martes, 23 de enero de 2007


Matta’s Early Life, Architectural Background, and Initial Contact with Surrealism
An auto-elasto-infra-biography, which relates the metamorphoses, changes and shake-ups of what each of us call me or I.[1]

Matta has written and published several accounts of his own “auto-elasto-infra-biography,” in which events may be added, changed or removed depending on the life experience of the artist while recalling the past.[2] Despite the mutability of Matta’s memories, the essential aspects of his narrative match known information about the artist’s life and recur in different versions. In all published “auto-elasto-infra-biographies,” Matta’s birth date appears as 1911, after the artist adjusted the actual year (1912) so his birthday would be composed exclusively of the numeral one, 11.11.11—November eleven, at eleven a.m. Baptized Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren, the artist was later enrolled in a Jesuit school, with classes taught in French (Fig. 7).
In 1932, Matta graduated as an architect from the School of Architecture and Urbanism of the Catholic University of Chile—he was not self-trained. Matta’s school experience consisted of five years in a rigorous program inspired by the Bauhaus curriculum, but his early artistic experiences and student projects have proved challenging to investigate. Regrettably, the library at the University he attended does not hold a copy of Matta’s thesis—it may have been destroyed with the many books torched by Pinochet’s army after 1973. Despite the scarcity of documentation, we know from classmates’ testimonies that one of Matta’s classes was a studio with the Chilean artist Hernán Gazmuri. Matta has recalled how he used the drawings of female nudes developed for Gazmuri’s class in his final studio designs, explaining that his thesis was a proposal for a complex on Elephant Island to house an ecumenical congress: “The League of Religions.”
A parliament building, a conference hall and a hundred odd houses for the various delegations attending. For the residence of the delegation I had in mind a villa; each residence included a place of worship, such as a church, temple or mosque. [3]

The ecumenical nature of Matta’s project proved iconoclastic in 1930’s Chile, with Catholicism the “state religion.” His choice of site also distinguished the project—Elephant Island evoked adventure and mystery, as a wild site only infrequently visited by scientists and whalers.
The uniqueness of Matta’s thesis project, however, derives primarily from his use of representations of the female nude as the generative elements of his designs, avoiding right angles entirely. The idea was tremendously visionary in 1932, breaking away from traditional architectural approaches (Fig. 8).
I developed the floor plans projecting these nude drawings on a plan. The breasts, belly and buttocks became the living-room, library and dining-room, the feet and hands were the toilets or kitchens, the legs the staircases, and the head or the breasts the bedroom. This produced such a wide variety of plans that the teachers thought the project highly imaginative.[4]

His designs offered each residence an open space adaptable to the occupant’s practices of worship. The common hall was also programmed to provide for the spiritual needs of the community. An open area was reserved for religions to come, which would complete the initial semicircle according to the spatial requirements for new rituals.
The architecture of the complex was of semi-circular form (like Saint Peter’s colonnade) and an esplanade was reserved directly opposite to complete the circle for religions of the future (Fig. 9). [5]

Concrete evidence regarding Matta’s thesis project is scarce but decisive. At one of the Universidad Católica de Chile’s archives, the “Sergio Larraín García-Moreno Information and Documentation Center,” the librarians have salvaged a slide showing an aerial view of the model for the community conference room at the “League of Religions.” This slide was archived with one page summaries of selected students’ final projects (1930-1940) at the Universidad Católica that were published in the journal Urbanismo y Architectura 6 (1940): 72. No traces of models can be found for the one hundred individual residences, nor is it known if all were unique or if a number of prototypes repeated.
In Entretiens Morphologiques Germana Ferrari presents some of Matta’s sketches for the “League of Religions.” Small capital lettering, in French or English, identifies rooms within the open plans with contours of female nudes.[6] The drawings are overlaid with trace paper and several grids, which recur on all the plans. These grids seem inspired by aerial views of labyrinths and archeological sites, perhaps from the Andes and the Mediterranean (Fig. 10). Matta executed the drawings in 1960, recreating lost originals, after conversations with a friend and old classmate brought back memories of the project. Justo Pastor Mellado has reported,
In 1960, Matta criticized his friend’s closeness with the Catholic Church, to which Sergio Larraín replied that he should not speak against Roman Catholicism, because with his graduation thesis in 1932, he had been one of the early ecumenicalists in Chile. Vividly impressed by this memory, Matta spent several days reconstructing the drawings of his graduation thesis.[7]

His thesis project evidenced a concern for social architecture. The forms of the buildings result from Matta’s search for humanitarian architecture. His objective was first to fulfill the needs of the future occupants of the buildings. In the case of Matta’s thesis project, he believed all religions must be considered, along with their specific ritual needs. He also solved the problem of monotony common to housing complexes by offering a wide range of designs, which resulted in very original plans with sinuous shapes and curved walls.
With floor plans derived from the nudes; I was able to develop an immense quantity of plans for houses. This captivated the architecture professors; they thought I was a student of unlimited imagination because of these plans. Most students composed orthogonal plans, with the bedroom on the right and the kitchen on the left. In its place my plans developed very strange curves and weird exits, because they came from the elbow.[8]

Matta’s designs have the look of organic sculptures. Nemesio Antúnez thought they expressed Matta’s ideas of Eros as life energy. In Antúnez’s opinion, Matta wanted to make the buildings appear to be monumental sculptures against the landscape.[9] In these drawings and the ideas that motivate them, one also reads the artist’s desire for revisiting prehistoric arrangements. He seems to long for a return to matriarchy, to psychologically comfortable dwellings in harmony with nature. It appears that Matta prefers curves to the sharp angles of International Style architecture.
Matta would encounter plenty of right angles in contemporary European architecture when he moved to Europe one year after graduation. He left Chile in 1933, enrolled as a merchant marine, with no specific program for the future. He spent his free time during his travels walking in solitude and sketching in museums.[10] In 1934 he decided to leave maritime life and stay in Paris until Christmas. He then traveled to Madrid to spend the holiday with his aunt Bebe Vicuña, spouse of Carlos Mora Lynch, the cultural attaché to the Chilean Embassy in Madrid. At his aunt’s house, Matta began long-lasting friendships with the poets Rafael Alberti and Pablo Neruda, and also grew close to Federico García Lorca. Matta impressed the Spanish poet, who did not believe in coincidences but watched for “objective chance.”[11]
García Lorca visited with Matta’s uncle and aunt daily. Bebe Vicuña introduced Matta to the poet as Roberto, a nephew from Chile who wrote her letters on green paper. The idea of Matta’s selection of green fascinated García Lorca, who did not realize the comment referred to green butcher paper, then the cheapest available in Chile. Matta and García Lorca repeatedly met each time Matta visited his relatives in Madrid.
Federico was a funny guy. He was funnier than anyone I had met in my life, people who talked nonsense, sang, and played the piano. Perhaps it was this experience that made me think it was possible to exist differently.[12]

