Xul Solar: The Man And The Museum Posted on 17 Oct 03:41 , 0 comments
Article by Anna Lowe.
I have to admit, I like my artists eccentric. The excess and eclecticism of, for example, Salvador Dali appeals to my sense of romanticism far more than a Damien Hirst-type. Perhaps it’s this enjoyment of the whacky and whimsical which drew me immediately to Argentine artist Xul Solar (1887 – 1963). Born Oscar Agustín Alejandro Schulz Solari, he later changed his name to Xul Solar ‘solar light’ and dreamed of reforming and perfecting the universe. He invented two languages, a spiritual form of chess, a modified piano, and also painted surrealist works which seem to blend the cubism of Picasso, the dreamscapes of Chagall and the cosmic mysticism of William Blake. With all this in mind, I walked into the Museo Xul Solar on Santa Fe with curious excitement for something a little different.
The museum doesn’t disappoint. It was created in 1986 and set within what was once the artist’s home, preserved and remodeled following original plans made by Xul for the Pan Club in the 1930s. Inside is an intriguing space completely in tune with the materials displayed. Strolling around its rooms can be compared to entering one of the paintings, almost like an Escher staircase.
Critics and art historians often compare Xul Solar to Paul Klee, whose work he admired, during a decade spent in Europe before returning to Argentina in 1924. Like Klee, Xul Solar mainly painted small watercolours which often include letters, numbers and other symbols. The striking colour schemes used by both artists are similar, as are their underlying attitudes and interest in primitive and archaic art. Solar practiced Buddhism, studied astrology and believed strongly in reincarnation. His images reflect various beliefs, often combining the religious, modernistic and cabalistic and featuring objects such as stairs, roads and the representation of God.
When Solar returned to Buenos Aires he associated with the avant garde ‘Martín Fierro group’ and became close friends with Jorge Luis Borges. In his ‘Cuidad Lagui’ (1939) we see a strange futuristic city by water with ladders reaching to the sun and pilgrims striding away. The skyscrapers that were appearing in Buenos Aires at that time perhaps influenced the mystical new temples he painted. For Solar the relationship between reality and dream was always porous, where the material world and written text flowed into one another.
The pilgrim figure and ladders symbolizing spirituality are repeated in later, bleaker works from the 1940s. Xul’s painting was influenced by his thoughts of the Second World War and the emergence of this dramatic inhumanity corresponded with a high point in his artistic expression and introspection. In Fiordo (1943), for example, the severe mountains and grey tones indicate the struggle and endeavor involved in spirituality.
Other works on display incorporate poems in the two languages Solar invented, ‘Neo-Criollo’ and ‘Pan-Lengua’. There is even a peculiar one-of-a-kind ‘pan- chess’ board that he devised in which the pieces represent letters and symbols and the squares syllables; together they create new words in his invented tongues.
While walking the streets of Palermo, an absent-minded pedestrian might pass this museum without even noticing it. Yet Xul Solar is one of the most unique of Argentine artists – certainly one not to miss while in Buenos Aires. Anyone who gets an emotional charge from shape and colour is going to be very excited by Solar. So much is obvious. In the words of Borges, “Solar is one of the most singular events of our era. A man versed in all the disciplines, curious about all arcana, father of writings, languages, utopias, mythologies, sojourner in hells and heavens.” His playful and bizarre works, although influenced by many of the European artists, take their own path and put him a cut above the average.
- Museo Xul Solar
- Laprida 1214
- Tuesday till Friday 12:00 – 20:00 / Saturday 12:00 – 19:00