Latinamerican Art

Three architects

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.

Luis Fernando Benedit (1937 to 2011)

I did not have the privilege of meeting Luis Fernando Benedit, a true experimenter at heart, until shortly after the turn of the century as a mature gentleman. Always elegant and soigné, well-groomed and sophisticated, he didn’t readily occur as the creator of the freakish works from his younger years!

An engineer, a visionary, and a utopian dreamer, he was way ahead of his time and blissfully unconcerned with stylistic categories and the like. He was a fabulously gifted illustrator, designer, and drafter who analyzed and dissected nature in his technical construction drawings. He did so without wagging a finger, but rather wittily and playfully pointing out nature’s closeness to high-tech and architecture. His crab has the visual appeal of a drawing by a French revolutionary architect from the late 18thcentury…

His plexiglass «Biotrones» also remain unrivalled: habitats—and receptacles for the «scientific» observation—of spiders, snails, plants, fish, or roaches, created around 1970, long before such materials were associated with the repertoire of art. Benedit’s art cosmos extends from Victor Grippo, his coeval countryman (a chemist by trade who also liked to use organic materials), to Joseph Kosuth, the US-American conceptual artist born in 1945 who, like Benedit, analyzed the plethora of art’s possible manifestations.

Horacio Zabala (born 1943, lives and works in Buenos Aires)

Horacio Zabala, Revisar/Censurar, 1974, 5 parts: ink on printed maps, 21,5 x 15,5 cm each, Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich, Photography: Peter Schälchli

Likewise in the early 1970s, the Argentine architect Horacio Zabala created several of his major works in which he already emerged as a politically and aesthetically advanced conceptualist. I am thinking of his prison architectures—which originally related to art as a closed system, but they were also associated with the military dictatorship since the Golpe de Estadoin 1976—as well as of his politico-geographical maps of Latin America. With his analytical sharpness and his lifelong interest in the media and their various aesthetic, social, and political contexts, Zabala, the artist-architect, designer, exhibition maker, publicist, and theorist is one of the most interesting figures of Argentina’s artistic landscape. It is precisely because of all of the different facets he has tended to throughout his life that his work has by far not been exhaustively recognized and documented yet. This is certainly amplified by the fact that he spent more than 20 years in Europe, first in Rome (from 1976), then in Vienna (from 1984), and then in Geneva (1991 to 1998).

Milton Machado (born 1947, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro)

Milton Machado, Cheiro da Corte (Odour of the Court), 1976, From the series “Desenhos raivosos” (Angry Drawings), Ink and watercolour on paper, 30 x 34,4 cm, Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich, Photography: Peter Schälchli

The Brazilian artist Milton Machado is another architect with distinct design faculties; he too spent many years abroad in Europe before returning to Rio de Janeiro. Besides objects, videos, installations, and architectural sculptures, the focus of his art is on drawings, which have accompanied him from the very beginning. Like no other medium, his drawings serve to condense and concretize his deeply innate fantasies. Social and political criticism is immediately manifest in his early sheets on the military dictatorship. In these drawings from the 70s, he aims his witty, relentless sarcasm at the prevailing political conditions of the time and at the power holders themselves. Whether in the revival of the «Capriccio» genre using the Venetian early Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio as an example or in his utopias on urban planning, Machado’s architectural paraphrases fluctuate between the past and science fiction; they oscillate between the rational and the absurd; they impress as playful, sui generis mindsets, as private obsessions and mythologies emerging from utter concealment with a symbolism that discloses itself only gradually—if at all.


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