In one of their early encounters, García Lorca gave Matta a copy of Llanto by Ignacio Sánchez-Mejías, with a dedication to Dalí. García Lorca’s intention was to introduce Matta to Dalí, since both then resided in Paris. Before Matta went back to Paris, his aunt arranged for him to meet Le Corbusier, who though disturbed by Matta’s “League of Religions” project, included the young talent in the office he shared with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret.
The Swiss architect and artist Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (1887-1965) moved to Paris in 1929 and took the name Le Corbusier for his architectural theories and works. Charles Jeanneret and Amédée Ozenfant developed Purism together as a reaction to Cubism and co-authored Après le Cubisme (Paris, 1918) and La Peinture Moderne (Paris, 1925). Le Corbusier’s ideas of Purism are best exemplified in architecture in his Unité d’Habitation, built in Marseilles, France, from 1947 to 1952 (Fig. 11). The building was commissioned in 1945 by the French government as part of the massive reconstruction of France after World War II. It represents Le Corbusier’s total integration of community services through the internal “streets” of an idealized neighborhood.
Le Corbusier pursued a synthesis of the arts and devoted himself to painting as much as to architectural design and urban theory and projects. Today he has been proclaimed the most famous architect of the twentieth century, but he has never been regarded as a major painter. Le Corbusier became famous as an enthusiast of the city, an architect highly concerned with urbanism. He provoked the antagonism of many people who saw his works as lacking humanity. Beatriz Colomina believes that, although Le Corbusier gave priority to the problem of family housing in the modern city, “it is not social conditions in general that interest Le Corbusier but the status of the architect in an industrial society.”[13]
The Ville Contemporaine, 1922, included Le Corbusier’s characteristic proposal of duplex apartments with private outdoor areas and roof commons, based on the “Dom-Ino” prototype (Fig.12). These living units were intended to provide areas for activity similar to those offered by a house, in a denser human configuration.
The most important and enduring contribution of the Ville Contemporaine was its Immeuble-Villa unit, an adaptation of the Maison Citrohan as a general type for high-rise high-density living. These units, stacked up on six double floors, included garden terraces, one for each duplex, an arrangement which today seems to be one of the few acceptable solutions for high-rise “family” living (Fig. 13).[14]

Le Corbusier’s most notable roof gardens appear in Poissy, on top of the Ville Savoye, the final masterpiece from his Purist period (Fig. 14). This project was built between 1929 and 1931, just a few years before Matta went to work for Le Corbusier. The Villa Savoye is the best-known example of Le Corbusier’s use of pilotis, columns which elevate the mass of the building off the ground. The Villa Savoye has been compared to Palladio’s Villa Rotonda, and associated with Le Corbusier’s assertion: “The house is a machine for living in.” Consequently, this building exemplifies Le Corbusier’s double approach to architecture; looking toward the future, while rooted in the classical past.
Matta’s interests and ideas in architecture already diverged from Le Corbusier’s beliefs. Le Corbusier usually gets credited, incorrectly, as the directive force for Matta’s early training. Matta has commented on his internship at the Jeanneret cousin’s office,
There weren’t works in construction. We studied among ourselves. Le Corbusier sometimes looked at the drawings we made for La Ville Radieuse.[15]

In 1935 Le Corbusier published the articles he had contributed to the journal Plans between 1930 and 1931, as La Ville Radieuse; the book proved to contain some of his most polemical writings. The title which immediately conveyed a new perspective on architectural goals, now included: elements d’une doctrine d’urbanisme pour l’équipement de la civilization machiniste. Le Corbusier carefully wrote and rewrote the articles which eventually formed La Ville Radieuse. He changed his political views often, along with the tone of his texts. His secure financial position as a renowned architect allowed him to concentrate on writing, without concern for the scarcity of projects during the economic downturn, confident of a public eager to read his next audacious book. He approached La Ville Radieuse as someone writing a personal dairy, filling it with images from newspapers and magazines (Fig. 15). Le Corbusier included detailed plans and drawings, which provoked great controversy and productive discussion in the field. As an intern in Le Corbusier’s office, Matta collaborated on drawings, plans and illustrations for La Ville Radieuse. He also served as Le Corbusier’ courier (1934-1937), since his habit was to wander through Europe, as in his merchant marine days. In 1936 the position put Matta in contact with Alvar Aalto, Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy.
As a voluntary postman for Le Corbusier’s atelier, I went to Moscow [in 1936] to deliver the new plans to Centrosoyuz allowing them to alter the original air conditioning so they could open the windows[16]

While returning to Paris, Matta met Alvar Aalto in Helsinski, Finland. Aalto’s approach to architecture must have appealed to Matta, in stark contrast to the poor impression he had formed of Le Corbusier’s cold mentorship and rational architecture. Matta encountered Aalto at a moment when the Finnish architect had already become famous for insisting on using nature as a model, always taking into consideration the surroundings of the building. Nature seemed a more permanent model to Aalto, who proposed to humanize mechanical forms. Soon after meeting Aalto, Matta probably discovered that the two artists shared interests in painting and furniture. The Finnish architect and designer had considered becoming a painter before deciding on architecture, where he paid close attention to the integration of furniture in the overall design. In 1932, with the completion of the Paimio Sanatorium, Aalto began to produce a curved wooden chair that became known by the same name as the building. The Paimio chair stands as a warm alternative to the cold, modern tubular steel style of Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair from 1925, designed at the Bauhaus.
Alvar Aalto had earlier been close to Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and László Moholy-Nagy. In 1936, after his first encounter with Aalto in Finland, Matta met Gropius in London. Gropius moved from Germany to England in 1934, and from England to America in 1937. He had been director of the Bauhaus from 1919 to 1928, and the architect of the acclaimed buildings built at the Bauhaus’s second location in Dessau, during 1925-1926 (Fig. 16). The Nazis finally closed the school as a left-wing center in 1932—the year of Matta’s graduation as an architect. Bauhaus principles and social goals had attracted Matta since his school years, so it is likely that he felt much closer to Gropius and Moholy-Nagy than to Le Corbusier. As soon as Matta met Gropius, he began to distance himself from Le Corbusier. Nonetheless, since he finally left his architectural career for painting, he never worked with Gropius, despite the latter’s offer of an internship in Chicago. László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), the Hungarian painter, sculptor, photographer, designer, filmmaker, theorist and teacher, left a deep impression on Matta, whose art benefited significantly from their friendship. Moholy-Nagy found that Matta quickly understood and felt impassioned by his dearest theories about space, time and light. They also shared a passion for literature and poetry and a sense of humor, which they considered an important element in their art.
Only a few sketches are known to survive from the work Matta executed at Le Corbusier’s office. Friends recall that Matta crafted a considerable number of architectural drawings, collages, and also abstract and figurative free drawings between 1934 and 1937. Cached in a trunk in an apartment when the Mattas fled Paris, these works did not survive World War II. Matta has retained only two preparatory collage-drawings made in Paris, which Ferrari published in Entretiens Morphologiques; they show the front and rear elevation for a villa on the Côte d’Azur in 1936.[17] Probably never built, the project cannot be located in the records of the Fondation Le Corbusier. [18] For this scheme, Matta used colored pencils and collage technique on tracing paper. The resultant work suggests a dialogue between pasted images and drawn forms. In the front elevation, three elements give a sense of the design: a villa with pilotis; a glazed, curving attic; and pasted images of two bathers on the roof, a wave in the background, a tree projecting from the ground plane, and a couple who seem to indicate the level of the
beach (Fig. 17). There may be a poetic connection between the waves on the right and the glazed attic, where bathers sit. Men in swimsuits call the viewer’s attention to the seaside atmosphere; they might also suggest a link between the ocean and the rounded forms of the attic. The inclusion of these figures probably aims to introduce elements of humor, without representing a possible reality for the house’s occupants. A more likely activity for them is perhaps represented by the pasted images of a couple on the ground level, in front of the house. The couple, with their awkward fittings for the beach, also add a hint of humor to the drawing-collage.
In the rear elevation, Matta pasted images on his drafts to set the tone
(Fig. 18). A boy wearing beach clothes carries a bucket in his right hand and wears a life ring around his neck. A nude figure lolls in the foreground, casually sunbathing: a pasted-on image of Michelangelo’s David. The third pasted image is a view of the ocean through the branches of a tree, which is not shown. The pasted images have been carefully cut so the sliced edge follows outlines, for example of trees or waves.
These very basic drawings seem like rapid notes; nonetheless we recognize Le Corbusier’s influence in the characteristic pilotis. Possibly the design of this house furthered Le Corbusier’s desire to explore variations on the theme of pilotis. In these sketches, the canted wall plane and minor bays inset in major structural bays demonstrate the possibilities of the beton brut pilotis. Overall, the second floor appears to conform to the first floor plate, except for a one meter cantilever on one elevation.
The roof in these elevations appears to be subdivided at each bay with a curving, butterfly shape. This allows each bay to have its own sense of enclosure, even when the whole building—apparently from these drawings— may be covered with one roof. The smaller structural bay has a colored exterior plane in both elevations. In the front elevation, the envelope is blue, while seen from the rear elevation the same plane is yellow. These colors possibly connote sunlight and the sea, perhaps conveying the idea of a sun porch or an enclosed balcony.
If glazing reflects program, it seems possible that the ground floor was conceived more for functions of utility, with a piano nobile above. The drawings do not allow an understanding of the missing plans. Nonetheless, without the plans, it is possible to read some of Matta’s interests and intentions while working for Le Corbusier. The elevations give the impression of a site along the coast; particularly through the collage elements included in the drawings. These collage elements suggest the house’s atmosphere and some possible ways to dwell in it, while adding humor.
Matta moved closer to painting after the shocking event of Federico García-Lorca’s murder. He felt compelled to take to Dalí, Lorca’s closest friend, the book that the poet had dedicated to him as a letter of introduction for Matta. Dalí was impressed with Matta’s drawings, and insisted that Breton would appreciate it if Matta would present them to
him (Fig. 19). This time Matta immediately took the advice and, with Dalí’s recommendation, introduced himself to Breton. Breton bought two of Matta’s drawings at once, and adopted him into Surrealism, at the same time that Gordon Onslow-Ford was admitted.
In 1937 Matta met the marine officer and artist Gordon Onslow-Ford, who became one of his closest friends, and introduced him to Breton’s Surrealism. Onslow-Ford was deeply impressed by some of the drawings Matta had made parallel to his architectural work, and helped motivate Matta to pursue an artistic career. Onslow-Ford later recalled the decisive influence Matta had on his life. Onslow-Ford and Matta met while attending an unusual party at Matta’s hostel. They exchanged ideas about the Chilean’s architectural projects for Le Corbusier’s office. Onslow-Ford remembered being invited to Matta’s room after dinner and feeling astonished by the works Matta had “pinned up amidst the chinoiserie of their hostesses,” as Onslow-Ford recalls. He described the,
first exciting drawings made with colored pencils—the most extraordinary landscapes full of maltreated nudes, strange architecture and vegetation. Matta regarded these drawings as a casual hobby and seemed astonished that I was so flabbergasted by them. I left that room a different person. Without this meeting with Matta and our subsequent friendship, I might have remained a sailor.[19]

