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Born in 1913 in Argentina, Alicia Rosario Pérez Penalba is considered to be one of the great figures of post-war sculpture, one of the few women sculptors of the 1950s to have achieved international recognition. Deeply marked by the memory of the wild landscapes of her childhood, Penalba carried her work simultaneously towards the fragmentation of forms, the conquest of space, and monumentality.

Having arrived in Paris in 1948 to pursue her studies, Penalba discovered and frequented the great masters of the avant-garde, including Brancusi, Giacometti and Arp. Asserting her personal universe, she came to abstraction in a radical way in 1951: she isolated herself in her studio in Montrouge, destroyed almost all of her previous works and created her first non-figurative sculpture, confirming the words of her first biographer, Patrick Waldberg, “her life was a novel of energy, as Balzac liked to conceive it.” In 1957, she had her first solo exhibition at the Galerie du Dragon, which met with great success. Only ten years after her debut, she went on to win the Grand Prix for Sculpture at the sixth São Paulo Biennale in 1961.

Her first sculptures belong to the series of “Totems” (1952-57), such as Passion de la Jungle, representative of the taut, vertical rhythms of her first works. Stretching up towards the sky, seemingly enclosed by enigmatic cavities, these bronzes are animated by a strong metaphysical dimension; this is the case of Ancêtre papillon (1955), a copy of which was exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York in 1958, during her first exhibition in the United States.

After the series of “botanical liturgies,” equally marked by the vertical dimension, the “Doubles” series presents an opening up of the volume which became more exposed to the gaze of the spectator (Double sorcier (1956), Surveillant des rêves (1957). The rhythms between fullness and emptiness became more prominent, accentuating the play on concavity and the interlocking of vertical rhythms.

At the end of the 1950s, the series of “Ailées” consecrated a break up of vertical rhythms and the conquest of horizontality, with its elements superimposed in a fragile balance of layers, allowing the light to penetrate to the heart of the work. The spectacular Grande Imanta (1962), which was exhibited in 1967 during her first solo exhibition at the Alice Pauli gallery, bears witness to this development.

Constantly enriching her practice, receiving commissions which allowed her to express herself in vast spaces, Penalba tackled monumentality. The rhythms multiplied in the form of a dialogue with space, as evidenced by Forêt noire (1958), or Petit dialogue (1961), which prefigured her plans for water mirrors, like the one she designed for the headquarters of the pharmaceutical company Roche in 1971.

In a final development of her practice, Penalba set out to conquer walls. As if to better capture the flight of her sculptures, Penalba created autonomous wall reliefs, such as Amants multiples, which dialogue freely with space.

Alicia Penalba’s life ended tragically in 1982 in a car accident. Her creations were already present in many collections around the world, such as the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller in Otterlo, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. Alicia Penalba’s works are also visible in spaces that commissioned her monumental works, such as the Pierre Gianadda Foundation in Matigny, Switzerland, or the Business College in St Gallen, Switzerland.


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Alicia Penalba in her studio, Montrouge, circa 1955

For Alicia Penalba,

Volcanoes and glaciers of the great south of America – of South America – have been good teachers for us, small creators born in this distant silence. I will never forget the volcanic explosions of fiery light, the telluric tremor that imposes new forms of pain detached from the earth’s womb on the cordillera, on the gleaming snow, on human terror.

Likewise, while the planet was cracking, the high solicitudes of the white rivers descended, leaving colossal figures in the water, the daughters of the southern glaciers.

So Penalba learned to build stars. She made them out of stone or silver, gold or wood, always detaching them from the original magma or eternal whiteness. Her rough and explosive creations preserve the original seal of silence, the thunders that destroy and create.

The streets of the world, the cities, mark their artists with indelible ink, bazaars and dispensaries. The foreheads of those who come from space are marked by gusts of wind, fire, cold or geography.

And I read on Penalba’s powerful forehead the signs that I knew there, far away in the highest transparency or in the natal darkness: high altars of greatness.

Pablo Neruda, Paris, February 1972

“My whole life has been subversive. I have fought against the traditional destiny of women which people have tried to impose on me since childhood.”

Alicia Penalba. Escultora, El Pampero Cine, MALBA, 2016

Directed by El Pampero Cine with a screenplay by Victoria Giraudo.
Edited by Manoel Hayne
Actor/Actress: Mariano LLinás & Elisa Carricajo
Sound: Marcos Canosa
Images: Archive Alicia Penalba

Duration: 60 minutes.

