Throughout those years of intense work on the project of the Daros Latinamerica Collection, many people outside of the Latin American culture asked me what makes «art from Latin America» stand out and what constitutes its specific characteristics. Of course, answering suchlike generalizing questions will get you in hot water. But it will not do to dodge them forever, so I will owe up to it.
→ “What makes art from Latin America stand out?”
«It is really important to deal with what you do not know.» (José Damasceno)
I pondered for a while over how to best present an artist whom I do not understand; an artist whose art I simply cannot «explain» because it eludes me on a rational level. At the same time, his art is very much present to me on a different level, which engages me and which leads me to present him here.
→ “José Damasceno (born in 1968 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro)”
«I want to be able to move you, challenge you, touch you, irritate and provoke you. That’s a political task—but a difficult one. How do I work? With information and emotion, information and culture, information and spectacle…» (Alfredo Jaar)
→ “Alfredo Jaar (born in 1956 in Santiago de Chile, lives and works in New York)”
“I am always trying to create a balance between cultural, institutional, mental and emotional positions, searching for an impact that is both visual and physical, and which sharpens and empowers the perception of those who come across it.” (Iole de Freitas, 2013)
→ “Iole de Freitas (born 1945 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)”
René Francisco belongs to the generation that grew up under the impact of the US embargo policy, on which the Cuban regime has based its domestic political legitimation. The artistic creation of this generation centers on its own living conditions, the islands culture and its history, and also on the multitude of unchecked, unheeded, and unbounded fantasies belonging to the perpetual repetitiveness of everyday life on this tropical archipelago. All sorts of untenable utopias and fictions and escapist illusions are common practice; they are part both of official and private life.
→ “René Francisco Rodríguez (Born 1960 in Holguín, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Cuba and in Madrid, Spain)”
«I believe that our civilization is reaching the most refined degree of barbarism ever recorded in history.» (León Ferrari)
León Ferrari was by far the most blasphemous and polemical artist I ever met. His work, however, comprises much more than just social criticism. León Ferrari was «eterno joven», forever young, a tremendous provocateur, entirely irreverent, never conformist, someone who as a matter of principle challenged all conceivable forms and mechanisms of prevalent powers, analyzed them with his sharp wit, and subsequently took them apart with his artistic means.
→ “León Ferrari (Buenos Aires, 1920 – Buenos Aires, 2013)”
Casa Daros was intended as an open house for everyone interested, as a platform for the arts and culture, which of course was also open to social and political issues. We saw it as a hub between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Latin America, and the rest of the world, bringing together very different groups of people through art, opening new horizons by virtue of our networks and information, and challenging habitual patterns of thought and outlook.
→ “Casa Daros, Rio de Janeiro”
After «Face to Face» (see post no. 50), we hosted the video installations «FOR YOU – PARA USTED» (2009) at our exhibition space on Zürich’s Limmatstrasse as well as two monographic exhibitions on Antonio Dias (2009) and Luis Camnitzer (2010). The latter was exceedingly successful and toured through all of North and South America for several years. Each of our exhibitions in Zürich was a European premiere presenting previously unknown artists, subjects, and aspects.
→ “Neighbors finally became neighbors!”
Why are the artworks and their authors, the artists, not as much in the foreground as they ought to be? We are talking about art here, aren’t we? How come we neglect the artists then?
→ “In the beginning there was the artwork: But what do so-called curators make of it?”
«Curating» an art exhibition is like staging a theater play. First, you have to recognize the core of the «piece» in order to know what you are talking about. Next, you have to strive for the best possible presentation of your assembled material, for the «mise en scène»…
→ “On exhibiting art”
A number of solo exhibitions followed the major Colombia exhibition. Among the artists presented in our exhibition spaces in Zürich were Julio Le Parc, Fabian Marcaccio, Valeska Soares, Cildo Meireles, Ernesto Neto, Guillermo Kuitca, and Carlos Amorales. Eventually, we tackled a further premiere when we started working on our exhibition «Face to Face».
→ ““Face to Face”, Zurich 2007 – 2008”
Since we had committed ourselves to showing only works in possession of the Daros Latinamerica Collection, our Zurich exhibition program was necessarily based on the stage of the collection’s development. All art from Latin America was in general absolutely new to our audience; nevertheless, I wanted to provide as much variety as possible within this huge field and to surprise our visitors again and again with fresh new presentations.
