The presence of bears, rabbits, elephants, dogs and other fable animals are persistent elements in Prior’s paintings.
Influences and early experiences
He acknowledges Argentine artist Juan Del Prete as one of his predecessors, fluctuating and elaborating dialectics in a line of consecutive abstract and figurative paintings. He studied oriental arts and literature, a fact that would impact his work enormously.
Very early in his life, Prior bet on romantic and hallucinogen painting. Whilst Romero Brest –one of Buenos Aires' most influential persons in visual arts during the sixties and seventies - had declared the death of painting, Prior devoted eight years to work in exacerbating the pictorial materials of his works to the point of conquering another literature. Prior needed to spread out what modernists wished to eradicate: the fable, the tale. For him, abstraction and figurative art were a two-sided coin.
After the experience of his first exhibition, where he presented 28 portraits of children made with tempera and wax, provoking brand new tensions on the collective imaginary (Lirolay Gallery, 1970), Prior began working on new abstract series.
The abstract series
For these series, he used tracing sheets of paper that he himself crumpled, as the supports. He outlined different geometries using synthetic enamel. The most successful example of these series is A la Manera de Aru Dutt [In the style of Aru Dutt], 1974. This geometry of textures is impossible to relate to others: this series is about the same empty children from Prior’s beginnings, about his surface–children, becoming cubes, hexagons, rectangles, pyramids or taking other shapes.
After the seventies, Prior reappeared with a retrospective self anthology exhibition flooded with abstract symbolism, over elaborated with Japanism, fit to magnetize all kind of literary associations.
Collaboration with other artists
During these years he consolidated his complicity with artists Armando Rearte, Rafael Bueno, Guillermo Kuitca and Osvaldo Monzó. They formed a group of an expansive interaction, surrounded by a cultural and political atmosphere which was continually changing. 1982 was a key year for the group, as Art critic Charlie Espartaco carried out a curatorial experience called La Anavanguardia, in which all of them participated.
In 1983 he participated in the exhibition: La Consagración de la Primavera, curated by Laura Buccelato and Charlie Espartaco, at Espacio Giesso. Armando Rearte, Osvaldo Monzo, Guillermo Kuitca and Prior, took part in the exhibition of paintings produced by the artists working together. This exhibition starts a new stage in Prior’s production, marked by different alliances and acquaintances that would produce works in collaboration with other artists and group projects.
Prior settled in a basement at 959 Riobamba Street, (a collective workshop, a space for exhibitions and occasional cabaret, called "La Zona", where he would remain for three years). At the same time, Sergio Avello – born in 1964– and other artists of his generation grouped together and held several exhibitions at La Zona.
By 1984, after his third exhibition, Prior’s personal canon, his private history of arts which ruled the political decisions of his imaginary, was already perfectly defined:
Many exhibitions took place in 1985. Prior was invited to exhibit at the 18th San Pablo’s Biennial. The poet and critic Edward Lucie-Smith, took interest in Prior’s work during the Biennial and contacted him in Buenos Aires.
The installation that both Kuitca and Prior presented at Fundación San Telmo in 1985 was, no doubt, the end of Prior’s greatest spontaneous collaboration with other artists. In that opportunity – which would be the last time they worked together– the effect was hypnotic.
Prior’s experiences formed collections or series of images in his work. References are the dauntless children who were born already combed, the so literary as imaginary Japanese geometry inspired in Aru Dutt, the clear Osarios, the ships soaked up with Informalist Art and the works in collaboration during the time he inhabited La Zona.
Thus, each picture by Prior begins to represent a piece of an immense puzzle, a puzzle in progress.
In a few months, almost simultaneously, Prior openly exposed the origin of his Napoleonic sagas and the first chapters of his Chinese Encyclopaedia, two-thirds of his monumental system of systems. He wanted from the very beginning, to reformulate historical painting choosing Napoleon for his condition of archetypical character and the popular representation of madness, a man characterized like Napoleon. He later established the relation Insane=Napoleon=Artist, for there is a deep rooted tradition about the image of the artist being very close to a dark zone.
There is a double meaning to "Cuentos Chinos": the 'oriental' subject of the works and the Spanish popular meaning of the phrase (lies, madness, tall tales ). For this work, Prior created a pretended, false vision of China where all common places, according to Oriental average knowledge, converge.
In 1988 he exhibited at the Beau Lézard of Paris, at the Moderna Museum of Stockholm, at the Terne Gallery of New York during a tribute to Roland Barthes, and at the newly opened ICI ( Iberoamerican Cooperation Institute).
From 1989 to 1992 he exhibited his works in New York, São Paulo, Madrid, Mar del Plata (Argentina), Mexico DF., Buenos Aires, Cali (Colombia), Rio de Janeiro, Nagoya (Japan), Medellín (Colombia), London and Ankara (Turkey).
In 1993, Prior proposed an exhibition simultaneously composed of eight heteronyms. The critics stressed the buffoonery. According to them, Prior had openly made fun of all traditional conceptualist and neo-conceptualist practices.
Prior’s first solo exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes took place in 1998.
His solo presentations had been adapted to the space of each gallery and from this exhibition on, Prior let each museum interfere with his work. In this way, the public and validating space of the institution could become a support for his art, increasing the possibilities of his own resources. Starting at the Museo Nacional, he continued at the Museo Larreta. He would then exhibit at Sala Cronopios of the Centro Cultural Recoleta with works that needed a colossal location. Later on, at the Benito Quinquela Martín Gallery, in La Boca. He later held a retrospective at Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno.
In March 2003 he presented his most important exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Buenos Aires. Works from al his epochs inhabited the rooms: the Osarios series (1982/1984), works in collaboration with Kuitca, Rearte and Monzo (1983), Bears and Rabbits series (1986), Chinese Hairstyles and Scenes at a Chinese Restaurante from the Stone Age (both 1987). And also Sweeping fallen leaves (1991), Aru Dut’s Way (1974) and Complete Chinese Operas (1999).
During 2004, he chose to reformulate all the painting of Leonardo da Vinci,in his second solo exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Prior improvised Da Vinci and The War of Styles was the name chosen for his "Davincian Orchestration", rebuilding the studies of the artist’s lost fresco The Battle of Anghiari.
That same year he exhibited in Los Angeles with Kevin Power as curator. He has held yearly solo exhibitions at his current Buenos Aires gallery (Vasari)for the past years.
- Cippolini, Rafael; Alfredo Prior. Buenos Aires: Vasari, 2007.
- Lopez, Anaya Jorge; Historia del Arte Argentino. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1997.