Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    In this text, Juan Acha poses the question, “Does present-day Latin American art exist as a distinct expression?”, that is, as a way of examining the broader and more fundamental question of what constitutes an original aesthetic expression. He contends that, although works are shaped to different degrees by historical and geographical context, the most basic measure of what Acha calls “distinctiveness” in art is a “uniqueness” that “. . . may equally be either foreign or local.” The critic also contends that Latin American identity is a slippery, diverse, and often ambitious entity, and that art that in some way expresses this quality of “. . . becoming and wishing to become. . .” is often most successful in conveying a Latin American aspect of “esthetic uniqueness.” In contrast, artists that deliberately give their art a “Latin American stamp” inevitably fail to create works of aesthetic merit. Acha concludes by arguing that there are three main reasons Latin American art is not of higher quality: First, the field of critics, artists, theorists and historians is limited to too small a number. Second, Latin America’s art has not had long enough to develop (he marks 1920 as the end of the “colonial period”). And, third, the concept of art is too narrowly confined and does not encompass, as it should, a broad sector of cultural consumers and producers, as well as the means for disseminating culture.

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    The critic and theorist Juan Acha (1911-95) was born in Peru and moved to Mexico in 1971 where he wrote extensively about modern and contemporary Latin American art. In this text—delivered in 1975 at a conference at the University of Texas at Austin—by engaging with the question of whether or not a Latin American aesthetic existed, and if so, which were its defining qualities, Acha addresses a question of great concern for critics since the 1920s. When he wrote this text, contemporaries that were asking similar questions included Damián Carlos Bayón (1915-95) and Marta Traba (1923-83). Acha distinguishes himself in this text, however, by challenging his readers to consider how Latin American artistic production could be made more aesthetically “unique,” if notions of art and its production were radically expanded and substantially strengthened.