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).