Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    Synopsis

    In "¿Arte decorativo?," published in 1926 in the journal Martín Fierro, Argentinean architects Alberto Prebisch and Ernesto Vautier question the function of decorative art. They mock the overwrought decorative motifs unnecessarily applied to functional items, especially atavistic decorative patterns employed to give a sense of authenticity or antiquity to modern machine-made objects. Prebisch and Vautier criticize the frivolity of bathrooms designed to resemble Incan altars or soup bowls overwhelmed by patterns of arabesques. Vautier and Prebisch lament the pervasiveness of decorative art, which has replaced modest industrial items with needlessly ornamented ones.

    Annotations

    The Argentinean architects Alberto Prebisch (1899–1970) and Ernesto Vautier (b. 1899) developed a partnership after traveling together to Europe where they became familiar with the work of Le Corbusier and Paul Valéry. Upon their return from Europe in 1924, Prebisch and Vautier joined the recently founded literary journal Martín Fierro. The journal was headed by modernist writer Evaristo Méndez, and its other contributors included Jorge Luis Borges, Emilio Pettoruti, and Xul Solar. Prebisch and Vautier were also awarded a prize by the Argentinean Salón de Bellas Artes. Prebisch joined the magazine Sur, and became the dean of the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidad de Buenos Aires in 1955, interim mayor of Buenos Aires from 1962 to 1963, and director of the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1970. He is best known for his construction of the obelisk in the Plaza de la República that has become an iconic symbol of Buenos Aires. "¿Arte decorativo?" exemplifies the type of polemical articles that Prebisch and Vautier published in Martín Fierro. Like another of their articles, "Fantasía y cálculo (sobre el arte decorativo)" [doc. no. 1126192], "¿Arte decorativo?" argues for the pursuit of logical and functional modern design over the employment of atavistic or overwrought decorative motifs.