José Antonio Fernández-Muro (1920–2014) was born in Spain and emigrated to Argentina in 1938. Fernández-Muro's early work was geometric, often incorporating texture and using a stencil to cover his canvases in dots. When he moved to New York in 1962, he began to produce foil impressions of manhole covers and sidewalks that he obtained from the streets of New York at night, which he then adhered to his paintings. This series was contemporaneous with the Pop art movement in the United States. After living in the US for several years, Fernández-Muro returned to Europe in 1970 and eventually settled in Madrid.
The Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) is pleased to announce José Antonio Fernández-Muro: Geometry in Transfer, curated by Megan Kincaid. The second in a series on Latin American modernism at ISLAA, this exhibition is the first to comprehensively explore the Spanish Argentine artist’s luminous transfer paintings, which he developed in Buenos Aires in the 1950s and later elaborated on while living in New York City in the 1960s.
Rather than isolate what the artist termed his two “fundamental epochs” in Buenos Aires and New York, this exhibition emphasizes their critical continuities—visual, material, and ideological—to reveal Fernández-Muro’s displacement and transformation of Argentine abstraction. Presenting nine transfer paintings from ISLAA’s collection, it begins with two works produced during an understudied moment in Argentine modernism following the major breakthroughs, and unrealized utopian promises, of the artists associated with Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención (AACI) and Grupo Madí. These early transfer paintings represent a reckoning with the limitations of concretism, integrating directions in abstraction from abroad and incorporating discoveries resulting from his participation in the collective Buen diseño para la industria in the mid-1950s. With dizzying optical effects and expressive surfaces, achieved by overlaying perforated metal grates and stencils onto complex, sweeping geometric assemblies, this transitional output pushed his painterly rhetoric beyond the constraints of hard-edged geometry, evoking associations with OpArt and lyrical abstraction alike.
After relocating to Manhattan in the 1960s, Fernández-Muro returned to recognizable imagery, re-creating the visual imaginary of the urban landscape through impressions of sidewalks, sewer grates, and manhole covers. Celebrated and widely collected at the time, these frottage and embossed aluminum foil works evidence Fernández-Muro’s contact with the pervasive Pop art and assemblage sensibilities germinating in New York. With their insistent geometries, found in transfers of circular manhole covers or rectangular sewer grates, and their recourse to the grid, evident in rows of pennies or stamps, the paintings from his New York period further teased at the seams of rigid, non-representational abstraction.
The title of the exhibition, Geometry in Transfer, refers at once to Fernández-Muro’s expansion of geometric abstraction and his translation of Argentine modernist painting amid the visual preoccupations of the 1960s New York avant-garde. In the show’s concluding section, four small compositions that each focus on a single symbol or device are presented alongside never-before-displayed archival materials that clarify the artist’s rigorous multi-step process—affirming his unique contributions to mid-century painting.
José Antonio Fernández-Muro: Geometry in Transfer is accompanied by an original publication including an essay by curator Megan Kincaid. Physical copies are available free of charge at ISLAA and for download online.
ISLAA is open from 2 to 5 PM on Tuesday and from 2 to 7 PM on Wednesday through Friday. Proof of vaccination is required in line with New York City regulations. Guests must wear masks and adhere to all COVID-19 guidelines while on-site. Although walk-ins are allowed, visitors are encouraged to book appointments in advance through ISLAA’s online scheduler.
For press inquiries, please email Olivia Casa, ISLAA’s exhibition and curatorial manager, at [email protected]
ABOUT VISTAS 6: SARAH GRILO AND JOSÉ ANTONIO FERNÁNDEZ-MURO
Coinciding with the exhibition, the sixth issue of ISLAA’s serial publication Vistas: Critical Approaches to Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art is devoted to Fernández-Muro and fellow artist Sarah Grilo, his spouse. This issue was made possible thanks to the Estate of Sarah Grilo and José Antonio Fernández-Muro, which generously loaned their archive to ISLAA. José Antonio Fernández-Muro: Geometry in Transfer and Vistas 6: Sarah Grilo and José Antonio Fernández-Muro are the result of several research initiatives: the ISLAA Writer in Residence program, the ISLAA Travel Grant program, and the Duke House Exhibition Series at The Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. Physical copies of Vistas 6 are available free of charge at ISLAA and for download online.
ABOUT THE ARCHIVE
ISLAA is honored to have reposited the Archive of Sarah Grilo and José Antonio Fernández-Muro since 2019. Spanning three decades from the 1950s to the 1980s, it charts the two painters’ artistic progressions as they experimented with different styles and forged forward in their careers, while offering an intimate glimpse into their shared familial life. It consists of a wide array of unique materials, including negatives by photographer Lisl Steiner; original photographs by Grete Stern, Hans Namuth, and Henry Grossman; international press clippings; and exhibition catalogues in several languages.
Megan Kincaid on José Antonio Fernández-Muro
Juanita Solano Roa on José Antonio Fernández-Muro