In this outspoken critical text, Maria Alice Milliet discusses Magiciens de la terre, the show of over one hundred artists organized jointly by the Georges Pompidou and the Grande Halle at the Parc de la Villette in Paris in 1989. The initial aim of the exhibition was to formulate an alternative to the show Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that same year; many critics considered the show at MoMA a problematic “aestheticization” of non-Western cultures, which were presented solely in terms of their influence on modernism without any further scope of reference or documentation. The other aim of Magiciens de la terre was to counteract L'Exposition Coloniale held in France in 1931. That show came to be seen as part of the historical framework for French colonialism insofar as it formulated an imperial hegemony greater than all its subordinate holdings. Martin’s curatorial premise for the exhibition was based on a notion of “50/50,” where half of the works in the exhibition were from central countries and the other half—works by artists and artisans—were from “the periphery.” The problem with that criterion, in Milliet’s view, is that it falls into the same morass as Primitivism, that is, it too uses Western values to “aestheticize” production that does not necessarily fit into Western parameters. The debate on this show in France would become crucial to reflection on contemporary art in the context of globalization and of emerging systems for the production and circulation of artist production.
Maria Alice Milliet is a curator, historian, and art critic. For several decades, she has been the director of the Fundação José e Paulina Nemirovsky. Jean Hubert Martin, curator of the Centre Georges Pompidou, was the artistic director of the Lyon Biennial and the general director of the Museum Kunstpalast Foundation in Düsseldorf, Germany.
The late eighties witnessed the emergence of criticism of colonizing, albeit tolerant, strains of Eurocentrism that did not revolve around “the magical” and “the primitive.” A new interest in the notion of “the fantastic” is found in many essays, papers, and symposia of the day. The exhibition Art of the Fantastic, held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and curated by Holiday T. Day and Hollister Sturges, occasioned a commentary by Aracy Amaral (“Arte da América Latina: questionamentos sobre a discriminação” ) that formed part of this extensive debate in the United States and beyond.
Entitled Resisting Categories: Latin American And/Or Latino?, the first volume of the ICAA critical documents—compiled by Héctor Olea, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto—contains the chapter “Exhibiting Entrenched Representations,” which addresses the destabilization of categories. That text discusses the case of the X Pan American Games held in Indianapolis in 1987. For further information, see “Art of the Fantastic,” prologue and introduction [docs. no. 1065311 and 1065330].
The next volume of the publication, which is entitled Questioning Stereotypes, includes a 1987 essay by Aracy Amaral that discusses “the fantastic”: “‘Fantástico’ são os outros” .