Destination Argentina. Borges and Chale, female artists in the avant-garde

From 14 May 2022

The exhibition Destination Argentina. Borges and Chale, female artists in the avant-garde brings together the artists Norah Borges and Gertrudis Chale. In their work we can see two models of avant-garde art in mid-20th-century Argentina.

Here are two female artists whose restlessness and travels marked their artistic career, while having an impact on the avant-garde scene in the different countries where they settled.

We can see Norah Borges, a painter of Ultraism, beauty and modernity, in Argentine and Spanish art alike, forming an active part of the avant-garde movements on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gertrudis Chale paints the periphery, the indigenous, the displaced; Viennese in origin, she is welcomed as a painter from the Andean world and Argentine indigenous society.

Many things unite Gertrudis Chale and Norah Borges, in spite of the visible differences in terms of these artists’ plastic art and the themes painted by them. Their European training, their time spent in the Balearic Islands and the mark their inhabitants and landscapes left on them both, their constant travelling and desire for knowledge, their synthetic language, their links with literature and, of course, their importance in Argentine avant-garde art.

The exhibition consists of a total of 23 works based on both artists’ encounter with Argentina. In it, we will travel through what they share, discovering the unique side of these two artists in each of these common points in order to reflect upon and do justice to the role they occupied within Latin American and international contemporary art.


+ -
Norah Borges (Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1901 – 1998)

With some beginnings linked to German expressionism and cubism, Borges’ art is influenced by both, the result of which is a language characterised by the stylisation of human forms and figures based on rhomboidal compositions which break up objects and surfaces, creating a fragmentary illusion of the plane.

The artist relates this aesthetic to Ultraism due to the role she plays in this movement. She maintains some of the key elements in this movement in her subsequent work, linked to the concept of a return to order, the period on which this exhibition focuses.

As for colour, Borges leaves behind her first stage marked by the cold, monochrome colours typical of the engraving techniques she used, to characterise the use of warm, pure colours in her mature work. Here we see greater chromatic variety, in which earth tones, greens, blues and yellows are predominant.

In her representations of beautiful figures we also see the robustness of their arms, torsos and hands. With her innocent angels and female figures, Borges goes back to pre-Raphaelite and Flemish painting, to which she adds her personal experiences in art and in her life and desires alike to represent her inner world.

+ -
Gertrudis Chale (Viena, Austria, 1898 – La Rioja, Argentina, 1954)

Also linked to European avant-garde languages from the start, Chale was initially attracted to cubism, of which she would retain the schematics and the elimination of all anecdotal elements. However, she recovers the use of perspective for her own language, to which she incorporates expressionist and surrealist elements. These languages allow her to emphasise the features and character of the reality she wants to show us in her works.

Through her landscapes and characters, among which women are in the majority, Chale shows us the character and harshness of life in indigenous communities and rural populations. She represents the character and identity of the towns that she knows, capturing in her paintings the sensations that she herself perceived during her meetings and experiences with others, seeking to evoke and not narrate.

We can distinguish two stages in Chale’s work after her arrival in Argentina. The first, linked to her suburban beginnings, reveals a rationalist language with more colour, with ochre, blue, red, light blue, black, orange and white tones. The artist’s second period corresponds to her encounter with the Andean world. From her first trip through the altiplano, Chale’s colour palette becomes less varied, contributing to the surreal and timeless atmosphere that came to characterise her painting. Her representations are syncretic, doing away with decorative and anecdotal elements.

Related content