Jorge L. Gutierrez. Curator and Museologist. Talk at Durban Segnini Gallery, on 07-14-2015. Round Table "Abstraction and Constructivism (...)"

"Repositioned Boundaries”: Realm news from nowhere. Some ideas and approaches out of edges to Abstraction and Constructivism in Latin American Modernity.

First of all I wish to thank Cesar Segnini and the Durban Segnini Gallery team for their excellent sustained effort in preserving and promoting the modernist and contemporary expression of Latin American art in America. Thanks, to critic and curator Dennys Matos for his invitation for this panel discussion and for curating a key referential exhibition such as Abstraction and Constructivism: Continuity and Breakdown of Latin American Modernity. Which we have the pleasure to enjoy tonight. These discussions are an essential need in a place like Miami. A city on the verge of transitions between Latin and Anglo Americas, but still with significant intellectual deficits in the analysis, research and discussion over the visual arts.

I wish to thank the audience that is present tonight for this panel and their disquietude and questions over and open discussion on the role of abstract geometric expression in Latin America. And its role in modeling [or not] modernity and its influences over contemporaneity. It’s an honor to share the table with Tobias Ostrander, PAMM’s Chief Curator; Jorge Brioso, faculty and scholar at Carleton College; and art critic and curator Dennys Matos. Thanks for having me. I dedicate this presentation to Alejandro Otero, essential in the creative and intellectual development of geometric abstraction in Latin America.

The road of the abstraction movement is comparatively short in the path of art history but without doubts of high intensity crossed exchanges and contradictions. Starting all with Wassily Kandinsky regarded as the pioneer of abstract art. However, further research indicates that a Swedish woman, artist Hilma Af Klint created the first abstract painting in 1906, five years before Kandinsky. After all this emergence of abstraction in Europe, at the breaking Dawn of the XX century, becomes relevant as of interest, reference and influence. Through the body of work of FrantišekKupka, Robert Delaunay, Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich and Kandinsky itself. The influence that later included constructivists such as Alexander Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy, Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner.

A movement of creators that represented high curiosity and motivation to a group of artist in Latin America, due to the decidedly experimental, technological and ample discourse. Highly embraced by architecture, graphic design, photography, film, science and the political and ideological models of change emerging in Europe. Abstraction and constructivism even with its aesthetics of synthesis it was probably among the most hybrid, politically significant and contextually open of art movements of modernism.

For Joaquin Torres Garcia [Uruguay] and Manuel Rendón Seminario [Ecuador] pioneers of the constructivist movement in Latin America. The need for transformation and innovation in the arts was part of a whole spirit in Latin America. In search for new political, social and creative models, circumscribed under the utopian traces of modernism.

It is important to understand, that the abstract and constructivist development in Latin America through the XX century goes in hand with innovation and research movements of change in architecture, graphic design, photography, and film. A movement of visual and aesthetic transformation, with editorial projects such as the magazine created by Torres-Garcia “Circulo y Cuadrado”. A publication to confront the super-realism, rejecting the Eurocentric vision of imitating art as the Academy pattern for visual expression. Searching to give a path to a structured expression of art in the midst of the emerging utopian vision of XX century art.

Abstraction and constructivism became a global exchange way before globalization. Exchange which created intellectual bonds and lifetime friendships between Torres-Garcia and Piet Mondrian, Manuel Rendón Seminario and Amadeo Modigliani among others.  Proposing a “new social order " as seen later in paintings, photographs and sculptures by artists from formal and conceptual developments that surfaced concurrently in three geographical and cultural locations in Latin America; Brazilian concrete and neo-concrete abstraction, Venezuelan kinetic and neo-concrete abstraction, and Uruguayan and Argentine abstraction. With not only reference theories of perception and color but also intellectual premises proposing, by visually approaching through new perspectives on urban, spatial and social structures.

Simultaneously in America, interest in the developments of Latin American art centered on the coinciding developments in the region, of significant figurative movements.  Geometric abstraction did not receive the same attention from art historians, museums, critics and specialists, as for instance, Mexican muralism and its derivatives. Somehow the geometric abstraction movement of XX century Latin America challenged the stereotyped, comfortable vision of the “other”, still submerged in a strict Western colonialist vision on ways of perception.

Astonishingly it’s not until the sunset of XX century and the beginnings of XXI century that the abstract movement of the region has raised the interest of a selective section of mainstream Western art history. Perhaps to the western world it was hard to perceive a modernism without modernism, or what I define a “modernism of crisis”, part of the Latin American developments in political, social, and creative and destiny matters.

A central idea of my presentation tonight is to communicate the significance of the geometric abstract and constructivist movement in Latin America, as a utopian model of change as part of its formal aesthetic importance. During the XIX and early XX centuries, Latin American countries acquired from Europe, both the model of the oligarchical republic and the artistic, architectural and communication eclecticism and the monumental that still characterizes it. For example; the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, the Avenida Central of Rio de Janeiro, the Paseo del Prado in Havana and the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires. [Even with the high urban differences between patterns of poverty and richness co-habituating these urban spaces].

Modernism in particular aspects of social and creative processes, only appeared on the Latin American scene after dramatic turning points. That is, in the wake of revolution and counterrevolution. With the shift from upper-class rule to the state of the masses, the introduction of nationalist economic development programs, and in some cases, the installation of authoritarian regimes.  Seeking legitimacy through architecture, art, and public works. {Brasilia as a modernist entirely designed city in Brazil, the Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, in Venezuela, the UNAM Library (Biblioteca Central) are some examples]

 But we must be clear on our approach, Latin American countries were instances whose intellectual and cultural life was well ahead of economic and technological realities, which can permit us to define it as a context of “modernism without modernity”.

