TAPIES, Antoni (1923 -2012)

Painting and mixed media on hessian
250 x 450 cm
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin Spain
Donation made to UNESCO by the artist on the occasion of the the Organization's 50th anniversary.
© Photo: UNESCO/ N. Burke
All rights reserved

It was during an interview in the artist's studio that Mr. Federico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO from 1987 to 1999, asked Antoni Tàpies if he would create a work for UNESCO. In 1995, on the occasion of UNESCO’s 50th anniversary and during a ceremony at which Tàpies received an award, he presented his work, "Totes les coses" (All the Things) as a donation to the Organization.

This canvas appears to gather all the objects and symbols that the painter likes to use in conveying his message – a message of which he said in his text “The practice of art” (1970): “If the public at large reaches a point where they are in perfect harmony with certain artistic mediums, it is because these mediums, having become too satisfactory, have lost all virulence. Without shock, art cannot exist”. Rightly enough, his mix of techniques and materials, often said to be poor or elementary, create shock. In "Totes les coses", Tàpies mixes calligraphic elements along with thick strokes of black paint for the cross (the most recurrent symbol in his work), or diluted ink. Clay dust is used for the ochre background of the painting, against which the artist places neutral objects from daily life, including the broom on the left, which seems to have served as a paintbrush for the cross, or the lid from a can of paint - the only white element in the work.

It is difficult to fully understand what Tàpies wished to express through his use of symbols. By mixing some of his preferred elements with new objects that reference similar themes, he offers the spectator several hints. One can thus assume that the painter wanted to draw or 'dispose' of all those things that have been important in his life: the stately “T”, seen in almost all his works, corresponds to the first letter of his wife’s name, Teresa, as well as of the artist's last name. He accompanies this imposing letter with common objects, like the broom, which might serve to “sweep away” all that is harmful in life, or the lid from the can of paint, which represents one of the most basic elements necessary to the artist. In its simplicity, art must be, according to Tàpies, a means of reconstructing a world lost “in a flourish of artifice and convention” (“The Practice of Art”, 1970).

Artist Biography

Antoni Tàpies was born on December 13, 1923 in Barcelona. After completing his studies at the University of Barcelona Law School, he changed course in the 1940s, devoting himself entirely to art. In 1948, he became one of the founders of the “Dau al Set” movement which, inspired by the Dadaists, advocated disregard of conventions and promoted artistic liberty, a more “human” art that was often derisory or trivial. Tàpies moved away from this movement in the 1950s in order to pursue a more personal approach that earned him notoriety.

In 1951, Tàpies met Braque, Chagall, Giacometti, Calder, and Picasso. In 1958 he exhibited at the Venice Biennial, received the UNESCO prize, as well as an award from the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, USA). Internationally renowned, he continued to develop his own techniques, stipulating that “the artist has no use for rules” and that one should “search for man in all his purity”. Thus, one finds in Tàpies’ work a recurring vocabulary consisting of symbols that manifest a veritable language which the spectator must gradually try to identify. Tàpies’ use of materials is very personal and includes packaging, sand, powdered marble, latex, sheet metal and textiles. His interaction with the canvas is equally diverse - scraping, incision, laceration… From the 1970s onward, these assemblages began to integrate valueless, squalid objects that outside of their normal context acquire an almost singularly poetic presence. He shed light on his works through his numerous texts, including “The Practice of Art” (1970) or a collection of articles entitled “per un art modern I progressista “(1985). He has received numerous prizes and honors throughout his career and in 1993 was presented with the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial.

He passed away on February 6, 2012 at the age of 88, in his hometown.