Gordon Onslow-Ford (1912-) had lost his father in the Great War at age eight, and grew up under his grandfather’s tutelage. Edward Onslow-Ford’s acclaimed sculptures for Queen Victoria probably influenced Gordon’s talent.
I have made paintings for as long as I can remember. In childhood my teachers were the animals, trees and flowers of the English countryside, the garden and the pond of my grandfather’s house in Buckinghamshire.[20]

Nonetheless, when it was time to choose a career for his grandson, Edward Onslow-Ford decided on the Royal Navy. By age twenty-five, Gordon Onslow-Ford had matured into a well-educated and docile gentleman. He surprised his guardian by choosing to abandon a successful career in the navy to become a painter, after meeting Matta in 1937. Gordon Onslow-Ford did not cease encouraging Matta until he agreed to try to compose paintings similar to his drawings.
In 1938 Matta and Onslow-Ford went together on a painters holiday to Trevignon, an area that had inspired the self-trained Surrealist Yves Tanguy. Tanguy had also been in the merchant marine, and became friends with Matta and Onslow-Ford, who admired the Frenchman’s paintings.
Onslow-Ford and Matta spent a rainy summer holiday in 1938 in an abandoned stone customs house at Trevignon near the Finistère coast of Brittany. Photographs show them perched on top of those mysterious menhirs that rise out of the flat landscape in a manner strikingly reminiscent of Tanguy’s structures.[21]

The pair did not paint much outdoors as planned, due to heavy rain. Instead they read the Tertium Organum by P.D. Ouspensky and eagerly discussed his commentaries on time as an aspect of space. The weather did not clear, and Onslow-Ford had to return to his duties as a naval officer. After this trip, he resigned from the Royal Navy to become an artist. Onslow-Ford left Matta and his wife in charge of the house he had rented for the summer, with the commitment that Matta would produce his first oil paintings, for which all materials were provided. Six large canvases were to be ready by Onslow-Ford’s return in September, although Matta had neither painted nor studied painting. Matta began working the full size canvas without preparatory sketches, placing oil paint on the canvas and letting it run. When the color had formed some spots, Matta set out to read them visually. He explored and interpreted the shapes as someone who is watching clouds and finding recognizable forms in them. Matta later called these works “Inscapes,” meaning landscapes of the inner being (Fig. 20). On Onslow-Ford’s return, he felt pleased with the paintings and persuaded Matta to take them to Breton.
When we arrived in Paris and showed them to Breton, he found them incredible, formidable. He published a color reproduction of one in the following edition of Minotaure …that never happened to anyone in that epoch![22]

Minotaure had been the Surrealist journal since 1935. Albert Skira’s support allowed for an elegant format and glossy paper that though costly, was welcomed by the Surrealists’ audience. The readers followed articles about the artists involved in Breton’s circle and on the art of different periods that the Surrealists considered related to their interests. Breton edited all twelve issues; for the eleventh number, he requested an essay on architecture from Matta, which became “Sensitive Mathematics—Architecture of Time,” written in 1937 and published in 1938.

