Expressive Forms

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Guest curated by María Elena Ortiz, Curator at the Perez Art Museum of Miami

This exhibition highlights the connections between abstraction, geometry, minimalism, and subjectivity present in works from the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MAC) Permanent Collection and works from other institutions available through Google Arts & Culture. Expressive Forms explores how abstraction has been a tool to convey human emotion, sensuality and subjectivity.

The Amazons (1991) by Zilia SánchezMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Guest Curator María Elena Ortiz welcomes visitors to the exhibition

Through works in the MAC Permanent Collection by Olga Albizu, Lope Max Díaz, Zilia Sánchez and Julio Suárez, Expressive Forms highlights how contemporary Puerto Rican artists have engaged with geometric abstraction and minimalism in their own subjective terms. In this exhibition, the works are put in dialogue with pieces from other collections, countries and historical periods made available through the Google Arts and Culture platform.

At times, abstraction and geometries are used to highlight the sensuality and beauty of female bodies, as represented in the exquisite works of Zilia Sánchez. She is known for her signature style combining abstraction and minimalism with a sensual vocabulary. Her paintings use muted colors, geometric forms and sculptural strategies to create paintings that address personal and universal notions. Often, her works present shapes that could be interpreted as female or male body parts, adding gender narrative to her abstract compositions.

María Elena Ortiz explains some of the concepts behind the exhibition

In The Amazons (1991), Sánchez uses blue and white to create a topographic composition in three parts, conveying sensuality and eroticism. The right and left side of the painting are identical, showing modular circular shapes that protrude from the canvas, resembling breasts and hard nipples. In the middle of the work, there is an oval shape, also in blue and white that could be interpreted as a vulva. Conversely, the austerity of colors and three-part shape could portray male genitalia. In this work, Sánchez pushes notions of gender by combining sensuality and minimalism.

Torso of a limestone fighting woman (late 6th or early 5th century B.C.)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In her use of Amazons as the title for her work, Sánchez references female power. In Greek mythology, the Amazons were female fighters, known for being aggressive and fearless and only concerned with war. Sanchez brings forth this history, furthering the complexities of the painting. In this exhibition, a torso of a fighting woman is included as a historical artifact that embodies this history.

Blue Oil (1974) by Olga AlbizuMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

María Elena Ortiz on Blue Oil by Olga Albizu

Expressive Forms draws inspiration from the relationship between Olga Albizu and bossa nova music, specifically how her abstract expressive paintings were used as album covers for American musician Stan Getz and his collaborations with João Gilberto from Brazil.

Olga Albizu is one of the earliest female proponents of abstraction in Puerto Rico. Her works are interested in exploring expressive forms with color and painterly impasto applications. At first glance, her works may appear as purely objective; however, her interest is to capture human emotion and spirituality. Hence, her artistic collaborations with the Brazilian music genre of bossa nova—known for its emotional, sensual and emphatic rhythm. Blue Oil (1974) is an impressive painting depicting a blue background with several squares in tones of blue, red, brown and black. Her brushstrokes are apparent in the works, creating an expressive atmosphere. Albizu’s emphasis on the color blue could also be a reference to the psychological aspects of this color, which according to psychologists, evokes serenity and calmness in humans.

The Girl from Ipanema (1964) by Antônio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Norman GimbelMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

In the early 1960s, Albizu started to collaborate with American musician Stan Getz, who was himself working with Astrid Gilberto and Joao Gilberto in bossa nova compositions. Albizu’s paintings capture the sensibility of the music, which resulted in a series of records that had her works as covers.

Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II) (1912) by Vasily KandinskyThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Albizu was herself inspired by Wassily Kandinsky, who explored abstraction and geometry as means to access spirituality and sensibility. Improvisation 27 (1912) by Kandinsky is included in the exhibition to highlight this connection, a painting that also refers to music.

Painterly Architectonic (1916) by Lyubov PopovaNational Galleries Scotland: Modern

Albizu was a pioneer for this time, very much like other early female painters that used abstraction as means to access emotions, such as Russian avant-garde painter Lyubov Popova. An early pioneer, Popova was influenced by Cubism, Futurism, and Suprematism, the latter a movement that favored geometric forms as means to prioritize emotions. She created exceptional works, like this 1916 painting from her Painterly Architectonic series, that showcase her own abstract visual vocabulary.

Collission (1977) by Lope Max DíazMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

María Elena Ortiz on Colisión by Lope Max Díaz

Inspired by experimentation and abstraction, Lope Max Díaz uses different organic materials to create sculptural compositions that also work as paintings. His works are playful, sensuous and rigorous, challenging the format of the traditional rectangular canvas. In Colisión (1977), Max Díaz uses wood, rope and metal to create a sculpture, a two-dimensional work attached to the wall similar to a painting. The main object of the work is a large red square, which has a small blue square attached to it. A rope hangs around the work that seems to be suspending the work in space. Here, Max Díaz plays with our expected notions of abstraction to create a playful work that combines painting and sculpture.

