Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    Synopsis

    The Venezuelan curator, professor, and art critic Mónica Amor reviews documenta X, the exhibition of contemporary art presented from June 21 to September 28, 1997 in Kassel, Germany. Amor claims that, in this exhibition, documenta sought to rehabilitate the political art of the avant-garde; documenta sought to distance itself from the usual spectacular format of the “mega-show” and go beyond the typical report on contemporary art, to become a “cultural event” steeped in the political aspirations that defined the neo-avant-garde practices of the postwar period. This approach led to the prominence of art in the 1960s, as represented by artists such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, as well as by certain paradigmatic works produced in the early 1970s by Hans Haacke and Gordon Matta-Clark, among others. Amor explains that the director of documenta X, the French art historian and curator Catherine David (b. Paris, 1954), tried to sketch a “genealogy” of what she considers to be contemporary progressive practices that connects those earlier works to other, more recent ones.

    Annotations

    Mónica Amor explains that another important aspect of documenta X was its acknowledgement of the tradition of photography as a means of documentation, together with its critical role, its archival potential, and its ability to express “reality.” But Amor is troubled by the assumption that a person can see reality through documentary photography that is therefore, by definition, politically committed. Amor also mentions a long interview that appeared in the documenta publication, “The Political Potential of Art” (with Catherine David, the cultural critic Jean-Francois Chevrier, and the art historian Benjamin Buchloh), which she describes as an important contribution. According to Amor, other contributions made by this exhibition were the expansion of the 1960s canon via the inclusion of artists like Clark and Oiticica; its interdisciplinary quality since, in addition to its focus on practices in the expanded field of culture it also addressed the city as a whole; its ambitious program of talks and lectures which allowed David to expand documenta’s classical Euro-American canon; and finally, its embrace of new technology and the internet, which contributed to its goal of becoming a “cultural event.” 

     

    Documenta, a non-profit organization, was founded by the German painter and professor Arnold Bode in an attempt to reestablish a dialogue between Germany and the rest of the world after the Second World War, and to reconnect with the international art scene. The organization describes itself as a “forum” for contemporary art movements and a place to experiment with innovative exhibition ideas. Every five years documenta organizes a “100-day museum” in Kassel that seeks to showcase society’s expectations and challenges in terms of art, and to steer international art discourse in new directions. Documenta X (1997) had the distinction of being the first to be directed by a woman: Catherine David.

     

    Mónica Amor is an art critic, curator, and professor of modern and contemporary art at Maryland Institute College of Art. She studies contemporary art that enjoys a certain architectural influence. She critiques conventional methodological approaches and advocates for an expansion of the canon and greater flexibility in the analysis of contemporary Latin American art in her articles “On the Contingency of Modernity and the Persistence of Canons” (2008) [see the ICAA digital archive (doc. no. 1281140)] and “Entre espacios: la Reticulárea y su lugar en la historia” (2003), in which she connects the dots between works by Gego, Eva Hesse, and Lygia Clark (doc. no. 1281456). “Imaginando territorios: reflexiones dispersas sobre arte en (Latino) América = Imagining Territories: Scattered Reflections on Art in (Latin) America” (1996) (doc. no. 1155284) is an early essay in which Amor reflects on the profoundly different ideas coming from the discourse of nationalist power and rhetoric, such as “origin and essence,” which twist the meanings and contributions of Latin American art.