The rise of a modernist conceptual proposal in; art, architecture, graphic design, photography and film in the region was a fact. It had to do with the persuasions and perseverance of a distinctively elite group of local creatives and intellectuals. All influenced by European trends, with a few touches or interest of indigenous influence or classic established European practices.

After pioneers Torres-Garcia and Rendón Seminario, diverse generations and approaches emerged.  Including some essential names such as;  Carmelo Arden Quin, Geraldo de Barros, Sérgio Camargo, Lygia Clark, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Lucio Fontana, Gego, Carmen Herrera, Julio Le Parc. As well as, Leo Matiz, Juan Melé, Hélio Oiticica, Alejandro Otero, César Paternosto, Jesús Rafael Soto, Grete Stern, Omar Rayo, Fernando De Szyszlo and Gyula Kosice among others. Covering all, Latin America's geography. Many of whom their works surround us tonight in the spaces of Durban Segnini, Miami. Result of a sensible and earnest show curated by Dennys Matos. It is not our intention to display tonight inventories or explanations about the significance of these artists, but rather on the conceptual framework of this artistic movement and its resulting expressions in the XX century.

The Latin American modernists, while elitist, shared with their European counterparts a belief in social progress through good and talented creative results. Latin American artists within this context, however, did not merely imitate European developments. They actively sought to incorporate local influences, which in some cases led to the abandonment of key modernist principles.

Some years ago, been accredited as president-founder of the Museo de Artes Visuales in Caracas. I had the honor to share ideas and points of view on art, culture and life with Otero, in the days close to his passing out. I requested that the museum would be named “Alejandro Otero” (With previous thought discussion with colleagues Graciela Pantin -arts manager and cultural leader- and Lucila Anzola -art historian and scholar-. All, after, enlightened exchanges with a master and primary access to his famous last essay-article “Solo Quisiera ser Puntual” [“I Just Want to be Punctual”].

His thoughts confirmed the spirit of this modernist movement. Due to the significance of his geometric abstract body of work, but overall due to the intensity of his intellectual vision and proposals for a better future, his name would honor the museum. Two months later on August 13th, 1990, Alejandro Otero departed on his universal journey. The Venezuelan government accepted the proposal. Granted the museum his name, to become The Alejandro Otero [MAO} museum, thought as a contemporary art lab to exchange local and global visions in a society still searching its modernism.

Twenty-five years from that moment, Latin America still struggles to find its better destiny. Alejandro Otero’s words resonate [from Torres-Garcia and so on] from these artists, which did not accept unnecessary unpunctuality’s and felt that art change was possible in many ways. Today, when Latin American geometric abstraction somehow has its way to the vertical, rigid, black-box corporate structure of museums in America. A new wave of young geometric abstract artist has emerged, but concerns are significant.

Has geometric abstraction become a new fashion trend in the mainstream of art fairs, itinerant rock-stars curators, “Ikea” like art galleries and Prêt-à-Porter collectors? Have the new cloud generation of geometric abstracts hold a renovated conceptual framework for this new production, or it’s an art market gimmick? Has Post-modernism erased from Latin-American geometric abstraction the possibility to imagine, research, experiment and communicate abstract ideas through art? Is the reemerged trend of geometric abstraction and it's similar an opportunity in the reconfigurations of cultural identity in the different Latin American and Latino contexts, including the edges of Latin America's elite centers?

In a world of massive immigration issues, of global economic fragility, of rising discrimination tensions, of new models of terrorism around the corner, climate change and expanding political instabilities. The least I desire is to be apologetic for my peace of mind.

But I cannot stand or understand art as a detached uncontaminated practice, marked by a transactions market projected as a financial commodity. [Of expected sales of $76 billion in 2015. According to Art+Culture, Inc.], or as a delirious tool for the social climb and a growing landscape of shallow practices from an intellectual and educational perspective, detached from world realities. Art cannot dilute its capacity to move based on trends and styles. “Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It's an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy. (about Guernica).”Picasso said.

There is undoubtedly no return to modernism, to post-modernism or any of the “post” that some art essayists use and abuse. But while we define directions in what is described as “global”, with a strong artificial detachment from a concerning world of developments, and a deficit of intellectual input. It is frequently overlooked, that there was more at stake than the discovery of the "truth" of art, for the artists who undertook the abstract geometric Latin American movement. 

For these artists, abstraction proved a removal from the material world. Retaining the potential of revealing, reconstructing or alluding to the world of the spirit, and the desired changes to a better society, infused by the intellectual spectrum of the Latin America of that time.

Tonight, I humbly pledge in the direction of artists that within the tradition of geometric abstraction and its evolution, represent an honest promising conceptual and visual expression. To be optimistic about, the intellectual framework, vigorous research and art of Alejandro Otero (+), Andres Michelena, and Eugenio Espinoza. As examples of art that moves eyes to observe and spirit to feel. [And as well, their art is bought and sold in the art market]

Thank you to our hosts at Segnini Durban gallery, the exhibition curator, the panelists, and this excellent audience on this remarkable summer evening.

 Courtesy of images: Durban Segnini Gallery and Jorge L. Gutierrez