Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    In this text, Damián Bayón considers the question: What qualities make art produced by Latin American artists Latin American? He begins by declaring that the art of Latin America becomes Latin American when an artist—because of his or her individual ability—creates a work that could not be made in any other time or place. The Latin American qualities of such a work will be, he argues, readily recognized by viewers. Bayón clarifies that this Latin American quality is not related to depicting indigenous or nationalist subjects. Instead it is a formal quality that is capable of revealing the context in which the artist was operating. Bayón goes on to cite and analyze examples of artists who have achieved this. Historical examples include José Guadalupe Posada, the Mexican mural painters, Brazilian architects between 1940 and 1955, Emilio Pettoruti, Rufino Tamayo, and others. Contemporary examples include Argentinean and Venezuelan geometric abstractionists artists known as cinéticos. He defends Pettoruti and Torres-García against criticism stating that their work was too European, and points out that, although internationalist in style, kinetic artists such as Julio Le Parc and Carlos Cruz-Diez have invented new processes and created uniquely Latin American forms of expression. Bayón concludes by considering the identity of Latin American artists in abstract terms, arguing, among other things, that the Latin American quality in their work is both simultaneously rooted in their provincial position in relationship to Europe as well as is in their originality as artists.

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    Damián Carlos Bayón (1915-95) was a critic and art historian active from the 1940s until his death. Born in Argentina, he spent much of his adult life traveling among numerous Latin American cities (especially Mexico City and Buenos Aires), and New York and Paris writing about contemporary Latin American art. He was full professor in The University of Texas at Austin in the 1970s. This text by Bayón—“Contestación a una pregunta: ¿Cuándo se vuelve latinoamericano el arte en América Latina?” [“Answer to a Query: When does Art in Latin America become Latin American Art?”]—appeared in the April-June 1976 issue of Revista de Artes Visuales, a journal published in Mexico City by Carla Stellweg. It circulated among Latin American critics and artists living and working in Latin America, the U.S, and Europe. In this text, Bayón argues for a concept of “Latin American art” rooted in artists’ ability to innovate formally. He positions himself against what he calls “indigenismos fáciles” [facile native themes] and cites Peruvian artists José Sabogal (1888-1956) and Fernando de Szyszlo (b. 1925) as examples thereof. Instead, he traces a history of innovators, artists who, he explains, made work that expressed the concerns of their time and place and transcended this specificity. He cites examples of Mexican and Argentinean Modernism, such as the Mexican mural painters and Emilio Pettoruti (1892-1971) and Pedro Figari (1861-1938) as exemplars of this formally and ideologically rooted Latin American art. He also lauds contemporary artists working in geometrically abstract styles for their ability to invent new parameters that are uniquely their own. Throughout the text, Bayón is notably preoccupied with forcing his readers to own up to Latin American art’s inextricable bonds with Europe. Latin American art has suffered, he argues, by attempting to distance itself from Europe. Instead, Bayón urges his readers to consider the fundamentals of artistic production: originality and the success with which an artwork is conceived, created, and received.