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José Cúneo’s text entitled “Arte Abstracto” was read at a lecture that he gave in Montevideo. Although the exact date when it was written is unknown, the lecture appears to have been given in 1956 or 1957 at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Montevideo. In it, Cúneo, a well-known painter in Uruguay, provides an overview of abstract art, compares different movements and defends contemporary abstraction, which he associates with the origin of Cubism in Paris. Cúneo also mentions a number of Uruguayan artists that he considers late manifestations of Cubism.


This extensive lecture given by José Cúneo (1887–1977) in Montevideo addresses “abstract art” and its practices. While the text—the bulk of which is typewritten, with a few handwritten passages and corrections—is neither signed nor dated, it must have been written in 1956 or 1957, since Cúneo speaks of a trip he took to Europe due to an award he was granted by the Uruguayan state; the “Premio de Pintura de la Primera Bienal Nacional de Arte” included a travel grant to Europe from 1954 to 1956. Cúneo explains: “[…] out of nowhere, I was awarded the Salón Bienal fellowship and forced to leave the country.” From a young age, Cúneo had enjoyed recognition in local circles. He had taught art at a number of institutions: the Círculo de Bellas Artes, the Escuela de Artes y Oficios, and the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. When he was granted the prize, he was over sixty-five years old. In the text, he describes the impact that abstraction—which became international in scope after World War II—had on him. He states that he detects an abstract modality informed by Cubism in the work of Uruguayan painters like Norberto Berdía (1899–1983)—specifically the works in his show at Galería Montevideo (1956–57)— and Miguel Ángel Pareja (1908–84). Cúneo affirms the importance of the advent of Joaquín Torres García (1874–1949) in Uruguay and recalls having attended his lectures (he admired their discursive quality). Torres García’s lectures signaled a way out of “backward impressionism and prepared the local milieu to compete in international events with contemporary proposals.”

Cúneo was a distinguished figurative painter who boldly ventured into abstraction in the late fifties. That change is evident in this text, where Cúneo provides an account of the contemporary process of abstraction. His explication is somewhat confusing, though, in that at times he associates abstraction with ancient and Pre-Columbian cultures and at times with the texts and works of Cezánne. Notwithstanding that, he asserts that Cubism marked the beginning of abstraction; he is unaware of, or disregards, the efforts of artists not working in Paris. After having produced a considerable body of figurative work over the course of some fifty years, Cúneo was now beginning to veer toward abstract works that he would sign “Perinetti”—his mother’s maiden name—and then “Cúneo Perinetti.”

María Eugenia Grau, Gabriel Peluffo
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