48

– Autumn/Winter 2019

How Do We Know What Latin American Conceptualism Looks Like?

Miguel A. Lopez

This text was written after a decade of international exhibitions dedicated to looking back to the 1960s and 1970s – from ‘Global Conceptualism’ in New York (1999) to ‘The Age of Discrepancies’ in Mexico City (2007). Drawing from the reflection on a queer cartography by Paul B. Preciado (and experiments such as the Transvestite Museum by the late drag queen Giuseppe Campuzano, not directly mentioned), the essay posed questions on art-historical and curatorial approaches, on what would be a historiography that goes beyond identity and identification, and how to counter hegemonic vocabularies shaped by the North and later disseminated as global markers. In a current time where the prevailing neoliberal policies are resulting in the simplification of historical narratives, and the consolidation of identity politics is based on normative and regulatory methods of social recognition, forms of radical disruption could be still found in strategies of distantiation, in betraying the seeming social facts of realist historiography, and deploying other forms of belonging and undomesticated ways of naming, interacting, showing, telling and embodying. — MAL

No-Grupo (Maris Bustamante, Melquíades Herrera, Alfredo Núñez and Rubén Valencia), poster of the action Montaje de Momentos Plásticos (Assemblage of Fine Art Moments), presented at the Primer Coloquio de Arte No-Objetual y Arte Urbano (First Congress on Non-Object and Urban Art) in Medellín, Colombia, 1981, offset print in three parts, 57 × 87cm each. Courtesy Maris Bustamante

A piece

Footnotes
  1. Eduardo Costa, quoted in Athena T. Spear (ed.), Art in the Mind (exh. cat.), Oberlin, OH: Allen Memorial Art Museum, 1970, n.p.

  2. The term ‘dematerialisation’, introduced by Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler in 1968, for a long time was used as the key term to identify Conceptual art in North America and Western Europe. See L.R. Lippard and J. Chandler, ‘The Dematerialization of Art’, Art International, vol.12, no.2, February 1968, pp.31–36 and L.R. Lippard (ed.), Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, New York: Praeger, 1973.

  3. In Latin America those discussions happened around the Bienal de La Habana, which, since its creation in 1984, has become an important forum of discussion disengaged from the international art
    market. Another significant moment at an international scale is the coinciding in 1997 of documenta X, curated by Catherine David, and the second Johannesburg Biennial, curated by Okwui Enwezor.

  4. Luis Camnitzer points out that ‘while “conceptual art” is an anecdotal little label in the history of universal art, “conceptualism” as a strategy created a rupture in the appreciation of all art and in
    the behaviour of artists, regardless of their location’. Fernando Davis, ‘Entrevista a Luis Camnitzer: “Global Conceptualism fue algo intestinal e incontrolable, al mismo tiempo que presuntuoso y utópico”’, Ramona, no.86, November 2008, p.29. See also Rachel Weiss, ‘Re-writing Conceptual Art’, Papers d’Art, no.93, 2007, pp.198–202. Translation the author’s.

  5. F. Davis, ‘Entrevista a Luis Camnitzer’, op. cit., p.26.

  6. This last question was put forward by theoretician José Luis Brea in his considerations of the political effects of visuality. See J.L. Brea, ‘Los estudios visuales: por una epistemología política de la
    visualidad’, in J.L. Brea (ed.), Los estudios visuales: La epistemología de la visualidad en la era de la globalización, Madrid: Akal, 2005, pp.5–14.

  7. [Paul] B. Preciado, ‘Cartografías Queer: El flâneur perverso, la lesbiana topofóbica y la puta multicartográfica, o cómo hacer una cartografía «zorra» con Annie Sprinkle’, in José Miguel Cortés (ed.), Cartografías disidentes, Madrid: SEACEX, 2008, n.p.

  8. See Félix Guattari, Cartographies schizoanalytiques, Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1989.

  9. [P.]B. Preciado, ‘Cartografías Queer’, op. cit.

