Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this lecture, Martí Casanovas distinguishes the activities of the group of artists in the exhibition 1927 from those of other contemporary progressives by arguing that their art seeks to convey humanistic and collective meanings to a broad and inclusive public. This emphasis radically differs from the artistic production of contemporary avant-garde movements—which he calls “ultraist” and “stridentist”—including Cubism, Futurism, and related developments, and claims, have elaborated and intensified the individualistic isolated orientation of Impressionism. Casanovas grounds his argument in art history by describing how Cubism challenged Impressionism by emphasizing volume and form rather than color and by attempting to impose order on reality rather than capture its vitality. He explains that both movements, however, sought to portray reality via the intense subjectivity of the artist. The avant-garde movements that have followed Futurism did not signal a rupture as they have claimed to, but instead they have demonstrated that periods of decadence and chaos precede periods of artistic reconstruction. Even though contemporary avant-garde art has been too narrowly focused on the individual and on isolated artistic questions, it is of value because it has destroyed the nineteenth-century system of art based on bourgeois patronage. The renovated classicism that has followed is exemplified by Rivera’s murals and draws on indigenous culture, as seen in artistic movements in Mexico and Peru. Casanovas argues that this art reinstates the humanistic purpose of art, last actively and widely practiced during the Renaissance, because it addresses the spiritual and social concerns of a popular audience (which he calls “el pueblo”).

Annotations

The Catalonian-born and Cuba-based art critic Martí Casanovas delivered this lecture at a closing reception of the exhibition of avant-garde art called 1927, which included works by Eduardo Abela, Marcelo Pogolotti and Victor Manuel García, and that was mounted by artists and critics associated with the eponymous magazine in Havana. Printed in the June 15, 1927 issue of the magazine 1927: revista de avance, Casanovas’ speech clearly showed his alignment with the visual artists associated with 1927 and with the mural movement in Mexico, especially [the work of] Diego Rivera, and the native painters working in Lima and associated with José Carlos Mariátegui’s magazine, Amauta. Implicit in his criticism of the individualism of the “ultralists” and “stridentists” is his opposition to avant-garde movements in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and elsewhere that fashioned themselves after Futurism and/or embraced the abstract visual idiom of Cubism, as well as Latin American artists who closely associated with the ultraist movement in Madrid. This criticism demonstrates that Casanovas was participating in a broader debate—waged by critics and poets in 1927, Amauta, and other Latin American avant-garde magazines during the 1920s—about the relative values of European avant-gardism, abstraction, and indigenous sources for creating a progressive and modern American art. Casanovas’ stated ambition to realize a new continental art also reflects the feeling shared by his peers that, in the face of Europe’s cultural and economic decline, America was the location where the core values of Western culture would find an opportunity to be reborn.

Researcher
María C. Gaztambide
Team
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA