With the gallery sector’s spaces closed for the remainder of Spring, many dealers have taken to expanding online platforms to make their previously scheduled exhibitions accessible to the public. On Thursday, Di Donna Galleries announced it will launch its first online viewing space, featuring a solo exhibition of works by key modernist painter Maria Helena Vieira da Silva. The virtual exhibition is just one segment of a traveling series held in collaboration with modern and contemporary dealers, Paris-based Jeanne Bucher, and Waddington Custot of London.
A key postwar artist, Vieira da Silva’s early career in Paris among the avant-garde of postwar abstractionist lead to a storied contribution to modern painting. In the late 1920s, Lisbon-born Vieira da Silva came to the city to pursue formal arts training where she became established within the European abstract expressionist movement, Art Informel – a period which rejected American Ab-Ex exceptionalism and took to Eastern philosophy to reconsider standards of perception in modern painting. In Paris, she worked and lived among Cubist painters such as Joaquín Torres-García and Italian Futurists, whose styles became influential to her later signature style of maze-like tiling and depth-field play. During the 1940s following the start of the war, the artist moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, until 1947 before her eventual return to Paris.
Also influenced by contemporaries such as Fernand Leger, with whom she studied in her adolescence, Vieira da Silva cultivated a unique style of abstraction that broke rules of formalist tradition. Her representations responded to the impact of WWII atrocity on surrounding locales. Surveying street views and urban labyrinth – her paintings envisioned disorientation in the metropolitan modern perspective – they came to display a more globally-oriented and fragmented vision— reacting to the war’s onset of transnational displacement.
Among the highlights of the exhibition, Les Joueurs de cartes dated 1947-48 and Figure de ballet from the same year encapsulate the artist’s skill in reimagining structural planes to depict figurative illusions. Inspired by card games and the ballet, the works nod to a deceptive spatial recession for which she gained notoriety. Her 1955 Sans Titre, painted during a seminal moment in the artist’s career upon her return to Paris from exile — the work features a signature grid central to the overall cast of the painting’s surface, from which she built out an abstraction of gestural elements that invoke the cityscape.
By the early 1940s, the artist was already established as one of the defining cultural figures of the 20th century— selected to show in Peggy Guggenheim’s Exhibition by 31 Women at the Art of This Century in New York. In 1961, she won the Grand Prize for Fine Arts at the Biennale in Sao Paulo and in 1966, was the first woman awarded the French Grand Prix Nationale des Arts. With works in the permanent collections of several major institutions such as MoMA, the Tate, and Centre Pompidou, etc., her place as a postwar staple has stood the test of time and outlasted an art market canon that has omitted works by important female modernists.
In the offering at Di Donna’s online space, the works available carry prices ranging from $70,000 to $2 million. Within the last decade, the artist’s market has risen significantly, exceeding the seven-figure mark in 2010. Her 1944 seminal painting L’Incendie I (The Fire I) set the current auction record of $2.8 million in Christie’s London contemporary evening sale in 2018. Nonetheless, her market has been historically undervalued relative to her contemporaries such as Jean Dubuffet, Nicolas de Stael, and Jean Fautrier. The gallery’s director, Emmanuel Di Donna confirmed Vieira da Silva’s international market potential having “consistently reached a strong audience in Europe in the last 30 years.”
Di Donna, who noted that Vieira da Silva’s works is now growing in prominence within the global market, said “the recent rise in attention to her work is in large part due to an increasing appreciation for post-war European art, where the market has been historically focused on American post-war such as the Abstract Expressionists.” Di Donna further emphasized this crucial moment in the market’s attention citing “an increased focus on the women artists who have been up-to-recently overshadowed by their male peers.”