Surrealism’s Changing Attitude toward Architectural Space

Andre Breton carefully explained Surrealism in his movement’s first Manifesto, defining it “donc une fois pour toutes” as
Automatisme psychique pour lequel on se propose d’exprimer, soit verbalement, soit par écrit, soit de toute autre manière, le fonctionnement rél de la pensée. Dictée de la pensée, en l’absence de tout contrôle excercé par la raison, en dehors de toute préoccupation esthétique ou morale.[23]

This definition has served to understand the movement’s goals and perspectives. Surrealism is not defined as a literary or artistic movement of certain characteristics but as the spirit inspiring Surrealists to create and live: Pure psychic automatism…without the control of reason, esthetics or morality. In 1936, Julian Levy published a monograph that reiterated what Breton meant by Surrealism, as expressed in the Manifesto of Surrealism from 1924. Levy began his book with an insight about the movement’s name.
Surrealism is a point of view, and as such applies to Painting, Literature, PLAY, BEHAVIOR, POLITICS, ARCHITECTURE, PHOTOGRAPHY, and CINEMA.
Surrealism is not a rational, dogmatic, and consequently static theory of art—hence for the surrealist point of view there can be no accurate definition or explanation. The point of view is essentially anti-definitive and anti-explanatory.[24]

Levy’s text became an important bridge between the American audience and Surrealism. The movement first reached a small audience in the United States through art journals, which published the Surrealist group’s manifestoes and exhibition catalogs. A broad public learned of the movement with the publication of Levy’s book, which prepared the arena for the European artists linked to Surrealism. Ultimately Breton’s group chose exile in New York, storming the American artistic scene.
In America the critics and the public did not pay much attention to Surrealism’s interest in architecture, but focused on the paintings, sculptures, and objects. It may not have been evident that the Surrealists were seriously concerned with city form, often proposing irreverent solutions. However, if the general public did not understand Surrealist aims for architecture, they enjoyed the use of architectural space in the early paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, which the Surrealists enthusiastically praised.
Breton’s admiration for Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings lent his group an early interest in architecture, as a possibility to render dreams and stimulate new fantasies. Breton admired the meta-reality of these works, which was achieved by devices like minimizing the presence of humans and positioning them in the background of the composition, so that they cast long shadows. De Chirico gave his paintings a dream-like atmosphere that fascinated the Surrealists, with a suggestion of elements of the unknown lying behind the apparent reality of things, particularly in works painted between 1913 and 1914. The architecture and monuments in De Chirico’s paintings evoked the palazzi of Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. These venerated sites were shown juxtaposed with images of industrialism. De Chirico’s paintings gave the Surrealists a view of the world as a multiple set of images and signs that each artist could organize freely, presenting the world as a stage where the permanent values of historic buildings turned into illusion. The collective memory of the past and its appreciation of buildings was questioned; personal memory became more valuable.
In the oil on canvas Delights of the Poet, from 1913, De Chirico represented a city square with a rectangular fountain in the center, two buildings with colonnades towards the left, a view of the horizon with a passing train and a building on the right, not actually depicted, but implied by the large shadow cast parallel to shadows of the buildings in view (Fig. 21). The building in the background offers an important contribution to the atmosphere; it has a clock, eternally reading one minute after two o’clock. The frozen scene depicts the moment when the locomotive passes the town in reference to the artist’s childhood memories as son of a railroad engineer. The buildings recall memories from Italian history and a prosperous past, which has left few traces other than isolated architectural monuments. The city square and surrounding streets serve as a stage set for melancholia, where the only figure is a distant woman, highlighted simply by her shadow and the contrast of white clothes against the cityscape in the bright sunlight. The shadows projected by the columns in the colonnade on the left also serve to awaken fantasy and a mix of personal memories of childhood games with nostalgia for the history of the country, symbolized by the characteristic Italian buildings.
A similar conclusion may be reached by analyzing other works from the same period in De Chirico’s career, like Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, also from 1913 (Fig. 22). In this painting, the mysterious atmosphere is achieved through images of Italianate architecture; the buildings and surrounding elements are rendered at slightly different scales, offering multiple perspectives. The street runs between two stone buildings with colonnades and sharp contrasts of sunlight and shade. At the end of this sunny street, a silhouette suggests a statue on the right, beyond the picture frame. The shadow, coming from outside the composition, does not include the pedestal of the statue, as a building on the right occludes the base. This detail allows the viewer to read the monument’s shadow as that of a figure depicted on a larger scale. On the other end, at the beginning of the street, a girl who runs with a hoop could be mistaken for a shadow or a ghost, were it not for her own shadow. She seems to run toward an empty cart with wheels, once more recalling train imagery—an aspect reinforced by the nearby tracks and the distant horizon.
The modern Italian architect Aldo Rossi (1931-1997) exhibits an approach similar to Giorgio de Chirico in his San Cataldo Cemetery, built between 1971-1978, in Modena, Italy
(Fig. 23). Rossi also made use of eclectic personal and national imagery. He reiterated what he has called urban typologies, quoting himself in his different projects. In the case of this cemetery, Rossi mixed ideas from his theoretical work with ideas from the collective memory of cemeteries and the area’s vernacular and modern buildings.
The cities of Rossi’s home territory, Emilia and Lombardy, are famous for their porticoed streets and squares. Rossi’s porticoes however, are filtered through a painter’s vision of the cityscape of North Italy, the buildings that define the sun struck piazzas of De Chirico’s early paintings, such as Mystery and Melancholy of a Street.[25]

The Surrealist group adopted buildings from different styles and historical periods as favorites, which provoked similar effects to those they admired in De Chirico’s paintings. The Surrealists selected buildings they cared for because of the atmosphere they created, thus the scene they set may be called Surrrealist.
The architecture most exalted by the Surrealists included Ferdinand Cheval’s Ideal Palace (1879-1912); Victor Horta’s Tassel Hotel (1892); Hector Guimard’s metro entrances (1899-1904); Antonio Gaudí’s Park Guell (1900-1914), Casa Milà (1906-1910), and the Sagrada Familia, begun in 1882 (Fig. 24).[26] Paris seemed to become almost entirely “Surrealist” before the eyes of Breton’s group (Fig.25). They wandered through the city paying homage to the Lion of Belfort, the statue of Etienne Dolet, the Porte Saint Denis, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the buttes at Chaumont Park, and the Passage de l’Opera (Fig. 26). These favorite sites for the Surrealists were confirmed in Breton’s novel Nadja, which familiarizes his readers with the contradictory emotions that certain architecture aroused for the Surrealists.
I must insist that accidents of thought not be reduced to random episodes, so that when I say, for instance, that the statue of Etienne Dolet on its plinth in the Place Maubert in Paris has always fascinated me and induced unbearable discomfort, it will not immediately be supposed that I am merely ready for psychoanalysis
(Fig. 27). [27]

Breton gave the location of the monument to emphasize the strong effect the statue has when seen in person. The challenge for the poet lay in the experience of confronting the statue, despite the emotions it evoked. This idea of seeking such emotions led Max Ernst to develop oil canvases like Vision Provoquée par l’Aspect Nocturne de la Porte Saint-Denis, from 1927, with the portal resembling a forest (Fig. 28).
In Nadja Breton recognized,
I cannot see, as I hurry along, what could constitute for me, even without my knowing it, a magnetic pole in either space or time. No: not even the extremely handsome, extremely useless Porte Saint-Denis.[28]

