Buenos Aires Herald. Sunday, December 14, 2003
The Glusberg affair in focus
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
That Jorge Glusberg, the outgoing director of the MNBA National Fine Arts Museum has been devious in the management of this museum, as he was devious as long time president of the Asociación Argentina de Críticos de Arte, is no news to anybody concerned with the recent past and the current affairs of the visual art world. His past supporters and comrades in political gains dwindle as headlines of his political demise reach the general public. And the very few who still support him do not seem to acknowledge basic responsibilities civil servants have towards the community, adhering to the philosophy that it is better to do things however haphazardly, than not to do them. This is a consideration that has proven to have distressful consequences in every field of public and national life.
So why the public eruption of discomfort and disgust now and not before? And why have suddenly many of those artists who exhibited at the MNBA under Glusberg rally against him, as if they had not supported and abetted his whims and uncalled for demands to serve their own purposes?
And who is Glusberg anyway? What do we know about his long and diverse career as an artist, curator, art operator, businessman and a sort of petty power broker? Why has he made a name for himself in matters related to architecture and his title as an architect is not mentioned in his very detailed curriculum?
The story goes that his father was an intelligent and poor intellectual accepted as an equal by Borges and other acknowledged figures of his time. The son did not come that easily to peer acknowledgement, and had ambitions beyond intellectual intercourse. So he first went into business to make money to avoid material need before starting his career in the art world. He succeeded widely in this commercial endeavour, which allowed him to found in 1968 the CAYC (Centro de Arte y Comunicaciones de Buenos Aires), a cultural foundation that was central in bringing over to Buenos Aires leading thinkers and visual art operators, giving the local intelligentsia and art communities, as well as the general public, the chance to attend lectures and seminars in which these foreign figures took part, at a time when little else was going on. These beginnings as the director of the CAYC were instrumental to a career that soon became international, as an artist, an art operator and as a writer, as well as in architecture.
In 1971, under the sponsorship of the CAYC, the Grupo de los Trece came together, created under the influence of the thinking and acting methods of the Polish theater director, Jerzy Grotowski. The thirteen artists that first took part were Jacques Bedel, Luis Fernándo Benedit, Gregorio Dujovny, Carlos Ginsburg, Jorge Glusberg, Victor Grippo, Jorge González Mir, Vicente Lucas Marotta, Luis Pazos, Alfredo Portillos, Juan Carlos Romero, Julio Teich and Horacio Zabala. Guided and sponsored by Glusberg, they have come down in art history as the conceptual artists who made headway internationally, filling the void left by the Instituto Di Tella. Eventually, the group dwindled to Bedel, Benedit, Grippo, Glusberg and Portillos, who were later joined by Leopoldo Maler and Clorindo Testa. In 1975 they became known as the CAYC group. Glusberg was instrumental in promoting the work of these artists abroad as a group, organizing complex and large experimental installations under the premises that it was Arte de Sistemas or Systemic Art.
This flair for international action and exchange has been constant in Glusberg’s artist cum curator cum art critic cum art historian career, who obviously wanted to make sure he had most fields in the visual art world covered. From businessman to sponsor, from sponsor to artist, form artist to art critic and to art historian he has operated dillying and dallying, allegedly exchanging and demanding invitations and favours the world round, promoting Argentine Art or purportedly promoting himself through organizing exhibitions of Argentine and foreign art at home, in the premises of the CAYC and elsewhere, and of Argentine art abroad the world round. Though the staging of these exhibitions according to his critics was hectic, untidy and manipulative, many artists accepted his methods so as to have their work exhibited. It was a perverse relationship in which authoritarian and non ethical proceedings were accepted and taken for granted under the belief that it was best to be part of this Glusbergian universe than to be left out, illustrating the above mentioned shallow notion that it is best to do things, no matter how badly, than not to do them.
It is interesting now to see how many of these artists whose work he has exhibited, both as head of the CAYC and as director of the MNBA, now turn their back on him, as he slipped from official government approval.
Glusberg was president of the Argentine chapter of the Art Critics Association from 1978 to 1986 and from 1989 to 1992. As president he was accused of using the association as his own private enterprise, paying for whatever costs it entailed out of his own pocket, to use it basically to serve his own purposes. Again, we have to admit that he was allowed a certain leeway by those art critics he engaged in juries and because he did not demand their dues as members. He allegedly paid the dues to the International Art Critics Association and trips abroad of several art critics in a foiled bid to head the international association. He run three times for international president and lost every time, once to Bélgica Rodriguez and twice to Jack Leenhardt. As an elderly academically well established Belgian woman art historian put it on one of these occasion: Il n’a pas la carrure. It is true that Glusberg did not have the right standing or profile to be international president, but the sad truth is, Kim Levin, the American New York based art critic who won the following elections, did not have the standing, the know-how or the personality needed either.
It is an accepted fact by people in the art field that Glusberg is supposed to work with ghost writers, who are responsible for his many books and articles, published the world over.
As director of the MNBA from 1994 to today he appears as the author of most of the leading essays in the catalogues of the exhibitions held, as well as the curator to most of them. Quite apart from the unethical approach, as directors of national museums should open the way to curators who specialize in different fields of Argentine and foreign art, rather than take credit for everything themselves, there is the practical data that it is impossible for anybody to have the actual time to cover all these activities as well as run Modulor, his factory, plus the museum, plus travels abroad on business and on art matters.
But the question keeps cropping up, why are artists and others staging demonstrations now and not before?
In 1980 the person in charge of the art department in La Prensa newspaper asked this art critic to interview Rafael Squirru, Basilio Uribe and Jorge Glusberg, as the first of a series of articles on art critics. The ensuing articles on Squirru and Uribe were duly published in the Sunday cultural supplement, but when the time came to publish the article on Glusberg I was told it had been vetoed by the then upper echelons, as he was not considered genuine. It is true that the editorial management of La Prensa then was quite imperial, the proud “We do not approve” attitude they had on different matters had quite a regal ring to it, but their misgivings seemed to have been based on fertile ground. So if Glusberg was already academically suspect in 1980, how come it has taken government authorities, the art world and the public so long to come to terms with it?
Previous governments were happy not to have to worry about devoting funds to the MNBA, as Glusberg raised funds for projects by –according to accusations now made public- making artists pay through their nose for exhibiting in the museum by overcharging them costs, as well as milking dry those companies and embassies who wanted to stage shows. National political and cultural authorities before the new administration chose to look the other way to avoid having to go into the matter, not really caring what it was all about.
This choosing artists for how much they could pay rather than for the quality of their work meant that many of the exhibitions held were definitely beneath the standards the MNBA should abide by.
When Americo Castilla was appointed director of national director of patrimony and museums in May, one of his first chores was to read carefully with experts the regulations that national museums must abide by. He studied every point conscientiously and rewrote those rules and requirements that needed updating. The next step was to apply the new regulations to the museums, so he started by the MNBA, which is Argentina’s leading museum. As Castilla studied the details of the spurious administrative misdemeanors supposedly committed by Glusberg as director of the museum, it made it impossible for the once all powerful director to stay on. Jorge Glusberg has finally resigned as director of the MNBA.
This resignation is the result of a formal official auspicious development in Argentine cultural matters that has nothing to do with some of the rather noisy, confusing and self promoting events in which a few artists took active part.