Recovering Renart

In the following weeks, a series of guest-blog posts will be published in anticipation of The Art Gallery’s next exhibition, Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas. This exhibition has been curated by Professor Abigail McEwen, Assistant Professor of Latin American Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, and Ph.D. students from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland.

Recovering Renart

Cecilia Wichmann


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Emilio Renart, Drawing no. 13, 1965. Ink on paper, 44 x 30 in. Collection OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas


These untitled drawings suggest . . . that life is a recalcitrant force, not to be contained or defined by attributes given it by the human mind.

-Benjamin Forgey, The Sunday Star, December 5, 1965








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Entrance to “La Casita,” home to the archives and offices of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

Entering “La Casita” on November 6 for my first dive into the archive of the Art Museum of the Americas (Organization of American States), I was greeted by intrepid AMA collections curator Adriana Ospina. Adriana led me upstairs to a brightly lit landing, outfitted with a copier/scanner and desk on which she had neatly arranged what archival materials she had been able to unearth on Argentine artist Emilio Renart (1925–1991).

A month or so earlier I had happened upon an image of Renart’s Drawing no. 13 in AMA’s online collections portal and was intrigued. By the time that I encountered the work in person, a few weeks later, I had developed a minor obsession with the gossamer threads of white and ice blue inks that seem to materialize out of dark, oceanic depth and onto its raw paper surface.

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Photographs related to Argentine artist Emilio Renart’s 1965-66 exhibition at the Pan-American Union. [Archives of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC]

The resources now arrayed in front of us included the artist file, the exhibition file for the 1965–66 show from which Drawing no. 13 had been acquired, and country files on Argentina covering the years immediately preceding the exhibition. Adriana wasted no time in confirming what we had both suspected about records for this little-known artist and unstudied drawing: the files were slim. But Adriana said she had also found something unexpected, something tantalizing, that she knew that I would like: an envelope containing fifteen photographs associated with Renart’s exhibition.

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Archival materials, AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

The photographs tell a curious story of absence and surrogacy. As it turns out, José Gómez-Sicre, Chief of the Pan-American Union’s Visual Arts Unit from 1948 to 1976 and organizer of Renart’s exhibition, was not primarily taken with the artist’s drawings. He settled for the exhibition of works on paper only when it proved impossible to present Renart’s series of “strange and haunting” assemblages that the artist had begun to construct in 1962. These “queer . . . objects,” which Gómez-Sicre understood as simultaneously inhabiting the worlds of painting and sculpture, could not easily be transported. They may have been impossible to reassemble without the artist present (he was apparently unable or unwilling to travel to DC), and they were too large to fit comfortably in the Pan-American Union’s exhibition hall. The photographs serve as proxies for these three-dimensional “monsters,” as Gómez-Sicre refers to them in a brochure text, or “Biocosmos,” as inscribed on the back of each black-and-white print.

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Emilio Renart with Biocosmos no. 1, 1963. Archives of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

The photographs show three iterations within the Biocosmos series (a fourth is pictured elsewhere in the archive). In some instances, the artist is pictured, his body positioned behind or between the ridged skins and wiry cilia of these ambiguous, mammoth forms that suggest (extra-)terrestrial outcroppings, animate feelers, or perceiving machines.

Gómez-Sicre’s desire to show Renart’s assemblages in DC by no means suggests reluctance about the drawings. Though “calmer” than the “monsters,” they are “no less intriguing” in his view and may be intimately connected, spun of the same creative DNA: “In these refined and exquisite compositions, threads interweaving like strands of silk or human hair emerge from darker zones of free forms which can be considered the nucleus of every composition. Each thread flows miraculously in a different plane. When the lines are straight and cross each other, there is the same charm and the same definition of space as in the free lines. These lines and Renart’s eye-catching concept of three-dimensional and aerial space constitute the purest elements.” The archival envelope contained three photographs of drawings likely included in the exhibition, all part of the same series as Drawing no. 13.