Breton also made his readers aware of the ageless appeal of the portal by including a picture of it in his book –an effective method of engaging the general public and the Surrealist artists to whom the text was first directed. Ernst further followed Breton in his insights into modern architecture and for the coming decade painted the topic of the city as a haunted place or as ruins devoured by vegetation, as in The Entire City from 1935-36. The latter canvas might also be read as a direct commentary on Le Corbusier’s Radiant City. This then recently published book included the polemical “Plan Voisin,” which proposed demolishing the center of Paris, replacing historic architecture with modern tower-block buildings, and expedited circulation, otherwise obstructed by ancient buildings and monuments. The Surrealists furiously opposed the idea, with Dalí as the most outspoken critic.[29]
Breton and his friends rejected Le Corbusier’s excessive rationalism and zeal for order, instead praising Sigmund Freud’s theories. Breton felt particularly attracted to Freud’s interpretation of dreams, while he disapproved of traditional psychiatry and the use of mental hospitals. As a student of medicine who had planned to specialize in psychiatry until the Great War broke out, Breton helped France rehabilitate soldiers in mental shock, while reading Freud and writing in his spare time. He exchanged letters with his hero, the poet Apollinaire, also on the front. After the war, Breton left medicine for poetry and founded Surrealism. The Surrealists aimed to experience the real functioning of the mind, therefore they accepted contradictory desires while pursuing their goal. The contradictions were valued as paths to commonly unknown associations, as in Dalí’s theory of creativity, which he titled the “Paranoiac-Critical Method.” Dalí explained this method as a balance between the first unconscious impulses to associate apparently unconnected ideas or forms and the conscious intervention of rational criticism, responsible for shaping the “concrete irrationality” that characterizes the works of art produced with this system.
Dalí wrote an article on Gaudí’s architecture, “De la beauté terrifante et comestible, de l’architecture Modern style” for Minotaure.[30] Dalibor Veseley has said of this essay,
Dalí’s interpretation of Art Nouveau architecture is to my knowledge the first consistent surrealistic commentary on architecture, the style is very personal, poetic and as Dalí will obviously insist, paranoid-critical.[31]

Photography played a crucial role in raising Surrealism’s interest in architecture, first in Nadja and later in Dalí’s articles. “De la beauté terrifante...” introduced photographs by Brassaï and Man Ray. Man Ray’s photographs of Gaudí’s building highlighted the fantastic aspects of the architect’s designs, in the use of undulating walls and Baroque-like decoration (Fig. 29). Brassaï offered a series of images of handrails and other details from Art Nouveau architecture charged with erotic and anthropomorphic connotations, and also published a one-page composition with six Sculptures Involontaires (Fig. 30). These were photographs of found objects and scraps, such as a folded bus ticket, or a crumpled piece of paper, isolated and displaced from their normal context (Fig. 31).[32]
In Nadja, photographs provoke uncanny emotions, setting the atmosphere and adding visual information. Breton included carefully selected pictures of Paris, showing sites referred to in the book that could be identified on a map of the city. The most characteristic feature of these pictures are the arcades, with their shadows and evocation of human presence in the absence of human beings, perhaps similarly to de Chirico’s paintings.
Buildings the Surrealists admired represent what can be called “Surrealist architecture” during the initial years of the movement. At first, architecture was not practiced by artists in Breton’s circle, but represented by architecture the Surrealists appreciated. The Surrealists named works of architecture that they found to have the spirit of Surrealism, through paintings, graphic art, books with architectural fantasies, and in the historical sites of the contemporary world, particularly Paris. The most characteristic images of Surrealist architecture for the first part of the movement are the images of haunted buildings, squares and cityscapes included in Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings. In 1922, early in the movement’s history, Max Ernst included De Chirico in a portrait of the Surrealist group. Ernst’s oil painting At the Rendez-Vous of Friends, shows Breton’s admiration for de Chirico by positioning him next to the painter. Breton’s interpretation of de Chirico’s work in connection with architecture is likewise expressed by de Chirico’s body rendered as a Doric column (Fig. 32).
The idea of estrangement, or dépaysement as Breton called it, was a crucial function of Surrealism. And this had partly, at least, to do with the indeterminacy of images, either in the kind of dream narrative Breton saw in de Chirico’s work, or through the automatist techniques used by others, such as Masson and Miró.[33]

The second phase of Surrealism (c.1924-1925) can be characterized by the group’s shift in interest from collage toward automatism and an opening to the possibility of Surrealist painting. This period did not include direct advances toward Surrealist architecture, in the sense that no architects were yet included in the movement. Surrealist painting further advanced Surrealist exploration of space. The next step involved the exploration of the Surrealist art-object, which attracted considerable attention from the Parisian public and critics. Nonetheless, automatism also brought new problems for the integration of architecture within Surrealism. An automatic drawing might serve as an inspirational image, but it would be impossible to build departing from an automatic drawing or an exquisite corpse. At that time, Surrealists still did not practice architectural design, though they admired buildings that conveyed a surreal atmosphere. Dalí had been an enthusiast of writing about architecture and though the group was supportive of the idea, there were no publications on the topic by official members. Finally Dalí distanced himself from Surrealism to pursue his own fortune, with the consequence of his expulsion, leaving the objective to write on Surrealist architecture unfulfilled.
Photography contributed enormously to transformations in the last phase of Surrealism—the period closest to architecture. The city space that the Surrealists had first transformed through poetic associations was now subject to a more poignant metamorphosis thanks to the rise of photography. Man Ray supplied photos of Paris, in addition to his pictures of Gaudí’s buildings. His compositions highlighted aspects of the city not common to tourist images, and intensified Surrealism’s engagement with the political and social reality of the time.
In the 1930s, Breton’s group had experienced changes that led to Matta’s writing on architecture. At this time, Surrealism returned to the collage technique and grew interested in the surreal experience of real space. The movement explored the ideas of the art-object and the art exhibition space, guided by Duchamp. Marcel had become Breton’s closest collaborator, though he refused membership and remained an independent artist, as had been the case since late Cubism’s rejection of his oil painting from 1912, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Fig. 33). Duchamp’s painting from 1912 triggered his break with French Cubism, but also opened possibilities for a productive period of work for him in New York, where in 1913 the same Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 won acclaim at the “Armory Show.” In 1938, by the time of the International Exhibition of Surrealism in Paris, Duchamp was already an active collaborator with Breton. Duchamp further stimulated Surrealism’s interest in exploration of space and architectural ideas through art. The new direction taken by Surrealism favored the introduction of Matta in the movement. Breton welcomed Matta’s contributions, particularly his ideas on architecture, and requested that he write a text on the topic for the Surrealist journal, which resulted in “Sensitive Mathematics—Architecture of Time.”

Matta’s Manifesto of Surrealist Architecture
Matta’s ideas spring from a context that can be understood from the first section of his text. When Matta wrote his manifesto of architecture in 1936, the Surrealists held Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis in high esteem. Matta began his text by emphasizing how human emotions can be provoked by architectural surroundings.
It is a matter of discovering how to pass in between the rages, which displace each other in tender parallels, in soft and thick angles, or how to pass under the shaggy undulations through which terrors are well retained.[34]

Thus one of the architect’s principal concerns needs to be the psychological well-being of the inhabitants of the building and not solely the materials employed to build and their inherent possibilities. At the end of the introductory paragraph Matta situated the problem that the architect needs to resolve,
Man yearns for the obscure thrusts of his beginning, which enclosed him in humid walls where the blood beat near the eye with the sound of the mother. [35]

Matta proposed that humankind needs architecture capable of providing a compensation for the loss of the maternal womb. The ideal dwelling should offer psychological relief and the feeling of being at home, in a manner similar to the comfortable place the fetus occupies inside the mother. Instead of following Euclidean geometry, the architect needs to take inspiration from nature—primarily from the moving, wet, and curved walls of the uterus. In a direct reference to the relations between geometry and architecture as they were in the late 1930s, Matta enjoined,
Let man be caught, incrusted, until he possesses a geometry where the rhythms of crumpled marble, paper, a crust of bread, smoke’s desolation, are to him as the pupil of an eye between lips.[36]

