Latinamerican Art

Let`s not have fun! – Uruguay and Chile

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.

The “Maracanazo” forever, an eternalized cheer to compensate for the latent inferiority complex overwhelming the nation in all other respects? A running joke that, after 70 years of permanent repetition, has by now slightly diminished in its power of persuasion?

Uruguay has always been and still is in the shadow of its big brother, Argentina, and would like to step out of it, although unsuccessfully. It is a dissimilar antagonism that is being repeated over and over like a rhetorical exercise, rather than simply accepting the prevailing imbalance.

Wasn’t the famous Argentine tango singer and composer Carlos Gardel, for example, born in Uruguay in 1887 after all? No one knows for sure … By contrast, however, the vitas of the writers Mario Benedetti and Eduardo Galeano with their undisputed significance for all of Latin America are more reliably documented.

…and sobriety

In the very beginning of my time with the Daros Latinamerica collection, in July 2000, I spent just over a week in Montevideo, my first winter in the southern hemisphere, with winter storms and horizontal rain streaking against the windows, amidst unheated, clammy, and drafty surroundings, in order to familiarize myself with contemporary Uruguayan art. Kristiane Zappel, the then director of the local Goethe-Institut, was so friendly as to make me acquainted with really all (!) representatives of Uruguay’s art scene and to present their activities to me. I vividly remember a meeting where I sat in the middle of a circle of chairs, an art tribunal (if such exists) of sorts, comprised of a good dozen of representatives of the country’s artistic elite, to whom I was to present my ideas and theses–for their gracious consideration, including their approval or refusal as well… Until this day, I do not know how my words were received; the attendant art dignitaries, however, eyed me with reserve, suspicion, and skepticism, and bombarded me with questions about anything and everything. Indeed, the Uruguayans cannot be reproached for a lack of sobriety …

They come close to Germans, and all but rival the Swiss in terms of humorlessness and a notorious know-it-all manner. Interestingly, the churrasco is valued highly here, too, much like with their European colleagues, as a place for social interaction, which increases proportionally with the consumption of red wine. The humor that makes the company of their neighbors on the other side of the Rio de la Plata so pleasurable is searched for in vain here.

Chile: On net stockings…

Things turned out to be similar on the transandine side, on the Pacific coast in Santiago de Chile. Everyday life did not seem too heavily burdened by pleasure, fun, or humor here, either. As if decreed by the government, everybody wore a scowl and a frown of frustration on their face. But there had been a military dictatorship ruling over Argentina as well, so that in itself could not be regarded as the sole cause for the sober-sided behavior of the Chileans–aside from the fact that the days of the dictatorship (1973-1988) had already passed some time ago. Some diversion, it must be added, is to be found in the coffee shops of Santiago de Chile: in order to attract customers, super sexy young girls, at first glance indistinguishable from prostitutes, serve your morning coffee in full-body net stocking outfits…

… and academic misapprehensions

Justo Pastor Mellado, who was then still teaching at the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, kindly invited me to an art-historical symposium in Santiago in November 2001, which was to become a memorable, if not traumatic, experience for me. This was my first and deeply impressive encounter with Latin American academism, which has grown to truly grotesque dimensions in countries like Chile. Althusser, Barthes, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Guattari, Lacan, Lyotard, you name them, are revisited again and again to serve as axiomatic systems–but for what? Hardly a single “scientific” lecture manages without quoting these long-faded “masters”. What a terrible misunderstanding! None of them provided a philosophical system, or even only a theoretically sound, useful working basis. Essayistic aperçus and witty aphorisms is what it at best amounts to. This, as well as the general misapprehension of Marcel Duchamp, is something I would like to return to at a later point.


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