  10. As Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt remind us, these biopolitical modes of production do not only involve the production of tangible goods in a purely economic sense, but ‘affect all spheres of social, economic, cultural and political life, at the same time as they produce them’. A. Negri and M.
    Hardt, ‘Preface’, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2001, p.xi.

  11. Boris Groys has clearly expressed some of the effects of this paradox in art: ‘If life is no longer understood as a natural event, as fate, as Fortuna, but rather as time artificially produced and fashioned, then life is automatically politicised, since the technical and artistic decisions with respect to the shaping of the lifespan are always political decisions as well. The art that is made under
    these new conditions of biopolitics – under the conditions of an artificially fashioned lifespan –
    cannot help but take this artificiality as its explicit theme. Now, however, time, duration and thus life too cannot be shown directly but only documented. The dominant medium of modern biopolitics is thus bureaucratic and technological documentation, which includes planning, decrees, fact-finding reports, statistical inquiries and project plans. It is no coincidence that art also uses the same medium of documentation when it wants to refer to itself as life.’ B. Groys, ‘Art in the Age of Biopolitics: From Artwork to Art Documentation’, Documenta 11_ Platform 5: Exhibition (exh. cat.), Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002, p.109.

  12. The issue also involves the critical modes of working around the concepts that sustain these historiographic exercises. It is possible to say, for instance, that to a certain extent ‘Global Conceptualism’ adopted the task of the ethnologist, raking up experiences in different geographies and marking its affinities and Conceptualist identities, and yet, paradoxically, its strategy facilitated the mise-en-critique of identity itself. An acritical example of the identity discourse is provided by Álvaro Barrios’s book Orígenes del arte conceptual en Colombia (1999), which offers a narrative made up of interviews in which several leading figures of the 1960s and 70s guide the story’s main character (Barrios himself), who appears increasingly convinced of his ability to truly recover the unrecognised Conceptualist element. Á. Barrios, Orígenes del arte conceptual en Colombia (1968–1978), Bogotá: Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá, 1999.

  13. [P.]B. Preciado, ‘Cartografías Queer’, op. cit.

  14. Mari Carmen Ramírez, ‘Blueprint Circuits: Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America’, in Waldo
    Rasmussen, Fatima Bercht and Elizabeth Ferrer (ed.), Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century (exh. cat.), New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1993, pp.156–67.

  15. The exhibition presented Latin American art production as a tame continuation of modern Western
    aesthetic movements, avoiding any type of political reflection on the colonial history of the subcontinent. Most critics agreed in characterising it as a blatant attempt to ‘maintain a total control of the ideological and aesthetic premises […] and of their interpretation’ from categories projected from the outside. Shifra M. Goldman, ‘Artistas latinoamericanos del siglo XX, MoMA’ (trans. Magdalena Holguín), ArtNexus, no.10, September–December 1993, pp.84–89.

  16. Drawn up in 1989 and promoted by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US Treasury Department, the Washington Consensus is a list of measures for economic reform that presented itself as the ‘best’ programme to face the crisis and ‘underdevelopment’ of Latin America, among which were liberalisation of trade and investment, deregulation and a general withdrawal of the state from economic matters.

  17. Some of these debates, from a Latin American cultural perspective opposed to European and North American dominance, can be found in Gerardo Mosquera (ed.), Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America, London: Institute of International Visual Arts, 1995.

  18. Juan Pablo Renzi, a driving force in ‘Tucumán Arde’, was emphatic about this. In a work titled
    Panfleto no.3. La nueva moda (Pamphlet no.3. The New Fashion, 1971), which he contributed to the ‘Arte de Sistemas’ exhibition organised by the Museo de Arte Moderno/Centro de Arte y Comunicación in Buenos Aires in 1971, he stated: ‘What is in fashion now is Conceptual art […] and it turns out that (at
    least for some critics like Lucy Lippard and Jorge Glusberg) I am one of those responsible for the onset of this phenomenon (together with my colleagues from the ex-groups of revolutionary artists in Rosario and Buenos Aires from 67 to 68). This assertion is mistaken. Just as any intention of linking
    us to that aesthetic speculation is mistaken.’ And he concludes: ‘REGARDING OUR MESSAGES: 1. We
    are not interested in them being considered aesthetic. 2. We structure them according to their contents. 3. They are always political and are not always transmitted by official channels like this one. 4. We are not interested in them as works but as a means of denouncing exploitation.’

