Buenos Aires Herald. Published Sunday, February 2, 2003.
Argentine abstract art in Bergamo
Por Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
Under the perfunctory title of Arte Abstratta Argentina (Argentine Abstract Art) the Proa Foundation, chaired by Adriana Rosenberg, and the Galleria D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo, chaired by Giacinto di Pietrantonio, launched their first joint project, to be followed by others, on December 18 at the Italian venue in Bergamo.
Rosenberg, who was the driving force in this project, was instrumental in achieving this most extensive and rigorous exhibition that will be held later at the Proa Foundation in Buenos Aires during 2003. The physical exhibition, that is: paintings, sculpture, drawings, photographs, reproductions, the Manifests, are the outward signs of this vast and ambitious project. The mise au point, the careful putting up-to-date of whatever information there was on the artists and their work, carefully researched and checked, this much-needed academic and ethical tour de force is the very backbone of the show. It draws the national and international contours and context in which the constructive abstract Argentine movements developed.
Unfortunately the Herald did not go to Bergamo for the opening or for the show, fortunately Adriana Rosenberg sent us the Italian version of the catalogue, to be later published in Spanish for the show to be held here. It is an impeccable publication with well written presentations texts by Mario Scaglia, president of the Associazione per la Galleria D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo, and by Rosenberg; thorough essays by Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, Marcelo Pacheco, Adriana Lauría, Enrico Crispolti, an interview of Tomás Maldonado, who turned 80 last year, by Di Pietrantonio, historical articles and manifestoes by Edgar Bayley, Gyulia Kosice, Joaquin Torres García, Carmelo Arden Quin, Rhod Rothfuss, Tomas Maldonado, Alfredo Hlito, Sarandy Cabrera and Raúl Lozza, with a careful diachronic rendering of events by Florencia Battiti and by Cristina Rossi, the artists’ biographies and general bibliography also by Battiti and Rossi and a list of the work in the show.
Marcelo Pacheco in his essay Le traversate dell’arte non figurative nel Rio de la Plata / Esperienze di una avanguardia ex/centrica 1914 – 1955 (Voyage of non figurative art in the River Plate / Experiences of an ex/centric avante-garde 1914 – 1955) takes up the notion of “the transitory character of places as destination” as developed by Patricia Artundo in the show still on at the Malba: “Modern River Plate artists in Europe 1911-1924, The avant-garde experience”. Voyage as the then long journeys across a large body of water necessary to travel from America to Europe. These crossings provided a time and space hiatus between departure and destination in which the traveller underwent changes of heart and of perception before arriving -this in-between time and mood was probably fertile ground for intuition and reflections.
The questions of the fluent intellectual exchange that went on with regards to similar and different creative processes taking place in different locations or regions at the same time in Europe bring up once again the issues of conceptual cross roads, influences and accountability. The abstract and concrete artists of the River Plate needed their European experience, but the germs of what they would achieve was in them.
The show exhibits a hundred pieces that go from the early (1914-1916) kinetic paintings by Pettoruti, influenced by Futurism, to the gloriously minimal geometric work by Hlito (1954), the catalogue cover illustration. An overall view of the illustrations projects a sense of highly sophisticated, harmonious, concrete, intelligent and profoundly aesthetic design.
“Abstract, non figurative art, concrete art, non objective art, white painting, are some of the conceptual discussions (and nominal) that run through the first artistic avant-gardes of the first decades of the XX c.” writes Pacheco as introduction to his essay. Other names would follow later.
Emilio Pettoruti broke the ice in 1924 showing abstract art for the first time in Argentina, in Buenos Aires, at the Salón Witcomb: 84 pieces: oils, drawings, temperas, water colours and futurism. All hell broke loose. The public and critics overreacted to what they felt was a shocking and infamous proposal. The beautiful pieces that now are held as delightful masterpieces were abused and hated.
How committed artists were to the form of abstraction they chose to work in is evident in the passionate discussions and arguments they held, by the groups they formed and reformed, and by the still ongoing fights – now tainted with economic interests- on who “invented” what.
All through 2002 when people not in the art world asked how were things in the local art world in the very difficult situation Argentina was undergoing, my answers must have sounded pretty daft. For things were going pretty well. Those artists I believed in were developing interesting work, good exhibitions and creative projects were carried out. The negative side was there was practically no market, except at the arte BA gallery fair, but then the market is not my specific field. I am basically concerned with an artist’s ongoing creative process or with the assessment of historical work. Furthermore, there never was much of an art market in Argentina, so things had not changed that much.
Now we know that we have this fantastic exhibition to look forward to in Proa this year. Meanwhile, we may enjoy the catalogue, a huge a treat. It will remain as a thorough academic achievement to be relied on for facts and images, and as a source of pleasure because of the very beautiful reproductions.