→ ““Cantos Cuentos Colombianos”, Zurich 2004 – 2005”
What is the purpose of organizing exhibitions? To show something, of course! And why do we want to show something? Because we assume that we know or have something that others do not know or have, and because we think that the others may or should be interested in what we want to show…
→ “La Mirada – Looking at Photography in Latin America Today, Zürich 2002-2003”
Photo series concerned with minority communities have been the focus of Paz Errázuriz’s work for many decades. She commits large and comprehensive ensembles to circus performers, jugglers, the last remaining indigenous peoples in the country’s south, mental and psychiatric patients, transvestites under the military dictatorship…
→ “Paz Errázuriz (born in 1944 in Santiago de Chile, lives and works in Santiago de Chile)”
Is it possible in a state like Colombia to create art that has nothing to do with the social situation in the country? Is it to a certain extent an intellectual and/or ethical obligation for an artist to become politically engaged? Is not the human species per se, in the words of Aristotle, a «zoon politikon»?
→ “Juan Manuel Echavarría (Born in 1947 in Medellín, Colombia, lives and works in Bogotá, Colombia)”
Never will I forget the first time I met Wifredo Díaz Valdéz in his house in Montevideo, where he was standing at his long workbench in his blue smock like janitors used to wear and started to explain his carpentry. He initially appeared to me as an obsessed DIY nerd, a philosophical tinkerer—but I soon realized that before me stood a veritable, subtle, and exceedingly shrewd aesthete, who provoked my curiosity beyond measure.
→ “Wifredo Díaz Valdéz (born in 1932 in Treinta y Tres, Uruguay, lives and works in Montevideo, Uruguay)”
All his life, Antonio Dias remained utterly unpredictable in terms of artistic expression; he was always good for a surprise and ready to thoroughly challenge habitual expectations. Full of subversive and abysmal humor, he released his creations into the world of art, where they often enough met with incomprehension and produced scandals. His multilayered and plurivalent works consistently defied a conclusive interpretation; he would never be pinned down in his artistic creation, which, in its playful character, invariably also deals with the absurdity and futility of our human condition. His attitude remains elegantly poised; each potential statement at the same time implies its opposite. In this respect, his art has only little in common with the rather one-dimensional messages from his US American colleagues.
→ “Antonio Dias (Campina Grande 1944 – Rio de Janeiro 2018)”
When we met for lunch in Paris in 2018, we talked about the ingredients that Carlos regarded as essential for his well-being, his cheerfulness, and the drive he still felt at his age. To him, these were a peaceful surrounding in the circle of his beloved family; love, esteem, and respect in his contacts with the rest of the world, and, last but not least, always an exciting project awaiting completion. Carlos, with the characteristic twinkle in his eye, was ever ready for new shores!
→ “Carlos Cruz-Diez (Caracas 1923 – Paris 2019)”
I wish you a perfect new year 2020 ! Yours Hans
There is so much that deserves to be highlighted about Mario Cravo Neto that it’s difficult to even start. I am deeply grateful for having had the privilege of knowing this eminent Brazilian photographer, an idiosyncratic artist and highly independent person, a free spirit, and above all a dear friend…
→ “Mario Cravo Neto (1947 – 2009)”
Shortly after I met this team glowing with vital, artistic ambition in Cristina Vives’s house in Havana in 2000, the three young artists set off to conquer the world—or rather vice versa: the world discovered them in exhibitions in New York, Brazil, and Europe. In retrospect, they followed through with a storybook career that only few artists are able to achieve. Today, they are super cool and slick professionals. They somehow managed to suavely surf the art market without being washed away.
→ “Los Carpinteros (Alexandre Jesús Arrechea Zambrano, born in 1970 in Trinidad, Las Villas, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Los Angeles and Madrid; Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés, born in 1971 in Camagüey, Cuba, lives and works in Havana and Madrid; Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez, born in 1969 in Caibarién, Las Villas, Cuba, lives and works in Havana and Madrid)”
Nicola Costantino is an exceptional artist and one of the most vibrant personalities of the Latin American art community. With the meticulousness of a surgeon and the loving care of a pathologist for his subject, she slaughters and dissects calves, pigs, and other animals; she moves around in the fauna of farm animals, merrily embalming, transplanting, hybridizing, and fusioning. Hermann Nitsch would go green with envy if he knew her oeuvre…
→ “Nicola Costantino (born in 1964 in Rosario, Argentina, lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina)”
Iván Capote (born 1973 in Pinar del Río, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Cuba) + Yoan Capote (born 1977 in Pinar del Río, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Cuba)
I admit I have never managed well to keep the Capote brothers Iván and Yoan apart, even though they are not identical twins, but rather two different characters and artists, each with a meanwhile substantial oeuvre of his own. Nevertheless, I am doomed to failure in trying to do them justice individually here, so I hope that they will forgive me for taking the liberty of dealing with them jointly.