With great optimism Matta hoped that humans would be able to implement solutions for dwelling by taking inspiration from the organic shapes of nature. Then it would be possible for humans to live in harmony with the universe, and reside without missing the lost womb; without experiencing horror vacui.
Apart from moist and sinuous walls, Matta insisted on the relevance of freeing the dwellers inside their homes. Instead of modern technology applied to facilitate physical needs in a home, Matta entreats that the architecture should permit peace of mind and creative stimuli. He proposed a total environment to avoid an overly enclosed home:
Let us put aside the techniques which consist of setting up ordinary materials and brutally push him who inhabits them into the midst of a final theater where he is everything, plot and actor, scenery and that silo inside of which he can live in silence among his fripperies.[37]

Matta first refused a technological approach to architecture, and then disregarded the stylistic appreciation of architectural history. The rejection of styles also related to Matta’s understanding of architecture beyond building. He seems to open architecture to all possible experiences of space, finding more inspiration in the shapes of a crust of bread or in the figures formed by smoke than in geometry or historical buildings. His manifesto reads,
Let us reverse all the stages of history with their styles and their elegant wafers so that the rays of dust, whose pyrotechnics must create space, will flee. [38]

In Matta’s perspective, if people do not need a history of styles to inspire new architecture, what then is needed? He promptly replied in the text,
We need walls like damp sheets which lose their shapes and wed our psychological fears; arms hanging among the interrupters which throw a light barking at forms and to their susceptibly colored shadows to awake the gums themselves as sculptures for lips.[39]

He proposed an environment to stimulate the mind, the body, and the spirit in unusual ways, so imagination and creativity would always be active forces for the awakened “mind in command.”
For that, one insinuates the body as in a cast, as in a matrix based on our movements, where it will find such a freedom that the liquid jostling of life which gives in here or resists there will not touch it, without its always having an interest for us.[40]

Matta then referred to certain imagined objects of his preference, contributing to the Surrealists’ experimentation with objects as art. Breton insisted on the importance for his group to exhibit their art-objects and express the development of the idea from Duchamp’s original thoughts. In “Sensitive Mathematics—Architecture of Time” it is possible to find several allusions to objects in the terms the Surrealists were thinking of them in 1937. Two pleas for specific objects seem particularly intriguing, remaining until today the most obscure of Matta’s statements. First he calls for
Objects for the teeth, whose bony point is a lightning conductor, ought to breathe our fatigue, deliver us from the angels in an air which will no longer be angel-blue but with which it will be lawful for us to struggle.[41]

In different interviews Matta has given contradictory explanations for these “objects for the teeth.” Matta’s friend, Antúnez, thought that Matta intended real objects to be used in the mouth to help the teeth function as “lightning conductor.” [42] If we are to believe this, it will be necessary to accept the proposal as one of pure Surrealist tone. Matta continued,
And again, other objects, opened into, comporting sexes of unusual conformation whose discovery provokes to ecstasy desires more stirring than those of man for woman. [43]

The mention of furniture in Matta’s text also relates to Surrealism’s interests of the time and expresses the more personal approach of Matta. The writer’s tone is characteristic of Surrealist prose, which needs to be read carefully to perceive solid ideas expressed in an unconventional manner. In the following paragraphs, Matta focused on furniture and its relation to the proposed space. Furniture had been an old topic for Matta, who grew up in a society changing from the love of Victorian interiors to simpler demands, as it moved toward modernity.
As an interior decorator and antique salesman, his brother Mario [Matta] bought and sold the French and English objects that had arrived in Chile during the second half of the nineteenth century, only to become part of the antique market that emerged as a result of a progressive dismantling of a model of life that had been dominant until then.[44]

The furniture proposed by Matta for his projected apartment is meant to offer psychological comfort similar to the curving walls, which emulate the uterus. Furniture for Matta, similarly to architecture, needs to find distance from past stylistic traditions and the predominance of the right angle—for example in the armchair. The armchair Matta conceived would adapt to the forms of the human body and its different moods, and as any of Matta’s furniture, would “roll out from unexpected spaces, would recede, fold up, and change, designing a new architecture—a space where it is possible for humankind to live.” [45]
By the end of Matta’s manifesto, he was writing almost purely in Surrealist prose. Nonetheless, his architectural goals become clearer. He wished to make a connection between humankind and the universe through architecture. The residences capable of achieving his aims are characterized as compensating for the lost womb. They also provide a stage, as in a theater, where people can connect with the cosmos. The spatial experience provided by the dwelling becomes essential for the dweller, as it can constrain her or open her to the universe.
Matta did not practice architecture, except for his internship in Le Corbusier’s office. After three years with Le Corbusier, he wrote “Sensitive Mathematics—Architecture of Time.” Matta moved into painting, where he continued his spatial explorations. From his perspective, Matta never abandoned architecture, but did not see his designs built. Nonetheless he remained in touch with independent groups of European graduate students in architecture and helped them by providing designs that the students transformed into models and projects for buildings.

New Dimensions of Space: Psychological Morphologies
The last stage of Breton’s Surrealism began in the late 1930s and extended through the 1940s and beyond. A return to the collage technique and the dream realism of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte form the most famous expressions of this period in Breton’s movement. Matta’s “Psychological Morphologies,” however, presented an invigorating alternative. His works did not fit the program that Surrealism was following at the time, but were included as a new proposal.
When I started painting, it was out of necessity, of trying to find an expression which I call a morphology, of the functioning of one’s thinking, or one’s feelings.[46]

In the United States, Matta became best known for these works, a series of pastel and color pencil drawings, and also canvases (Fig. 34).[47] Lippard states, “his style maturated into what has been called ‘the futurism of the organic’—hazy, luridly lit, abstract-biomorphic landscapes of the inner mind or other worlds.”[48] Matta developed these psychological morphologies from his first paintings executed in Trevignon, which he called “Inscapes,” from landscape, in English, and “Sersajes,” as a variation on paisajes in Spanish.
Breton lauded Matta’s apprenticeship as a painter; he had already admired Matta’s pastel and pencil drawings, and now he decided to incorporate Matta into Surrealism, extending the invitation to Onslow Ford too. Though Breton enjoyed the new spatial relations and forms Matta developed in his paintings, he did not understand the theories that lay behind them. During the fall of 1938, at one of the Surrealist’s meetings at the ‘Deux Magots,’ Breton inquired of Matta about the meaning he attributed to the expression “Psychological Morphology.” Witnesses recall that Matta spoke with expansive gestures, using the objects at hand, in front of an impassive Breton, who declared not to have understood anything. Breton asked Matta to write down his theories. Matta did so, though he found the task difficult because writing out his theory caused him to lose momentum. Nonetheless, his prolific ideas found their way into a text.[49]
It is easy to understand Breton’s bewilderment while listening to Matta, when confronted with the explanatory essay. Matta uses ideas from Ouspensky and modern physics together with personal conclusions from his architectural studies, and his insights into Leonardo da Vinci and Duchamp’s theories. Even if Matta’s theory on psychological morphologies might be difficult to understand per se, it effectively explains Matta’s creative process when painting. He asserts,
I call psychological morphology the diagram of the transformations according to the absorption and the transmission of the energies in the object from its initial aspect until it reaches its final form in the geodesic psychological environment.[50]

