Antoni Tàpies. From Object to Sculpture (1964–2009)
October 4, 2013 – January 19, 2014
Armari (Wardrobe), 1973
Objet-tapestry, 231 x 201 x 156 cm
Col·leció Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona
“The taste for the use of banal everyday objects, drawn from my surroundings, has several explanations. In part it is because the objects that fill our daily lives are the easiest to take, the easiest to see, but also a desire to magnify what is small and insignificant.”
Antoni Tàpies (b. 1923, Barcelona; d. 2012, Barcelona) was born in Barcelona in 1923 into a cultured, middle-class Catalan family who were part of a publishing and bookselling tradition that awoke in him an early love of books and reading. When he was 17 years old he suffered a long convalescence from a lung disease, and as a consequence, he had to spend two years in bed, recovering in the mountains. He used this time to read voraciously and pursue an interest in drawing and painting. From his bed Tàpies spent hours observing the objects in his room. This moment in his life marked the beginning of his art career.
By the time his health recovered, he was already exhibiting his works, which were considered outstanding in the art scene of the time. By the late sixties and early seventies, Tàpies intensified his exploration of working with common objects within his immediate environment, moving away from using traditional canvas, which coincided with the modern art movement, Arte Povera (literally, poor art). The Arte Povera movement (1967–72) incorporated organic and industrial materials in ways that revealed the conflicts between the natural and the man-made.
Armari (Wardrobe) (1973) may be related to Tàpies’s illness and symbolize his bouts with insomnia while he tried to overcome his disease. The wardrobe opens the doors to show a chaotic interior, where cloths and objects acquire a symbolic significance, representing his memories of sickness.
He creates an assemblage, a three-dimensional artistic composition made from a variety of traditionally non-artistic materials and objects placed in new combinations. In his work, Tàpies incorporates objects and modifies them with his own imprint, his stamp. Armari is an example of an assemblage, an object presented and manipulated differently than had been done before: painted, used, showing the marks of time. His frequent use of assemblage—particularly the reoccurring use of doors and furniture—became signature of his work. These familiar and humble materials reflect Tàpies’s deep concern with the personal and spiritual, yet universal, contemplation of the material world.
In the interior of the wardrobe, on the left door, the artist paints an “A” that may stand for the artist’s name (Antoni), which appears in many of his works. In the back and the front of the closet he paints a “T” that can be interpreted for Tàpies. In addition to referring to his full name it could symbolize union, because T is also the initial letter of his wife’s first name (Teresa). The letter “A” also could mean “beginning” or “limit,” and the cross or “T” in the back-facing front could be perceived as a crucifix, alleged to be a symbol of death and hurt. Throughout his career Tàpies included multiple signs and letters, sometimes clearly legible and sometimes completely obscure. He writes them with a gestural stroke. Armari shows the passage of time, leaving a track or a print of human presence in the object.
1. Tàpies, Antoni. Cos i llenguatge. [Body and language.] Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies and Diputacio de Barcelona, 2003.
2. Glossary of the exhibition catalogue
Observe the artwork. Describe in detail the characteristics of Armari (Wardrobe). What do you notice? What materials do you think the artist used to create his work? How do you think he manipulated them?
Look closely at this work. Inside Tàpies placed clothes. Who do you think owns the clothes? What do you think the artist might be trying to communicate by placing humble clothes inside the wardrobe? Armari may represent his illness and symbolize his bouts with insomnia while he tried to overcome his disease. Why do you think Tàpies chose a wardrobe to represent this particular biographical moment? How do you think Tàpies felt about his wardrobe? Justify your answer. Can you find traces or marks of the passage of time?
Do you think it was Tàpies’s real wardrobe? What makes you think that? Why do you think this wardrobe could be placed in a museum? How do you think our perception of the wardrobe would change in the context of a museum? How do you think Tàpies made this wardrobe into a work of art? Why do you think he did it?
The Story of a Wardrobe
çImagine that Tàpies’s wardrobe is yours and write a short story about a usual day in your life in which your wardrobe is involved. Create a narrative in which the wardrobe has a key role in the story. Share your writing with the class. Reflect on how a work of art can trigger many different stories.
Designing My Artistic Wardrobe
Tàpies created Armari (Wardrobe) using a real wardrobe that he modified, manipulated, and left his own imprint upon to transform it into artwork. At home, draw a picture of your wardrobe or closet using a pencil. Make a photocopy of it. You can choose to do it with the doors closed or open. Then, using your original drawing, modify your wardrobe to create your own artistic piece. Now you can choose to change the shape of the furniture, the sizes, and the different compartments within which to place your clothes and your shoes using colors, erasing part of it, pasting pictures from magazines, and so on. Compare the two pieces. What are the differences and the similarities between the real and the imaginary wardrobe? How did you modify your wardrobe to transform it into an artistic piece? Which one do you find more interesting? Why? Where would you place it, in an art museum or at home? Explain your answer.
Assemblage of Personal Objects
Tàpies used the wardrobe to personify a moment of his life when he was very ill. Ask your students to think about a moment in their life and choose an object that they think would represent this time for them. Tell them to photograph it, print it, and bring it to school. Then, encourage your students to gather collage materials to personalize the object. In class, they will create an assemblage using the photograph as a starting point. Review with them that an assemblage is a work of art created by arranging found objects together. They can bring old toys, used clothes, and found objects to class that they think could help them represent that moment in their own lives. They will have to create a work of art by placing their materials inside a box that each student has to bring. They can also use other photographs, magazines, or drawings to complete their idea. After arranging these materials in the boxes and creating their work of art, they should share and talk about their choices and how the materials they chose express this moment in their life. Ask them to title and sign the work.
Arte Povera: An Italian art movement from the 1960s that incorporates organic and industrial materials in ways that reveal the conflicts between the natural and the man-made.
Assemblage: A three-dimensional composition made from a variety of traditionally non-artistic materials and manufactured objects that transform into sculpture through combining or constructing techniques such as gluing or welding. Its precedents can be found in collage.
Clavero, Jordi J., and Quer Montse. Tàpies Realitat i Objecte. Documentacio per als educadors amb motiu de l’exposicio Tàpies: Extensions de la realitat. [Tàpies Reality and Object. Documentation for educators of the exhibition Tàpies: Extensions of Reality.] Barcelona: Fundació Joan Miró. Servei Pedagògic, 1991.
Corredor-Matheos, José, and Antoni Tàpies. Materia, signo, espíritu. [Matter, sign, spirit.] Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya, 1992.
Moure, Gloria. Tàpies: objetos del tiempo. [Tàpies: Time object.] Barcelona: Polígrafa, 1994.
Tàpies, Antoni. Cos i llenguatge. [Body and language.] Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies and Diputació de Barcelona, 2003.