Lot 12
  • 12

Gonzalo Fonseca (1922-1997)

500,000 - 700,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Gonzalo Fonseca
  • Madre Cava 
  • Travertine marble
  • 86 3/4 by 153 1/2 by 31 1/2 in.
  • 220 by 390 by 80 cm
  • Executed in 1978.


Galería Adler Castillo, Caracas
Private Collection, Caracas 


Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Mundos de Gonzalo Fonseca, July-October, 1994, no. 26, illustrated
Lanzarote, Fundación César Manrique, Gonzalo Fonseca, November 18, 1999-February 13, 2000, p. 42, illustrated; p. 189, illustrated in color


This sculpture is in generally good condition overall. All eight of the marble slabs that compose the work and all of its movable elements are accounted for and stable. The back of each of these eight slabs is uncarved, and the base of each is perfectly flat. Some slight yellowing is present at the base of each of the slabs, which may be dirt. It should be possible for this yellowing to be cleaned upon installation. The sculpture is currently packed in eight crates, and installation will require professional handling, as prefabrication of a concrete floor will be necessary to support its weight. Please contact the Latin American Department at 212-606-7513 for additional information and images.
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

After decades in Europe, Joaquín Torres-García, born in Uruguay in 1874 from a Catalonian immigrant family, returned as an accomplished artist to his native Uruguay in 1934.  After a fruitful and often tortuous career in Europe, Torres-García's last fifteen years in South America were dedicated to teaching the precepts of Universal Constructivism to a young generation of artists. 

Torres-García firmly believed that humanity's spiritual and physical world could be holistically represented with a potentially infinite combination of symbols, geometric patterns and isolated words which became the visual sustentation of his paintings (see lots 6 and 11). His profound knowledge of art history, coupled witha  deeply rooted conviction in his philosophy led him to create upon his arrival in Montevideo, the Association of Constructivist Art and later the Taller Torres-García, a Bauhaus-style academy he founded in 1942. Gonzalo Fonseca, a self-taught sculptor with studies in architecture joined the Taller Torres-García on the year of its creation.

Fonseca was an avid traveler. In 1946 he visited the pre-Columbian monumental ruins of Peru and Bolivia; in the 1950s he traveled throughout the Middle East, Italy, North Africa, Greece and Turkey. He sporadically participated in several archaeological expeditions. Fonseca was particularly interested in Inca architecture, Greco-Roman Classicism, the Egyptian bas-reliefs, the rock tombs and dwellings of Petra and Cappadocia. These and other rich cultural traditions became the main source of inspiration for his sculpture. Mich like Torres-García in his paintings, Fonseca, known as one of the most talented sculptors of his generation, created an imaginary world of ruins made of fragmented architectural, geometric forms and symbols. 

In the early 1970’s Fonseca bought an abandoned quarry near Carrara, Italy, an area which is still mined for travertine and other marbles. Fonseca refurbished the quarry office house and spent most of his summers there working on large sculptures. Fonseca must have been particularly impressed by Torres-García's Monumento Cósmico (Fig. 5), a fifteen-foot granite sculpture located in Montevideo's Rodó Park, right in front of the Fine Arts Academy in Montevideo. The wall, raised in 1937, was carved with inscriptions representing the cosmos, humanity, the natural world, mathematics, architecture, music, the arts and a large number of sumbols the artist had created and previously used. The monument was meant to be a permanent testament of Torres-García's Constructivist theories. 

While inspired by Monumento Cósmico, Madre Cava (Mother Quarry) by Gonzalo Fonseca differs in significant ways. This exceptionally large sculpture belongs to a group of four monumental self-standing wall reliefs conceived in the late 70s and early 80s as a much larger single monument (Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4). A 1982 drawing (Fig. 6) shows the four works (from left to right): Madre Cava, 1978 (the present work); Muro Blanco, 1977, private collection, Caracas ; Untitled, ca.1980, present location unknown; and Péndulo Falso, 1982, presently in the Collection of Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas. That wall, if ever assembled, would measure in excess of fifty feet. 

In the eleven independent travertine marble slabs of Madre Cava, Fonseca carved geometric shapes, a sun dial, miniature cave dwellings, human heads, breasts, and feet, a pendulum, and other elements. Resting on top of the sculpture, a large circular piece alludes to the sun and on the right a geometric gargoyle suggests that the viewer is looking at a building, not just a wall. Torres-García placed a cube, a sphere and a pyramid on top of Monumento Cósmico as symbolizing eternal and incorruptible values. We find several echoes of these geometric figures in Madre Cava: some are carved in, some are incised or suggested in a subtle manner; together these elements add a sense of solidity to this captivating and mysterious structure. 

Interestingly, Torres-García's sculptural work in wood was mostly bi-dimensional. According to him, the notion of a third dimension was futile when creating and sustaining symbolic and semantic values. Fonseca's admiration for Torres-García's concepts of an ageless art, an art inspired by the history of the human experience in the universe, an art that seeks to be perceived as transcendent by future generations, inspired him to work on this massively ambitious project before his untimely death in 1997. 

It is an honor for Sotheby's to be entrusted with the sale of Madre Cava (1978), one of the most historically significant pieces of sculpture ever produced by a  Latin American artist and arguably the most talented sculptor in the School of the South.