A Peek into Armando Reverón's Self-Made Universe at MoMA

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Armando Reverón´s acclaimed retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, consisting of drawings, paintings and objects, presents an overall view of Reverón´s life-long production, as well as his various creative periods and his relation to Spanish painting and modern art has been extensively reviewed. Very well organized, the exhibition brings us into Reveron’s world and his personal mythology which is made up of strange characters and objects.

Landscapes, portraits, reclining majas, life-size stitched rag dolls, bat wings, birds in a cage, wired skeletons, are but some of the objects displayed. They guide us through the spirit and personality of Armando Reverón (Caracas 1889- Macuto 1954) and the time he spent at “El Castillete,” the house-atelier he and his life-long partner, Juanita Rios, began to build in Macuto in 1921.

After studying at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Venezuela, he won a scholarship in 1911 to visit Europe, where he studied at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios in Barcelona. In El Museo del Prado he saw the paintings of Goya and Velazquez – two
artists that deeply influenced him. This is particularly noteworthy in the reclining figure of the Maja Criolla (1939), a painting that exemplifies his use of light and colour in monochromatic tones, and captures the sense of bright light on the sea shore in Macuto.

Among the many outstanding works included in the show, the dolls command the strongest interest, for they are not only characters depicted in his works, (including his models, friends and the companions with whom he shared his life at “El Castillete”) but are actual sculptures.

As Hollan Cutter points out in his review of the exhibit for The New York Times on February 9, 2007, Armando Reverón, “expressed intense, contradictory feelings for them, protective, reproachful, domineering and erotic. Collectively they were a cross between a play group and a harem.”

Where do boundaries lie between the picture, the depicted and the painter? They do not seem to have existed at “El Castillete.” What is the relationship between the artist and his model, who has been artificially created by him? Reverón manufactured and gave life to Juanita, Serafina, Niza, Teresa, Graciela and Josefina; he did this by stitching and stuffing them, and carefully painting their sexual attributes. As the princesses of “El Castillete,” the dolls possessed various dresses and accessories, wore make up, took tea together, were given musical instruments and other objects specially made for them, and became the protagonists of their creator’s painting, as he suffered from schizophrenia.

In his painting Cinco Figuras (1939), a group of females with round faces and bodies lacking muscular development, are set in a carefully construed composition, which can be identified with Velazquez´s Las Meninas. The self-portrait of Reverón with His Dolls (1950) appearing in the background, and seemingly a part of him, reveals their importance during the last period of his life.

There have been a number of speculations about the enigmatic relationship between Reverón and his female dolls of grotesque beauty. They have been taken to be indicative of the author’s relations with women: his mother Dolores, his sister Josefina, who died unexpectedly at a young age, or his lover and life-long partner Juanita Rios. Some hold that the dolls are simply artificial objects brought to life as characters that are needed to fill his self-made universe.

Artificially created female characters also come to life in Fritz Lang´s, Metropolis, and Marcel L´Herbier´s, L´Inhumaine. Reverón´s patchwork figures, however, are less rigid than these “woman automats” and Hans Bellmer´s dolls. However, what they all have in common is that they reveal the anatomy of a man’s unconsciousness. The dolls are evidence of a man’s desire as well as experimental instruments of a creative project.