Documentary presented as part of the exhibition at the MALBA “Alicia Penalba. Escultora.” From 14.10.2016 to 19.02.17.

Artworks

Alicia Penalba

Sdraiata, 1981
Polished bronze
36 x 42 x 25 cm, avec socle | 14 1/8 x 16 1/2 x 9 7/8 in., with plinth

Alicia Penalba, Passion de la jungle

1954

Alicia Penalba, Ancêtre papillon

1955

Alicia Penalba, Ailealix

1961

Alicia Penalba, Grande liturgie végétale

1957

Exhibitions

Art Fairs

Publications

News

Alicia Penalba, Paris après guerre

January 2022

Victoria Giraudo

L’œuvre de la sculptrice argentine Alicia Rosario Pérez Penalba (1913-1982) a pris son essor à Paris dans les années 1950. Son parcours dans ces années, et les amitiés qu’elle a nouées dans les milieux artistiques et intellectuels (Wilfredo Lam, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti…) ont été décisifs pour la construction d’une voie singulière dans la sculpture […]

Alicia Penalba, Paris après guerre

WOMEN IN ABSTRACTION

October 22, 2021 - February 27, 2022

Musée Guggenheim Bilbao

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WOMEN IN ABSTRACTION

ALICIA PENALBA, VERS L’ENVOL

September 2021

Frédérick Aubourg

Monographie présentant l’oeuvre de cette sculptrice née en Argentine et formée à Paris dans l’atelier d’Ossip Zadkine Suite à sa disparition accidentelle en 1982, l’œuvre d’Alicia Penalba, sculptrice de renommée internationale, s’était retrouvé abruptement dans l’ombre. Née en Argentine, ce n’est qu’en 1948, âgée de 35 ans, qu’Alicia Penalba arrive en France, à son arrivée […]

ALICIA PENALBA, VERS L’ENVOL

Women in Abstraction

May 19, - August 23, 2021

Centre Pompidou, Paris

The exhibition sets out to write the history of the contributions of women artists to abstraction, with one hundred and six artists and more than five hundred works dating from the 1860s to the 1980s. “Women in Abstraction” provides an opportunity to discover artists who represent discoveries both for the specialist and for the general […]

Women in Abstraction

GROUP SHOW | ALICIA PENALBA SE RÉVÈLE DANS “ELLES FONT L’ABSTRACTION”

May 19, - August 23, 2021

Centre Pompidou, Paris

L’exposition propose une relecture inédite de l’histoire de l’abstraction depuis ses origines jusqu’aux années 1980, articulant les apports spécifiques de près de cent dix artistes femmes. « Elles font l’abstraction » donne l’occasion de découvrir des artistes qui constituent des découvertes tant pour les spécialistes que pour le grand public. L’exposition valorise le travail de […]

GROUP SHOW | ALICIA PENALBA SE RÉVÈLE DANS “ELLES FONT L’ABSTRACTION”

FEMMES ANNÉES 50. AU FIL DE L’ABSTRACTION

December 14, 2019 - May 10, 2020

Musée Soulages Rodez

Depuis le 14 décembre 2019, le musée soulages consacre une exposition à la création abstraite des femmes dans les années 50 à Paris : Femmes années 50. Au fil de l’abstraction, peinture et sculpture. Déjà aux Etats-Unis se tenait en 1951 l’exposition fondatrice « Ninth Street Show » dans laquelle figurait 4 femmes : Joan Mitchell, […]

FEMMES ANNÉES 50. AU FIL DE L’ABSTRACTION

ALICIA PENALBA ESCULTORA

2017

Catalogue raisonné

Book published on the occasion of the exhibition Alicia Penalba, sculptor, organized by the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires and presented between October 14, 2016 and February 19, 2017. Co-published with Editorial RM and the Archives Alicia Penalba. Year : 2017 Type : livre Dimensions : 28 x 21,5 cm Pages : 280 Language […]

ALICIA PENALBA ESCULTORA

ALICIA PENALBA AU MALBA

October 14, 2016 - February 19, 2017

MALBA, Buenos Aires

This event is the first solo exhibition of artist Alicia Penalba (San Pedro, Buenos Aires, 1913–Landes, France, 1982) ever held in a museum in Argentina. It will include a selection of her abstract sculptures from different series (totemic, winged, monumental, and petits works) produced from the time she moved to Paris in 1948 until her unexpected death […]

ALICIA PENALBA AU MALBA

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