Before 1937, and the works requested by Onslow-Ford, Matta had never painted. He confronted the blank canvases thinking of poems written at dawn the same day, and began by pouring oil paint onto the canvas laid flat on the floor. He lifted the still wet painting and placed it against the wall, with the aim of setting out to discover images in the spots formed by the running oil paint. Matta used brushes to a minimal extent; instead he preferred his fingers, spatulas, and sponges. He wet sponges with turpentine, which he applied at certain areas to make them blur, giving an effect of transparency. Matta later explained that he felt like following Leonardo’s advice to study the shapes formed naturally, for example, in oil on a puddle. His idea was to set out to discover forms as one who reads animals and other figures in cloud formations. Matta considers himself closer to being a poet than a painter and more of a humanist than an artist. He believes his works are not finished paintings but only psychological morphologies or inscapes that should be given to a painter to be transformed into a painting. Matta’s painting process is linked to poetry, aiming to shake up human consciousness more than to satisfy aesthetic aspirations. His colors, formats and designs make for a powerful experience in person, as reproductions in books or slides do not achieve the same spatial impact.
In the area of consciousness, a morphological psychology would be the diagram of ideas. It should be conceived before optical images may give us the form of ideas if we want to stay in the transforming environment.
The optical image is kept to calm the anxiety. Only one among the many possible forms of the object is preserved.[51]

Matta’s interest in science became evident at this early stage of his participation in Surrealism, in fact he never hid his inclination toward Duchamp’s ideas. Matta and Duchamp were well known in Breton’s group for their intellectual friendships and weekly meetings to discuss space and “the bride.” Matta and Duchamp expressed concern for exploring representations of the fourth dimension as an experience in the painting. Duchamp’s masterpiece La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataries, même (1915-1923), also known as The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even or the Large Glass, is worked on glass instead of canvas, partly to introduce time (Fig. 35). Just as the Large Glass changes from every point of view and for each spectator, the Psychological Morphologies by Matta aim to express change, the passage of a form from one state to another.
The concept of a psychological-time medium in which objects are transforming, leads to compare it with a Euclidian space caught in a rotative and pulsatile transformation in which the object, with each risk of interpretation, may oscillate from point-volume to moment-eternity, from attraction-repulsion to past-future, from light-shadow to matter-movement. The fourth dimension would be the diagram of the risks encountered during the complete duration of the transformations.[52]

Alvaro Medina has analyzed the first period of Matta’s career, when “Sensitive Mathematics—Architecture of Time” was written, to prove that Matta’s works contain no hermetic purpose once their method is revealed.[53] Medina concluded that this artist’s interest was beyond design; in his opinion Matta’s paintings and writings are characterized from the beginning by a quest for representing the non-objective world and an obsession with space-time. Medina emphasizes his belief that Matta is a painter of matter in perpetual movement. He explains how, in his perspective, Matta’s paintings
reveal physical and psychic stages of transmutation. In his best pictures, he is the artist of the non-permanent in permanence—a displacement in space and time which creates a dialectic of divergence and convergence.[54]

Instead of dividing Matta’s works into periods, Medina groups them in “four morphologies:” agate, vertigo, Eros, and scandalous man. This original terminology does not directly reflect the artist’s assessments of his own works. The idea of a “morphology of agate,” instead of an early style (as these works are usually categorized) reflects Matta’s own working methodology. Since his beginnings as an architecture student, Matta had preferred to work on several projects simultaneously, trying different media and concepts. Instead of developing styles, he seeks to give shape to human emotions to revitalize human affections.
Medina only intends to classify Matta’s paintings and drawings, but his terms could also serve to explore Matta’s sculptures and most of his works of art. Medina begins by referring to the “Morphology of the agate”—evocative of caresses and the theories of Freud. Then follows the morphology of vertigo, inspired by Marcel Duchamp and the theory of relativity. The third morphology relates to Eros and Matta’s idea of the thousand and one copulations, which he developed as he learned printing and realized the series of lithographs known as “The School of New York.” Medina calls Matta’s fourth morphology: ‘the scandalous man’, i.e. of torture, destruction, and death.[55]
Breton’s article “The pearl is marred in my eyes,” published in his book Surrealism and Painting, 1944, served as inspiration for Medina when he named Matta’s first morphology. Andre Breton wrote comparing pearls and life and criticizing artists who allow their art to be treated as a product for commercialization. He also reflects on the different nature of the quest of those who look for agates on the beach and those who look for gold, because the discovery of a semiprecious stone appeases the anxiety caused by the desire to posses it. Breton praises the human quest for art as a desire for expanding the consciousness. Breton’s metaphors and observations on art in relation to Matta’s works reveal what Matta sees in art: an opportunity to arouse human consciousness. Breton also sees in Matta the qualities of an alchemist, in a mystical sense he appreciated particularly during the third phase of Surrealism. Breton wrote on Matta’s spirit,
Matta has ‘plunged into the agate—a particular variety of mineral but including all stones that secrete this ‘exalted water,’ this ‘soul of the water’ which, according to the occultists, dissolves the elements and gives the true fire. [56]

Alvaro Medina compares Matta’s “morphology of the agate” to the spatial reality of the womb. Medina’s observations could be illustrated by Matta’s Psychological Morphology from 1939, where the figures that had been more noticeably present in his first drawings hide. Apparently these figures have disappeared, leaving only abstract forms of intense color that speak of human presence in the absence of literal people.[57] On the right, two forms resemble mountain peaks and erupting volcanoes, predominantly in white, red, and yellow. The horizon gives the composition an atmosphere of a landscape of liquid shapes. Toward the left corner a mass of dark color with accents in blue, red, yellow and white resembles a dark cloud. This moves toward the right, dripping colors and giving origin to other shapes, which also seem to move as in a primordial soup or an ocean. In Matta’s morphologies without division between sky and earth, the forms take the eyes of the viewer from one to the other as in a round liquid world—like the womb. The colors seem to float in space without defining particular shapes, which Matta explains could be interpreted in infinite ways. They could represent dunes and rocks in a desert landscape, or a picture of the ocean’s floor. It could be a view of the universe seen through a telescope or through a microscope, the stars or microorganisms. The artist invites the viewer to play with perception and set out to discover non-abstract forms in the colors of the abstract images he offers.
Everything here is a miasma or a fusion of light and shadow, the stimulator of biomorphic structures in the process of construction. Although what Matta paints seems to occur in some intimate, reduced, and secret place, there is at the same time a sense of the vastness of the galaxies. [58]

Matta produced a great number of morphologies during 1938 and 1939, like the Morphology of Desire (Fig. 36); the Morphologie Psychologique de l’Espoir (Fig. 37) and the Fabulous Racetrack of Death: Instrument Very Dangerous for the Eye (Fig. 38), which represent the style that became identified in America as characteristic of Matta’s oeuvre.[59] These titles reveal Matta’s quest to give form to human emotions. He wanted to create a map of inner being with art, so humans could explore their capabilities of seeing further than the material appearance of things.[60] Matta has asserted,
I am looking for a new space, a sort of space of feeling. Every event, every chain of events, demands a special space. I must find it; I must create it for every case.[61]

It is in relation to these works that Duchamp praised Matta’s explorations of space and their place in the third phase of Surrealism, when Katherine Dreier asked him to write a catalog for her collection of modern art in 1943. The following is Duchamp’s complete entry on Matta, as originally published,
A few years before World War II, Matta started his career as an architect but very soon turned completely to painting and to the Surrealist theories which, although then twenty years old, had been kept alive by the constant flow of young new talents. Matta was among the last newcomers. He did not undergo the routine schooling but at once imposed his personal vision. His first and important contribution to Surrealist painting was the discovery of regions of space hitherto unexplored in the realm of art. Matta followed the modern physicists in the search for his new space which, although depicted on canvas, was not to be mistaken for another three-dimensional illusion. His first “period” was characterized by the slow rendering of an exploration, the fight with all the obstacles of oil painting, a medium lending itself to centuries-old interpretations. Later he succeeded in introducing in “his space” descriptive and figurative elements which added to the completion of his important achievement. Still a young man, Matta is the most profound painter of his generation.[62]

