Kenneth Kemble and Silvia Torras: The Formative Years, 1956-63 is the first dual presentation of the work of Argentine artists Kenneth Kemble (1923–1998) and Silvia Torras (1936–1970) in the United States. Curated by Clara Maria Apostolatos, Martina Lentino, Nicasia Solano, and Juul Van Haver, the exhibition is on view from February 23–May 27, 2022, at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts’ James B. Duke House.
The exhibition explores a decisive period in the artists’ individual and collaborative careers against the backdrop of their personal relationship. Placing paintings and archival material in dialogue, it emphasizes the artists’ distinct identities while acknowledging their brief, yet profound artistic reciprocity. Torras and Kemble are recognized for their contributions to Informalismo, a gestural abstract style that explored unrestrained expression, embraced spontaneity and accentuated the materiality of the painting's surface. Through print media, the two-part archival display explores complimentary themes, with one section surveying Kemble’s career and influence on Informalismo, and the other tracing the ways in which their work has been jointly defined.
Thirteen years Kembles’ junior, Torras trained with Kemble in his studio following her fine art studies in Buenos Aires. Their relationship quickly evolved into a creative and romantic partnership and the two married in 1956. Kemble and Torras held joint exhibitions at such notable Buenos Aires galleries as Galería Lirolay and Galería Peuser and participated as artists and promoters of the historic 1961 exhibition Arte Destructivo (Destructive Art) at Galería Lirolay. After their relationship ended in 1963, Torras moved to Mexico City; she did not show her art again publicly. Kemble outlived Torras by three decades, and consequently, her character and creative trajectory have for the most part been recounted by Kemble. In effect, the discourse surrounding their personal and artistic partnership is largely dominated by his perspective. This exhibition presents the unique opportunity to acknowledge Torras’ individual achievements, despite the lack of important monographic publications and exhibitions outside Argentina.
Seeking to emphasize Torras’ artistic autonomy, the exhibition includes four paintings by Torras made between 1960 and 1963, as concrete testimony to her individual practice and legacy. These works demonstrate Torras' interest in nature and organic form, employing vibrant blocks of color on heavily worked canvases, a technique that distinguishes her from other Informalista artists. Both texturally uneven and chromatically balanced, Torras' paintings form vital and intuitive expressions of emotion through layered paint, gestural brushstroke, and bold color composition.
The Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) provided funding and extensive archival and research support with special assistance from Julieta Kemble. The paintings on view are on loan from the ISLAA collection.