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"Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection"
2001-03-03 until 2001-11-04
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard
Cambridge, MA, USA

The Fogg Art Museum will present more than sixty paintings, drawings, and sculptures in its groundbreaking exhibition Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection. The exhibition will be on view through November 4, 2001, and offers for the first time a close look at a facet of art from South America that until recently has been underappreciated.

We are very pleased to be able to present this exhibition from the renowned Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, said James Cuno, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. Not only is the work of these important artists too little known in North America, but collaborations between North and Latin American critics, scholars, and institutions are far too rare. With increasing awareness of our cultures’ common histories and interests, it is only appropriate that individuals and institutions from all of the Americas join together to present the work of the most important artists of our common hemisphere.

In contrast to the rich figurative tradition of Latin American art, beginning in the 1940s and 1950s many artists from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela responded enthusiastically to European developments in abstract art, especially the paintings of Piet Mondrian and the De Stijl movement in the Netherlands and the sculptures of the Swiss artist Max Bill. Artists in Argentina gathered around the avant-garde magazine Arturo, and in 1946 formed the Grupo Madí, dedicated to the absolute values of presence, movable dynamic arrangement, development of the theme itself, lucidity and plurality. These artists broke with conventional framed painting, exploring shaped canvases and adding neon lights and movable elements.

The avant-garde activities of artists in Buenos Aires were matched in Brazil by those of the Concretist movement in São Paulo and the Neo-concretists in Rio de Janeiro. At issue here was the materiality of the work of art itself. The Concretists favored the work of art as a made object, using various abstract geometric elements, while the Neo-concretists argued in favor of more expressive and organic forms and advocated the viewer’s interaction with the work of art. At the same time, Constructivist artists in Caracas, Venezuela, were exploring new forms of kinetic art, adding movable objects to their paintings and sculptures and making works of art entirely out of movable parts.

Latin American geometric abstraction developed in an international arena. Many artists, like Alejandro Otero of Venezuela, Lygia Clark of Brazil, and Alfredo Hlito of Argentina, studied and worked in Europe for extended periods between the 1940s and 1960s. Others, like Gego of Venezuela, Gyula Kosice of Argentina, and Mira Schendel of Brazil, were born in Europe but developed as artists in Latin America. In addition, European artists like Max Bill, Fernand Léger, Victor Vasarely, Antoine Pevsner, and Jean Arp either visited Latin America or were well represented in influential exhibitions or public commissions during these years.

The response of Latin American artists to European examples and to their own distinct and diverse cultures will be explored in this exhibition and its accompanying fully illustrated scholarly catalogue. Published in both Spanish and English, the catalogue will present a selection of the original movement manifestos and artist texts, along with essays by Latin American, European, and North American scholars including Yve-Alain Bois, Jospeh Pulitzer Jr., Professor of Modern Art at Harvard University; Paulo Herkenhoff, adjunct curator, department of painting and sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Mary Schneider Enriquez, independent curator and art critic; Luis Pérez Oramas, curator, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, Caracas; and Ariel Jiménez, curator, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, Caracas.

The extraordinary scope and depth of the Cisneros collection offers a North American audience a previously unseen view of the artists who propelled the emergence of geometric abstraction in South America, said guest curator Mary Schneider Enriquez. Although various exhibitions in the United States have highlighted the figurative art of Latin America, little emphasis has been given the compelling abstract tradition that surged within the region.

The exhibition has been organized in conjunction with the Fundación Cisneros and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

The Fundación Cisneros is a private philanthropic organization committed to the future of Latin America. Founded by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, and Ricardo Cisneros, in association with the Cisneros Group of Companies, the Fundación Cisneros and The Cisneros Foundation, Inc. support innovative programs that focus on Latin American issues in the areas of education, culture, health, and the environment.

The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection is a core visual arts program of the Fundación Cisneros. Its mission is to collect, preserve, study, and exhibit the art works and related archives of the Collection, which consists primarily of modern and contemporary art, with particular emphasis on Latin America. The Collection’s dynamic lending program as well as its ongoing educational projects are fundamentally aimed at promoting global awareness of modern and contemporary art from Latin America.

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