OLGA DE AMARAL (b. 1932) Alquimia XXVIII, 1985

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Lot 14
(b. 1932)
Alquimia XXVIII, 1985

Sold for US$ 187,812 inc. premium
OLGA DE AMARAL (b. 1932)
Alquimia XXVIII, 1985

signed twice, titled and dated 'ALQUIMIA XXVIII OLGA DE AMARAL 1985 Olga de Amaral' (on the reverse)
acrylic on thread, gold leaf and gesso on linen

65 x 74 in.
165.1 x 187.9 cm.


  • Provenance
    Allrich Fine Art, San Francisco
    Private collection
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    "In a figurative sense, the universe is a tapestry. A true tapestry, a work of art, is a miniature universe. Perhaps because of this, weaving for Olga de Amaral is a search for the intangible, for that which cannot be expressed in words but is present in art...She has enriched tapestry's eloquence from perspectives that emphasize the poetry of form, the strength of texture, the abstractions of life, what the retina perceives and the senses transform, what the mind conceives and deft hands execute: artistic intuition, alchemy that purifies creation. She weaves as an expression of life."
    -Juan Carlos Moyano Ortiz, Olga de Amaral: The Mantle of Memory, 2013

    Olga de Amaral is one of the leading figures in the creation of textiles as art. Known for her radical experimentation in materials such as horsehair, wool, plastic and gold leaf, she is an important part of the feminist-led history of fiber art. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1932, Amaral's work is reflective of her native land. Dominated by the Andes Mountains, Amaral described the region as having a "riot of colors and countryside dotted with vividly painted houses" (Edward Lucie-Smith, et. Al., Olga de Amaral: The Mantle of Memory, 2013, p.24.) The structure, colors and materials of her tapestries are inherently reflective of these dichotomous landscapes, and their influence can be found in the present lot, Alquimia XXVIII.

    After an introduction to weaving at the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1954-55, Amaral began exhibiting her fiber work in the 1960s. She quickly became one of the leaders of an international revolution in fiber art, defined by its innovation in scale and use of alternative materials. At the time, Amaral and numerous other women artists who were oriented in craft were not given critical consideration in art discourse. The work of Ruth Asawa, for example, was consistently accused of being "too uncomfortably close to craft" during her lifetime because of its resemblance to the weaving tradition (Elizabeth A.T. Smith, Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women 1947-2016, 2016, p. 18). Amaral and Asawa both used the tenets of woven fabrication as a point of departure for sculptural explorations that evolved from craft, only to be appreciated for it much later in their careers.

    The 1980s was an incredibly prolific period in Amaral's oeuvre, her most prominent work of the era being the Alquimia (Alchemy) series. Alquimia was the artist's first full series using gold leaf, works from which are now in the collections of the Tate Modern, Cleveland Museum of Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. First exhibited in 1983 at the Modern Masters Tapestries in New York, the original thirteen works in the series are based on the proportion of the human figure and feature heavy use of gesso and gold leaf atop individual woven tabs (Anna Walker, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock, p. 21).

    Alquimia XXVIII is constructed of shimmering gold leaf tiles and layers of deep blue and red thread, that imbue the work with a living quality drawn from her native Colombia. Over time, Amaral freed herself from the traditional rules associated with fiber by employing gold leaf and painting directly onto the work's surface, as she does with the small canvas pieces in Alquimia XXVIII. The square building blocks that constitute these weavings are reminiscent of her earlier interest and training in architectural drafting (Walker, p.12). The Alquimia works have been read a variety of ways, as evocative of rows of corn, adobe walls, chainmail armor, the work of ancient Columbian goldsmiths and the golden interiors of Spanish Baroque churches.

    The introduction of gold leaf was a defining moment in the artist's career, leading to the creation of the works for which she is most famous. "For me, gold is the sun. It's like light," Amaral said. Colombia's long and complicated history with gold can also be taken into consideration when discussing Amaral's work. The folklore of El Dorado is what propelled the Spanish to invade the land in search of the precious metal and exploit and conquer its people (Walker, p. 21). Gold is a constant presence in Colombian culture and society today, as it remains in Amaral's work. Now in her eighties, the artist continues working to this day.
OLGA DE AMARAL (b. 1932) Alquimia XXVIII, 1985
OLGA DE AMARAL (b. 1932) Alquimia XXVIII, 1985
OLGA DE AMARAL (b. 1932) Alquimia XXVIII, 1985
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