Buenos Aires Herald
Published Sunday, July 15, 2001
Art history that reads like a saga
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
Vanguardia, internacionalismo y política / Arte argentino de los años sesenta. By Andrea Giunta.
Paidos , Espacios del saber- abril 2001.
The new book by Dr. Andrea Giunta (1960, Buenos Aires) is a major academic achievement, a turn of the screw as regards previous publications by Argentine art historians on any given period. Other histories are basically linear accounts within a cultural and political context, the story of the development of certain artists or movements, or theoretical approaches to an aesthetical development. In a comprehensive Introduction, eight chapters: Modern art in the margins of peronism, Proclamations and programs during the Libertadora (Revolution), The scene of the “new” art, The avant-garde as a problem, The decentralisation of the modern paradigm, Strategies of internationalisation, Apories of internalisation, The avant-garde between art and politics, Art as collective, violent action and a Conclusion, Giunta analyses in depth the building up of the different cultural, social and political influences, public and private systems of behaviour, aims and achievements, and the international and national political strategies to use art as a means to other goals. The author has not only read widely, as is clear by the bibliography that supports the text, but held innumerable discussions with Argentine and foreign intellectuals from different persuasions and disciplines. It is this argumentative and interdisciplinary structure that gives the text elasticity, strength and perspective.
Many of the subjects Giunta writes on long delayed updates on the development of modern and contemporary Argentine art and on Argentine history tout court. A much-needed research on the career and on the contribution of Jorge Romero Brest –about whom very little had been written so far- to the development of art in Argentina during the fifties and sixties focused from different perspectives, are some of the many bonuses of this book.
Vanguardia, internacionalismo y política / Arte argentino de los años sesenta, reads like an appealing story. It starts in the late forties and fifties with the liberation of Paris and the introduction into Peronist politics, which allows Giunta to trace the authoritarian spirit of Peronism -a “popular” government that, while voting long delayed social laws, regimented all activities and disciplines to serve its own economic and political aims, taking an isolated backward cultural position-, and the reaction of the art world to the issues created by the limitations imposed on them by the government. This long period of cultural ostracism divided Argentina into those who were for the Government and those who were against it, at times blurring intermediate preoccupations and commitments. The second chapter, which deals with the de facto government that took over after Peron was ousted, outlines the efforts that were made to rejoin, or should I write, to join the Western world, by upgrading industrial developments and artistic endeavours, hoping to acquire an international stance. This chapter brings into light the work of those intellectuals who understood what was going on in the art world, and the blindness of a government and a society that believed that by outlawing peronism they could do away with it in the mind and heart of Peron’s followers, as if prescription did away with beliefs and feelings. Some of the artists, who had been postponed under Peron’s Government for not adapting to his dictates, were shocked to find that they were postponed again on aesthetic issues. The realization that being for or against did not necessarily sum up as merit was to some a new frustration.
The end of the Second World War, followed by the Cold War designed the role played by the US in the interchange of American and Latin American art exhibitions, and grants awarded to Latin American artists and writers. The US, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, played the flute to seduce artists and intellectuals to distract them from the strong appeal that the Cuban Revolution held for most of them. A few Argentine artists, cultural operators and politicians felt that exposure and recognition in the US would place Argentine art at the centre of ongoing international events. For a time and at some point everybody’s interests seem to meet. Giunta examines minutely and objectively the thoughts and aims of institutions and individuals in this context.
The good will relationship cultivated by Argentine artists and local government and cultural institutions throughout the first post Peron period finally gave way to strong dissension. Artists felt once more that they had to fight for values that had been lost.
The writer discusses the concepts of avant-guard, internationalism and politics as understood at the time here and abroad from several angles. Throughout the book she keeps to the agenda outlined in the title with Cartesian discipline.