This post is published in conjunction with the Latin American Studies Association congress in Boston. Check for other posts from the conference. #LASA2019

The following excerpt is from Abstract Crossings: Cultural Exchange between Argentina and Brazil by María Amalia García. This is the first book in the new Studies on Latin American Art series, supported by a gift from the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA).

In the midfifties, abstract art took hold  of the  Latin American  art  scene. It  expanded  until  it  became  synonymous with  modern  art,  and its growing  hegemony  even affected daily life,  which  took  on  a  new  appearance.  The  visual  imaginary of the fifties came to consist of paintings with straight lines; posters, murals,  and landscapes based on geometric  structures; and dresses and tablecloths  with patterns  of squares, circles, and triangles.

This book analyzes the relationship between, on the one hand, the emergence of abstract visions among avant-garde groups and, on the other, the institutionalization and newfound  hegemony of abstract  poetics as part of the region’s imaginary  of modernization. I focus mainly on Argentina and Brazil because of the constant  and  abundant artistic-institutional exchange  between  the two countries, and because of the shared emphasis on abstraction, which  a range  of sectors in both  countries  viewed as an active force in the project of sociocultural transformation. Unlike earlier studies of the growth  of abstraction, which have addressed it in a single nation, I propose a regional approach for the sake of a broader analysis of how abstract poetics took shape in a number of South American cities.

Looking  beyond  national   borders  means  drawing   other  maps  on  the  continent by  linking  cultural scenes  that  may  seem  autonomous.  A regional  vision  provides another  dimension  to our  understanding of formulations and events previously  studied separately; it sheds light on clusters of connections  that  have been largely ignored. My approach  here has two aims: first, to reconstruct the networks  of cultural contacts between regional and international communities tied to abstraction and, second, to provide a comparative analysis of the art scenes in which abstract projects emerged and that they formed part of. Although there were major differences in the circumstances  of, and issues surrounding, how abstract art arose and later developed in Argentina and in Brazil, it shared a common basis in both countries,  one that enables us to adopt a regional perspective.

In recent  decades, abstract  art has become a privileged focus in both Argentine and Brazilian  art history.  It is the object of academic study and the subject of a great many exhibitions  at international cultural centers; abstract works have been acquired by pub- lic and private collections. This recognition  evidences a valorization of abstract  poetics, one that began in the seventies and that,  since the nineties, has become more and more important on the art market. Indeed, because the contemporary art world has focused on avant-garde abstract  works, they are now seen as epitomizing  the modern  tradition in Latin America.

Some art historical discourses have viewed the Latin American abstract avant-garde as derivative  in relation  to the  European historical  avant-garde. But in my view, the intensive development of abstraction in South America requires alternative  explanations. The formulations of abstract art in Latin America did not merely repeat the trends that emerged in Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century;  they were, rather, ret- roactive codifications, rereadings  of the anticipatory and transformative power of those avant-gardes (Foster  2001). Indeed, it could even be argued that the full potential  of the early European avant-gardes’ agendas came to fruition  in the recodifications  enacted by abstract  artists in Latin America. That  perspective enables us to shake up the “myth  of origin”  and to rethink the antinomy  of novelty/repetition, that  is, to reformulate the question  of who  came first based on a heterogeneous  vision of time  (Didi-Huberman 2006, 18–25).