Lot 39
  • 39

Alejandro Otero (1921-1990)

90,000 - 120,000 USD
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  • Alejandro Otero
  • Untitled
  • 28 1/2 by 23 1/2 in.
  • (72.3 by 59.6 cm)
  • Painted in 1961.
oil on canvas


Acquired from the artist (1989)
Galeria Oscar Ascanio, Caracas (1990)
Private Collection, Caracas


Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas, 1985, n.n.
Caracas, Galería Propuesta Tres, 1990, n.n.


This painting is still stretched on its original stretcher. The stretcher is very slightly warped but the canvas is well stretched. The paint layer seems to be clean and undamaged. There is one small restoration in the upper center situated approximately one inch from the top edge. There are a few dark spots visible to the naked eye, which seem to be original. The picture is in lovely state and should be hung as is. (This condition report has been provided courtesy of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.)
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Je remets constamment tout en question. C'est mon drame.

—Alejandro Otero

After his second exhibition of Coloritmos at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas in 1960, Otero returned to Paris, via Madrid.  In his abundant correspondence with Alfredo Boulton early in 1961, we find crucial thoughts that help clarify many of the ideas behind what was later referred to as the Monochrome paintings.

January 4, 1960. He writes from Madrid: "It's been a great experience to be face to face with the 'idols' of the past, I have found just in some details of El Greco's paintings that enigma subsists, better, that this is the enigma that corresponds to what makes me a painter../.. I already see the dimension and the color of my future canvases."1 It's impossible to dissociate El Greco's brilliantly modulated draperies, executed in primary colors from the developments in Otero's studio on Rue Delambre a few weeks later: "I have been working fiercely since January 18, practically secluded, trying to make a material "speak," after having abandoned it ten years before: oil .../.. The writing, the color is eloquent and the canvases hold together well."2

His previous accomplishments in the field of abstraction with the series Líneas inclinadas(1950-51), his surprising geometric Coloritmo digression,  and his epiphany in front of El Greco's expressive chromatic values may have led Otero in some cases to literally  write [with] color to "explain," to communicate a forceful and fluent expression as in the case of El Greco's cloaks, as in Monocromo #12 (1961). By doing so, color utters its own narrative, its self-contained, uncontested, fundamental voice. This new mystical relationship that touches the domain of poetry might remind us at first of Yves Klein's sublime experiments. However,  to "write color" is essentially a different, more abstract, materialistic approach than Klein's "monochromes [with their] irritating symbolic accompaniment," 3 as once wrote Christiane Duparc,  thus denouncing the use of the pure medium and pure form to serve a bastard cause, however elevated.

Otero's writings on canvas are also fundamentally different from the work of the great writer-painter of the second half of the twentieth century—Cy Twombly whose endless graffiti are written on a painted background. Many years later, Twombly would coincide with Otero's early intuitions. In 1986, while sojourning in the port of Gaeta and facing the Mediterranean, he would produce one of the most exquisite sequences of completely abstract monochromatic paintings  (Gaeta, Set I and II, 1986) in which he combined color and motion in a "handwork with paint"4 as curator Kirk Varnedoe would characterize the brief deflection in the master's production.

1 Alfredo Boulton, Alejandro Otero  (Caracas: O. Ascanio Editores, 1994), p. 103.

2 Alfredo Boulton, p. 104.

3 As quoted in Pierre Restany, Yves Klein (New York: Abrams Publishers, 1982), p. 19.

4 Kirk Varnedoe, Cy Twombly, A Retrospective (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 50.