A Buenos Aires Museum Creates a New Lexicon for Latin American Art


Nicole Martinez 3.4.17

Selection of paragraphs from the article.

The Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires has reorganized its permanent collection, assigning a new context for 20th-century Latin American art and its movements.

BUENOS AIRES — It’s impossible to overlook León Ferrari’s “Hongo Nuclear (Mushroom Cloud)” (2006) upon entering the second floor gallery of the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA). Made of enamel, foam, rubber, wire, and painted charcoal, Ferrari’s cloud is arresting in its size and literal in its subject: a memory of an atomic bomb that few global citizens can ever forget.

Ferrari’s mushroom is a violent, political addition to Verboámerica, the latest iteration of MALBA’s permanent collection. Reorganizing both iconic works and new donations made by founder and benefactor Eduardo Costantini, Verboámerica presents some 170 works that assign a new context for Latin American art and its movements.

The reorganization of MALBA’s permanent collection celebrates the museum’s 15th anniversary. Historian Andrea Giunta and MALBA’s artistic director Agustín Pérez Rubio embarked on a years-long research project that set out to repurpose the collection as a living history of Latin America. The resulting exhibition traces Latin America’s struggle for independence from its colonial past, while aiming to distinguish its artistic body of work from similar movements within the Western canon.

Instead of presenting the collection in a chronological fashion, Giunta and Rubio create a new lexicon with which to interpret Latin American art. Verboámerica breaks down Latin American art in the 20th century into keywords that are central to the region’s historical and social experiences — materiality, violence, migration, archives, politics, and narcotics — and traces how Latin American art has dismantled these power structures by challenging them systematically.

Several of the artists depart from traditional oil painting and experiment with materials as a way to articulate their critiques. Particularly, the artists draw on quotidian materials: Throughout Verboámerica, found objects, shape-shifting sculpture, and multimedia are tools to tackle the rippling effect of poverty and violence, the disorientation of migration, and the geopolitical implications of globalization.

Notably, dictatorships throughout the region spawned subversive groups that organized platforms for the marginalized. Chilean artist collective Yeguas del Apocalipsis, active between 1987 and 1997 and arising out of the Pinochet military dictatorship, depicts the artists in drag in a reinvention of Frida Kahlo’s painting, “Las Dos Fridas (The Two Fridas)” (1989). In the black-and-white photograph of Pedro Lemebel and Francisco Casas, they are dressed in skirts with exposed chests, emblazoned with a human heart and linked with a single vein. “Las Dos Fridas” references the militant homophobia that lingered during the transition of power from Chile’s dictatorship to a democratic society.

Verboámerica also touches upon artists’ experimentation with drugs and art,similar to the European Op and kinetic movements. In Latin America, artists like Julio Le Parc and Lygia Clark reasoned that narcotics and contemporary art could offer similar psychedelic experiences by creating moving objects and interactive sculptures. In Verboámerica, Argentine-born Le Parc’s “Trames Alterees (Universes in Universes)” (1968) is displayed along with two objects from Brazilian artist Lygia Clark’s “Bichos” (1960) series; both artists work with aluminum and create works that move and shift according to the viewer’s perception and interaction with the work.

Though once dismissed by the European and North American art world, Latin American art has steadily emerged as worthy of circulation, and Verboámerica declares that acquiescence. By underscoring the region’s artistic history and unique vocabulary, a visually stunning narrative springs to life.

Verboámerica is permanently installed at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Av. Pres. Figueroa Alcorta 3415, C1425CLA CABA, Argentina).

Verboámerica exhibición permanente del  Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Av. Pres. Figueroa Alcorta 3415, C1425CLA CABA, Argentina).


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