Duchamp may have been the only artist who, given the opportunity to meet Matta, came to understand him closely as an artist and person. Matta also had unique insights into the person of Duchamp, coming to a clear understanding of his work. It was Matta who first published some of Duchamp’s notes for the Large Glass, stressing a parallel status for the writings and design of Marcel’s principal work.[63] Later, when Katherine Dreier wanted to publish an explanatory text for the Large Glass, she asked for Matta’s help, knowing that Duchamp would approve the text if it were written jointly with Matta.[64] Pictures of the Surrealists meetings where Matta and Duchamp participated show the two artists almost always sitting together and testimonies of friends and Surrealism’s members at the time confirm the impression of closeness given by the group photos (Fig. 39). To better understand the approach to space in Matta’s work, it becomes necessary to look into Duchamp’s works and ideas of the same period, and the connections between the proposals of these two artists.

[1] Germana Ferrari, Entretiens Morphologiques (London: Sistan, 1987), 12.

[2] See Appendix A, 109-121.

[3] Ferrari, Entretiens 208.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See Fig. 8.

[7] “Matta: Malaise of origin; origin of the malaise,” in XXIV Bienal de São Paulo: Núcleo Histórico
Antropofagia e Historias de Canibalismos. (São Paulo: Fundçao Bienal de São Paulo,
1998), 317.

[8] Eduardo Carrasco, Conversaciones con Matta (Santiago: CESOC, 1987), 49-50.

[9] Nemesio Antúnez attended Matta’s Final Review, in 1932. Antúnez entered the school in that year. The two
became friends and encountered each other later in New York at Hayter’s studio, in 1941.

[10] See Appendix A, 111-112.

[11] Cardinal Roger explains the Surrealist theory of “Objective Chance” as the recognition of a meaningful
relationship between events occurring within the private space of the psyche and events taking
place in the world of concrete objects and material circumstance. Breton, Nadja (London: Grant
& Cutler, 1986), 21.

[12] Eduardo Carrasco, Conversaciones con Matta (Santiago: CESOC, 1987), 50-51.

[13] “Le Corbusier and Duchamp: The Uneasy Status of The Object,” in Wars of Classification, Architecture
and Modernity: Proceedings of the Colloquium “Reinterpreting Modernism” Held at the School
of Architecture, Princeton University, eds. Taisto H. Mäkelä and Wallis Miller (New York:
Princeton Architectural Press, 1991), 39.

[14] Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History (London: Thames & Hudson, 1992), 155-

[15] Matta, exh. cat. (Buenos Aires: Sistan, 1990), 108-110.

[16] Ferrari, Entretiens 13.

[17] Ferrari, Entretiens 33.

[18] The Fondation Le Corbusier (FLC) is the most authoritative source of information and documentation
regarding Le Corbusier’s life and works. It is located in Paris, 8-10 square du Docteur Blanche

[19] Gordon Onslow-Ford, Towards a New Subject in Painting (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum
of Art, 1948), 10-11.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Martica Sawin, Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School (London: MIT, 1995),

[22] Carrasco, Conversaciones 63.

[23] André Breton, Premier manifeste du Surréalisme (Bolougne: Editions du Sagittaire, 1946), 24.

[24] Julien Levy, Surrealism (New York: Black Sun Press, 1936), 3.

[25] Eugene J. Johnson, “What Remains of Man: Aldo Rossi’s Modena Cemetery,” Journal of the Society
of Architectural Historians 51, no.1 (1982): 38.

[26] André Breton, Nadja (Paris: Gallimard, 1928), 32.

[27] Breton, Nadja 24.

[28] Breton, Nadja 32.

[29] See Rem Koolhaas, “Dalí and Le Corbusier: The Paranoid-Critical Method,” Architectural Design 2-3
(1978): 152-161.

[30] Salvador Dalí, “De la beauté terrifante et comestible, de l’architecture Modern style,” Minotaure 3-4 (1933): 69-77.

[31] Dalibor Veseley, “Salvador Dalí on Architecture,” Architectural Design 2-3 (1978), 138.

[32] Briony Fer, David Batchelor, and Paul Wood, Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art Between the Wars
(New Haven & London: Yale University, 1993), 209.

[33] Fer, 193.

[34] Lucy Lippard, Surrealists on Art (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1970), 167.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Lippard, 168.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Nemesio Antúnez in conversation with the author, Santiago de Chile, January 1996.

[43] Lippard, 168.

[44] Justo Pastor Mellado, “Matta: malaise of origin; origin of the malaise,” in XXIV Bienal de São Paulo:
Núcleo Histórico Antropofagia e Historias de Canibalismos. (Sao Paulo: Fundaçao Bienal de Sao Paulo, 1998), 312.

[45] Lippard, 169.

[46] Matta, Matta: A Totemic World. exh. cat. (New York: Andrew Crispo Gallery, 1975), 16.

[47] An exhibition of some of the finest works of this period in Matta’s career recently traveled the United
States; it opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (September 30, 2001 to January 6, 2002); then it traveled to the Miami Art Museum, from March 22 to June 02, 2002; and its final destination was the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, from July 13 to October 20, 2002.

[48] Lippard, 167.

[49] Matta’s text on “Psychological Morphology,” has been published in a catalogue prepared by the Centre
Georges Pompidou for the retrospective exhibition “Matta,” the fifth show in a series named “Les
Classiques du XXe Siécle.” Unless noted otherwise, translations from French are mine. See
Gordon Onslow-Ford, “Notes sur Matta et la Peinture (1937-1941),” in Matta, eds. Alain Sayag
and Claude Schweisguth (Paris: Le Centre, 1985), 27-35.

[50] Alain Sayag and Claude Schweisguth, 30.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Alvaro Medina, “The Mobile Matter of Roberto Sebastian Matta,” Art Nexus 17 (1995): 68-75.

[54] Medina, 68.

[55] Medina, 73.

[56] André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la peinture, translation to English in Germana Ferrari, Entretiens
Morphologiques, 203.

[57] See Fig. 31.

[58] Medina, 74.

[59] Onslow-Ford is considered the owner of Matta’s best early pieces, but these drawings and canvases
should be distinguished from the best pieces of Matta’s career. The artist’s latest works in
ceramics or painting or multiple media are complex and considered by Matta to be his best work.
Matta’s early drawings and paintings help to decode meaning in the abstract shapes of his later
work. See Fig. 98.

[60] Matta has referred to his poetic intentions using the idea of “a map of the inner being” in several
interviews throughout his career. For a comprehensive relation of Matta’s approach to art and
poetry, see Eduardo Carrasco, Matta: Conversaciones (Santiago de Chile: CESOC, 1987).

[61] Matta, Matta: A Totemic World 18.

[62] M. Sanouillet & Elmer Peterson, eds. The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp (London: Thames &
Hudson, 1975), 154.

[63] See “Cast Shadows” by Marcel Duchamp, first published by Matta in his short-lived journal Instead, and
reprinted in Michel Sanouillet & E. Peterson, The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 72.

[64] See Katherine Dreier and Matta-Echaurren, Duchamp’s Glass (New York: Société Anonyme, 1944).