Luchita Hurtado Dies at 99


Naomi Rea writes about the death, artistic career and legacy of Venezuelan-born artist Luchita Hurtado in “‘Her Legacy Has Only Just Begun’: Luchita Hurtado, the Protean Artist Who Gained Renown in Her Final Decade, Has Died at 99” (Artnet News).

The Los Angeles-based artist Luchita Hurtado, whose 80 years of extraordinary artistic output was only recognized in the final chapter of her life, has died at age 99. The artist’s death was confirmed on Friday by her gallery, Hauser & Wirth.

Throughout her career, Hurtado’s paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints danced between abstraction and figuration, dabbled in Surrealism, and forged a unique visual language that invoked a near-spiritual interconnectedness of the body and the natural world.

She ran in circles with some of the greatest artists and intellectuals of the 20th century, including Marcel Duchamp (who once gave her a foot rub), Rufino Tamayo (who painted in her kitchen in New York), Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, the protagonists of the Surrealist movement in Mexico, and members of the Dynaton group in San Francisco. All the while, she maintained a fierce independence in her own practice, which transcended any particular group.

Unlike her friends, Hurtado’s life story was not characterized by international renown. She worked in obscurity for nearly 70 years before a turn in fortune saw her recognized as a luminary by the institutional art world in her final decade.

“The world lost one of the great artists today,” Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Gallery, tells Artnet News.

A Remarkable Life

Hurtado was born on the outskirts of Caracas in Maiquetía, Venezuela in 1920. She spent her early years immersed in nature before her family emigrated to New York when she was eight years old. After graduating high school, she worked for a spell at the Spanish-language newspaper La Prensa, where she met her first husband, the Chilean journalist Daniel del Solar. They married in 1938, when Hurtado was 18 years old, and had two children. But del Solar turned out to be “a very unreliable man,” Hurtado told Artnet News in a 2018 interview, and abandoned the family.

She later became a fashion illustrator and designer and fell in love with her second husband, the Austrian Surrealist painter Wolfgang Paalen, in the mid-1940s. Together, they moved to Mexico City, where she was introduced to Kahlo, Roberto Matta, and the Mexican muralists, and other leading artists.

After her young son Pablo died of polio, which Hurtado described as “one of the most tragic moments of my life,” she and Paalen left Mexico City for California. There, she was introduced to artists who would become the Dynaton group, including her third partner, Lee Mullican, who she started seeing in the early 1950s, and with whom she had a third son, the artist Matt Mullican, followed in 1962 by her fourth, John. In 1951, the family settled in Santa Monica, California, which remained her base until her death.

A Sudden Rise

Throughout this time, Hurtado was quietly making her own work, often waiting until after her children were asleep to toil through the night. In the 1940s and ’50s, she made abstract works inspired by tribal and pre-Colombian themes, but later embraced a more figurative and Surrealist style, exemplified by a series of sensual nude self-portraits painted from her own perspective as she stood upright.

Sublime nature and the joys of motherhood are recurring themes, as is the sacredness of the natural environment. The climate emergency was something she spoke passionately about until the end, opining in 2019, “We live in a very limited world and we’re doing away with it in a very systematic way. We should all be concerned.” [. . .]

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