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Matta: A Centennial Celebration Reviewed in The New York Times

Paintings from the 1940s by the Chilean artist Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren, who went by the single name Matta, are usually seen as a transition from the Surrealism of Salvador Dalí to the Abstract Expressionism of Gorky, de Kooning and Pollock. Because Matta (1911-2002) persisted in creating representational imagery, however abstracted, and lived in Europe and South America from the 1950s on, his New York profile faded to the point where, starting in the 1970s, he was thought of more often as Gordon Matta-Clark’s father than as a living artist. Yet, as this revelatory show proves, he continued to evolve as a painter and to produce giant-scale canvases with terrific panache into the late 1990s. The exhibition’s earliest and biggest, “L’homme Descend du Signe” (1975), measures about 14 by 27 feet and pictures his familiar repertory of cartoonish, antically animated, biomorphic and geometric forms impulsively outlined in black and hovering in gaseous, purple-tinted space. While the sense of cosmic delirium persists in the rest of the paintings — all from the late 1980s and ’90s — figurative elements rendered with graffiti-like spontaneity tend to blur into luminous, acridly colorful hazes. Paint is applied in many ways: stains, splatters, calligraphic lines and layered washes. Most impressive of all is “Architecture du temps (un point sait tout)” (1999), an approximately 15-by-22-foot black-on-white canvas that he made when he was approaching 90. Resembling a gargantuan charcoal doodle, it looks as if he did it in a single, frenzied session of inspired improvisation. In all its shimmering, dissonant grace, it is like a visual equivalent of late Coltrane.

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