Emilio Renart, Drawing no. 4, 1965. Archives of AMA | Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC


This cache of photographs left me with questions—what is the relation of Renart’s drawings to his assemblages? How did he achieve these fluid, interlacing lines and faulted surfaces in two and three dimensions? How might this body of work congeal an interrelation of the body, the biosphere, and the cosmos, and how do these forms signify beyond abstraction, fifty years ago and today?

Visit the online interactive Emilio Renart’s Creative Ecology: Anatomy of a Research Project on the Streams of Being exhibition website to explore these questions about Renart’s work in a constellation of contexts, from art history and anthropology to science and world politics. 

A Semester in Review: Fall 2014

As the blog demonstrates, we have been quite busy in the gallery installing various shows, creating new educational resources, organizing gallery talks by various artists and guest curators, designing upcoming shows, growing and diversifying our collection, making our collection more available to both online and offline (in-person… the old-fashioned way) viewers, and much, much more. Now that the semester has closed, it is as good a time as any to take a second and reflect upon the semester that was Fall 2014.



Curator Taras Matla addressing the crowd at opening of Process It All: Selected Works by Chip Lord, September 3, 2014.

The semester began with  the installation and exhibition of two shows, Process It All: Selected Works by Chip Lord in the front gallery and Carving out Freedom, Piecing a Community in the back gallery. As the title suggests, the exhibition Process It All: Selected Works by Chip Lord featured video art by one of the pioneers of video arts, Chip Lord. Curated by our own Taras Matla, the exhibition extended a new trend within the Gallery to examine and explore the importance and influence of time-based works of art by the ground-breaking artists of the medium.

With the incredible technology of today and the plethora of videos on the web, it might be easy for a viewer to dismiss early video art as dated. However, as pieces such as Three Drugs or AUTO FIRE LIFE demonstrate, Lord’s work still addresses major themes from television, film, and commercials that cater to and/or plague contemporaneous viewers. Lord’s work questions and deconstructs not only how we perceive the visual ephemera of television, movies, and the like, but how those same elements more permanently shape how we view and understand the world around us.


Carving out Freedom, Piecing a Community. Photo by Madeline Gent.

The installation in the back gallery, Carving out Freedom, Piecing a Community, featured both individual and collaborative works by students from the Corcoran, the University of Maryland, and members of Washington D.C.’s THEARC community. Those involved initially drew inspiration from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, but in their pursuit of freedom, they came upon the poem “Human Nature” by the world-renowned writer and poet Maya Angelou. Ending on the lines “We are more alike, my friends,/than we are unalike”, the poem motivated those involved to pursue the idea of community, both large and small, as a source of freedom. The works in the exhibition included brilliantly illustrated and original artist books, small prints, and two large collaborative prints as well as documentary photography and film, tools used by the artists, and personal thoughts and reflections on both the process and this subject matter from the various members of this unique artistic community.


Curator Nate Larson leads a gallery tour of Double Back: Photographic Reflexivity, October 29, 2014. Photo by Madeline Gent.

Though it was hard to top two such thought-provoking exhibitions, Double Back: Photographic Reflexivity opened in late October and brought with it new perspectives into the space of the gallery. Curated by Nate Larson from the Maryland Institute College of Art, the show examined artists who explore the medium and process of photography as a subject of their artworks. Featuring work by David Emitt Adams, William Lamson, Aspen Mays and Barbara Probst, the objects within the exhibition made the viewer keenly aware of the multi-step process behind the final image, from the initial point-and-shoot to the chemistry behind development. This inherent self-awareness of the artwork created a space of artistic reflection within  the gallery. In the case of these works, the ends definitely justified the means.


Installation shot featuring work by David Emitt Adams (foreground) and Barbara Probst (background). Photo by Madeline Gent.

Spring 2015 will be just as busy and exciting at The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland. Keep an eye out for following upcoming shows: Reshuffling the Past: 2015 Contemporary Chinese Ink Art, an exhibition of work from the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA) in Washington, D.C., and the 2015 MFA (Master of Fine Arts) Thesis Exhibition.  See you on campus this (late winter and) spring!

-Madeline Gent,
Collections Registrar
Ph.D. Student, Department of Art History and Archaeology, The University of Maryland, College Park