Horacio Zabala

A partir del monocromo

The Monochrome as Riddle

The monochrome is one of modern and contemporary art's most elusive and complex art forms. If we reflect on its origins or its meaning, we discover the many contradictions it harbors. Monochrome is neither a movement nor a category, neither an “ism” nor a thing. It may be the painting as object, the material surface as the work, the negation of perspective or of everything representational or narrative. The monochrome may indicate the impossibility of interpretation; it can represent the transcendental, can constitute the quest for the absolute, can incarnate the definitive critique of painting. […] The monochrome may be a readymade, a found object, a picture or a sort of setting: anything defined as a chromatically uniform surface on which a single color prevails. 

[…] This book is about the contemporary monochrome in Latin America, where modern art (or art before 1990) reveals many unique instances of monochrome practice, as we see in the Penetrables of Jesús Soto, in the Parangolés and Relevos espaciais of Hélio Oiticica, or the Cromosaturaciones of Carlos Cruz-Diez, to cite only a few examples. Today in Latin America the monochrome is as diverse as it is complex, appearing at times as a reference to the history of modernism, but at other times in relation to everyday life and popular culture. The monochrome in Latin America may be conceptual and/or political, or it may be a way of exploring the possibilities and limits of its material; and finally, it may not even think of itself as monochrome. […] Nonetheless, when we observe the contemporary monochrome in Latin America, we find that in general it rejects the opacity of its modern precursors. It deconstructs European and North American absolutist nature by making reference, and thus acknowledging, its relations, its history, and its ideology, while it questions and contradicts its essentialist and totalitarian origin. The monochrome, so conceived, may have its origins in everyday life as a specific experience (a very anti-modern notion), and even in material culture and urban space. The monochrome in a broader context may be related to less heroic and less obvious origins, such as Chinese calligraphy, the use of stone in sculpture and architecture in pre-Hispanic cultures, in black and white photography, and not always in the modern European monochrome. 

Hipótesis XV (2010), by Horacio Zabala, reveals a huge white monochrome, accompanied by a small but indiscreet black point in the lower right corner, to the side of the painting. This work is part of a series of hypotheses the artist has been realizing since 2009, in which he combines monochromes with mathematical or grammatical symbols, quoting the monochromes of Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko, and, on the other hand, the conventions of written language. The artist comments: “though these works may be plastic and visible chromatic presences, my interest and my intent are orientated not only toward what one actually sees, but also toward what one thinks one sees." For Rodchenko or Malevich, the monochrome was born out of a critique of academic art, since they were interested in absolutes and in the purity of color and form. Zabala, in contrast, acknowledges the history of these artists yet, on the other hand, goes against their conception of the absolute by adding symbols which bring in the question of what one sees and in questioning the painting's surface. […] The monochrome may be contingent and a result of chance, and never be repeatable. It may be critical and unstable, especially when one finds oneself in critical dialogue or even tensed against modernism. The monochrome does not occupy a precise or absolute place, but is always incomplete, in an intermediary state.

Cecilia Fajardo-Hill

Excerpts from Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, “Monochrome as a Riddle,” in Monochrome Undone, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill ed., exhibition catalogue, Irvine, CA: Sayago & Pardon and Mexico City: Editorial RM, 2015.

Horacio Zabala (Buenos Aires, 1943) is an artist and architect. Between 1976 and 1998, he lived in Rome, Vienna, and Geneva, in that order. Since 1967 he has had over 50 solo exhibitions, and been in over 140 group exhibitions in America and Europe. He lives in Buenos Aires.

Recent One-Person Shows (selection)


Espacio entre paréntesis [Space between Parentheses], Calle Florida and Avenida Córdoba, Buenos Aires.


La pureza está en la mezcla [The Purity's in the Mix], Colección de Arte Fortabat, Buenos Aires.

Mapping the Monochrome, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix.


Isolations, Henrique Faria Fine Art, New York.


Aquí mismo y ahora mismo [Right Here, Right Now], Parque de la Memoria, Buenos Aires.

Anteproyectos & Hipótesis [Project Drafts and Hypotheses], Galeria Henrique Faria, Buenos Aires.


A partir del monocromo [Starting from the Monochrome], Galería Herlitzka+Faria, Buenos Aires.

Recent Group Shows (selection)


X Bienal do Mercosul [10th Mercosur Biennial], Museo de Arte de Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre (Brazil).

Monochrome Undone, Space Collection, Irvine, CA.

Artevida [Art-Life], Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro.

Dark Mirror – Latin American Art since 1968, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg (Germany).


Toda Percepción es una Interpretación: You are Part of it, CIFO Art Space, Miami.   Hábitat, Galería Henrique Faria, Buenos Aires.


Borges. Ficciones de un tiempo infinito [Fictions of an Infinite Time], Centro Cultural Kirchner, Buenos Aires.


The Earth is Flat, Carriage Trade, New York.

Memorias del subdesarrollo [Memories of Underdevelopment], Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

Inmersiones estratégicas [Strategic Immersions], Centro Cultural Metropolitano, Quito.

De aquí a la modernidad [From Here to Modernity], Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago de Chile.

Democracia en obra [Democracy, Under Construction], Centro Cultural Kirchner, Buenos Aires.

Una llamarada pertinaz [A Prolonged Flare-up],  Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires.


The Edge of Things: Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes, Broad Art Museum, East Lansing.

Prizes (selection)


Gold Peace Prize ’75 (with the Grupo de los 13) 30th Anniversary of the United Nations, Slovenc Gradec, Former Yugoslavia. 


Primer Premio Adquisición [First Purchase Prize], 8th National Salon, Rosario (Argentina).


Gran Premio Adquisición [Acquisition Grand Prize], Salón Nacional de Artes Visuales, Buenos Aires.


Achievement Award, Cisneros Fontanals Art Collection, Miami.

Works in collections (selection):

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Tate Modern, London.

Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires.

Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo.

Dallas Museum of Art.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

Palais de Glace, Buenos Aires.

Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix.

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires.

University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago de Chile.

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Middlesbrough.

Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich.

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Rosario.

J. P. Morgan Chase Art Collection, New York.

Cisneros Fontanals Art Collection, Miami.

Diane and Bruce Halle Collection, Scottsdale.

Colección Luiz Texeira de Freitas, Lisbon.

Colección Hugo Romero, Buenos Aires.

Colección Alon para las Artes, Buenos Aires.

Fundación Alon para las Artes, Buenos Aires.

Colección Mario Perniola, Rome.