San Pedro, Buenos Aires, 1913–Landes, France, 1982.
Alicia Penalba was thirty-five years old and far from Buenos Aires, her family, and her work in painting when, in Paris, she discovered that she was a sculptor. In 1949 and 1950, she attended the Ossip Zadkine studio at the Grande Chaumière. She was an admirer of Brancusi and Hans Arp, of Giacometti and Pevsner. In 1951, after destroying her earlier work, she began making her first abstract sculptures. In 1957, the first solo show of her work, which featured totemic bronze sculptures, was held. That was the beginning of a career that would go beyond France and form a part of the history of 20th-century sculpture. She participated in II Documenta in Kassel in 1959 and, two years later, she was awarded the Grand Prize at the São Paulo Biennial. In the sixties, she developed a series of winged sculptures; frequent shows of her work were held and pieces of her authorship were acquired by the collections of museums and private individuals in Europe and America. In 1964, she participated in III Documenta. In 1968, the Musée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris held the show Totems et tabous. Lam, Matta, Penalba—a joint show with two other masters of Latin American art. In 1977, that same museum held a major retrospective of her work. In an impressive collaboration with architecture, she made a set of monumental sculptures for the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1963. In 1969, she created a large golden polyester relief for an outdoor museum in Hakone, Japan. In the seventies, in order to reach a broader audience, she made, on the one hand, monumental bronze sculptures for outdoor spaces and, on the other, small format and multiple works. In 1982, she and her life partner, French photographer Michel Chilo, were killed in an accident.
Her work forms part of the collections of the Centre Pompidou (Paris); the Brooklyn Museum and the Schulhof Collection (New York); the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC); Fondation Pierre Gianadda (Martigny, Switzerland); Zentrum Paul Klee (Berne, Switzerland); Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller (Otterlo, the Netherlands); Museu de Arte Moderna (Río de Janeiro); Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (Santiago, Chile); Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas; and the Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires).