press release

Slought Foundation is pleased to announce “Some thoughts on Argentina in the 1970s: historicizing the political in art," an exhibition in the Slought Foundation galleries on view from November 19-December 31, 2011. The exhibition features works by Margarita Paksa, Juan Carlos Romero, Horacio Zabala, and Luis F. Benedit, and has been organized by Osvaldo Romberg, Senior Curator of Artists Projects at Slought Foundation, with support from Henrique Faria Fine Art.

In the 1940s, the clash between the Argentine left and the Peronists became more brutal. When Peron became president in 1946, he began persecuting leftist detractors. Despite the suspicion that the Peronist party had for communists and socialists, Argentine art was nevertheless deeply influenced by the left and the communist party. Important influences included the Mexican muralist movement, and artists like Siqueros, Rivera, and Orozco. As communists, they had an impact on Berni, Spilimbergo, Castanino, Urruchua and others. Important art critics of that period, like Lorenzo Varela and Enrique Azguaja, had fled Franco’s Spanish civil war and were on the left. The cultural atmosphere of the 1940s and 1950s was anti-capitalist and it thrived even under Peron’s repressiveness.

The early 1960s saw the domination of two or three groups producing political art. The communist group -- including Berni, Castanino, Spilimbergo, and Urruchua -- were not only party members but activists who sold their work to fund communist activities. New disciples of this group appeared in the 1960s, including Carlos Alonso, Gonzales, Martinez Howard, and the sculptor Falchini, an important figure involved in a lot of activities. They dominated the Sociadad Argentina de Artistas Plasticos. Another significant group influenced by the Mexican muralists was more populist and closer to Peronist ideas. That group, called Esparto, produced not large-scale murals but rather smaller works on easel. Among them were Carpani, Molari, Bute, and Sanchez. This second generation of political artists was successful in selling work to the Argentinean bourgeoisie. This paradigm changed under the influence of Romero Brest with Ver y Estimar, then as director of Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and finally as director of Instituto Di Tella. In these capacities, Brest introduced numerous European and American artists who worked in a more theoretical manner.

General Ongania’s ascent to power institutionalized the repression of intellectuals and the persecution of university professors and scientists. In 1968, Instituto Di Tella closed, and the Ciyc opened in Viamonte Street. This was a small place under the direction of Jorge Glusberg, where new theoretical explorations were brought together so as to support a new political art in Argentina. Conceptual artists including Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Mel Bochner, and Dennis Oppenheim, in visiting Argentina, influenced a new generation of artists who then began experimenting with text, poetry, architectural drawings, graphic design, linguistics, and structuralist methods. This work was less visually provocative and less apparently revolutionary. In fact, those new radical artistic strategies were a means to investigate the power structures embedded in the political system.

These artists included Luis Benedit, Horacio Zabala, Margarita Paksa, and Juan Carlos Romero. The political ideas of this group were not homogenous. Their ideologies spanned a spectrum from bourgeois to Maoist, but they shared a hatred of the dictatorship. They reacted to the injustice of student assassinations and military abuse in different ways. Each of them provided a strong critique of the repressive system via metaphors, metonymy, and paradoxical comparisons. Luis Benedit, trained as an architect, created environments and architectures for rats and insects, based on the idea of making a social system transparent. Zabala used architectural devices like drawings to create prisons for different kinds of people. Paksa drew precise designs which, combined with texts, enabled her to address the political situation. Romero remained closest to journalistic criticism, and used graphic design as a Trojan horse to investigate power relations.

Is it possible through very sophisticated and conceptual means to impact the political attitude of the people? The Russian Revolution had been driven by intellectuals like Trotsky and Lenin who had a powerful effect on the people. Yet the idea of intellectuals changing politics is still a question in Latin America. Most political change has resulted from action and not theories. Most political art has adopted a populist visual language in an effort to appeal to the emotions of the people; this was seen as opposed to an intellectual discourse of abstract ideas that couldn’t reach the masses. What is the value of a political narrative that is not going to be perceived and understood by the proletariat? This is a question that still today is discussed in Argentinian intellectual circles.

Yet this question is far from new. From Courbet to the Russian Constructivists, and then to the art history of Argentina, contradictions emerge between a critique of power and an elitist discourse. Mass political resistance remains the main concern, but it is fraught with tensions that may be aesthetically fascinating but frustrating on a practical level. Moreover, there is another tension today between the radical critique of prophets attacking the structure of power and the capitalist art market that profits from the critique of capitalism, turning political art into an artistic commodities. Here we may remember Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, that depicts a situation similar to the Nazi repression of culture, in which each intellectual memorizes a book in order to pass it on to the next generation. Such oral transmission of freedom, even if the political power structure bans and destroys books, can offer us another mode of resistance.

-- Osvaldo Romberg

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Some thoughts on Argentina in the 1970s
Historicizing the political in art
Kurator: Osvaldo Romberg

Künstler: Margarita Paksa, Juan Carlos Romero, Horacio Zabala, Luis Fernando Benedit