FROM MADI TO THE LUDIC REVOLUTION
Volf Roitman is a man of many countries and many artistic pursuits, but he can best be defined as a visual artist of Latino roots who strives to marry sculpture, architecture and the ludico or whimsical in order to create a more joyful landscape, whether interior or exterior.
Born in Uruguay of Russian-Romanian parents, Roitman grew up in Buenos Aires where he often skipped classes at his architectural school to participate in two cutting edge Porteño groups, the La Cima Theatrical troupe, founded by his older brother Julio, and Raul-Gustavo Aguirre’s Poesía Buenos Aires, of which Roitman was both a young editor and a contributing poet. It was in these two places and in the café tertulias of the city center that he met virtually all of Argentina’s post-war avant-garde. At twenty, his restless nature carried him to Paris where he immediately sought out fellow Uruguayan Carmelo Arden Quin, founder of the Argentine MADI movement, the longest continually active art movement in the world. Loosely based on certain Futurist principles, MADI espouses irregularly-shaped paintings that blur the line between art and its surroundings; concave-convex works called formes galbées, sculptures that are articulated and transformable and early illusion-producing work similar to Op-Art.
Equally influenced by Arden Quin and de Stijl’s Georges Vantongerloo, in whose Parisian studio he spent many afternoons, Roitman soon embarked on a personal journey into the world of non-color where he produced pure, pale and shimmering paintings, Minimalism before its time; he named these, his first works, Geometric Impressionism and inserted his own preference for the circular, a orthogonal heresy by Mondrian standards. Soon, Roitman was showing his paintings with the MADIstes in the Salons des Realités Nouvelles and in galleries across Paris; in 1955, the exhibition of his works at the Galerie de Beaune constituted the first solo MADI show in the world. At his suggestion, the MADI Research and Study Center was formed in Arden Quin’s Montparnasse studio as a kind of mini-Bauhaus, where for the decade of the fifties, MADI artists could show their work, organize conferences and exchange ideas with artists from the School of Paris and, above all, with younger and more avant-garde painters, sculptors and musicians.
In the late sixties and the seventies and without totally abandoning painting, Roitman turned his attention to novels, plays, the founding of a theater school in New York City and, back in Paris, working with experimental films and running an art house theatre near the Pompidou Center. In the eighties, he and his second wife, the writer Shelley Goodman, moved to the South of France.
With his early plastique blanche pieces again in the galleries, he gradually moved toward working full-time in the visual arts. His new work, however, could not have been more different. During his years in New York, he was strongly influenced by such choreographers as George Balanchine and Busby Berkeley, whose dynamism and complex, carefully controlled movements fascinated him. “I learned more from Balanchine than I did from any artist,” he often commented. “At each performance, I turned the floor of the stage upright in my mind and followed the lines and curves of the dancers’ steps.”
Also awakened to the beauty of collages by his old friend Gherasim Luca, the Franco/ Romanian founder of Cubomania and, like him, a man torn between literature and the visual arts, Roitman began his new period first as a collagist and then by making three-dimensional paper sculptures, colorful, delicate and multifaceted works which he produced in one sitting of trance-like concentration.
Criticized – unjustly he strongly felt – for the fragility of paper, he discovered a manner of making multi-dimensional, hand-folded laser-cut metal works that retained all of the lightness of his former medium. His galleristes could not, in fact, tell the difference until they touched the works. As he moved between studios in Barcelona, the West Coast of Ireland and, finally, Tampa, Florida, his production could scarcely keep up with his imagination. Two-toned spheric mobiles, ethnic wall sculptures inspired by his travels, six-foot high revolving towers, a bright metal “Sail” that moved with the wind, mirrored and abstract “Books” that connected him to his literary roots, and, after a visit to an atelier that worked with magicians, large works that mysteriously opened and closed to illustrate (visually) the oft-asked question, What is MADI?
In the nineties, after helping to organize MADI’s two historical retrospectives in Spain – at the Iber Caja Bank in Zaragoza and the Museo Contemporaneo Reina Sofía in Madrid, Roitman felt that he had exhausted his personal association with MADI in Europe. It was also at this time, as he opened a new studio in Florida, that he began to dream of combining sculpture and architecture, of using his color-drenched laser-cut panels to transform an ordinary city building into a work of art. He showed the model for one such fantastic edifice at the Museo Reina Sofía, then was asked by a Texas backer to embark on the metamorphosis about which he had been dreaming for years. The result was the MADI Museum and Gallery, which opened in Dallas in 2003, a building about which critic Peter Frank said, “Not since the Museum of non-Objective Art in New York morphed into the Guggenheim Museum more than half a century ago has there been anything like this in North America. Even as he finished this project, Roitman began designing whole city blocks, taking on blighted neighborhoods which he felt that, for a reasonable investment, could be turned into areas of beauty and inspiration. Of all of these projects, only the Marshall MADI Wall, a three-dimensional sculptural/architectural project opened to great fanfare in the center of Marshall, Texas, in 2009.
Roitman showed his sculptural works everywhere in Florida – in Miami galleries, at the State Capital in Tallahassee, at museums in Sarasota, Lakeland, Largo, Pasco County. He was constantly inventing extravagant new forms, including a brief return to paper (“The Moving World of Volf Roitman” at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs in 2006) where he succeeded in producing laminated and articulated paper sculptures that opened, closed and undulated, convincing spectators that they were watching motorized metal works. At the same time, Roitman was moving away from MADI to his own movement which he called The Ludic Revolution, with an emphasis on humor and the whimsical in art. For the year 2010, he scheduled three shows all with the name “Volf Roitman, from MADI to the Ludic Revolution,” the first, under the auspices of the University and the City of Florence, held at the former Leopoldine Convent in Florence, Italy; the second at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs, Fl.; and the third and by far the biggest, at the Patricia and Philip Frost Museum at Miami International University.
These events (with a fourth, smaller one at the Michelson Museum in Texas) were opening almost simultaneously, with literally hundreds of works to be touched up or invented anew. Twelve feet high transformable cloth banners, stained-glass like, back-lit window shapes, and his latest masterpieces, large Light Boxes, that glow eerily in specially darkened rooms. Not unsurprisingly, he called the latter Chaplin’s Quest. He also ordered a series of robots which were to walk around the museum displaying irreverent pop-up political messages.
Unfortunately, Volf Roitman did not live to finish his robots or to attend his shows in Florence, Tarpon and Miami, the latter Frost Museum summer exhibition so popular that it was extended to permit in-coming students to see it during the fall semester. Roitman’s mischievous spirit ruled over all of the events, however, and his sense of humor was evident in the brightly-colored wall introduction that welcomed his visitors:
“I consider play, fun, humor and joy to be very serious matters indeed”