What makes art from Latin America stand out?

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? 

Contemporary art is, in the first place, contemporary art, no matter its origin. What I noticed from the very first moment of becoming engaged with Latin American art, however, was that everyone involved in its creation and development was incomparably more committed, livelier, and more spirited than their colleagues in North America or in Central or Northern Europe. I learned time and again that art is conceived as a necessity arising from life and causally linked to it. The marketing of art was by far not as important as it was for the colleagues in Europe and North America. To the artists, their occupation was not so much a profession as a vocation. And they really liked to talk about their ideas and ideals in a knowledgeable and thoughtful manner.

Conceptualismo lúdico 

Luis Fernando Benedit, Proyecto huevos, 1975/1977, Stuffed hen, acrylic glass, wood and pencil on paper; hen in vitrine: 45 x 51 x 29,3 cm, egg box: 23,7 x 74 x 26 cm, framed drawing: 77,7 x 107,8 x 3,2 cm; Photography: Dominique Uldry, Bern; Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

A phenomenon I came to recognize over the years as a common denominator of art from Latin America is what I would like to term «playful conceptualism». Certainly, it is possible that I unconsciously, based on my own preferences, singled out this type of art above others and therefore included so many of these artworks in the collection. Nevertheless, I could not have included them if they hadn’t existed in the first place!

By way of example I would like to point out artists here such as the Brazilians Antonio Dias, Cildo Meireles, and Waltercio Caldas, or the Cuban artists per se, and also artists such as Liliana Porter, Luis Camnitzer, Juan Manuel Echavarría, Fernando Benedit, Miguel Angel Rojas, Teresa Serrano, Alvaro Barrios, Adán Vallecillo, León Ferrari, and many many more…

All of them have in common that they have developed multidimensional varieties of a conceptualism that is rather foreign to the one-dimensional approach popular -due to its easier recognizability and explainability- in the US-American cultural sector. Ambiguous elegance, dedicated to the exploration of the stylistic devices of narrative depths and multifaceted metaphors, meets with the rather rough-hewn schemata of the North.

So much for compromising statements that reveal my preferences about the «specialness» of art from Latin America.

Antonio Dias, The Illustration of Art / One & Three / Stretchers, 1971, Laquered wood and lettering, approx. 110 x 700 x 1,9 cm, Photography: Dominique Uldry, Bern, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

The interviews

To put Latin America on the map was our intention from the start with the Daros Latinamerica Collection. I have tried to fill this out in more detail in many posts of this blog. The question now arises if and for what purpose all of this was good for in the end. Of course, several artists benefited from our collection, as did many a visitor of the exhibitions. But did we really bring about a fundamental change for the better in the art scene of Latin America over the past 20 years—and if yes, what has improved? Or has all remained as it was, the same old soup? Has it even deteriorated? And what role did the Daros Latinamerica Collection play in this concert? After all, we were not the only ones who were increasingly turning to Latin America in the early years of the century.

In the past years, I have discussed all of these questions in retrospect with a number of internationally acclaimed personalities from the Latin American art world. I will publish these interviews here in loose order, hoping to offer you further food for thought.

  1. Nice description Hans, captures something of the frustration that those of us who like irony and ambiguity can experience in the face of the drive to conceptual explainability. I admit it’s easier for an artist to answer the question “what is it about” if there’s a one-liner attached to a work, and it makes it easier for a viewer to move on to the next work, but then what’s lost? Hadn’t thought of play, but yes.

Leave your Reply