The concept of friendship has been a key component of Western political philosophy throughout history, but in the modern era discussions about its importance have fallen out of favor. The mystic artist Xul Solar (born Oscar Schultz Solari 1887, died 1963) and famed writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986) became fast friends soon after they met in Buenos Aires in 1924. Both men, having recently returned from extended studies and travels in Europe, created a nearly forty-year friendship rooted in a desire to create an avant-garde that was uniquely reflective of the Americas, but simultaneously specific to Argentina. Through intense and lively intellectual exchange, the two discovered that not only did they share common political views, but also similar spiritual and metaphysical beliefs. “Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges: The Art of Friendship” seeks to revive the ancient through line between the intellectual and political affinities that underscore the emotional bonds of friendship.
While the exhibition gives the life, work, and views of the lesser-known Solar more emphasis, it also includes newspaper clippings, photos, and manuscripts and translations authored by the men as well as examples of collaborative works that have rarely been seen outside of Argentina. Solar’s colorful paintings blended metaphysical ideas with symbols and themes from pre-Hispanic cultures such as Aztec and Guarani, while drawing on concepts from the Bauhaus, The Blue Rider Group, and artists including Kandinsky and Klee. He even created his own creolized languages. Works like Drago (1927), Tlaloc (1923), and Pais (1925) that feature gods and maidens, fantastic scenes, and the questionably placed national flags are typical of his hybridized aesthetic. An early example of what would typify Solar-Borges collaborations is El idioma de los argentines (The Idiom of the Argentines, 1928), Borges’s third essay collection, which examines links between language and art. The watercolor illustrations Solar contributed to the book hint at a developing affinity for ideas and imagery that move seamlessly between reality and dreams, a concept that Borges would go on to master in his writing.
“The Art of Friendship” presents a compelling premise, and I delight in context, history, and the story behind the backstory, but I wanted more. With the artist rather than the writer as the focus, my desire to see the politics of friendship visualized more grew quite strong. Borges and Solar shared a unique friendship that created an eccentric intellectual community with wide ranging impact locally and internationally. After reading extensive texts about their bond and its impact, I longed for a different kind of evidence that these men faced each other in vigorous debate, overwhelming laughter, and intense scrutiny. Rather than seeing them—or the works that represent them—side by side or “staring” at each other across the room, I began to wonder how might this friendship be visualized.
Xul Solar, Tlaloc, 1923; Courtesy of the Americas Society Gallery.
After Peron punished Borges politically for signing a petition against the government, the personal friendship between him and Solar noticeably cooled, according to a wall didactic. While the two continued to be cordial and kind, things were never quite the same again. Following Solar’s death in 1963, Borges would spend the rest of his days taking every opportunity to exalt his old friend as a genius, a brilliant talent, the best Argentina has ever seen, he once said. “The Art of Friendship” makes it clear that the men were akin to intellectual soul mates, but in all of its empirical and ephemeral evidence, the unspoken emotion of fondness somehow gets lost.
—Lee Ann Norman
(Image on top: Xul Solar, Pais, 1925; Courtesy of the Americas Society Gallery.)