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    Arte Latino Americano actual / Marta Traba
    Caracas, Venezuela : Ediciones de la Biblioteca Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1972
    117 p.
    Book/Pamphlet – Essays
    Traba, Marta. Arte latinoamericano actual. Caracas: Ediciones de la Biblioteca de la Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1972: 117.
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In this book, Marta Traba examines how the growing influence of art of the United States has shaped the art of Latin America during the 1950s and ‘60s, and how Latin American artists have both succumbed and resisted the effects of this influence. The influence of art of the United States in Latin America is a troubling problem, because movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Op, and Happenings, were developed in the context of highly industrialized urban centers, according to Traba. The alienation of the individual in the context of the United States has transformed art into objects of consumption, so that the experience of looking at art is no longer a prolonged intellectual experience (as it should be, Traba asserts), but, instead is an instantaneous moment of identification and pleasure. Latin Americans, who have not uniformly experienced advanced industrialization, are not formed by consumerism or alienation. In the third and fourth chapters, she examines at length how, during the 1960s, Latin American artists have either succumbed or resisted the influence of art of the United States. Characterizing Latin American contemporary art as either “closed” or “open,” Traba argues that the first type of art, although it often is fluent in international idioms, is concerned with the subjective, myth, and cyclical, repetitive time. As examples, she cites the works of Andrés Obregón, Alejandro Botero, and José Luis Cuevas, among others, as well as the development, generally, of neo-figurative work and the revival of drawing in the region. Traba juxtaposes this kind of work with examples of “open” art, including the recent developments of Geometric Abstraction in Buenos Aires, of public Kinetic Art in Caracas, and Marta Minujín’s Happenings in Buenos Aires, all of which, reduce the experience of art to consumerism. Traba ends by reminding her reader how the cultural imperialism of the United States in Latin America during the 1960s has been accompanied by political domination of the United States, including real actions against Dominican and Cuban independence (1965 and 1959, respectively).


Marta Traba (1930-83) was an Argentine-born critic and art historian active in Bogotá and San Juan, Puerto Rico. During the 1950s she advocated international modernism in Latin America, but she became an acerbic critic of the homogeneity of this brand of visual art by the 1960s, when the cultural influence of the United States rose in the region. This book marks the shift in Traba’s point of view that occurred during the 1960s, in the face of United States imperialism in Latin America, when she launched a detailed critique of the consumerism of art and culture of the United States and called on Latin American artists and critics to defend their culture and politics in the interest of retaining art’s social and critical value. Traba draws on Marxist theories of culture, linguistics, and sociology, to make her case here, building on the arguments of Marcuse, Roland Barthes, and Pierre Bourdieu, among others. Although she rejects ideas that she previously endorsed, such as Universalism, she still has faith in European art, and is careful to differentiate between, for example, Op art in the United States, and in Europe, arguing that an artist like [Julio] Le Parc (b. 1928) engages his viewers in sustained questions about their positioning in the world, versus the pure consumerist appeal of the kind of Op art that appeared in the exhibition The Responsive Eye (1965). Politically, Traba is also concerned with how the radicalism of the 1960s has been neutralized in the Pop and Op art of the United States, specifically citing how [Andy] Warhol and United States mass culture transformed the image of “Che” Guevara from political into fashionable. She also reaffirms her belief here in the ethical responsibility of the critic, holding her Latin American colleagues responsible for the feeble acceptance of Unites States cultural imperialism in the region.

María C. Gaztambide; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Courtesy of Fernando Zalamea Traba, Bogotá, Colombia