unevenly, brushstrokes that bleed from one square to the next–demonstrating that analytic structure has coexisted alongside Romberg’s belief in the sensuality of color, or the ability of color to be felt and experienced in an emotional way, not just intellectually or analytically. When making the works that comprise the series Brazilian Papers and Goodbye to Malevich, Romberg aimed to separate himself completely from the organizational rules that had determined many of the works from his career up until this point. Rather than taking theory or analysis as his inspiration, he took the experience of being in nature. In the Brazilian Papers are constellations of colors, which reference the artist’s earlier works on the same theme, created with airbrush, watercolor and collaged elements that evoke an organic sense of fluidity and movement. Even the geometric forms in Goodbye to Malevich have a softness to their irregular edges and an ease in their interactions with other forms and colors across the surface of the paper.

In saying goodbye to Malevich, Romberg is also saying goodbye to the exacting sense of order of his conceptual work. He explained that in developing these new works, there was no order, no theory, no system, only an interest in seeing what could be engendered organically. As Cézanne continued in his correspondence, “painters must […] try to produce pictures which will be an education. […] In order to make progress, there is only nature”. The result for Romberg was to finally experience, without any external influence or expectation, what color actually felt like in nature, what color could become once the lines of the grid were opened.

                                                                                                                                                                           Alexandra Schoolman 

 Osvaldo Romberg (b. 1938, Buenos Aires) has exhibited and curated shows internationally. He is currently Senior Curator at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia and has guest curated exhibitions at Mana Miami and Mana Contemporary, Jersey City; the Habeer Art and Visual Media Center, Beer Sheva; the Zaritsky Artists’ House, Tel Aviv; and the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield. He has had individual exhibitions at, among others, Cookie Butcher, Antwerp (forthcoming, 2017); the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2011); Z.K.M, Karlesruhe (2009); Centro Cultural Recoleta (2008); the Museum of Modern Art, Buenos Aires (2007); the Kunst Museum, Bonn (2007); the Museum of Modern Art, Saint Etienne (2005); the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (1999); the Ludwig Museum, Cologne (1996); and the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Vienna (1996). He has participated in group exhibitions at the Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires (2011); White Box Gallery, New York (2000); the Kwangju Biennial (1997); the XLI Venice Biennial, Israel Pavilion (1995); and others. Romberg’s work is featured in both public and private collections internationally. He lives and works between Philadelphia, Tel Aviv and Ilha Grande, Brazil.