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b. 1923, Barcelona; d. 2012, Barcelona
Antoni Tàpies was born on December 13, 1923, in Barcelona. His adolescence was disrupted by the Spanish Civil War and a serious illness that lasted two years. Tàpies began to study law in Barcelona in 1944 but two years later devoted himself exclusively to art. He was essentially self-taught as a painter; the few art classes he attended left little impression on him. Shortly after becoming an artist, he began attending clandestine meetings of Els Blaus (the Blues, formed in 1946), an iconoclastic group of Catalan artists and writers. They were the precursors to Dau al Set (Seventh face of the die, 1948–53), which produced an eponymous review (54 issues, 1948–56).
Tàpies’s early work was influenced by the art of Max Ernst, Paul Klee, and Joan Miró, and by Eastern philosophy. His art was exhibited for the first time in the controversial Salo d’Octubre, Barcelona, in 1948. He soon developed a recognizable personal style related to matiérisme (matter art), or Art Informel, a movement that focused on the materials of art making. The approach resulted in textural richness, but its more important aim was exploring the transformative qualities of matter. Tàpies freely adopted bits of detritus, earth, and stone—mediums that evoke solidity and mass—in his large-scale works.
In 1950, his first solo show was held at the Galeries Laietanes, Barcelona, and he was included in the Pittsburgh International (now Carnegie International). The same year, the French government awarded Tàpies a scholarship that enabled him to spend a year in Paris. His first solo show in New York was presented in 1953 at the gallery of Martha Jackson, who arranged for his work to be shown the following year in various galleries around the United States. During the 1950s and 1960s, Tàpies exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and South America. In 1966, he began a collection of writings, La practica de l’art (The practice of art). In 1969, the book Frègoli, a collaboration with poet Joan Brossa, was published; a second joint effort, Nocturn matinal (Morning night), appeared the following year. Tàpies received the Rubens Prize of Siegen, West Germany, in 1972.
Retrospectives were presented at the Musée national d’art moderne, Paris (1973), and Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (1977). The following year, his autobiography, Memòria personal (Personal Memory), was published. In the early 1980s, he continued diversifying his mediums, producing his first ceramic sculptures and designing sets for Jacques Dupin’s play L'Éboulement (The landslide). In 1990, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies opened in Barcelona, established in Tàpies’s name to study and exhibit modern and contemporary art, periodically preparing Tàpies-centric exhibitions and publications. In 1993, he and Cristina Iglesias represented Spain at the Venice Biennale, where his installation was awarded the Golden Lion. Other retrospectives were presented at the Jeu de Paume, Paris (1994); Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York (1995); and Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2000). From 2004 to 2005, a major international retrospective was organized by the Museu d’art contemporani de Barcelona, traveling to the Patio Herreriano, Museo de art contemporáneo español, Valladolid, Spain; Museo de arte de Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and Singapore Art Museum. Tàpies died on February 6, 2012, in Barcelona.