  19. The same reference to Marchán Fiz’s ‘ideological Conceptualism’ had already been made one year earlier by the North American critic Jacqueline Barnitz in the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Encounters/ Displacements. Luis Camnitzer, Alfredo Jaar, Cildo Meireles’, curated by Ramírez and Beverly Adams. However, Ramírez’ voice was the one that consolidated and furthered the argument most effectively, making it an indispensable reference for many subsequent interpretations. A decisive factor in this consolidation was the repetition of the line of argument in the catalogue of ‘Global Conceptualism’ and later on in two large-scale international surveys of Latin American art she was also in charge of: ‘Heterotopías. Medio siglo sin lugar 1918–1968’ at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2000; and ‘Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America’ at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2004. Marchán Fiz doesn’t quite completely confine the ‘ideologisation’ to Conceptual art from Latin American nor self-referentiality to European/North American work. See J. Barnitz, ‘Conceptual Art in Latin America: A Natural Alliance’, in M.C. Ramírez and B. Adams (ed.), Encounters/Displacements: Luis Camnitzer, Alfredo Jaar, Cildo Meireles (exh. cat.), Austin: Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas, 1992, pp.35–47; M.C. Ramírez, ‘Tactics for Thriving on Adversity: Conceptualism in Latin America, 1960–1980’, in L. Camnitzer, J. Farver and R. Weiss (ed.), Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s (exh. cat.), op. cit., pp.53–71; S. Marchán Fiz, Del arte objetual al arte de concepto, Madrid: Alberto Corazón Editor, 1974 (1972).

  20. M.C. Ramírez, ‘Blueprint Circuits’, op. cit., p.156.

  21. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, ‘From the Aesthetic of Administration to Institutional Critique (Some Aspects of Conceptual Art, 1962–1969)’, in l’art conceptuel, une perspective (exh. cat.), Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1989, pp.41–53.

  22. Historian Jaime Vindel has also noted the contradictions in responding to the centre/periphery relationship through an equally binary opposition: ‘By basing their position on an antagonist with no real voice, these discourses run the risk of making their publicity dependent on the centre/ periphery logic against which they declare they stand and to which they are still yielding.’ J. Vindel, ‘A propósito [de la memoria] del arte político: Consideraciones en torno a “Tucumán Arde” como emblema del conceptualismo latinoamericano’, lecture at the 5th International Conference of Theory and History of the Arts – 13th CAIA Symposium, Buenos Aires, October 2009.

  23. Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art, London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2002, p.37.

  24. Alexander Alberro, ‘Reconsidering Conceptual Art, 1966–1977’, in A. Alberro and Blake Stimson (ed.), Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1999, pp.xxv–xxvi.

  25. Pilar Parcerisas, Conceptualismo(s) Poéticos, Políticos, Periféricos: En torno al arte conceptual en España. 1964–1980, Madrid: Akal, 2007, p.27.

  26. In a 1997 text Camnitzer celebrated Ramírez’ argument, which he found enlightening for its understanding of the regional differences of Conceptualism, which emphasised the relationship between Duchamp and the modern tradition of Mexican muralism, starting from its foray into the social sphere with communicative goals. Broadly speaking, however, Camnitzer shares Ramírez’ view
    of North American Conceptual art, which Caminitzer brands ‘a quasi-mystical search for the imponderable’. L. Camnitzer, ‘Una genealogía del arte conceptual latino-americano’, Continente Sul
    Sur
    , no.6, November 1997, p.187. Other historians who have used the expression ‘ideological Conceptualism’ more or less critically over the past few years include Andrea Giunta, Ana Longoni, María José Herrera, Ivonne Pini, Miguel González, Cristina Freire and Alberto Giudici. Due to problems of space, this text will not compare the conflicting meanings and the implications inscribed in their uses.