→ “Applied Thinking: The Capote Brothers”
When I first visited Alejandro Campins in his studio some ten years ago, we had difficulty just viewing his latest, recently completed paintings, all of them giant formats: he had to struggle to roll them out on his far too small studio floor so that I could try to imagine what they might look like from a distance of 15 meters in a white exhibition space. Not to mention his conditions for production, which had certainly required enormous imagination from him …
→ “Alejandro Campins (born 1981 in Manzanillo, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Cuba)”
“I still would like to change the world, but it turns out to be more difficult than I thought.” (Luis Camnitzer, in conversation with Hans-Michael Herzog, Zurich, June 22, 2009)
→ “Luis Camnitzer (born in 1937 in Lübeck, Germany, raised and educated in Uruguay, lives and works in Great Neck, New York, and Valdottavo, Italy)”
What is the context of an artwork? The dogma of context—to be by all means upheld or made transparent —has always been a determinant for the international art discourses of the recent past. So para-, meta-, sub-, and hyper-, or, simply, de-contextualizing, has been and still is the order of the day, come hell or high water…
→ “The dogma of context”
At schools and universities we once learned that centuries ago art was still entirely dependent and tied up in ecclesiastic or courtly contexts and constraints. And then came the grand Age of Enlightenment, and, in its wake, the Great Revolution that put a sudden end to all that…
→ “Bad times for subtleties, emotions, and subversion”
Waltercio Caldas is decidedly an aesthete. Incidentally, he is also one of the best-selling artists of Brazil, which goes to show that quality in art and economic success are not necessarily a contradiction in terms…
→ “Waltercio Caldas (born 1946, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro)”
Eduardo Berliner has a great deal to tell, both to himself and to us. For many years, he has been incessantly incorporating his inexhaustible repertoire of unprecedented visualizations into his artistic production…
→ “Eduardo Berliner (born 1978, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro)”
By no means is it unusual for 20thcentury Latin American visual artists to have been trained as architects—be this due to the lack of art schools in some regions or to their actual intention of creating real architectures for a living. The idea of realizing the own dreamt up architectural worlds to 100% as pure fictions may have lured so many young architects into the cosmos of visual art, where they could give free rein to their poetic, social, political, and symbolic creations without any external restrictions.
→ “Three architects”
The second time I went to Colombia, curator María Belén Sáez de Ibarra drew my attention to Álvaro Barrios. Soon after, I travelled to his hometown, Barranquilla, to take a closer look at his work…
→ “Álvaro Barrios (born 1945, lives and works in Barranquilla, Colombia)”
Soon after I took my post at Daros Latinamerica Collection, my dear friend and colleague Eugenio Valdes pointed out the works of the then just recently deceased Cuban artist Belkis Ayón to me. Her art historical significance and the superior quality of her works were immediately recognizable, which is why I contacted her sister and executor of estate, Katia Ayón, straightaway…
→ “Belkis Ayón (1967 – 1999)”
My intention at this point is to start introducing a few of the artists represented in the Daros Latinamerica Collection to you. But what is the best way to go about it? If I were to apply politically democratic principles such as the equal-time rule for candidates in campaigns, we would still be sitting here in a couple of years, bored to death!
→ “Observations on some of the artists in the Daros Latinamerica Collection”
“(1) America is ungovernable for us. (2) Those who serve revolution plough the sea. (3) The only thing one can do in America is emigrate. (4) This country will fall inevitably into the hands of the unrestrained multitudes, and then into the hands of insignificant tyrants, of all colors and races.”
→ “Who wants to be “Latin American”? An attempt at approaching an unpopular term – part 2”
The label “Latin American” in the sense of a supposedly uniform entity is as misleading as describing someone or something as “European”, “African”, or “Asian”. And yet, the term continues to be used all the time …
Unloved umbrella term used abroad…
→ “Who wants to be “Latin American”? An attempt at approaching an unpopular term”
Uruguay: on soccer…
Whoever spends some time in Uruguay, more precisely in Montevideo, and regularly follows the local press, is bound to come across reports, every two or three days, relating in one way or the other to the legendary World Cup Final of 1950 (!), when Uruguay won against Brazil in the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.
→ “Let`s not have fun! – Uruguay and Chile”
Only a few years ago, on the occasion of a lecture event at the auditorium of the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano – sic! – de Buenos Aires) and coram publico , the renowned Argentine artist Marta Minujín explained to me that she herself, and indeed all of Argentina, had nothing whatsoever to do with Latin America. She asked me pointedly where on earth we at the Daros Latinamerica had the idea from to collect “Latin American” art; there was no such entity in Argentina…
Back to the roots, somewhere in Europe
→ “Is Argentina in Latin America?”
Next came Tegucigalpa, where I was initially slightly frustrated because of the iris recognition and fingerprinting I had to undergo. Bayardo Blandino picked me up. He is a very professional, very friendly colleague in his mid-thirties and heads the Centro de Artes Visuales Contemporáneo de Mujeres en las Artes in Tegucigalpa.
→ “Travel log Central America, October/November 2005, part II”
All in all, with the benefit of hindsight, this was an interesting, illuminating trip. Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panamá were the only countries still missing on my list, apart from Bolivia, so the trip was also necessary. Even if these countries are “small” in terms of their size on the map and often neglected, they are nevertheless highly relevant for Latin America as a whole. I noticed both their similarities and their differences, their individuality and their common traits.
→ “Travel log Central America, October/November 2005, part I”
I have frequently asked myself what actually makes up Mexico, what its specific spirit is, and which qualities are characteristic of the country’s art. So far, I haven’t even come close to a tangible answer…
→ “What about Mexico?”
It was still the year 2000; I had already familiarized myself with my new work and had travelled quite a bit, when I noticed that Colombia was missing on my agenda. No wonder, really, for no one was traveling there, and everyone advised against it, out of deepest conviction, for safety reasons. What could I do? I turned it over in my mind for a while, weighed the pros and cons, and then told myself: “I simply have to go to Colombia; everything will be alright!” So I set off…
→ “Colombia – The Athens of Latin America?”
My first trip as curator of the Daros Latinamerica collection-to-be took me to Brazil in the very beginning of the new millennium. I landed in Rio de Janeiro in the morning of January 3, and I vividly remember the moment when I saw the Copacabana for the first time in my life. I was virtually blinded by the overwhelming blaze of the sun as I looked out of the window from the former Meridien Hotel and tried to grasp where I was. On the street, I was swept away by an ever-present eroticism; again, I was blinded, this time by the sultry, fecund, tropical, literally HOT atmosphere, and by countless permissive glances that met my eye wherever I looked…
→ “Brasil – ordem e progresso?”
I know no other country that holds so many contradictions as Cuba does. Virtually nothing on this Caribbean archipelago seems to exist that is not intrinsically contradictory. Dealing with Cuba can therefore be quite a feat…
→ “Cuba: real-life surrealism”
Give me a little break – it is time to relax for a moment!
I wish you a very good new year 2019! Yours, Hans
It is the dream of every true researcher to discover something radically new, something that dwarfs everything known up to date. The researcher seeks immortality through the definition of a new chemical formula or the discovery of a species to name after oneself. In much the same way, the art collector—who is also a hunter—passionately searches for the unrecognized genius to help bring out her or his light from under the bushel…
→ “Indiana Jones, or Hunting for the Hidden Treasures”
It was always a pleasure to meet the grand old Latin American artists. Some of those that I was very interested in had already died. You might think everything was easier if the artist was no longer alive? Well, that’s far from true. Because then you have to deal with the executors, who — out of greed or ignorance — are fully capable of blocking or botching entire oeuvres! And this applies not only to Latin America…
→ “Those deceased”
On seeking out the “old” artists of the 20th century at the turn of the millennium, I remember how my question: “Do you happen to know where the well-known artist such-and-such lives nowadays?” would pretty much worldwide produce the standard reply: “Oh, is he/she still alive?”
The rediscovery boom of the “old ones” had not yet set in, so my research on these largely forgotten artists seemed a rather lonely affair around 2000…
→ “Early rediscovery: the “old ones””
Dear loyal readers, the days of couch potatoing are over. This blog has been around since Easter, and now is the time for stocktaking. I thank you all for bearing with me and—those who did—for sharing your comments.
BUT NOW I WANT MORE!
→ “SPECIAL NOTICE: I WANT YOUR FEEDBACK!”
