This past May the Fundación Juan March in Madrid closed the survey exhibition Cold America: Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934-1973). The exhibition gathered over 300 works by more than 60 artists, taking as a point of departure two very specific return trips from Europe that offered a chronological structure to the show; Joaquín Torres-García’s return to Uruguay in 1934, and Jesús Rafael Soto’s return to Venezuela in 1973. The exhibition’s strength lies in showcasing in an European institution a comprehensive visual tracing of the complex histories of geometric abstraction in Latin America; a legacy grounded on the aesthetic language of the European constructivist project which, renewed and transformed, thrived throughout Latin America well into the 1960s and 1970s. The title of the show, Cold America, alludes to the tradition’s rational and objective forms which revealed chromatic structures and experiments in a diverse array of mediums such as painting, sculpture, photography and architecture.
A substantial catalogue was produced for the show which includes essays, images, a chronology of events, and relevant historical documents, such as manifestoes, letters and texts, that provide a greater understanding of the development of geometric abstraction in Latin America. The cover is a reworking of the cover of the exhibition catalogue for Acht Argentijnse Abstracten, a pioneering show of Argentinian art at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1953. The essays by Osbel Suárez, César Paternosto, María Amalia García, Ferreira Gullar, Luis Pérez Oramas and Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro afford an historical background but also an indispensable discussion (with valuable arguments) to some of the pressing questions that have risen in response to the inception and proliferation of geometric abstraction in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Osbel Suárez’s essay, “Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934-1973): Roundtrip Voyages” chronologically maps the frequent transatlantic trips and events that informed the development of this artistic modality providing an historical overview. “From Construction to Deconstruction,” written by Ferreira Gullar was an enjoyable and informative read. In it, Ferreira Gullar (José Ribamar Ferreira), who established the Neo-Concrete group of poets in 1959 and writer of the Neo-Concrete Manifesto, discusses the vital differences between the artistic practices of the paulistas and the cariocas, practices which are commonly mistaken to be indistinguishable. While in “Invention and Reinvention: The Transatlantic Dialogue in Geometric Abstraction” Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro provides compelling arguments to reconsider these practices as a set of aesthetic choices that, parting from specific contexts, offer important contributions to the history of art. Taking specific examples of works from both European and Latin American artists, such as Theo Van Doesburg, Richard Paul Lohse, Alfredo Hlito and Tomás Maldonado, Pérez-Barreiro argues how seemingly identical practices have very different intentions determined by contextual differences. In all, the catalogue for Cold America proves to be an invaluable publication for anybody interested in learning more about these practices.
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