  27. ‘A minor literature doesn’t come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language. […] The second characteristic of minor literatures is that everything in them is political. Minor literature is completely different; its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately to politics. […] We might as well say that minor no longer designates specific literatures but the revolutionary conditions for every literature within the
    heart of what is called great (or established) literature.’ Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (trans. Dana B. Polan), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, pp.16–18.

  28. See Ana Longoni, ‘Other Beginnings of Conceptualism (Argentinean and Latin-American)’, Papers d’Art, no. 93, 2007, pp.155–58.

  29. See Oscar Masotta, ‘Después del pop, nosotros desmaterializamos’ (1967), in O. Masotta, Revolución en
    el arte: Pop-art, happenings y arte de los medios en la década del sesenta
    , Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2004, pp.335–76. For Lucy R. Lippard’s use of the term, see L.R. Lippard, Six Years, op. cit.

  30. As yet, there is no study dealing with Juan Acha’s critical thinking of the 1960s and 70s, and the political process that led to the emergence of ‘no-objetualismo’. For a first, partial attempt, see Miguel
    A. López and Emilio Tarazona, ‘Juan Acha y la Revolución Cultural. La transformación de la vanguardia artística en el Perú a fines de los Sesenta’, in J. Acha, Nuevas referencias sociológicas de las artes visuales: Mass-media, lenguajes, represiones y grupos (1969), Lima: IIMA – Universidad Ricardo Palma, 2008, pp.1–17.

  31. A. Longoni, ‘El Deshabituador: Ricardo Carreira in the Beginnings of Conceptualism’, in Viviana Usubiaga and A. Longoni, Arte y literatura en la Argentina del siglo XX, Buenos Aires: Fundación Telefónica, Fundación Espigas and FIAAR, 2006, pp.159–203.

  32. See Cuauhtémoc Medina, ‘Recovering Panic’, in Olivier Debroise (ed.), The Age of Discrepancies: Art and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1968–1997, Mexico City: UNAM, 2007, pp.97–103.

  33. In October 1968, in a newspaper and on local radio Vigo made the surprising call for his first ‘señalamiento’ (‘appointment’) titled Manojo de Semáforos (A Handful of Traffic Lights). The proposal called for people to look at an ordinary object for its aesthetic potential to cause ‘revulsion’. See F. Davis, ‘Prácticas “revulsivas”: Edgardo Antonio Vigo en los márgenes del conceptualismo’, in C. Freire and A. Longoni (ed.), Conceitualismos do Sul/Sur, São Paulo: Annablume, USP-MAC and AECID, 2009, pp.283–98.

  34. ‘Inventario 1965–1975. Archivo Graciela Carnevale’, Centro Cultural Parque de España, Rosario (3 October–9 November 2008). The team working on the show was made up of the artist Graciela Carnevale, historians Ana Longoni and Fernando Davis, and Ana Wandzik, an artist from Rosario. This project constituted the first curatorial experiment in political activation by the Red Conceptualismos del Sur group.

  35. For further discussion of the experiences of 1968 in Argentina, see G. Carnevale et al. (ed.), Tucumán Arde. Eine Erfahrung: Aus dem Archiv von Graciela Carnevale, Berlin: b_books, 2004.

  36. While its earliest mentions date back to the late 1960s, its incorporation within the canon since the late 1990s, through a series of essays, exhibitions and publications, quickly multiplied its visibility. International exhibitions include: I Bienal de Artes Visuais do Mercosul, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 1997; ‘Global Conceptualism’, 1999 and ‘Heterotopías’, 2000; ‘Ambulantes. Cultura Portátil’, curated by Rosa Pera, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville; ‘Inverted Utopias’, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2004; and ‘Be what you want but stay where you are’, curated by Ruth Noack and Roger M. Buergel, Witte de With, Rotterdam, 2005.