Street Story Quilt (1985) by Faith RinggoldThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

At first glance, Street Story Quilt (1985) by Faith Ringgold seems like a geometrical depiction of buildings and windows of a city landscape. Upon closer inspection, one can notice that this quilted triptych presents a narrative of survival dealing with issues of race in Black communities in Harlem. Here, Ringgold used rigid structural forms to address social justice. In this exhibition, Ringgold’s works explore how geometry also have been used as devices to speak about issues of race, identity and community.

Laura (2001) by Julio SuárezMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

With minimalist strategies, Julio Suárez uses abstraction and minimal color to explore the human psyche. Laura (2001) is a painting composed of multiple gray squares with two white parallel lines in the middle of the composition. The title of the work is the name of a woman, a gesture that one can interpret in terms of affections. Perhaps this work was dedicated to a woman who the artist felt a strong affection for, a lover. With this information, the two lines could be representations of lovers, and this painting could be an abstract way of presenting love. In this sense, Suárez uses abstraction to evoke in Laura ideals of love and sensuality.

Homage to Mahmoud Darwish (1979) by Mona SaudiBritish Museum

In this exhibition, Homage to Mahmoud Darwish (1979) is a work by Jordanian artist Mona Saudi that also explores ideas of love and lovers, specifically a love that can become fatal. In contrast with Laura, this work conveys the intimacy and spirituality of love between people in different ways.

The Silence of Eros IV (from the series Tattoos) (1995) by Zilia SánchezMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

In The Silence of Eros IV (1995) from the series Tattoos, Zilia Sánchez continues her explorations which turn geometric forms and the canvas into topographic spaces that resemble the human body. In this small painting, Sánchez specifically makes references to tattoos and their relationship to the body.

Figurine of a Seated WomanThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Alongside Sánchez’s work, this figurine of a seated woman from Ancient Egypt embodies a historical narrative of tattoos in human communities. In Egypt, women wore tattoos as creative forms, similar to their manifestation in Sánchez’s painting.

Red, Old Woman, Yellow, Black Eyes, Brown, Pride Belt, Blue, Drilled Ears, Silver, Carpet Seeds, Blue, Teenage Acne (2014) by Nilbar GüreşMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

María Elena Ortiz bids us goodbye

Nilbar Güres’s sculpture, Red, Old Woman, Yellow, Black Eyes, Brown, Pride Belt, Blue, Drilled Ears, Silver, Carpet Seeds, Blue, Teenage Acne (2014) is a totemic structure addressing identity with accessories from indigenous people in Brazil. Güres uses strategies of abstraction to address ideas of feminism and sociopolitical concerns. This sculpture also evokes a sense of femininity and continuity. Each fabric part that composes the sculpture can be considered a woman, on top of another woman, building on traditions, identities, and spiritualities.

Highlighting works from the MAC’s Permanent Collection and the prowess of abstraction in contemporary Puerto Rican art, Expressive Forms presents the relationship between emotion and abstraction, alongside works from other parts of the world. This is an opportunity to reconsider artistic practice from a very specific context in a wider conversation that considers an expansive way of artistic production. This presentation suggests global connections, delving into geometry, color, identity and social justice. Expressive Forms portrays how abstraction has been used to depict basic emotional and spiritual aspects of human life have been a source of inspiration across cultures and time periods.

Credits: Story


Rubén Méndez Benabe, President
Rafael Flores Pérez, Vice President
José Negrón, Treasurer
María Awilda Quintana-Román, Secretary
Salvador Alemañy
Antonio García
Pedro Muñoz Marín
Enid Picó
Letty Rivero Iturregui
Rachid Molinari
Luis Fernando Rodríguez
María Elba Torres

Marianne Ramírez Aponte, Executive Director and Chief Curator

Evita Busa, Deputy Director

Wanda Michelle Dilán, Administrator

Marina Reyes Franco, Curator

Mariela Collazo Heredia, Registrar

Raquel Torres Arzola and Joudy Santaliz, Education Coordinators

Karin Cardona, Head Archivist

Windy Cosme, Projects manager, MAC en el Barrio

Welmo Romero and Donald Escudero, Coordinators, MAC en el Barrio

Carolina Cortés and Brenna Quigley, Development Coordinators

Dalila Rodríguez Saavedra, Communications Coordinator

Melinda Llompart and Alexnel Suárez, Administrative Assistants


María Elena Ortiz, Guest Curator
MAC Permanent Collection photography by Antonio Ramírez Aponte

Online exhibitions are organized by Marina Reyes Franco, MAC Curator

Our special thanks to the sponsors of this project:
Fundación Ángel Ramos
Fondo Flamboyán para las Artes

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Fondo Flamboyán para las Artes
Gobierno de Puerto Rico
Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña
Comisión Especial Conjunta de Fondos Legislativos para Impacto Comunitario
Ford Foundation
Filantropía PR
Fundación Ángel Ramos
Banco Popular de Puerto Rico
The National Endowment for the Arts
The Boston Foundation
Hispanic Federation
Titín Foundation
Miranda Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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