“Norah, in all our games, was always the leader; I, the laggard, the shy and the submissive. She climbed the roof, climbed trees and hills; I followed her with less enthusiasm than fear,” he wrote Jorge Luis Borges in 1977 about childhood memories shared with his sister Norah in Buenos Aires. That bold girl emerged in her European adolescence as an artist influenced by expressionism and ultraism. As an adult, already back in the Argentine capital, she did not stop drawing and painting, but her figure was overshadowed by that of her brother and her husband, the intellectual of the Spanish Republican exile Guillermo de Torre. The National Museum of Buenos Aires (MNBA) hosts, for the first time, a retrospective of Norah Borges (1901-1998) and rescues from the periphery an almost unknown avant-garde artist.
The sample Norah Borges, a woman at the forefront, coordinated by the diplomat and historian Sergio Baur brings together more than 200 works, including paintings, prints, illustrations, tapestries and texts. “Norah traveled almost the entire last century and, nevertheless, her work is timidly represented in the national public collections,” says the director of the MNBA, Andrés Duprat, who believes that the invisibility of his figure also induces “to reflect on the role of the female artist throughout the twentieth century. “
The rereading and vindication of the work of Leonor Fanny Borges Acevedo, renamed Norah by her brother, has been growing over the last decade in both Spain and Argentina. In 2015, in Palma he was dedicated an exhibition in Es Baluard, the museum of modern and contemporary art of the island city, and in Buenos Aires he arrived at the Borges Cultural Center before exhibiting now at the MNBA. The sample can be visited until March.
Norah Borges lived in Buenos Aires until 1912, when, together with the family, she moved to Switzerland to accompany her father in a treatment for blindness. After the First World War, they settle in Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Madrid. In Spain, the Borges brothers join a vanguard that translates with a local accent the spirit of aesthetic renewal of European experimental movements of the twenties.
From a distance, the lost paradise of childhood in Buenos Aires permeates its artistic production. “Norah studies Fine Arts in Switzerland and knows the entire German expressionist movement, the great engravers and xylographers. But she creates a personal aesthetic, focused on her childhood environment. She always relied on memory to do her works,” Baur said. The chess patios, the balustrades and the vases appear in their first engravings and then remain in the paintings in which he recreates Buenos Aires fifths.
Faced with the constant biographical movements – which include the return to Buenos Aires in 1921 and the subsequent move to Spain during the first half of the 1930s with her husband – his paintings reflect a great stillness and the absence of the passage of time. “Without evolution, without changes, unaltered and unalterable, cheerful, with the serenity of those who live in eternity,” her brother described her.
The faces drawn are always childish and adolescent, with simple strokes, and their palette is dominated by a few pastel colors: light blue, salmon, Veronese green and ocher. “At my side there is a great artist, who spontaneously sees the angelic world around us, so wasted by others whose custom is ugliness,” added the author of The Aleph in the prologue to some woodcuts exposed in the MNBA.
Norah Borges alternated her pictorial work with literary illustrations. His brother’s first poetry book, Fervor de Buenos Aires, appeared in 1923 with a drawing of his and from the 1940s he would also illustrate the covers of Spanish writers published by Losada from Buenos Aires, such as Juan Ramón Jiménez, Rafael Alberti and León Felipe. “She is an Argentine artist who contributes to the formation of the Spanish avant-garde. By marrying Guillermo de Torre, the great critic and writer of that avant-garde, a wide spectrum of Spanish intellectuals was opened,” says Baur. Among them was Federico García Lorca, friend of the couple and with whom Norah collaborated as a costumer and set designer for his theater group La Barraca.
The show highlights his commitment to Republican exile through art criticism in the magazine The annals of Buenos Aires, where he published under the pseudonym Manuel Pinedo. “When he commented on a show that was in the MNBA of Spanish artists, he clarified that while Franco did not recognize Pablo Picasso as an artist, Spanish art would be completely devalued,” says Baur.
He also maintained a great friendship with artists and writers from Argentina, such as the Victoria and Silvina Ocampo and Xul Solar sisters. As a result of these links, letters and drawings are displayed that serve to peek into the privacy of Norah Borges, the most reserved avant-garde.