  37. Roberto Jacoby, ‘Tucucu mama nana arara dede dada’, Ramona, no.55, October 2005, pp.86–91.

  38. Even though the most prevalent reading of ‘Tucumán Arde’ places it within the ‘Conceptual’ genealogy, others have tried to relate it to a history of political intervention, collective production or militant research. Examples of this are the dossier ‘Les fils de Marx et Mondrian: Dossier argentine’, Robho, no.5–6, 1971, pp.16–22; or anthropologist Néstor García Canclini’s discussion of ‘Tucumán Arde’ in the context of the process of integration of artistic avant-gardes with popular organisations. See N. García Canclini, ‘Vanguardias artísticas y cultura popular’, Transformaciones, no.90, 1973, pp.273–75. More recently, Brian Holmes has noted the impact this experience had on several activist groups operating in Europe in the late 1990s. See A. Longoni, Daniela Lucena et al., ‘“Un sentido como el de Tucumán Arde lo encontramos hoy en el zapatismo”: Entrevista colectiva a Brian Holmes’, Ramona, no.55, October 2005, pp.7–22. Similar readings are proposed by exhibitions such as: ‘Antagonismes. Casos d’estudi’, curated by Manuel Borja-Villel and José Lebrero, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, 2001; ‘Collective Creativity: Common Ideas for Life and Politics’, curated by What, How and for Whom, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, 2005; and the project ExArgentina, organised by Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmman.

  39. The interviews were conducted by Mariano Mestman and A. Longoni; some were eventually published in their book Del Di Tella a ‘Tucumán Arde’. Vanguardia artística y política en el ‘68 argentino, Buenos Aires: El cielo por asalto, 2000.

  40. See F. Davis and A. Longoni, ‘Apuntes para un balance difícil: Historia mínima de “Inventario 1965–1975. Archivo Graciela Carnevale”', unpublished text presented at the 2nd Red Conceptualismos del Sur Reunion, Rosario, October 2008.

  41. ‘Politics are only displayed by exposing the conflicts, the paradoxes, the reciprocal clashes that weave history’, says Didi-Huberman in his considerations of the Brechtian notion of montage. ‘[M]ontage appears as the procedure par excellence in this exposition: its objects are not revealed when taking
    position but once they have been taken apart, as is said in French to describe the violence of a «unbridled» storm, wave against wave, or as is said of a watch «dismantled», i.e., analysed, explored and therefore spread by the passion of knowing applied by a philosopher or a Baudelairian child.’ G. Didi-Huberman, Cuando las imágenes toman posición, Madrid: A. Machado Libros, 2008, p.153. Translation the editors.’

  42. See L. Camnitzer, Conceptualism in Latin American Art: Didactics of Liberation, Austin: University of
    Texas Press, 2007, pp.44–72. Camnitzer, however, points at alternative coordinates, such as the writings of nineteenth-century Venezuelan writer and educator Simón Rodríguez, who taught Simón Bolívar. For Camnitzer, the Tupamaros’s use of ‘aestheticised military operations’ and Rodríguez’s ‘ideological aphorisms’ contribute to what he calls a ‘didactics of liberation’: communication process aimed at generating actual changes in society.

  43. ‘Politics is a specific rupture in the logic of arche. It does not simply presuppose the rupture of the “normal” distribution of positions between the one who exercises power and the one subject to it. It also requires a rupture in the idea that there are dispositions “proper” to such classifications.’ Jacques Rancière, ‘Dix thèses sur la politique’, Aux Bords du Politique, Paris: Gallimard, p.229.

  44. A.T. Spear, Art in the Mind, op. cit. Translated by Josephine Watson.