Buenos Aires Herald. Sunday, March 14, 2004
An art historian at her best / The 1960s by Andrea Giunta
For the Herald
Though through her previous work she had achieved academic status and considerable recognition, her book Vanguardia, internacionalismo y política / Arte argentino de los años sesenta, published in 2001, proved a turn of the screw in the manner in which vernacular art history is interpreted and analyzed, as Giunta went further than the mostly parochial and listy account of developments that passed locally for art history before. Her cross national and international interdisciplinary analysis of the way events took place opened new vistas and provided new answers to questions that had been previously discussed perfunctorily.
The Herald interviewed her asking basic questions on her studies and vocation, as well as questions on wider issues.
When asked why she chose to study philosophy and art history, Giunta confessed that she has a very wide range of interests, so that she had a hard time deciding what profession to follow. To begin with she read Science, as well as philosophy and literature, but because her family economic situation took a turn for the worse at the time she had to work as well as study, so that it became impossible for her to read two disciplines at the same time and she dropped Science.
“Though my mother always backed my decision, my family had no relation to the art world, so that my “vocation” to them was an anomaly rather than a decision to celebrate. But it was this going into foreign territory that I found so fascinating”.
In the beginning she was seduced by the atmosphere at the University, rather than by the subject matter itself, and was interested in history at large, rather than in art history, which may well be the reason for her in-depth approach to art.
When asked how she felt about art history when she started studying it, she answered it was awfully boring. “It was more a question of memorizing biographies and comparative chronologies, of knowing where the works of art were and who they were attributed to. Thinking art history was not a challenge, it meant following the evolution of different styles. This changed when I started studying medieval art with Francisco Corti, Ofelia Manzi and, of course, with Nilda Guglielmi”.
Giunta explained that though the physical characteristics of Romantic and Gothic architecture were still an issue, the bibliography was more complex and art was an enigma to be solved rather than a passive object to be described and classified. This was particularly so with Héctor Schenone on Colonial Art and with Catalina Lago on European art in the XIX c.
Outside these courses art history at the University was mostly a list of names, rereading old notes and looking at the same slides again and again with the head of the chair repeating the same comment on them year after year.
“I was keen on working out a hypothesis from an image as I saw it grow and develop during the class. I did not see a painting as an object to decorate a wall, but as a surface crossed by history, by projects that had been carried through and by others that had not reached completion, by arguments, tensions and loves, by diverse aesthetic programs that planned and dreamt of a different and better world”.
When asked how Argentine art history was envisaged then within a world context, and how it stood within a Latin American context, Giunta explained that Argentine art history at the time was taught from 1870, the year Prilidiano Pueyrredón died. Prehispanic art and contemporary Latin American art were ignored. It was enough to learn about the European avant- gardes of the XX c and how any Argentine artistic efforts applied to these movements.
“My problem was to understand Argentine art outside the regional and international stereotypes, to grasp that each artistic production implied an analysis starting with specific instruments and not with a quest for an “Argentine”, a “Latin American” or an “international” identity”.
With regards to contemporary art, Giunta explains that it cannot be analyzed on the same terms as XIX c and XX c art. The diversity of materials, the breaking away from traditional art languages, the different media, the fact that an artist is no longer a painter, a sculptor or a printer, that he/she may work within these disciplines but may also work with video, photography and installations has broken away with the modernist tradition. This contamination of different languages, the traveling around the Biennial circuits, foreign in-residence programs, grants and the wide circulation of information makes it even more difficult to speak of “Argentine” or of “Latin American” art.
When the Herald referred to her book on the 1960s, the art historian agreed that it is a-turn-about from previous Argentine art history in which events used to be tidily ranged by decades. Though her book deals with the 1960s, Giunta traced events back to 1944 and ended the book in 1968. It is not a list of names of the artists who worked during that period but an analysis of the way events originated and interrelated, taking into account the major preoccupations of that time: the avant-garde, the relationship between art and politics and/or the desire to lead Argentine art into the international art arena.
Giunta ‘s flair for research and reflection led her to work within art history much in the way modern and contemporary historians at large and literature historians had previously worked in their fields. The interrelation between social history and art history widened her vision and allowed her to describe a multidisciplinary scene, in which characters and events were not isolated items on a stage but logical developments of specific circumstances.
There is no question that for professor Giunta her work has become a philosophical quest. “My dream”, she wrote to the Herald, “is for art to be more than an object to be exhibited, sold or bought, but to be enjoyed and thought about. It ought to be the subject of debates, to question the sense of a work of art is sound proof of its depth, of the strength of its power to communicate, of its complexity”.