I invariably aimed at buying only first-rate art for the collection. I would rather refrain from a purchase than have second best works of an artist. Lame compromises were not my style, and I never bought on impulse, either. I always knew in advance what I wanted to have. Whenever I happened to stumble upon something that deeply interested and fascinated me, I slept on it for at least a night before making up my mind and arriving at an unbiased judgment. Once, however, I made an exception…
The better you get to know an artist—a human being like all others, after all—, the more obvious become the weaknesses and strengths of his or her oeuvre. I always had to take care not to become presumptuous and raise beyond measure the quality standards I applied. It’s similar in sports, perhaps, to being spurred on from one world record to the next, continuously topping your own self!
→ “Mutual confidence”
Exactly how is it possible to recognize art and to realize whether it is outstanding or only mediocre? Assuming you have no access to Wikipedia—how do you distinguish excellent art from average art? What makes the difference between “normal” art expertise and an infallible instinct for art?
→ “The automatic early detection system for art”
Overwhelming and deeply impressing were the generosity, the communication skills and the education of the artists and other exponents of Latin America’s art world. My itinerary was far from being a tedious chore—it was pure enjoyment! I rediscovered art’s capability of providing pleasure. In Europe and North America, discussions with artists had in the previous years far too often drifted into sheer triviality, focusing merely on the supposedly most interesting marketing strategy.
→ “Meeting the artists”
During my extensive travels in Latin America over the years—in North America and Europe as well—I have established a functioning network that includes nearly everyone involved in the Latin American art community: artists, curators, critics, art historians, collectors, gallerists and art dealers.
→ “Here we go!”
I believe in the power of art! I believe in the effective force and the potent impact that excellent art can make on aesthetic, social, and political issues.
→ “Priceless: On the Power of Art”
Wherein lies the famous, frequently invoked quality of an artwork? Are there objective criteria for judging art, and, if yes, which are they?
→ “On the intrinsic quality of art”
I certainly would have welcomed a clever book, something along the lines of “A Guide to Latin American Art”, sorted according to countries and of course recently updated, in order to prepare myself adequately for the tasks that lay ahead of me. But that was plain wishful thinking and ultimately nonsense.
→ “Critique of pure unreason”
This German tongue twister meaning roughly “In Ulm, around Ulm, and all around Ulm” not only inspired Wolf Vostell to one of his happenings; it also features the city of my birth. But why on earth was someone from Ulm employed for the job as curator, rather than someone from Latin America who already spoke both languages?
→ “In Ulm und um Ulm und um Ulm herum”
None of my trips to Latin America went by without people asking me: “Do you speak Spanish?” or “Do you speak Portuguese?” Do I take my job seriously? What a silly question, I thought secretly, and felt insulted.
→ ““Do you speak Spanish?””
So let’s take our course for a daring—and hopefully eventful—trip. Please bear with me when my narrative appears slightly chaotic or somewhat roundabout: those qualities precisely keep it true to life.
→ “Gray, dear friend, is all theory…”
What made us choose Rio of all places? We deliberately wanted to establish Casa Daros in a city with a thriving art scene that yet left ample space for new venues. And we were also looking for a location that would in itself be attractive to our future visitors.
→ “Scanning the continent”
A unique selling proposition (USP): “During the introduction and growth stage of a product’s life cycle, the marketing concept based on unique benefits works exceedingly well if it is the first product of its kind to enter an unsaturated market.” (Wikipedia, translated from the German version). The Casa Daros was such a unique art offering made in unsaturated Rio de Janeiro.
→ ““Made in Latin America””
“Nobody is a prophet in his own land.” According to the Evangelists, these are the words pronounced by Jesus of Nazareth to condemn the lack of hospitality he received from the people of his hometown Nazareth. Often enough, the same holds true in the art world, too …
→ “Nemo propheta acceptus est in patria sua”
Time to get down to business, dear honored readers, and go into the details. This will require some down-to-earth attention from you, and I am appealing to your sobriety now. We’re not here just for fun—or are we? So let’s start at the beginning and look into the Daros Latinamerica Collection …
→ “Putting Latin America on the map”
My intention is to save the world, or, more precisely, the world of arts. No less will do as justification for writing these lines, with a plethora of ideas, experiences, and memories for more already up my sleeve. To save the world of arts—from what? From downfall by decadence, from ruin by rot, and above all, from the errors of economics. Even good old Duchamp would be turning over in his grave in view of some of the things happening ostensibly in his name …
→ “What does Madame de Staël have to do with Latin America?”