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In this lecture, Gustavo Buntinx looks to convince his listeners that the current idea of “Latin American art” is an imperialist construct, and argues that the only solution is for them to reinvent it in its entirety. He begins by declaring that North-South exchanges of art have always been and continue to be motivated more by the self-interest of the United States than by any desire for legitimate cultural exchange. The politics of multiculturalism in the United States currently motivate all of its interest in Latin American art. Buntinx reminds his audience that there are historical precedents for this situation. In 1943, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) sent Lincoln Kirstein (1907-96) on a buying tour with the purpose of gaining political goodwill by rapidly putting together a collection and exhibition of Latin American art. Buntinx notes how (as soon as this move no longer served the museum’s political needs) it was immediately forgotten. He also makes the point that, when it was brought out in 2005 for an exhibition at El Museo del Barrio, its presence at the museum demonstrated how El Museo was transforming itself from a community-based institution into a “transnational Latin American museum.” In the process, the remote “other” (the Latin American) is being utilized, Buntinx explains, to mask the “other” (the Caribbean Latino) that is too immediate. This scenario, he argues, evinces that the only legitimate position from which to speak about Latin American art is that stemming from the “south.” Local scenes must be empowered, artists and institutions that support the arts in Latin America must be developed, especially those committed to the project of democracy. Buntinx describes how this has begun to occur, but emphasizes the importance of continuing it by reconstructing the public institutions of art (i.e., museums, academies, archives, etc.). He notes how Latin Americans’ efforts to subvert the authority of the U.S. and Europe have been resisted, and calls on his listeners to continue projects that, in the process of subverting North-South circuits of power, simultaneously work to concoct brand new meaning. [Echoing thinkers and writers of the 1940s and ‘50s in the region,] Buntinx concludes by urging his audience to take on the project of “reinventing Latin America.”


The Peruvian curator, critic, and art historian Gustavo Buntinx delivered this lecture at a symposium entitled “Latin American Circuits/International Circuits: Interaction, Roles, and Perspectives” at the Art Fair “ArteBA” in Buenos Aires” (May of 2005). Addressed explicitly to his Latin American colleagues, Buntinx’s paper challenges them to consider the most pivotal aspect of their work as that of radically reinventing the art of their region. They will do this only by ceasing to seek the approval of North American “metropolises,” and by, instead, building their own local scenes throughout the continent. Artistic scenes as such, he argues, must be committed to the idea of art as part of the project of democracy, and to the fostering and even construction of “local” meaning. It is of note how Buntinx’s talk draws on cultural theory, art history, exhibitions, and linguistic theory. Respectively, he forms his argument by drawing on [Chilean sociologist and writer] Nelly Richard’s criticism of multiculturalism, his own research on the formation of MoMA’s collection of Latin American art (1942-44), [Héctor Olea and] Mari Carmen Ramírez’s exhibition Inverted Utopias (MFAH, 2004), and certain Jacques Derrida’s focusing and terms.

María C. Gaztambide; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Courtesy of Gustavo Buntinx, Lima, Peru