Buenos Aires Herald. Sunday, October 6, 2002
Art and politics in the 1960s
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
Arte y política en los 60 (Art and politic in the 60s), the exhibition at Salas Nacionales, curated by Alberto Giudice and funded by the Banco Ciudad Foundation, is a historical exhibition of the visual arts of the 1960s in Argentina, as well as an academic feat due to the research work that went into putting this show together. It is also a lucid reminder that it is impossible, in the long run, to deny the realities we do not approve of, or to ignore them as non relevant circumstances. Above all, it is a heart wrenching vision into a past that clearly announced the painful realities of the national and international present.
To some, memories of the noisy and boisterous exhibitions introducing the new contemporary visual art languages at the Di Tella Institute -technical innovations as well as performances and installations- and the expressionist figuration of artists who denied abstraction in painting as a decadent bourgeois taste, are synonymous of a time when art in Argentina was actually fun and seemed to take off into a world sphere. To others, it was the time when the young avant-garde artists, after successfully moving away from traditional techniques into conceptual work, felt that an art expression that was finally meant as an exhibition or a cultural performance per se was not enough, and took it upon themselves to move away from the show room into the street and into life.
The show covers “a long decade”, as it reads in the catalogue, from 1958 to 1972. Collages by Kenneth Kemble from 1958 and by Antonio Berni from 1962 represent urban material misery that in the case of Berni would develop into the Juanito Laguna and Ramona series. There was a time when one could ignore the derelict environments depicted in Berni´s work or the sordid implications of the relationship between Ramona and her clients by not paying attention, by pretending one did not know or one did not see. Today one cannot look away because Juanito Laguna is not conveniently hidden in a villa miseria or shanty town, we find him every evening looking into our own litter at our doorstep. As to Ramona, one can understand that she was trying to make a living beyond a low paid job, but what can one say of women in highly paid political jobs who wanted so much more and stopped at nothing in their greediness. Is it necessary to name names? One has seen them in action and in the glossy pages of magazines in their expensive apparels as if the world belonged to them.
Under the name of Espartaco (Spartacus), after the Roman enslaved labourer (d. 71 B.C.) and rebel leader, Ricardo Carpani, Mario Mollari and Juan Manuel Sánchez in 1957, and Juana Elena Diz, Pascual Di Bianco, Esperilio Bute and Carlos Sessano in 1958, joined forces to work on art within the labour movement. They aimed at painting murals, following the first attempts by Spilimbergo, Berni and Castagnino who had founded Taller de Arte Mural (Mural Art Workshop) after the visit of Siqueiros –the Mexican muralist artist- to Buenos Aires in the 1930s. The paintings and drawings by Carpani and Di Bianco are strong figurative compositions. The rock solid rounded figures, of men mostly, are robotic in character. They are strong and redundant, imperative in their movement forward, or in their barricade attitudes. Or lost in dark despair as huge hands and eyes spread out on the support and dark open mouths cry out as in Carpani’s poster on the Cordobazo. Julia Elena Diz characters are softer, rural in nature rather than urban, with strong native features. In Mario Mollari’s Campesino (Peasant) one may read the anguish and the deadly fatigue in the stretched muscles of the body and in his distorted features.
Ernesto Deira, Rómulo Macció, Luis Felipe Noé and Jorge de la Vega showed for the first time as La Neo Figuración in 1961, opening up a venue of expressionist figurative work, together with Antonio Seguí and Juan Carlos Castagnino, followed by Carlos Alonso, Carlos Gorriarena, Juan Carlos Distéfano, Lea Lublin and others. Their work was visceral and political, immersed in feeling and neurosis, critical of a prudish society that covered up its innate violence with apparent discipline and/or circumspect politeness.
Pop art by Marta Minujín, art and mail art by Edgardo Vigo, premonitory conceptual pieces by Horacio Zabala, political denunciation through drawings and objects by León Ferrari are some of the names we know and remember. But there are other names and work we do not know or we have forgotten. To bring these artists and their pieces, writings and actions into the limelight is also a major achievement of this show.
Tucumán Arde (Tucumán on fire), Violencia (Violence), Insurrección (Insurrection), Vietnam, The Cuban Revolution and the murder of the Che Guevara, the Kennedy murders, May ’68, Nelson Rockefeller’s ill fated visit to Latin America in 1969, are in the show: a vital, bleeding, political fresco that announces guerrilla war fare, government repression, the Gulf War, Irak, the Amia, the rapacious sordid impulses of Menem and his entourage and of the Bushes, father and son, the Twin Towers, Afghanistan and hunger and desolation in Argentina.
It is an exhibition rich in images and ideas, in social and political background. One is moved, amazed and disturbed by the coherence and insight of those artists who understood what was happening and the future implications of what was happening long before others could even admit that something was wrong. One cannot but admire, celebrate and commune with their thoughts and their deeds, their courage and their commitment. One knows what it has cost some of them, in some cases their lives, in others the lives of their children. And yet they worked on, at home and in exile, acknowledged or ignored. Their artwork has today a sacramental value; it is the outward sign of inward grace, as read the Old Catholic catechism.
An artist, a writer, an actor is there to do what nobody has asked him or her to do because he or she have this urge, this visceral and psychological need to do so. This vocation, this drive may be painful, difficult to understand at times by the very people who undergo it, but it is there. It is a gift not to be thrown away, to be explored and developed against all odds. And this is what the artists whose work is on show at the Palais de Glace have done. Accepted their gifts and worked them out to understand and explain what was happening in their own country and in the world in their own time.
An excellent catalogue was published for this exhibition that reads as modern History with capital H.
(Arte y política en los ’60, Salas Nacionales de Exposición, Palais de Glace, Posadas 1725. Until October 27).