Although relatively unknown outside the art cognocenti, Gunther Gerzso is viewed by some critics as comparable to Pablo Picasso and Joaquin Torres-Garcia. He is “one of the great Latin American painters,” according to Octavio Paz, the Nobel Prize-winning Mexican author.
Born in Mexico City in 1915, Gerzso’s father was a watchmaker from Hungary; his mother, a singer and a pianist from Berlin. Six months after he was born, his father died. His mother then married another expatriate, the German owner of a popular jewelry store. He lost his business during the Mexican Revolution, and in 1922 the family moved to Europe.
Gunther Gerzso, “Paisaje Espejismo”
In 1924 they returned to Mexico. After his mother divorced her second husband, during her subsequent economic uncertainty she decided to send Gunther, then 12, to live with her brother, Hans Wendland, an influential art historian and dealer in Lugano, Switzerland. Wendland sold works by Rembrandt, Cézanne, and Titian, and Gerzso recalls paintings by Bonnard and Delacroix on the walls of his bedroom. Among the important guests of the Wendland’s was Nando Tamberlani, an Italian stage set designer who became friends with Gerszo while living on the estate for a summer.
As the impact of the Great Depression hit Europe, Gerzso’s uncle sold his estate and art collection. Gerzso returned to live with his mother and sister in Mexico, where he enrolled in a German school. During the next three years Gerzso sketched set designs and wrote plays as he dreamed of a life in the theater. On graduation in 1934, through a family friend he began designing sets for a local theatrical producer.
A year later, he was offered a work-study position at the Cleveland Play House, where he soon became staff set designer. Over the next four years he designed sets for some five dozen productions. A number of those designs are being shown publicly for the first time in the ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries’ exhibition, “Gunther Gerzso: Defining Mexican Abstractionism.”
While working in the theater, Gerzso began to draw and paint subjects that interested him: attractive young women and other individuals he met and saw in his daily life. These early paintings, many of which are included in this exhibition, clearly reflect his education and exposure to works by artists from Europe, such as Matisse and Picasso, as well as those of Mexico, like Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.
“Ciudad Maya”, 1958
Urged by his friends to enter an annual juried exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the self-taught painter was so encouraged when two of his works were selected for the show that he began to concentrate on painting. During the 1939-1940 period his paintings began to explore his Mexican roots.
In 1941 Gerzso and his newly acquired wife moved to Mexico City. Although he continued to design costumes and sets for the theater and for 250 films, he considered himself a painter. During the 1940s he associated with a Mexican-based group of European Surrealists: Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Benjamin P éret, Alice Rahón, and Wolfgang Paalen, whose influences, along with his anti-war views, were reflected in his paintings during that period.
The ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries’ exhibition includes works from each of these periods in the evolution of Gerszo’s paintings, including a number of drawings and paintings that refer to his Mexican origin and others in the surrealist style, along with anti-war statements. Eventually, he distilled the essence of Mexico’s pre-Columbian history into the textures and colors of the abstract works that made him one of that nation’s most influential artists. Several magnificent examples of the artist’s mature abstractions are included in the ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries exhibition.
Along with being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973, in 1978 Gerzso was presented with Mexico’s highest artistic honor, its National Award for Arts and Sciences. He died in 2000.
1915 Born Mexico City
1927-1931 Attended various Swiss schools in Lugano, Switzerland
1934 Graduated from the German School in Mexico
1936-1939 Staff Set Designer at the Cleveland Playhouse Cleveland, Ohio
1940 Started his avocation as a self-taught painter Cleveland, Ohio
1942-1962 Designed sets for 250 films
2004 Gunther Gerzso: Defining Mexican Abstractionism, ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, Coral Gables, Florida, February 6-April 30
2004 Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago, March 19-June 27
2003-04 Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso, Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City, November 12-February 22
2003 Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, July-October 2003
2000 Gunther Gerzso, In His Memory , Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, New York
2000 Gunther Gerzso, The Last Decade, Galería Lopez-Quiroga, Mexico D.F.
1996 Gunther Gerzso, Latin American Masters Gallery, Beverly Hills, California
1995 Gunther Gerzso: Prints and Sculpture, The Americas Society, New York
1995 Gunther Gerzso 80th Birthday Show , Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, New York
1995 Gunther Gerzso. Obra Receinte, Galería Lopez Quiroga,Mexico, D.F.
1994 Gunther Gerzso. Pintura, Grafica y Dibujo, 1949-1993, Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico, D.F.
1993 Gunther Gerzso. Pintura, Grafica y Dibujo, 1949-1993, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
1990 Gerzso, Galería de Arte Mexicano, Mexico, D.F.
1986 Gunther Gerzso, Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico, D.F.
1984 Gunther Gerzso Retrospective, Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, New York
1984 Gerzso. La Centella Glacial. Un Dialogo Plastico en la Ciudad de Mexico, Sala Ollin Yoliztli, Mexico
1982 Gunther Gerzso, One Man Show, FIAC 1982, International Contemporary Art Fair, Paris, France
1981 Gunther Gerzso – Retrospectiva, Museo de Monterrey, Mexico
1970 Gunther Gerzso: Pinturas, Dibujos, Galería de Exposiciones Temporales, Museo de Arte Moderno, INBA, Mexico, D.F.
1970 Twenty Years of Gunther Gerzso, (Friends of Mexican Art) Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
1963 Gunther Gerzso, Exposicion Retrospectiva, Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, Mexico, D.F.
1958 Gunther Gerzso, Galería Antonio Souza, Mexico, D.F.
1956 Gunther Gerzso, Galería Antonio Souza, Mexico, D.F.
1950 Galeria de Arte Mexicano, Mexico, D.F.
1992-1996 The Gelman Collection, Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico, D.F. This show later traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California; and to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, Florida
1990 Paralelismos, Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico, D.F.
1990 A New Antiquity of Form, Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, New York
1990 Mexican Painting 1950-1980, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, New York
1989 Museo de Arte Moderno, 25 Años 1964-1989, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico, D.F.
1988 Ruptura, 1952-1965, Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico, D.F.
1988 The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York
1987-88 The Woman and Surrealism, Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland
1987-88 Imagen de Mexico, Der Beitrag Mexikos Zur des 20 Jahrhunderts, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany
1980 Mexique: Peintres Contemporains, Musée Picasso, Antibes, France
1979 Le Mexique d’Hier et d’Aujord’Hui, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, France
1978 Seccion Anual de Invitados: Tamayo, Merida, Gerzso, Salon Nacional de Artes Plasticas, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico, D.F.
1975 El Geometrismo Mexicano: una Tendencia Actual, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico, D.F.
1975 12 Latin American Artists Today, University of Texas, Austin, Texas
1966-67 Art of Latin America Since Independence, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut and the University of Texas, Austin, Texas
1964-65 Contemorary Mexican Artists, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Arizona
1961 The Sixth Tokyo Biennial, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
1958-59 Contemporary Mexican Painting, Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, Texas
1958-59 Mexican Art, Pre-Columbian to Modern Times, University of Michigan
1957 The Fourth International Art Exhibition, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
1955 The Third International Art Exhibition, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
1952 Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, The Carnegie Institute.