Side Image: 

Nicolás García Uriburu (Argentine, born 1937). La Joconde, c. 1967-68, lithograph, 29⅞ x 22 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through gift of Mrs. Adolph Bolz.

About the Artist
Nicolás García Uriburu

Nicolás García Uriburu was born in Argentina on December 24, 1937. He enjoyed drawing as a child and, with the encouragement of his uncle, the writer Pablo Cárdenas, had his first gallery exhibition when he was age seventeen. Uriburu studied architecture at the National University in Buenos Aires and later launched an award-winning international art career.

His early artworks consisted of semi-abstract landscapes that incorporated a pop art aesthetic. In 1968, while living in Paris, Uriburu began a signature series of actions that called attention to water pollution and deforestation. For that year’s Venice Bienniale, Uriburu introduced into the Grand Canal a nontoxic sodium dye used in the aerospace industry that glowed fluorescent green upon contact with the water. This gesture made it possible to visually follow the flow of water from the polluted canal to the sea, drawing attention to problems of water pollution. He continued these actions in rivers in New York City, Paris, Buenos Aires, among other international locations, always wearing a green jumpsuit to emphasize the environmental message of his performances.

In later collaborations with the artist Joseph Bueys, Uriburu colored the Rhein River and planted 7,000 oak trees in Kassel, Germany. Beginning with the 1982 planting of 50,000 trees in Buenos Aires, Uriburu regularly oversaw the planting of thousands of trees in Argentina and Uruguay. Ecological concerns are reflected too in powerful paintings that address extinction and urban sprawl, as well as nature’s power to persevere. In 1998, the Uriburu Museum opened in Maldonado, Uruguay, to house part of the Uriburu collection of indigenous art, donated by the artist to the Uruguayan government.

"I would like children in Wisconsin to understand that people and animals should learn to live together." Nicolás García Uriburu  (correspondence with the artist, July 15, 2012).

Key Ideas
  • Use of symbols and icons to convey ideas
  • Interconnectedness of humanity and nature
  • Reinterpretation of historical imagery for a present-day concern
Discussion Questions
  • Look closely at this image and describe what you see. What are the main visual elements in La Joconde? Who are the main characters?
  • Why do you think the artist included the ram and the hummingbirds? What do they contribute to the story?
  • How would you describe the relationship between the woman and the ram?
  • How has the artist used color, line, and shape?
  • Which aspects of this lithograph seem realistic and which appear to be abstract?
  • What has the artist chosen to emphasize in the image and how has he achieved it?
  • Where might this woman live? What aspects of La Joconde suggest this possibility?
  • What might La Joconde be thinking?

On the Artist:

On the Context:

  • abstract works of art that are nonrepresentational
  • perspective a technique of depicting volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface.
  • proportion the size, number, or amount of one thing as compared to the size, number, or amount of another
  • realistic pertaining to, characterized by, or given to the representation in literature or art of things as they really are

What's Going on Here? Stories in Art

Nicolás García Uriburu’s lithograph, La Joconde, takes its inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, one of the most imitated of all paintings. Painted five hundred years ago in Florence, Italy, the Mona Lisa is an icon of Europe’s High Renaissance, signifying the emergence of medieval Western culture from adherence to narrow systems of thought into a new period of intellectual inquiry. The portrait of Mona Lisa epitomized da Vinci’s scientific understanding of perspective, proportion, and modeling of human anatomy. It symbolizes the cultural flowering of his time.

In da Vinci’s painting, Mona Lisa is seated in a dreamy mountainous landscape with her hands folded quietly before her. She wears a gentle smile and her skin appears to be very soft. The impression of space in the painting as well as Mona Lisa’s physical features and clothing are rendered in a realistic manner. Perhaps most intriguing of all are her mysterious smile and the way her eyes seem to look directly at her viewers’ eyes, no matter where they stand.

In contrast to the subtle tones of da Vinci’s Renaissance masterpiece, La Joconde makes a powerful statement. Uriburu creates a vivid portrait of his subject with his use of bold shapes, fluid lines, sumptuous colors, and exaggerated proportions. He portrays La Joconde embracing a ram within her folded hands while two hummingbirds hover above her left shoulder, suggesting associations with the artist’s South American homeland and his emerging attention to urgent ecological concerns. La Joconde seems larger than life, unable to fully fit within the edges of the image. Behind her, curving blue lines suggest the flowing path of a river. Color plays an important role in unifying elements of the composition, such as the blue of the river, the ram’s eye, and the hummingbirds’ gorgets, or throat feathers. Bright orange-red reinforces the connection between La Joconde and the ram. Space is hinted at by the curve of the lines that define the river and the large size of La Joconde’s hands in comparison to the delicate scale of her facial features.

La Joconde represents the postmodern period in which it was created, when popular entertainment and advertising influenced Western culture, and Andy Warhol, among other artists, drew from the surrounding culture to create wildly colorful “pop” art images. García Uriburu’s woman and ram are pop emblems of Western art history—with its images of mother and child, humanity and nature—set in a stylized landscape of high intensity, flat color. His bold color; fluid, curvilinear lines; and simplified, abstracted shapes make a portrait for our time, one that hints at the artist’s future actions on behalf of nature and the environment.

The artist chose the name La Joconde to further highlight similarities between this lithograph and the Mona Lisa. La Joconde is the name used in France for the Mona Lisa, which in Italy is called La Gioconda for its subject, Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo.