Abstraction in Reverse: The Reconfigured Spectator in Mid-Twentieth-Century Latin American Art 9780226394008

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Abstraction in Reverse: The Reconfigured Spectator in Mid-Twentieth-Century Latin American Art

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Abstraction in Reverse

Abstraction in Reverse

The Reconfigured Spectator in Mid-­Twentieth-­Century Latin American Art

Alexander Alberro

T h e U n i v er si t y of Ch ic ag o Pr e ss Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2017 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact the University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637. Published 2017. Printed in China 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17    1 2 3 4 5 ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­226-­39395-­7 (cloth) ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­226-­39400-­8 (e-­book) DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226394008.001.0001 Publication of this book has been aided by a grant from The Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA). Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Alberro, Alexander, author. Title: Abstraction in reverse : the reconfigured spectator in midtwentieth-century Latin American art / Alexander Alberro. Description: Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2016030962 | ISBN 9780226393957 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780226394008 (e-book) Subjects: LCSH: Concrete art—Latin America—History—20th century. | Concrete art—Social aspects—Latin America—History— 20th century. | Arts audiences—History—20th century. Classification: LCC N6502.57.C6 A43 2017 | DDC 709.04/056— dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016030962

∞ This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-­1992 (Permanence of Paper).

To Ana Lizón


Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction: Spectatorship after Abstract Art  1

1 Concrete Art and Invention  15 2 Time-­Objects  67 3 Subjective Instability  121 4 The Instituting Subject  173 Conclusion  225 Notes  231 Index  293

Acknowledgments The idea to write this book came to me in 2000 when I first discovered the enormous Latin American and Caribbean Collection in Smathers Library of the University of Florida in Gainesville. In this vast archive I came across pristine copies of many of the books, journals, newspapers, and leaflets that have become the cornerstones of this study. I want to begin by thanking that instution, as well as the following archives and estates that permitted me to study their material: Atelier Le Parc (Cachan), Atelier Soto (Paris), Atelier Cruz-­Diez (Paris), Carlos Raúl Villanueva Archives (Caracas), Cecilia de Torres Archive (New York), Fundación Cisneros (New York), Fundación Espigas (Buenos Aires), Joaquín Torres-­García Archive (Montevideo), Max Bill Archives (Zurich), Projeto Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro), Institute for Studies in Latin American Art (New York), Instituto Moreira Salles (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo), Lygia Clark Art Center (Rio de Janeiro), and Raul Naon Archive (Buenos Aires). For granting me interviews and otherwise corresponding, I thank Carlos Cruz-­Diez, Analivia Cordeiro, Ferreira Gullar, Roberto Jacoby, Julio Le Parc, Tomás Maldonado, Vera Molnar, Francois Morellet, Cesar Oiticica, and Denise René. Along the way I incurred debts of various kinds, large and small, to many people who have invited me to discuss my research on the work of Latin American artists, posed challenging questions, sharpened my reasoning, and just kept the conversation going: Dawn Ades, Mónica Amor, Ricardo Basbaum, Carlos Basualdo, Karen Benezra, Barry ­Bergdoll, Sabeth Buchmann, Daniel Buren, Kaira Cabañas, Claudia Calirman, Luis Camnitzer, Ron Clark, Diedrich Diedrichsen, Edward Dimendberg, Helmut Draxler, Pedro Erber, Heloisa Espada, Jose Falconi, Hal Foster, María Amalia García, Lydia Goehr, Robin Greeley, Hans Haacke, Mauro Herlitzka, Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, Ariel Jiménez, Kellie Jones, David Joselit, Ileen Kohn, Rosalind Krauss, Michael Leja, Arto Lindsay, Ana Longoni, Marta ­Minujin, Keith Moxey, Graciela Montaldo, Luis Pérez-­ Oramas, Isabel Plante, Jean-Marc Poinsot, ­Rachel Price, Gerald Prince, Daniel Quiles, John Rajchman, Gabriela Rangel, Elisabeth Sher, Irene


Small, Nancy Troy, and Sergio Vega. Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, Andrea ­Giunta, Nicolas Guagnini, and Adele Nelson improved drafts of sections of the manuscript and generously shared their vast knowledge of this subject, and Caroline Constant, ­Rosalyn Deutsche, Caroline Jones, James Meyer, and Terence Smith offered critical responses and invaluable advice on the argumentation, prose structure, and overall organization of the book. The lively debates that took place at the series of colloquiums I ­organized at Columbia University between 2010 and 2016 with the magnanimous support of Ariel Aisiks and the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) generated provocative discussions that greatly contributed to the material in this book. A grant from ISLAA, as well as funds from the Virginia Bloedel Wright research endowment at Barnard College, also helped to offset the cost of securing image rights. Let me also acknowledge the many scholarly audiences in venues as different as the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (Montreal), Cornell University (Ithaca), the Courtauld Institute of Art (London), the Fundación Proa (Buenos Aires), Harvard University (Cambridge), the Instituto Moreira Salles (Rio de Janeiro), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles), MACBA: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Barcelona), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), Princeton University (Princeton), Stanford University (Palo Alto), the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), who shifted the direction of some of my arguments in unexpected ways. I also owe a debt to the terrific editorial staff at the University of Chicago Press, Ruth Goring, James Toftness, and in particular Susan Bielstein, who was never reticent about offering criticisms, advice, and editorial suggestions. Rose Rittenhouse handled promotions deftly. I am also grateful to my unfailing research assistant at Columbia University, Nicholas Morgan, whose efficiency was vital at crucial moments, and to the brilliant students in my seminars at Barnard College, Columbia University, and the Whitney Independent Study Program, from whom I have learned a great deal. Most of all, my love and appreciation to Ana Lizón, whose Bogotá childhood is on every page of this book; to Nora Alter, my best friend; and to Arielle and Zoë, who kept things real by rolling their eyes every time their father talked about abstractions and reversals.

Ack now ledgmen ts

Introduction Spectatorship after Abstract Art During the mid-­t wentieth century, Latin American artists working in ­several different cities altered the nature of modern art in ways that have never been fully appreciated. In this critical transformation, art’s relation to its public was reimagined, and the spectator was granted a more significant role than ever before in the realization of the artwork. These developments unfolded in the context of a complicated mediation of the particular form of abstract art that European modernist artists Theo van Doesburg, Max Bill, and others referred to as Concrete art. This type of abstraction resonated in Latin America not only as a result of European modernism’s hegemony but also because it articulated an experience of modernity that, despite all cultural differentiation, was becoming increasingly global. Initially, in the 1940s, Latin American artists with modernist ambitions faithfully adopted Concretism, following their European predecessors in banishing all categories of description and imitation in favor of an emphasis on the sheer inventiveness of a simple operation generated entirely from the mind of the artist and communicated lucidly to the spectator. The task of the spectator in turn was to avoid any particularities that might obstruct her deindividualized gaze and to subordinate herself entirely and without interference to the logic of the art object, enabling the artwork’s import, its meaning, to be comprehended fully. Vision was the primary means for this model of spectatorship, and any phenomenological aspect of the experience was to be avoided. But Latin American artists would soon push Concrete art considerably beyond its established boundaries. Indeed, most of the artists whose work is central to Abstraction in Reverse created their distinctive identity by rejecting the a priori generalizations of pictorial or sculptural Concretism and offering an alternative to it. In their effort to imagine art as an integral aspect of an intellectual life that responded to their own particular concerns, they put aside the Concretist notion that the meaning of an artwork is established prior to its experience by the spectator in favor of a concept of artistic signification (as much as of conscious-


ness and subjectivity) that assumes that meaning can be produced only in the site where the art object and spectator meet, where subject and object come together. I call the site of this intersection the “aesthetic field” of the artwork, defining it first and foremost as an area of possibility through which the spectator constructs meaning, and I focus this study on the structuring of artistic signification according to the interrelationship of subject and object within this aesthetic field. Consistent with their negation of idealist aesthetics, Latin American post-­Concrete artists interwove the specificities of the material object and the context of its exhibition and display with the spectator’s subjective experience within the aesthetic field in ways that thread the work of art back into the fabric of the world. By reshaping the aesthetic field to posit the spectator not as a dis­ embodied receptor of optical stimuli but as an active subject engaged in a new kind of attentiveness and tactile encounter, post-­Concrete artists opened the way for new modes of consciousness and experience, as well as new models of subject-­object relations. My thesis, in brief, is that in breaking in various ways with the core dictums of Concrete art, Latin American artists in the mid-­t wentieth century reimagined the relationship of art to its public and produced artworks to challenge prevailing notions of the interconnection between subject and world, perceiver and perceived, objective reality and subjective experience. In this new conceptualization, art was no longer considered entirely autonomous and internally coherent but relationally dynamic, prompting the imaginative engagement of the spectator and producing meaning through this very relationality.1 The rationales underlying the generation of this art varied, as did the degrees and conditions of subjective agency it actualized, but the new post-­Concrete art in Latin America fundamentally reconfigured the aesthetic field and modernist spectatorship more generally, and the particular forms these new modes of sensibility took are the primary concern of this book. Along with a realignment of the aesthetic field and the development of new conventions of spectatorship, ambitious mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American art manifested a new type of artistic subjectivity. For reasons that are as much political and cultural as they are aesthetic, these artists discarded the traditional, artisanlike exercise of manufacturing the artwork in favor of presenting catalytic objects or ensembles that encompass, and in fact require, the spectator for their completion. If, as noted a moment ago, Concrete art’s form of spectatorship closed the art object in upon itself, conveying an idea or act carried out by the artist at an earlier moment, then the importance of the new post-­Concrete work lies in the context of spectatorship. Henceforth the artist performs “no longer as a creator for contemplation, but as an instigator for creation.”2 In this new condition, the function of the artist is limited to the presentation of formal elements or situations to be constructed into artworks in the context of the aesthetic field. This process of configuration and In troduction

the link between forms of artistic signification and forms of spectatorship are central theoretical concerns of this book. My argument is that meaning does not reside in the intent of the artist, nor in the essence of the art object, nor in its site of display, nor even in the consciousness of the spectator engaging with the work. Meaning is constructed in the aesthetic field, a space that includes all of these elements as well as writings and statements made by the artists and others about the work. In this respect, the aesthetic field differs from the logic of what philosopher Jacques Rancière refers to as an emancipatory practice of art in which the centered subject is fully capable of seizing hold of aesthetic experiences, and constitutes instead something similar to what philosopher Michel Foucault describes as an “apparatus” of a “system of relations” that is established among a set of components.3 My goal in what follows is to study the “interplay of shifts of position and modifications of function” among the elements that structure the work of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American artists, keeping in mind that with each shift or modification the hierarchy of these constituent parts is readjusted or reworked.4 Moreover, insofar as the aesthetic field as an apparatus is always inscribed in what Foucault refers to as a “play of power,” it will be important to comprehend some of the reasons that led to this reconfiguration in the mid-­t wentieth century.5 Then, too, the aesthetic field as an apparatus implies “a process of subjectification”; that is to say, it produces its subject, it orients the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings into subject positions.6 This is what separates it from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s framework of a “field” of cultural production.7 Although both concepts theorize a field as hierarchical, the goal of Bourdieu’s analysis is to understand the ways in which the subjects and institutions that specialize in creating, displaying, distributing, and evaluating art interact, and in particular how the fully formed subject negotiates the social and economic context of art at a given time and in a particular place. The ensemble of relations that structure the aesthetic field that I propose includes the context singled out by Bourdieu. But I understand the spectatorial subject as a position that is itself formed in the aesthetic field. This approach requires paying greater attention than does Bourdieu to the way the dynamic system of relations established among the elements of the aesthetic field are configured, as well as to the spectator’s interaction with the formal or material techniques that actually make art.8 The turn to action and participation in the context of spectatorship in Latin American art also marks a shift to an entirely different mode of social engagement of the artwork. The model of spectatorship that develops as artists attempt to reintegrate art into the social realm by asserting its relationship with the viewing subject turns outward into the third and fourth dimensions. This, in essence, is at the core of what I refer to as “abstraction in reverse.” To quote a 1960 text by Ferreira Gullar, a Brazilian critic whose early writings are important to my investigation, post-­ (or Spectatorship after Abstract Art



neo-­) Concrete artists, in their “attempt to reconnect the picture plane with painting’s need for spatialization,” invert traditional perspective and create “an outward three-­dimensional virtual space” powerful enough “to break away from (even abstract) representation.”9 The gap between the ostensible permanence of the art object and the ephemerality of the spectator’s interaction with it accordingly narrows and in some cases collapses altogether. The artwork ceases to be a stationary object accessible to immediate and exhaustive viewing (that is, seen in its entirety) and invites an embodied reception located in space and time. The artistic experience becomes a transitional phenomenon, prompting the spectator to relate with others and with an environment that surrounds and envelops her. But rather than rest in the moment of desublimation, the spectator is induced by some of the artworks produced in this manner to see herself both as an integral subject and as an object of the perception of others, creating new, liberating spaces of sociability. Gone is the myth of the singular artist in absolute control of her creative production. Gone too is the traditional understanding of the ontology of art in which the artwork and its conceptualized essence stand apart from the world and unchanging for all time. In place of these singularities, these artworks posit a relational identity and set of processual operations that are not atavistic but disjointed, having multiple roots, facets, and directions. The subjective agency and creativity of the spectator become paramount in the realization of the artwork. How to describe this subjective agency, this sense of difference in spectatorship, without falling into a pure pluralism or relativity? Here philosopher Jacques Derrida’s theory of the play of signification is useful. Derrida’s well-­known addition of an a when writing “difference”—­ différance—­to establish a marker that disturbs the settled understanding or translation of the concept set the word difference in motion to new meanings without obscuring the trace of its conventional ones.10 As differ shades into defer, the idea emerges that meaning is always put off by the play of signification, perhaps to the point of an endless supplementarity. If the first sense of difference establishes fixed binaries that stabilize meaning, the second challenges those binaries and shows how signification is never finished or completed but keeps on moving to encompass other, additional or supplementary, meanings. What, then, is the relationship between spectatorship and meaning in this context of an infinite postponement of meaning? If signification depends upon an endless repositioning of its differential terms, then meaning, in any specific instance of spectatorship, depends on a contingent and arbitrary stop—­a necessary and temporary “break” in the infinite process of interpretation. This does not detract from the original insight; it threatens to do so only if the positioning of reception and spectatorship that makes meaning possible is considered to be natural and permanent rather than arbitrary and contingent. And I mean arbitrary in the sense that there is no permanent equivalence between a particular In troduction

spectatorial response to an artwork and its true meaning. Spectatorial meaning continues to unfold, so to speak, beyond the arbitrary closure that makes it possible at any particular moment. This notion of signification also helps to clarify the difference between the new paradigm of spectatorship that emerges in the work of mid-­twentieth-­century Latin American artists and what art critic Michael Fried in the mid-­1960s called “theatricality.”11 Fried linked his understanding of this concept to its opposite, which he termed “absorption.” The spectator, in the midst of the absorptive experience, is encouraged to let go of the coordinates of her selfhood in order to occupy a position in another world, another self, offered by the artwork, while at the same time continuing to be fully aware of the fact that she is outside the space of that framework. By contrast, the beholder of the theatrical artwork that Fried hypothesizes remains entirely within the bounds of her own selfhood as she compliantly accepts its operative structure. The artwork is there for her to acknowledge. It does not request that she imagine herself as something or someone else; rather, it offers the affirmation of her subject position as it establishes a relationship with it. Nevertheless, that relationship remains largely within the terms of the operative structure of the artwork to which the spectator submits. In contrast to theatricality’s spectator, who acknowledges and accepts the framework of the work of art, mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American artists mobilize a more active spectator, who becomes the primary force in generating the composition. This kind of spectatorship shares striking similarities with what film theorist Laura Mulvey describes as the “possessive” spectator that emerges with remote control and digital technology.12 According to Mulvey, the ability to still the moving image and repeat sequences renders anachronistic the inherently passive modes of spectatorship put into place by film techniques and the cinematic setting.13 While the particulars may differ, the aesthetic field of art spectatorship that is the focus of this study shifts in a parallel way to that which Mulvey postulates. The spectator’s engaged role in the realization of the composition becomes central. That the work of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American artists recalibrates the aesthetic field years before the phenomena both Fried and Mulvey theorize has as much to do with the dynamics of adopting and then breaking with Concrete art in the 1940s and 1950s as it does with the particular social and political history of Latin America following the Second World War.14 The new conception of spectatorship fostered by Latin American post-­Concrete artists is in important ways similar to various parallel develop­ments in twentieth-­century art that also questioned authorship and increased the part played by the spectator in the generation of meaning. The gist of Marcel Duchamp’s comments on the spectator as the one who completes the work of art finds its correlate in this new production, as do the contemporaneous aesthetics of John Cage, Happenings performances, and Fluxus events.15 Latin American post-­Concrete art is Spectatorship after Abstract Art



also related to the participatory concepts that were key to the concerns of many artistic movements in the 1910s and 1920s, from Dada and Surrealism to the Russian Constructivist avant-­garde. The artists in these earlier groupings produced a diverse array of artworks, performances, and exhibition designs that generated novel modes of spectatorial interaction and spatial and temporal contextuality. Some even recalibrated the category of the aesthetic to locate spectatorship in new kinds of what art historian Benjamin Buchloh has described as “simultaneous collective reception.”16 And yet, largely due to the renewed cultural forms of self-­understanding in Latin America brought about by the demise of European imperialism following the Second World War and assisted by the slight delay in the establishment of US cultural hegemony in the region, the reconceptualization of the spectator that developed in the work of artists from Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Caracas, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro in the mid-­ twentieth century is in many ways unique. It pushes to its logical limit the dictums that a work of art cannot fix in advance the outcome of any of its encounters with contextual plurality and that an artwork cannot exist outside the circumstances in which the spectator views it. It also replaces the subject-­object condition that structures traditional aesthetics with one that understands artworks to be actualized in a virtual partnership or dialogical relationship with the spectator. By summoning the concept of dialogism within the context of spectatorship, I mean to signal what literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin described in the early twentieth century as the relationship between an utterance and its receiving other. According to Bakhtin, the meaning of an utterance exists in the response that it generates from the receiver. Yet this relationship is not one-­directional, since the sender of the initial utterance always already anticipates the active response of the receiver other and therefore shapes the utterance accordingly. This inherently interactive nature of discourse and consciousness accounts for the constant generation of new meaning. All language and art is dynamic, relational, and engaged in a process of endless redescription of the world. As Bakhtin emphasizes, however, for one to make a connection between the self and language or the self and art, answerability is necessary.17 Accordingly, experience and understanding must be linked to activity in a life (“without answering for life”), and vice versa.18 This is, then, not a matter of desublimation but of the human subject coming together through a process of consistent response, or answer­ ability. The reception of art is the subject’s shaping or interpretation of it, and that actualization or interpretation comes with a considerable degree of responsibility. The subject has to answer for what she realizes as art—­or as life. In this sense answerability is coupled with accountability, and the two work together to produce subjectivity. The novel forms of spectatorship developed by the work of mid-­ twentieth-­century Latin American artists introduce several problems of In troduction

considerable import. For one thing, the paradigm of the organic work of art that in literary critic Peter Bürger’s terms seeks to make “unrecognizable the fact that it has been made” had to be replaced by creations that undermine any sense of wholeness and focus attention on their own incompleteness and the decontextualized quality of their parts.19 For another thing, in order for the unique forms of spectatorship to be developed, a new type of relationship between art and its site of exhibition or realization had to be formulated. Furthermore new spectatorial subjects, many previously excluded from art, needed to be cultivated. Just exactly who constitutes the imagined public for the new art is a question that hovers throughout this study, as is the issue of the spaces these art objects, sculptural installations, and performance activities are meant to inhabit and be realized within. Then, too, the notion of spectacle arises, since some of the artworks explored in the following pages skip over the tensions between subject and object, spectator and material world, to produce a false sublation that results in what philosopher Theodor Adorno describes as “an illusion of immediacy in the totally mediated world, of proximity between strangers, of warmth for those who come to feel the chill of the unmitigated struggle of all against all.”20 The problems accompanying the development of the new forms of spectatorship are complex, but they also present the framework of modernist aesthetics with crucial challenges and come to constitute some of the basic traits of contemporary art. While the changing role of the spectator in the context of mid-­ twentieth-­century Latin American art is the primary concern of this study, it is also attentive to several other issues. One of these relates to the pictorial plane. All of the artists central to Abstraction in Reverse challenge the limits of the picture plane, bringing it to a point where it cannot be extended any further. To move beyond this impasse, they find it necessary to abandon the classic geometrical space of representation that has conventionally accompanied the production of painting on flat surfaces and develop a topological space of relations in their attempts to visualize a new dimension. Some of these artists explore the parameters of that virtual space, while others go on to “build directly in space.”21 Accordingly, while the new space of relations emerges from the techniques of painting, it cannot properly be delimited as painting; rather, this new space of relations encompasses a variety of “non-­art” objects, often objects that either can be manipulated or are integrated with the architectural context and ultimately with the spaces of social life. The extent of that integration is critical for an understanding of the nature of this art. A second issue concerns national identity. The artists upon whose work this study focuses imagine for the most part a transnational problematic rather than a specifically regional or national one. In their work, the cult of what writer Jorge Luis Borges has referred to as “local color”—­part of a process of national affirmation that in early-­t wentieth-­century Latin America tends to be associated with a figurative style of painting and Spectatorship after Abstract Art



sculpture—­is set aside in favor of a modernist aesthetic that transcends the artistic traditions of the nation-­state and operates in what I refer to as an “art world.”22 This is an abstract or Concrete art that claims neutrality and universal legibility, a cosmopolitan art that purports to be free of particularist localism, nationalist populism, and foundational elitist and essentialist conceptions of cultural identity.23 But at the same time these artists also questioned and largely dismissed the idea of art as something pure and autonomous. According to the standard mid-­t wentieth-­century view, the world of art was one of free and equal access in which artistic recognition was available to all artists, an enchanted realm that existed outside time and space. This fiction was advanced by many artists and critics in the most powerful countries of world artistic space—­those of Western Europe and the United States, where the belief in an art that is nonnational, nonpartisan, and unmarked by political or cultural divisions was the strongest.24 The discontinuity between the modernist art world and its margins was much more perceptible to artists on the periphery, such as Latin American artists, who, having to struggle in very tangible ways in order to find their place in the art world and then to gain admission to its central precincts, were more clear-­sighted than others about the nature and the form of the artistic balance of power. For these artists, the modernist art world was “simultaneously one, and unequal,” with powerful artistic forms moving from the centers of cultural authority outward to peripheral and semiperipheral regions.25 It is by no means a paradox, then, that these artists emerging from the edges of the modernist art world, who as a result had learned to confront the laws and forces that sustained the unequal structure of this world, should be among the most sensitive to the newest aesthetic inventions in modernist art. This lucidity and the impulse to contest the existing artistic order in the form of what literary scholar Mariano Siskind has described as an “antagonistic cosmopolitanism” is at the very heart of their identity as artists.26 At the same time, while the Latin American artists that are the central focus of this study emerge from and belong to the marginal, the underdeveloped, the periphery, in relation to the developed West, they do not all stand in the same relation of “otherness” to the metropolitan centers. Each negotiated his or her economic, political, and cultural dependency differently. This “difference” is already inscribed in their cultural/national identities. This negotiation of identity in turn differentiates these artists from other Latin Americans with a very similar history. Indeed, some of the artists in question reimagine a nationalist community, theorizing new mechanisms of cultural exchange between center and periphery, new strategies of integrating modernism with local conventions and experiences, while trying at the same time to transform the latter and impart greater autonomy to them.27 A related line of inquiry takes up issues pertaining to the appropriation and readaptation of artistic ideas and models from one space and time to In troduction

another, a process that raises issues of representation and institutionalization specific to the host culture. Such assimilations are not passive but actively transformative, based on a blending of adaptation and resistance. All art develops through translation and transposition produced through intercultural encounters. As critic Edward Said puts it in reference to traveling theory, which is not entirely unlike traveling artistic ideas and models, “Such movement into a new environment is never unimpeded. It necessarily involves processes of representation and institutionalization different from those at the point of origin. This complicates any account of the transplantation, transference, circulation, and commerce of theories and ideas.”28 Over time, Said concludes, “the now fully (or partly) accommodated (or incorporated) idea is to some extent transformed by its new uses, its new position in a new time and place.”29 This is largely what happens to the European models of Concrete art in the work of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American artists. The transformation in question is more than merely a case of creative misreading; the transfer of artistic ideas from one setting to another, with their differing histories and cultural contexts, plays a determining role in changing European notions of Concrete art into Latin American ones. Thus, for reasons that are elucidated when the specific social and historical situations in Europe and Latin America in the mid-­t wentieth century are compared, idealist aesthetics in one instance become materialist aesthetics in another. I do not wish to suggest that Europe and Latin America determined the kinds of artistic models produced by, say, Theo Van Doesburg and Max Bill or Tomás Maldonado and Waldemar Cordeiro. I do mean, however, that “Europe” and “Latin America” are irreducibly first conditions, and they provide limits and apply pressures to which each artist, given his or her own predilections and interests, responds. Questions of human subjectivity and of subject-­object relations more generally speaking are also fundamental to this discussion. What can the art of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American artists tell us about the conditions of human identity, about the nature of subjectivity, in this period? What concepts of experience of the world does it mobilize? To what extent is the notion of the expressive subject, the self-­made ego of the humanist tradition, troubled or repositioned by the logic of this art? What might be the underlying reasons for that shift? And how does this phenomenon play out in spectatorship? These are not easy questions, and the answers necessarily remain tentative, but developments in Latin American art in the mid-­t wentieth century appear to parallel the more wide-­ranging transformation of the concept of the subject brought on by challenges to humanist values during these years.30 Accordingly, notions of what art historian Hal Foster has in a different context referred to as “the contemplative subject of the traditional tableau” or “the transcendental subject of modernist painting” are destabilized and cannot be assumed to be fully operative in many of the artworks and modes of spectatorship discussed below.31 In place of these categories of univerSpectatorship after Abstract Art



sal subjectivity, notions of spectatorship begin to emerge that do not abstract the subject from history, society, and the body, and that posit the conscious subject as a series of effects arrived at independent of the mind itself. These notions are anchored in perception but also put it into question, opening up a rift between how things are and how the subject experiences them. Since this is a rift inherent in spectatorship itself, the subject’s experience of a given artwork is bound to be as much a matter of misrecognition as of knowledge. Methodologically, I consider art to perform representational and not just critical functions. More specifically, I have sought to develop an analytical narrative—­one that advances through its telling, showing the history while bolstering the claims made. In the process, I study not just visual art objects and ensembles but also the manifestos and artists’ writings that often accompanied them, seeing these materials as structural components of the artworks in the aesthetic field. This is in no way to suggest that the art objects are illustrations of these writings. Rather, the artworks are ideas, inventions, and things themselves. The writings serve not only as manifestations of philosophical expression but also as documented information that supports the conceptual integrity of the art produced. Artworks become socially meaningful only within the discourses and contexts, explicit or implicit, in which they appear. These contexts change through time, and every society has conflicting arenas wherein the preferred, negotiated, or oppositional interpretations of artworks are fought out. Art history has the role of analyzing this process of conflict and describing the assumptions, opinions, and concepts on which the meaning of artworks is based. It also has the historical task of uncovering the discursive resources from which that meaning has been constructed, asking not only why the artworks were produced and what function they served, but also how they were made to signify, for whom, and where. Toward this end, I have tried, as much as possible, to stake the central claims of Abstraction in Reverse on the bedrock of primary sources, seeking history first of all in artworks and their mechanisms of production and exhibition (including the spectator’s place in relation to it), but also in manifestos, reviews, manuscripts, photographic documents, and artists’ writings and interviews. I have also determined, however, to strike a balance between empirical and theoretical knowledge. This has entailed mobilizing modes of interpretation necessary to pry open the issues that arise. Sometimes the theoretical tools are the same as those marshaled by the artists in the context of production or by the spectators (including critics) in the initial moment of reception. At other times they are more remote from the historical context in question yet powerful enough to produce insight. In these cases I have been careful to adapt the theories to the new circumstances and contexts. This study’s movement between decades and nations runs the risk of glossing over the particularity or uniqueness of each context and, more In troduction

importantly, the distinct content of each artwork, which is often inseparable from its aesthetic and discursive features. Yet my commitment to an international art history that reaches across borders and boundaries has led me to make the study of Latin American art relevant beyond its own geographical and disciplinary boundaries. In that respect the benefits of the comparative approach I adopt outweigh the pitfalls, and the cross-­pollinating effect that arises by traversing distinct historical moments, national borders, and languages with an overarching theme or set of problems and questions is hermeneutically rich. I am not suggesting that there is a singular meaning to ambitious Latin American art in the mid-­t wentieth century. Despite the variety of ideas and positions taken by the artists I examine in this volume, they do share a mode of expression derived complexly from a linked cultural heritage, including its ways of formulating concepts and questions and kinds of artistic strategies. This idea does not mean that there was some larger unity or consensus that artists were striving to reach in this period. Rather, in tracing the pattern of recurring themes, concepts, and artistic strategies of mid-­t wentieth-­century post-­Concrete art by Latin Americans, I map the geography of the conceptual borders wherein this art said all that was possible for it to say. Some of this relation was explicit, representing social contradictions, while much of it was imaginary, inventing formal solutions to unresolvable antinomies. Within this theoretical/ artistic horizon, post-­Concrete art was challenging for artists and spectators alike and productive of new ideas. At the same time, intransigent blindspots were created around questions of the subject and spectatorship that remain with us. While I hope to introduce readers to some of the more provocative and difficult concepts of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American art, the larger goal of this book is to understand what limits were reached in post-­Concrete artistic practices and how those limits might still challenge us, although in new ways, today. My choice of particular artists and artworks singled out for discussion calls for some explanation. The goal is not to supply a complete overview of the manifestations of spectatorship in the mid-­t wentieth century. Clearly this would be impossible. My purpose, rather, is to present a perspective on the Latin American art of this period that elucidates the shift in spectatorship that I see driving artistic experimentation. This standpoint is designed to foreground the pervasiveness of political and cultural resonances of such work that has not been appreciated fully because of the positivist orientation of much existing scholarship on the subject. Although most of the artists whose production I discuss were well informed of what the others were doing (or had done) and several were in direct dialogue, I am acutely aware of a certain arbitrariness that remains in my choice of artists. My aim has been to take account of a few key figures, such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, who have become central to the discussion of art in the period, while including a number of less mainstream artists, artists’ groups, and poet-­critics whose work Spectatorship after Abstract Art



would not necessarily be familiar to an English-­speaking audience, such as Lidy Prati, Edgar Bayley, Los Disidentes, Madí, and Ferreira Gullar. The study probes the economy of power relations negotiated by the artists in question. This entails an analysis of various forms of struggle. Some of these struggles, such as those of the Concrete artists in the first chapter or the kinetic artists in the third, were against what the artists perceived to be their chief enemy: an administered form of capitalism regimented by the ruling political order (with the help of the military and the economic elites). These artists saw themselves as part of a larger movement that would at a future date culminate in liberation, revolution, and an end to class struggle. Other artists, such as those in chapter 4, ­focused on the immediate enemy, on the administration of the ways people live. These were anarchist struggles. They were what Foucault describes in “The Subject and Power” as “struggles which question the status of the individual: on the one hand, they assert the right to be different, and they underline everything which makes individuals truly individual. On the other hand, they attack everything which separates the individual, breaks his links with others, splits up community life, forces the individual back on himself, and ties him to his own identity in a constraining way.”32 In short, these were struggles against the regimentation of individualization carried out by instituting subjects capable of creating meaning actively through their intentional acts. In my conclusion I touch on some of the ways in which the next generation of Latin American artists developed an altogether different concept of the subject’s relation to power. A final word about the way the book is structured. It is organized chronologically spanning from 1944 to 1968, the period during which the reception of Concrete art by Latin American artists had the greatest impact. Each of the four chapters examines in detail a small body of artworks and writings by Latin American post-­Concrete artists and relates these to the context in which the artworks were first made and exhibited and to the development of spectatorship and the vicissitudes of the subject in Latin American art of the mid-­t wentieth century. In the first chapter I explore the adoption of Concrete art by artists working in Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the 1940s and the theorization of the artwork as an immediately present material entity providing access to a reality beyond fiction, beyond metaphor—­an art that does not signify anything other than itself and provides an unmediated experience of truth. I show how the artists foregrounded the materiality of the artwork, disrupting the unity and transparency of its form, to compel the spectator to reflect on how meaning is achieved in art. Rather than innate, natural, or given, meaning is inferred as a relational, open-­ended, and conditional process that takes place within the aesthetic field. I also investigate the ways in which the young Argentinian and Uruguayan artists understood and mobilized “invention” as a quasi-­scientific tool with which to reshape not only aesthetic but also social relations, and probe the logic that led a

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constellation of these artists to try to convince the local Communist Party that their art was the most politically relevant in its moment. The following three chapters each focus on artistic practices that break with Concrete art to develop certain individual approaches. One deals with the work of the Venezuelan artist Jesús Soto in Caracas and sub­ sequently Paris as he develops a form of art devoid of stable images that one can look at for a meaningful period. Another chapter addresses the role of the Argentinian Julio Le Parc in the formation and evolution of an artists’ group that sought to develop a series of new relationships between the artwork and the spectator. The final chapter concerns the exchange between Argentinian and Brazilian Concrete art in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the subsequent problematization of Concrete art in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Here the discussion turns to a consideration of the mediation of phenomenology in Brazilian art of the late 1950s and the complication of this philosophical notion by structuralist thought in the following decade. There is an important shift in the conception of subjectivity in this development. It raises key questions about the status of the human subject and the complex interplay between the increased participation of the spectator and the search for a lived, everyday creative experience that loomed large for Latin American artists working in the mid-­t wentieth century. That many of these questions have recently become central to artistic practice once again makes the issues explored in this book as pressing as they are historical. What is perhaps most at stake in the now-­distant history that I seek to generate through looking at and writing about the artworks of a handful of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American artists is that a politics of the present is embedded in that history. In a moment when interactivity functions as an altogether new model of capitalist normativity, when the health (i.e., growth) of the prevailing economic order is increasingly dependent on intensifying the integration of the human subject’s time and activity with the parameters of consumption and exchange, it becomes a political act to show the kinds of critical thinking once made possible by an art that galvanizes the spectator and asks her to question the relationship between appearance and reality—­between how things are and how she experiences them. Although this may be “a weak politics,” as art historian T. J. Clark reflected in a 2006 volume, “a reactive and defensive one,” at least it recognizes the high-­risk game that was played out in the mid-­t wentieth-­century inversion of the artist–­spectator pact, and in granting the spectator an unprecedented creative role in the realization of the artworks on display.33

Spectatorship after Abstract Art


Concrete Art and Invention


Concrete art acquaints humans with things rather than with the fiction of things.

A r t e C oncr e t o I n v e nción, 19 461 The world of dialectical materialism, which is at the heart of the philosophy of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, guides and confirms our attempts to formulate a materialist and concrete aesthetics.

T om á s M a l d on a d o, 19 46 2

Art world inequality and its relations of dominance provoke their own forms of struggle, rivalry, and competition. But the subjugated here have also developed specific strategies that can be understood only in an art framework, although they may have political consequences. Forms, innovations, movements, and stylistic developments may be diverted, captured, or annexed in attempts to overturn existing art power relations, especially by artists and critics who view their art systems as confined and impoverished in their particularity. For this reason, to speak of European or North American modernism as a colonial or imperial inheritance imposed on artists within subordinated regions is to overlook the fact that modernism itself, as a common value of the spaces of modernity, is also an instrument which, if taken possession of, can enable artists—­ especially those with the fewest resources—­to disrupt the naturalization of the local, the particular, and the national, and to attain a type of freedom, recognition, and existence within it. It is in these terms that I will analyze the advent of Concrete art in Latin America in the mid-­t wentieth century. How to explain the fact that this movement, which was appropriated by a handful of young artists who began their careers in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Caracas, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, could have turned the entire tradition of Latin American art on its head? Enthused by Concrete art well after it had made its mark in Europe, these artists carried out an astonishing operation, which can only be called a commandeering of artistic power and prestige: they imported into Latin American art itself the very procedures, themes,


vocabulary, and forms developed by the Europe-­based Concrete artists.3 This usurpation was asserted quite explicitly. The diversion of this power and prestige toward inextricably artistic and political ends was not, then, carried out in the passive mode of reception, and still less of influence, as traditional art-­historical analysis would have it. On the contrary, this capture was the active form and instrument of a complex struggle. To combat the largely parochial attitudes of the local ruling oligarchy in their homelands, these young Latin Americans openly asserted the artistic domination exercised by European modernism at the time. Concrete art in particular was used by the artists that are the focus of this chapter as the weapon in their art world struggles. The initial concepts and terminology of Concrete art were the products of discussions among artists in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The regular meetings of painters, sculptors, and musicians such as Piet Mondrian, Georges Vantongerloo, Luigi Russolo, Jean Arp, Sophie Täuber-­Arp, and Antoine Pevsner prompted Uruguayan painter Joachín Torrés-­García to cofound the Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) group in 1929.4 It was under this programmatic name that in April 1930 the association presented a large exhibition of nonfigurative art in Paris, featuring paintings, sculptures, and architectural models by an international array of artists.5 The exhibition and the review of the same name published by Belgian writer Michel Seuphor created a context whereby the plastic elements of geometric abstract art could be self-­reflexively interrogated. But the chronicle ran for only three issues, and with its termination the movement also fell apart. In May 1930, artist and theorist Theo Van Doesburg, who had maintained distance from the Cercle et Carré group and did not participate in its defining exhibition, launched yet another periodical: Art Concret.6 The journal functioned as the official organ of a constellation of geo­metric painters and sculptors who identified themselves as Concrete artists. The group did not amount to much, and the run of Art Concret ended with the first issue. But with it Van Doesburg introduced the notion of Concrete art. The “Concrete Art Manifesto” (1930), and particularly the short essay, “Comments on the Basis of Concrete Painting,” that Van Doesburg wrote to supplement it (both are published in Art Concret), pointedly differentiate the term concrete from abstract7 (fig.1.1). The manifesto consists of six numbered points. The first proclaims art’s universality. The second and third call for the priority of the cognitive over the sensual and declare all traces of the natural world to be outside of art’s purview. The artwork is to be constructed only from material elements, “purely plastic elements,” such as planes, lines, and colors. A pictorial element has “no other meaning than what it is by ‘itself.’”8 The last three points call for a simple and precise art characterized by clarity. In his outline of the basis of Concrete painting, Van Doesburg elaborated on these points: “In their search for purity artists were obliged to Ch ap ter One


Figure 1.1 Front page of Art Concret (Paris), 1930. Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, ­Princeton University. Photo: John Blazejewski.

abstract from natural forms in which the plastic elements were hidden, in order to eliminate natural forms and to replace them with artistic forms. Today the idea of artistic form is as obsolete as the idea of natural form. We establish the period of pure painting by constructing spiritual form.” Van Doesburg used the term spiritual to mean “mental” or “ideational,” to signify invention, the conception of entirely new forms: “Creative spirit becomes concrete. We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a color, a surface.”9 Whereas abstraction, for Van Doesburg, is negation, a withdrawal from reality, Concrete art assumes that reality eludes adequate representation and therefore must be constructed. Van Doesburg also sharply distinguished between representation of the natural world and the presentation of plastic forms and colors, highlighting the gap that exists between the two: “A woman, a tree, a cow; are these concrete elements in painting? No. A woman, a tree and a cow are Concrete Art and Invention


concrete only in nature; in painting they are abstract, illusionistic, vague and speculative. However, a plane is a plane, a line is a line, and no more or no less than that.”10 In other words, pictorial elements—­lines, colors, forms—­have less to do with a cow, a tree, or a figure in the natural world than with building a language of form, which is the language of the picture itself. Rather than referring to some overt subject matter, even if that reference is cast in the mode of abstracting a motif of some kind in the world down to its component parts or its basic elements, the idea is that the basic elements are in place and they can now be built into something else. The painting represents through its arrangement of these elements, which, in all of their artifice and construction, replace the matter-­of-­fact object in the natural world. Van Doesburg cast the artwork as an independent entity, as something that produces its own effects, which are intellectual rather than emotional. The notion of the lines, colors, and planes themselves doing the work lies at the heart of Concrete art. This led him to call for Concrete and not abstract painting, with the concrete defined as “clear, intellectual means of expression” capable of being presented in a material way: means of expression, on the whole, that the intellect uses in its (dialectical) attempt to come to terms with the empirical world. Thus Van Doesburg presents Concrete art as wholly derived from idealist philosophy—­as an art that tries to bridge the (unbridgeable) gap between the cognitive and the phenomenal by establishing a dialogue, not between the human mind (which he refers to as “spirit”) and the physical world, but between the mind and the means available to communicate its thought and contents. The achievement of Concrete art is that it overcomes the natural constraints of the physical world by the human mind/spirit. Ideas are translated into a pictorial language. The Concrete artwork exists as a whole in consciousness before it is translated into materials; thus “its production must reveal a technical perfection equal to that of the concept.”11 That execution—­that concretization of thought—­is Concrete art’s central concern. As Van Doesburg explains: “Only thought (intellect), which doubtless possesses a speed superior to that of light, is creative. . . . We use . . . intellectual means.”12 Much can be said about Van Doesburg’s comments on Concrete art. But for the moment I want to emphasize that in elaborating on the attributes of the universal idiom of Concrete art, Van Doesburg separates the idea or mental scheme from the material object that is the pictorial realization of that idea. The prerequisite for the artwork is the intellectual design, he argues, which is then brought to realization with the appropriate pictorial means and, where necessary, the aid of mathematics and other sciences. “Clarity,” he writes, “will serve as the basis for a new culture.”13 By “clarity” Van Doesburg means the revelation of the true content of art, a harmony discovered by the mind and subsequently exemplified through the arrangement of the very simplest pictorial elements. The graphic marks, hues, and planes of a Concrete painting are Ch ap ter One

therefore not merely a result of pictorial formation but also a means of rendering visible abstract and conceptual processes, schemes, and ideas. The latter can be pictorially illustrated to good effect by geometric or other mathematically derived forms: “Everything is measurable, even spirit with its one hundred and ninety-­nine dimensions. We are painters who think and measure.”14 19

Concrete Art

Following the disintegration of Cercle et Carré and the premature death of Van Doesburg in early 1931, Belgian painter Georges Vantongerloo in May 1931 attempted to coalesce an international constellation of nonobjective artists under the umbrella term Abstraction-­Création, Art non-­ figuratif.15 Stylistically tolerant and equipped with their own journal, Abstraction-­Création (published in Paris), this loose grouping of artists grew quickly and exponentially and became the center around which abstract art hovered in the early 1930s.16 As the association’s official statutes specify, the goal is “the organization, in France and abroad, of exhibitions of non-­figurative art commonly referred to as Abstract art, that is to say works which neither copy nor interpret nature.”17 Exhibitions were assembled in a number of European cities, and the work of these artists had a considerable impact on younger artists and ambitious institutions.18 The periodical, published in Paris five times a year between 1932 and 1936, features programmatic statements and manifestos as well as illustrations of work by affiliated artists. Abstraction-­Création thus provides a glimpse of the wide array of nonfigurative pictorial and sculptural tendencies practiced in that decade. With its stronghold in Paris, in the 1930s the notion of Concrete art was propagated in a number of exhibitions and publications.19 The Swiss artist and architect Max Bill began to theorize his work as “Concrete art” in the mid-­1930s.20 Bill had studied at the Bauhaus at Dessau between 1927 and 1929 with Lázló Moholy-­Nagy, Wassily Kandinsky, and Josef ­Albers, and had been affiliated with Abstraction-­Création in the early 1930s. During this period he befriended Vantongerloo, whose experiments with painting and sculpture Bill considered to be “beyond what appears to be the frontier of aesthetic existence at the time.”21 In 1936 Bill published a programmatic statement of the principles of Concrete art in the catalogue for the exhibition Zeitprobleme in der Schweizer Malerei und Plastik (Current Problems in Swiss Painting and Sculpture).22 Bill’s clear definition of Concrete art is an endorsement and an incentive. Concrete art, he explains, is by virtue of its special character an independent entity. It is fully distinct from nature. A product of the human intellect and intended only for intellectual contemplation, it should be of that incisiveness and unequivocality that can be expected of the human mind.23 Bill elaborated on practical issues concerning the production of Concrete art in the text accompanying the 1935–­38 portfolio of lithographs Concrete Art and Invention


Figure 1.2 Max Bill, Fifteen Variations on a Single Theme, 1935–­38. Four panels of a sixteen-­ part work. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLitteris, Zurich.

Quinze variations sur un même theme (Fifteen Variations on the Same Theme). With the method of Concrete art, he writes, “once the basic theme has been chosen—­whether it be simple or complex—­an infinite number of very different developments can be evolved according to individual in­clination and temperament.”24 Fifteen Variations on the Same Theme adopts as its compositional principle a preconceived mathematical scheme based on size and number and formal variations of basic elements. It features the continuous, systematic development of an equilateral triangle into a regular octagon (fig.1.2). Rather than closing the figure, the third side of the triangle is progressively shifted outward to form one of the sides of what will eventually become an octagon. In this way the originating figure of the triangle remains open and is merely suggested. The transitions from one polygon to the next are all made in the same fashion. The resultant figure is a spiral composed of straight lines of equal length. The angles and the areas between these lines show a great variety of form and tension, while an intuitively derived process of transformation (determined by “individual inclination and temperament”) counterbalances the logical rigor of the mathematics. “There are so many possible variations within these narrow boundaries,” Bill writes of Fifteen Variations on the Same Theme, with so many different possible combinations, some of them of diametrically opposed character, “that Ch ap ter One

this by itself proves that Concrete art harbors an infinite number of possibilities.”25 Much of Bill’s painting and sculpture of the late 1930s and 1940s works with basic mathematical schemes or problems. In texts such as “Die mathematische Denkweise in der Kunst unserer Zeit” (The mathematical approach in contemporary art) of 1949, Bill even describes Concrete art’s systematic exploration of abstract concepts as functioning as an aid to mathematics, which have advanced to a point at which many of its ideas are difficult to envision.26 Concrete art’s concern, he writes, is with making the formal “laws of structure” (defined as “sequence, rhythm, progression, polarity, regularity, the inner logic of process and construction”) visually perceivable.27 Like mathematics, Concrete art is a universal language that claims to make logical conceptions, ideas, and abstract thought visible and intelligible in concrete form.28 The more succinct the train of thought, the more comprehensive the unity between the basic idea and the material result, the more “universal” (i.e., understood directly and without the need of explanation or elaboration) art becomes.29 In sum, Bill’s Concrete art program entails developing and transforming an abstract idea or scheme, a preordering matrix, into a variety of dramatically different forms. Each scheme, while providing utmost variety within its fixed set of rules, functions as the abstract foundation of the specific quality of each element defined through it. The ultimate aim of the program is to establish a coherence among the artwork’s predetermined logic, its ruling principles, and the arrangement of the formal elements on a plane (or sculptural surface, as the case may be). One of the key merits of this method of production for Bill is that it provides a means of verifiability (and therefore a criterion for judgment) of the artwork; its success relies on the faithful execution of the scheme. The Río de la Plata

Concrete art came into conflict in the immediate postwar years with the dominant movements of abstract art in Europe. The tachisme ­(Tachism, or “lyrical abstraction”) tendency, then emerging in Paris, and l’art informel in France, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere were primarily concerned with a spontaneous form of self-­expression, with an existential, humanist-­driven gestural painting and sculpture. Not surprisingly, the Concretists, with their cult of clarity and order, rejected the thoroughgoing emphasis these movements placed on the subjectivity of production and reception as too irrational and romantic. The distinctions between the methods of working became increasingly stark in the late 1940s; whereas the paintings of the tachiste and informel abstractionists were relatively un­restrained in their depiction of human expression and emotion, the logical method of the Concrete artists established a predetermining structure prior to ­execution and then played that structure off an intuitively guided decision-­making process during the phase in which the picture or sculpConcrete Art and Invention



ture was formed. By 1950, however, Tachism’s lyrical abstraction and the tragic pathos of l’art informel had taken precedence in Europe, prompting Bill to pursue the propagation of Concrete art overseas. His efforts to link Concrete art with US abstract expressionism, which clearly shared more with the methods of the Tachism and l’art informel painters than with the tenets of Concrete art, were inevitably unsuccessful. But the contacts Bill established with artists in South America had greater impact. What a surprise it must have been for Bill to discover in the late 1940s that artists in the Río de la Plata region (shared between Uruguay and Argentina) had independently developed a full-­fledged, albeit relatively idiosyncratic, understanding of a systematic Concrete art in which the structural element prevailed over individual expression.30 In the mid-­ 1940s, young artists in Buenos Aires and Montevideo mobilized the term concreto in a very literal way to refer not to an idealist aesthetic, as had been the case in Bill’s Concrete art, but to a nonidealistic, nonmetaphysical aesthetic in which nothing was abstracted. Their art had neither prior association with nature nor any metaphorical or metaphysical significance. It also precluded traces of the representation of time, space, and depth in an illusionistic way and stood for nothing but itself. But the work of the Río de la Plata Concrete artists went far beyond the simple declaration of intellectual self-­referentiality or the formulation of an unconcerned, disinterested relationship with reality. These artists sought to achieve nothing less than a nonillusionistic painting of pure reference, genuinely realistic and directly engaged with the time and space of actual experience. The self-­described Concrete artists in Buenos Aires and Montevideo also emphasized “invention” to indicate that their compositions were the result of an intellectually creative process, not an expressive one, let alone one based on representing nature in any way. Although the abstract paintings of Torres-­García had been an important initial source, the young Concrete artists ultimately rejected the Uruguayan Constructivist’s continued reliance on self-­definition and on abstracted forms.31 Instead they placed emphasis on a highly rational artistic process that eliminated all illusions of perspectival space inherent to traditional pictorial representation, as well as the type of traces of the artist’s hand that were still evident in Torres-­García’s paintings. The only elements the Río de la Plata Concrete artists came to tolerate in pictorial representation were those that were not foreign to the identity of the painting as an object in itself. Theirs was a painterly materialism that contends that beneath the levels of metaphorical and simple figural meaning there exists a more elemental level of forms that communicate with each other—­interacting, reverberating, echoing, morphing, and transforming one into the other. The artists maintained that it is this plane of proto-­reality, a real that is denser, more fundamental, than figural reality, that provides the proper density to pictorial experience.

Ch ap ter One

The social and historical context in which the Río de la Plata Concrete movement developed was a highly promising one for the prospects of modernizing culture. Argentina remained neutral for all but the very end of the Second World War, and its economy benefited greatly from its increased exports of food provisions to warring countries during these years.32 The military, led by General Arturo Rawson, had ousted Ramón S. Castillo’s constitutional government in 1943, but the shadowy factions of the armed forces that installed General Pedro Ramírez as president (also in 1943) cut short Rawson’s own leadership.33 Juan Domingo Perón, then an army colonel and outspoken admirer of Mussolini, was given command of the Labor Department.34 He expanded the department and was remarkably successful in building bonds with organized labor.35 However, the very success of his efforts also made him dangerous. As the military junta became wary of Perón’s spreading popularity, it forced him to resign his governmental positions and imprisoned him without charge. Mass protests in the Plaza de Mayo in October 1945 organized by labor unions, allies within the military government, and his mistress, Eva María Duarte, a well-­known radio actress who had developed a large popular following, led to Perón’s release from prison and then to his solid victory in national elections in February 1946.36 Perón’s new government markedly improved the conditions of his power base, the urban proletariat, securing unprecedented protections for labor.37 As culture continued to be the realm of the oligarchical elite, however, the question of the rightful public for art became a central issue for many artists. In this political context, the Salón Independiente (Independent ­Salon) was inaugurated in downtown Buenos Aires as a distinct alternative to the Salón Nacional (National Salon), which, as art historian Andrea ­Giunta has shown, had in the mid-­1940s become “synonymous with the government, the dictatorship, and all those forces the masses wanted to eradicate.”38 The artists’ declaration in the catalogue to the first collective exhibition at the Independent Salon establishes an agenda that is more political than aesthetic: “The artworks on exhibit here were intended for the National Salon this year. The artists whose names appear on these works participate in this exhibit in solidarity with the democratic desires expressed by the intellectuals of this nation. With this attitude, the exhibitors wish to express that they are not indifferent to the problems affecting the activities of artists and citizens.”39 The Independent Salon opened on September 17, 1945. Giunta has revealed the extent to which Antonio Berni, the socialist realist painter, seized upon the opening of the Independent Salon “to defend his opposition to aestheticism.”40 “What is extraordinary,” Berni wrote in a review of the Salon, “is that against all the restrictions imposed on artists over the years to keep them within the unworkable and narrow conventional limits of a purist and romantic world, these artists have collectively broken out of their self-­imposed isolation, as well as that imposed on them,

Concrete Art and Invention



in order to mix in with the mass of citizens (as well they should), fighting for the cause of Argentine democracy without which, they know, the necessary spiritual probity and opportune climate for the free expansion of human personality is impossible.”41 The art featured in the Independent Salon was predominantly socialist realist, representing the class struggle, and the public was composed mainly of leftist artists and intellectuals. The young artists of the emerging Concrete art movement in Buenos Aires found their place in the space between the official National Salon and the alternative Independent Salon. Opposed to the sanctioned art styles, which for them consisted of all forms of realism, the Concrete artists “wrote manifestos, . . . spoke out among friends, and debated the role of precursors, seeking to validate their movement through discussions on absolute truth and knowledge of the single legitimate meaning of creation, art, and history.”42 In this frame of reference, Concrete art represented a modernity that left behind many of the tired experiments of the early twentieth century. As artist Tomás Maldonado wrote in ­November 1945: As Concrete artists, we trace our origins to the most progressive tendencies of European and American art. . . . We are against all forms that imply a regression. . . . We are against the mental and technical cowardice of the neo-­ realists, . . . against the dreamers of wilted carnations and interior worlds, who try to reproduce in our times of reconstruction and struggle, a romanticism for interiors, and, finally, we are against the up-­and-­comers, false dialecticians, who speak of “abstraction” as an artistic event of twenty years ago, ignoring the remarkable development of non-­representational art in the pre-­war period.43

Such negation is fairly common to the routine language of art and is often characteristic of avant-­garde strategies. It has animated many emerging art movements in the modern period. Maldonado and the Argentine Concrete artists are not remarkable in this regard. Yet the question whether the negations of Concrete art were carried out successfully in Argentina will for the moment have to be left open. It is difficult to determine what connection, if any, there might have been between the Argentine Concrete artists’ embrace of Marxism in the mid-­1940s and the politics of the state in the early years of the Perón administration.44 But it is fairly safe to equate Concrete art in Argentina with the prevailing sense of cultural and political optimism of the mid-­1940s. It was a moment to deploy dynamic creativity and progressive thought to overcome the repressed modernity that characterized the country and to open up the society that had hitherto been controlled by oligarchs and military brass. The cultural elite of the newly emerging middle class saw the darker side of European culture—­the surrealist interest in the unconscious and the liberation of the somber underpinnings of the ­human psyche—­and the nineteenth-­century pictorial forms of the socialist realists as less appropriate to the Argentinian context than the rational Ch ap ter One

and clear geometry of Concrete art. The latter was taken up dialectically; some aspects of Concretism were discarded and others carried forward. In the process, concrete abstraction was lofted to another plane. By the end of the decade, however, Perón’s government had effectively closed down whatever cultural possibilities it might have previously permitted and was aggressively (and self-­interestedly) intervening in the nation’s educational and cultural affairs.45 Legislation was passed to curb the civil freedoms that many had begun to assume just a few years earlier.46 Ultraconservative forces had also taken over the country’s cultural institutions, culminating in hysterical attacks on abstract art such as the notorious speech by Perón’s minister of education, Oscar Ivanissevich, in 1949: Today, people who are failures, who have anxieties over the future, who desire an easy posterity, without study, without talent and without morals, have found a refuge in abstract art. This morbid, perverse, and infamous art has progressively led to the utter degradation of art. It reveals the visual, intellectual and moral aberration of a group, fortunately small, of misfits. . . . Morbid art, abstract art, does not fit in; there is no place for it in our young and blossoming country. It is not in line with Peronist doctrine, which is a doctrine of love, perfection and altruism that has heavenly ambitions for the people. It is not in line with the virtues of Perónist doctrine, a product of the innate virtues of the people, which it is intended to maintain, stimulate, and exalt.47

Reactionary diatribes like this were bad enough. Worse yet, Concrete artists were disparaged with equal hostility by the very public they most sought to cultivate. As will soon become apparent, in the context of a rise in populist nationalism the artists’ aspirations to make Concrete art the genuine art of the revolutionary Left, the artistic avant-­garde of the Argentine Communist Party, were ultimately unsuccessful, and this devastating failure effectively contributed to the collapse of the movement by the end of the decade. Arturo

The publication of the only issue of the landmark journal Arturo: Revista de Artes Abstractas (Arturo: Magazine of abstract art) in April 1944 marks the beginning of Concrete art in Latin America.48 The editors of the ­periodical, the Uruguayans Carmelo Arden Quin and Rhod Rothfuss and the Argentines Gyula Kosice and Edgar Bayley, present Arturo as Buenos Aires’s first “abstract arts magazine.”49 Though a mere forty pages long and with a print run of only 250 copies, Arturo was nothing short of a milestone in the history of art in the Río de la Plata. An abstract lithograph by Maldonado, in maroon, black. and white, and strongly reminiscent of Wassily Kandinsky’s woodcuts, illustrates the front and back covers of the journal (fig. 1.3), and nineteen images of works by the artists Vieira Da Concrete Art and Invention


Figure 1.3 Cover of Arturo (Buenos Aires), 1944.

Silva, Torres-­García, Augusto Torres, Kandinsky, Mondrian, and others are featured in between.50 Arden Quin, Rothfuss, Torres-­García, Bayley, and Kosice wrote the six essays, and the sixteen poems included in the volume were penned by an array of figures from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil.51 Torres-­García went right to the point in “Con respecto a una futura creación literaria,” the manifestolike text he published in Arturo.52 “Only that artist who has been able to find a novel, personal rhythm will be able to render accurately what he feels and perceives.” This “personal rhythm” is the inventive force, and it is “invention” above all that artists should pursue.53 With these words Torres-­García encouraged the new generation of painters, sculptors, and poets coming together in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. He knew that his own trajectory, especially his earlier abstract paintings and his role in the foundation of Cercle et Carré in Paris in 1929, had been an important initial source for these artists, and his text took a paternal tone, warning them about the dangers of adhering too methodically to the influence of precursors.54 Torres-­García’s association with the historical avant-­garde made him an obvious artistic mentor, as did his desire to develop a Latin American art—­an Escuela del Sur (School of the South)—­with its own unifying characteristics and free of European dominance in the relatively parochial setting of the Río de la Plata.55 So his advocacy of invention resonated Ch ap ter One

profoundly.56 Already in 1936 he had pronounced that “invention is everything for painting” (la invención en la pintura lo es todo) and singled out invention as the artist’s guiding principle.57 His notion of invention was coupled with the act of discovery—­“to find a novel, personal rhythm”—­ distinct from that of “creation.” To create was to come up with something entirely new, whole cloth. To invent was closer to discovery.58 Torres-­ García invoked the concept of invention as an essentialist goal to advance a definition of art practice that was different from interpretations that defined art solely in terms of its imitative or manifest (and sensual) properties. The most prominent of these were theories of art that avowed mimeticism and expressionism—­that asserted a relationship between the artwork and the artist’s perception and feelings. Starting from the belief that what generates aesthetic experience is the fusion of emphatic and nonsensual properties to find essential concepts and experiences, Torres-­García developed an idealist interpretation of art that included an important sensuous dimension. Invention was certainly the rallying concept for the artists who put together the first issue of Arturo, as several dictionary definitions of the word were printed in large letters on the inside of the front leaf cover. The definitions were consonant with Torres-­García’s sense of the term: “to in v en t: to find or discover using skill or mediation, or by mere chance, a new or previously unknown thing. To find, imagine, or create the work of a poet or an artist. in v en tion: The action or effect of inventing. The invented thing. Finding. in v en tion versus autom atism.”59 The last line was at once a critique of the manifest aesthetics of surrealism with which the automatist practice of irrationally generated graphic inscription was associated and an avowal of an art that pivoted on nonmanifest (i.e., rational and theoretical) properties, or on properties that are found to relate to the framework of art objects. In a dramatic reversal of dominant aesthetic programs and philosophies, the young artists following Torres-­García’s lead rendered matters of taste, beauty, and expression marginal to the definition of art. For them, it was primarily the invention of forms that concerned art; it was the discovery of something new. Ironically, Arturo came together immediately after Torres-­García had published the last issue of the review Circulo y Cuadrado, which was one of the artist’s few remaining links with the historical avant-­garde of which he was a part in the 1920s and early 1930s.60 In the publication Manifesto 2: Constructivo 100% (1938), Torres-­García proclaims the end of avant-­garde constructivism: it is a “thing of the past” that has “come to an end.”61 The Asociación de Arte Constructivo that he had founded upon his return to Uruguay in 1934 would no longer function as “the headquarters of a movement, but rather a place for study and dissemination of the constructive idea, in any culture, but preferably the Indo-­American.”62 Indeed, by the 1940s Torres-­García had mediated elements of the abstract aesthetic he had previously developed with his concept of indigenism, which took pre-­ Inca culture as a “guiding star.”63 The new art fused art of the past with Concrete Art and Invention



that of the present. It mixed figuration and abstract design, as well as rational and intuitive ideas, in a manner that referred back to and drew on the art of indigenous cultures in South America. The result was identified as a new “ideology, with its myths, symbols, and legends.”64 But, initially at least, the artists who put together Arturo seem content to have ignored the archaic metaphysical aspects of the Uruguayan master’s recent trajectory, his growing lack of interest in representing modern experience. They were only too happy to include him as a mentor along with the likes of the great Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro, whose Creacionismo also championed invention over mimesis, leaving the syntactically open poem as a fragmented sequence of allusions without reference to nature.65 Who first approached Torres-­García to contribute a text to the new ­review remains in question. The artist Carmelo Arden Quin claims to have met him in the mid-­1930s while living in Montevideo.66 Torres-­ García, who had relocated to Montevideo in 1934, gave a number of public talks in the Uruguayan capital in 1935 that Arden Quin recalls attending. Torres-­García lectured on the artistic experiments of various European abstract artists, including Kasimir Malevich, Kandinsky, El Lissitzky, Georges Vantongerloo, Mondrian, and other members of the Cercle et Carré group that he had cofounded in Paris with the Belgian writer Michel Seuphor. Arden Quin also contends that he read everything by Torres-­García he could find and listened regularly to the elder artist’s weekly radio broadcasts in the late 1930s. An introduction to Torres-­ García following a lecture in Montevideo in early 1935 led to an invitation to his studio.67 Apparently the discussions were generative, and Arden Quin was invited back on a number of occasions, even after the younger artist moved to Buenos Aires. Torres-­García’s meticulous agenda books do not make mention of Arden Quin’s visits in the 1930s. Instead they cite the fairly regular visits of another young Uruguayan artist, Rhod Rothfuss, which began in March 1943.68 Rothfuss was at the time making irregularly shaped wood relief paintings that broke with the classical tradition of the orthogonal frame. He included an illustration of one of these in Arturo. But it was another of his artworks illustrated in the journal, a relief sculpture titled Plástica en madera (1944), fabricated from elemental forms and materials and evocative of the type of pre-­Columbian art that Torres-­García was actively promoting, that most caught the elder artist’s attention. Plástica en madera resembles compositions by Torres-­García such as Pachamama, or Padre Inti, both circa 1944, about which he was quite enthusiastic during these years.69 Rothfuss began to introduce his friends to Torres-­García. One of these was Tomás Maldonado, whose work was featured in Arturo. Maldonado traveled with Rothfuss to Torres-­García’s studio in March 1944.70 Maldonado was evidently impressed by Torres-­García’s fusion of art and craft and his promotion of the principles of modern art through an active program of exhibitions, publications, and public lectures.71

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Arturo’s “Invention”

Arden Quin set out Arturo’s aesthetic and political agenda in the untitled opening essay. Paradoxically, however, the model of invention he mobilizes in this text differs from the definition articulated by Torres-­García and included on the inside cover of the journal. Rather than finding or discovering, which were at the core of Torres-­García’s notion of invention, Arden Quin couples “invention” with pure creativity and calls for the apotheosis of invention over all forms of representation or expression. Also present in Arden Quin’s tract is a reference to primitive art, in which, following Torres-­García, he expresses an interest. Yet this does not lead him, as it did the latter, into an analysis of the affinities between pre-­Columbian art and twentieth-­century constructivism. Rather, Arden Quin adds to Torres-­García’s inquiry a political, Marxist interpretation. For Arden Quin, the function and process of invention is not merely aesthetic—­it is primarily social. As an avowed dialectical materialist, he understands art to be a manifestation of superstructure activity that is generated by material conditions. The first sentences of his essay make clear the socioeconomic structure that he believes underpins cultural forms; he presents art as ideological in the classical Marxist sense, an integral part of society’s superstructure and deterministically related to the material economic base of society. Marxists see artistic and cultural developments as mirroring shifts in the economic foundation.72 Later in the essay Arden Quin suggests that the emergence and development of modern art is symptomatic of artists’ attempts to destroy the capitalist order and to create “a new society under socialist forms of production.”73 The central tool for this destruction, he maintains, is “invention,” which is capable of providing a glimpse of that which is beyond the contradictions of the ideological superstructure of capitalism.74 Invention is thus taken to mean the act of devising an object or idea by exercise of the intellect or imagination, and mobilized to signify a revealing flash in which something is contrived in the process of a practice as a singular transgression that opens up new horizons. It mediates between object and subject, between that which is and that which sees or thinks. The emphasis is on the origination of something previously unknown. The task is to break with fixed perceptions and reified thought and to restore fluidity to the action of contriving and creating. Invención, as it turns out, is also the title of the irregularly shaped oil painting by Maldonado reproduced on the page facing Arden Quin’s lead text in Arturo. Although the painting is now lost, Maldonado’s Invención No.2 (ca. 1943–­44) featured colored shapes and forms contained within thick black outlines that resemble the expressionistic lines of the artist’s lithograph on the journal’s cover. The paint appears to have been applied across the surface in a relatively loose manner, with brushstrokes evident and pigment overlapping, though in no way overwhelming, the linear

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armature structure. But the most striking aspect of the painting was its irregularly shaped frame. Rather than the conventional rectangle with clearly defined orthogonals, this work seems to have been shaped to accord with the pictorial composition it depicts. The notion of invention evidently gave these artists license to transform even the most settled conventions of painting. The formal possibilities were thus endless. Edgar Bayley’s imposing essay in Arturo, also left untitled, couples the prospects of invention and creativity with another important criterion: the presentation of literal objects. Bayley announces that for the young artists aesthetic value is not dependent on a representation’s relationship to objects in nature; rather, it is located in the degree to which the artwork as a new kind of image (what he calls imagen-­invención, an image in the making) addresses its own pure plastic properties. As he phrases it, “It is not incumbent on aesthetic value to be in accord with any reality other than on the condition of the image proper [la condición de la propia imagen]. . . . An image acquires a new sense when relieved of the need to refer to objects that already exist in the world.”75 The “derealization of the image,” by which Bayley evidently means the negation of figural anecdotal representation or spatial illusion, leads to new creative possibilities. To release the artwork as image from its traditional role of referring to the natural world in a representational manner and to emphasize instead its inventive qualities is to collapse the distinction between the literal and the figural in favor of a transparency of meaning. This development would allow significantly greater freedom to the structure of the artwork’s composition and bring an end to the traditional fiction of the figural in favor of an emphasis on the presence of pure plastic components. A poem by Huidobro, an editorial by Kosice, and poetic compositions by an array of writers follow Bayley’s essay.76 But it is the Uruguayan painter Rhod Rothfuss’s article at the back of the journal, “El marco: Un problema de plástica actual” (The frame: A problem of contemporary art), that will best encapsulate the concept of invention upheld by the artists who put together Arturo.77 Rothfuss sums up the needs that made the classical orthogonal frame standard in the first place, understanding its origin in an attempt to create an illusionistic pictorial box within which all visual elements are placed, and then criticizes the severe limits that convention places on the formal composition. He is particularly critical of the manner in which the rectangular frame anchors the painting’s illusion of separateness from the world. This leads him to propose the irregular frame as a first step in a theoretical-­material questioning of the structure of painting itself. He writes that by breaking with the traditional format of the quadrilateral frame, artists can disrupt the established terms in which traces of depth are built in an illusionistic way and emphasize the physicality of a painting.78 Rothfuss also asserts that the irregularly shaped painting, by its very nature, prompts artists and spectators alike to rethink the boundary

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­between the virtual space of the art object and the actual space of the room. As a defining structure, the frame organizes and limits the artwork’s system of reference and spatial relations. It also serves to separate the viewing subject from the viewed world. The painterly object, when set free from the delimitation exercised by the conventional frame, is liberated from the mimetic traces that through centuries of practice have become intuitive to this medium; thus the object is now capable of functioning as more than a separate element circumscribing a naturalistically rendered scene. It can at this moment transition from self-­contained object into real space, interrelating with the spatial and architectural context which it shares with the spectator, and function as a part of a whole environment. Here lies one of the central contradictions that will characterize much Concrete art in the Río de la Plata: the irregular frame will at once be seen as the key tool for the production of a new kind of artistic object (purely self-­reflexive, literal, overt, “beginning and ending in its own”) and the hinge for the expansion of the pictorial composition beyond the traditional picture plane and into the surrounding architectural context. The paintings will always exist as a problem for the space around them. A combination of literalness and openness, this art’s core feature, is put in the service of absorbing the spatial surroundings. Rhodfuss’s polemical essay stresses the material quality of painting, its stubborn objectivity, over painting’s representational and pictorial potential. Invention, from this perspective, begins with the obliteration of the previously rectangular “window” of the picture plane, which in turn renders the compositions more dynamic and enables them to interact with their milieu in new ways. The Río de la Plata artists share with the European Concrete art legacy the notion of the work of art as a wholly desublimated object void of “any natural form, sensuality, or sentimentality,” but they give the framing edge of the canvas an active role in the reimagination of what a composition might be and open the possibility of integrating the spatial environment into the logic of the work.79 Needless to say, these developments would be anathema to artists such as Max Bill, for whom the integrity of the art object, its delimited totality, is fundamental.80 The dialectical nature of Río de la Plata Concrete art, at least in its first manifestation, rests here, in the unlikely coupling of the necessary and purely autonomous artwork with its surrounding physical and architectural context.81 Invention, necessity, and openness culminate in an aesthetic of totality and performance, with the latter consolidating the former. The painting by Rothfuss that illustrates his article features an irregular frame. The seven-­sided polygon’s composition is within the legacy of the analytical phase of cubism, complete with the recognizable traces and references that are typical of a cubist still life (table, glass, guitar). This painting too is apparently lost; the illustration in Arturo is all that remains of it. But we can get an idea of its materials, and maybe of its color

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Figure 1.4 Rhod Rothfuss, untitled (Arlequín), 1944.

scheme, from a similar, irregularly framed painting of the same moment, which has come to be titled Arlequín (Harlequin)82 (fig. 1.4). This curious, stunningly uncertain composition, with its multiple visual planes and overlapping forms, falls back on early twentieth-­century forms of illusionism. The picture is also somewhat representational. Centered within the irregular frame, standing before geometric forms that resemble buildings, appears the abstracted outline of what seems to be a human figure. The costume and posture are loose, and ineffectual, against the surrounding pressures of the broken frame. The garb—­red hat; red and brown pants; blue, white, and deep-­orange-­colored diamonds in the folds of the stiff cape—­suggests a harlequin, at least in the manner that this type has traditionally been represented in modern European painting. The composition extends beyond the framing edge—­now irregular—­ that conventionally marks the limit of a painting and into the space the Ch ap ter One

spectator occupies, lessening in turn the latter’s totalizing control over the object. The pictorial object—­as object—­thus beckons the spectator to consider its relation to real space, occupying space in the here and now much in the same way as does the spectator. But just as suddenly and completely the irregular frame’s opposite comes into play. The acute angle painted in ochre with a loose wash of chestnut brown on the top left corner is the clue. This painted wedge, measuring no more than 45 degrees where the rays join, is carefully aligned with a number of similar forms in the picture. It echoes not only the jagged framing edge at the top of the canvas but also the top of the firebrick-­red plane that bisects the composition at its center and the ­angle of that same unit at the bottom right of the painting, the foreground just below where the left foot of the harlequin rests. Likewise the vector forming the right side of the black rectangular shape that serves as the immediate backdrop—­suggestive of an architectural edifice in the far distance and a lamppost or kiosk in the middleground—­for the harlequin figure resonates straightaway with the irregular cut of the framing edge to the right, while the left-­hand upper corner of this rectangle repeats the angles that bracket the left side of the picture. And so on. The composition stacks plane upon plane with the outer edge echoing the shape of the inner edges, though not in contact with any of them. Thus the frame, although roomy, contains the inner forms, rather like a mummy in a mummy case. There are more than enough correlations between the semi-­abstract compositional forms that make up the picture and the framing edges that surround these forms to imply a relationship between them, and this exchange brings to an immediate halt the suggestion of the composition’s expanding into its architectural surround. That the painting Rothfuss uses to illustrate his text is somewhat odd within the context of the essay’s argument has often been noted. The curator Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, for instance, an authority on this art, remarks on the “disparity” that exists between this semi-­figurative composition and Rothfuss’s “very upbeat and ambitious denunciation of figuration” in his Arturo text.83 But when the painting is strategically juxtaposed to the compositions of Kandinsky and Mondrian, as is the case on the last two pages of Arturo, Rothfuss’s reasons for using it as an example become clearer. In “The Frame: A Problem of Current Plastic Art,” Rothfuss argues that the work of modernists such as Kandinsky and even Mondrian is not abstract enough because, in relying on “the window-­shaped concept of naturalistic pictures,” those paintings end up presenting only “parts” of what they seek to communicate and “not its wholeness.” Kandinsky and Mondrian’s paintings are therefore incomplete; they are fundamentally limited by their unquestioned reliance/dependence on the traditional device of the orthogonal frame. Only “when the frame is strictly structured in relation to the composition of the painting” can a picture claim to be complete—­a painting that blindly continues the convention of the parallelogram frame is necessarily reduced to a fragment.84 From this Concrete Art and Invention



perspective, the illustration of Rothfuss’s painting in this article is meant to function more as a comparison, to reveal the relative incompleteness of even the most abstract oblong compositions vis-­à-­vis a work that negates the “window” concept, than as a quintessential example of a nonfigurative painting with an irregular frame. Taken as a whole, then, Rothfuss’s essay at once acknowledges the modernist legacy of which Mondrian’s and Kandinsky’s work is considered the pinnacle and yet dares to suggest that it has solved problems that have limited the paintings of even the grandest of precursors. This bold notion of simultaneously taking on and developing further the Concrete art legacy reveals much about the confidence of these artists in the mid-­1940s. Their relationship with Concrete art is complex. Many adopt Concrete art as a working method, but the transformation of Concrete art also becomes symptomatic of the period and comes to characterize some of its most consequential art. Arte Concreto-­Invención

The publication of Arturo was immediately followed by a number of group exhibitions, with the artists rallying around the central concepts of Concrete art and invention and identifying their movement as Arte Concreto-­Invención. One of these shows took place at the Galeria Comte in Buenos Aires in late 1944 and included an informal display of paintings and sculptures by Maldonado, Prati, Rothfuss, Arden Quin, and others. Larger and better-­attended events were held at the residence of psychiatrist Enrique Pichón-­Rivière, president of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Society, in October 1945, and at the home of Bauhaus-­trained photographer Grete Stern in December of that year.85 These shows, subsequently referred to as the first and second Arte Concreto-­Invención exhibitions, were visited not only by prominent members of the Argentine psychoanalytical community but also by a wide-­ranging array of the Río de la Plata cultural intelligentsia.86 The events have since come to be seen as the first Madí exhibitions, given that no work by the members of the group that in November coalesced under the name Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención was included. The paintings on display at the apartment of Pichón-­Rivière featured many variations on the nonquadrilateral frame. These include ir­regularly shaped canvases mounted on wood, as well as an assortment of multi­ panel paintings without an overarching frame and held together by wooden rods.87 The event was supplemented by a series of poetry readings and a concert of experimental music.88 Arden Quin commenced the proceedings by reading from notes that he would subsequently publish as “El móvil” (The mobile). His rambling speech identifies some of the main aspects of the new art and its precedents. Not surprisingly, invention and the irregular frame are emphasized. “The use of polygons . . . is

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what separates us,” he maintains, “what gives us originality. By abandoning the four classic orthogonal angles—­the square and rectangle—­as a basis for composition, we have increased the possibilities for invention of all kinds.”89 But Arden Quin places the artists in his circle in direct line not with the abstract movements of the early twentieth century but with an avant-­garde phenomenon that developed parallel to abstraction: kinetic art: 35

We know the history of mobility in art. We acknowledge and salute our predecessors, and thank them for their example and teachings. It is in that spirit of gratitude that we work. In our particular case, we will first cite futurism and its contribution of the concept of movement and its dynamic creations, and then eminent artists such as [László] Moholy-­Nagy and [Alexander] Calder, among others. We consider ourselves to be their followers, even though they were unable to transmit to us fundamental data, such as the concept of polygonality in painting, because of their lack of “awareness” of that idea.90

Taking a cue from these precedents, as well as some of their affected theatricality, Arden Quin goes on to insist, in Dada-­like fashion, that all of the arts should be made mobile: “Let us make painting mobile, sculpture mobile, architecture mobile, the poem mobile, and thought dialectical, and let us dance the new art to the beat of Esteban Eitler’s music.”91 I will return to Eitler’s music in a moment, but first the implications of Arden Quin’s conflation of dialectical thought and mobility are worth contemplating. Art, according to Arden Quin, is to be made in constant flux, based on an interwoven set of variables that, as a function of time, will never be the same twice. And insofar as it refuses preordained rules of artistic form, preferring inconstant functions between objects, such mobile art is as spatial as it is temporal. Indeed, the crux of Arden Quin’s argument turns on the notion that as soon as the observer physically engages with an object that moves, she cognitively spatializes forms. This is because to conceive of an object in motion, it is necessary to visualize that object as a distinct entity while locating it within its spatial context. It is this dialectical mental process of abstracting the moving object from its environment while simultaneously embedding it within that space that enables the production of the sense of movement. By engaging with a movable object, the spectator visualizes it in the confines of a particular homogenous space, even though the object and the space—­as much as the object and the other objects in the space—­are not homogenous. Arden Quin’s argument is important not only for the way it offers a more concrete understanding of aesthetic experience (in fact, the very physicality of experience is the striking aspect of his argument) but also for the manner in which it draws an essential distinction between the phenomenological experience of aesthetic objects that move in reality and the abstraction

Concrete Art and Invention


and conceptualization of that experience. More generally, Arden Quin’s short text suggests that much about kinetic art is actually about qualities of space—­to imagine that art moves at all is to think about its existence in space. Arden Quin’s thesis on mobility in art was best exemplified by Kosice’s Escultura articulada (Articulated Sculpture, 1945), included in the Pichón-­ Rivière exhibition. This brass construction, similar to several others that Kosice made in the next couple of years (fig. 1.5), consists of an assembly of thin modular brass bands.92 The artist hinged together the individual

Figure 1.5 Gyula Kosice, Mobile Articulated Sculpture, 1948. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art. Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

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Figure 1.6 Gyula Kosice, Royi, 1944. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA. Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund. Bridgeman Images.

bands in a manner that, whether suspended in space or placed upon a horizontal surface, facilitates their manipulation by the spectator; moreover, the sculpture’s lightweight materiality ensures that it will change shape every time it is handled. Its performative quality is inextricably linked to its concrete playing out of specific aesthetic positions. The sculpture is more inclined toward a process than a finished-­work conception of art. A similar principle of spatial dynamics and performability is operative in Kosice’s sculpture Royi (1944), a wooden object consisting of eight cylinder-­shaped elements (fig.1. 6). Like Articulated Sculpture, Royi can, through the tangible intervention of the spectator, assume an infinite variety of compositional arrangements and effects as its basic constitutive elements are rearranged and reconfigured. Both Royi and ­Articulated Sculpture are thus highly indeterminate. Their logic functions as a kind of dynamism rammed up against stasis, a set of guerrilla raids on the immanent in which the spectator has no sooner cognitively registered the form of the sculpture than the piece takes another form. Concrete Art and Invention


Kosice emphasized the kinetic mobility of Royi, as well as the temporal immediacy and spatial palpability it brings to the relationship with the spectator, when he reproduced it in the issue of the bulletin Invención that he edited in 1945. He included a number of photographs of the sculpture, each featuring the object in a differently configured, highly palpable form. Royi calls for the direct tactile engagement of the spectator, who is encouraged to pull the object away from the virtual space of sculpture and, through direct engagement with the material form, relocate it within the broader aesthetic field. The emphasis is on the spectator’s sense experience and perception. What is now at stake is the increased presence and recalcitrant materiality of the sculptural object. Artworks such as Royi live in the confines of three-­dimensional plastic form, delighting in procedure, even while they break out to expand the boundaries of the true nature and proper province of sculpture. They “require the viewer’s participation, because if there is no viewer to lend them movement, they are pointless,” as Kosice noted in retrospect.93 The Arte Concreto-­Invención exhibition at the home of Greta Stern seems to have been an extravaganza. The show, organized by the Movimiento de Arte Concreto-­Invención, featured works by painters, sculptors, and architects and readings by a hodgepodge of literary figures. The coordinators also scheduled a series of improvised expressionist dances by the German émigré Renate Schottelius and performances of the atonal compositions of La Nueva Música society, led by Juan Carlos Paz and Esteban Eitler.94 La Nueva Música, founded by Paz in 1936, was infamous in Buenos Aires in the late 1930s and the 1940s. Paz had studied Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-­tone technique of composing music, and his early adherence to dodecaphony had professionally isolated him from the more conservative Argentinian cultural establishment. But this all changed just around the time of the Arte Concreto-­Invención exhibitions, when younger composers such as Eitler and more ambitious audiences became interested in atonality and twelve-­note rows. The Arte Concreto-­Invención exhibitions at the Buenos Aires homes of Pichón-­Rivière and Stern are also important for the way in which they reveal the group’s growing interest in aleatory experience, direct viewer participation, and the intertwining of opposites such as rationality and irrationality, stasis and movement, structure and openness—­binaries that in this context come to be interdependent. The music of Eitler, who would become one of the core members of the soon-­to-­be-­named Madí movement, is a case in point. The iconoclastic musician arranged pieces of unusual instrumentation meant to be performed in the concert hall. But he also composed unconventional music to be heard at places such as tearooms, dance clubs, and the Arte Concreto-­Invención exhibitions.95 Given that Arden Quin champions Eitler’s music in the text he read at the home of Pichón-­Rivière—­“let us dance the new art to the beat of Esteban Eitler’s music”—­we can suppose that the composer had by then moved beyond the limits of twelve-­tone composition and begun to explore the Ch ap ter One

possibilities of what Arden Quin would soon describe as a systematic ordering of “spatial sounds and rhythms, lines and planes of thematic noises.”96 Nowhere in the world did there yet exist a comparable music. Perhaps the closest precursor is the Futurist sound compositions of Luigi Russolo.97 But Futurism’s points of theoretical departure were very different from those of the Argentine Concrete artists. The mobile structures of Kosice, with their malleable parts and their encouragement of tactile interaction, might provide a key to unlocking the logic of Eitler’s scores. In both cases, the performer (or participant) is granted the ability to make decisions about the “direction” that will take her through the connections of thoroughly precomposed parts. An Objective Art

The Arte Concreto-­Invención group that followed upon the publication of Arturo did not cohere for long. By late 1945 it had fragmented into splinter groups. Arden Quin already noted in his speech at the Art ­Concret Invention chez Pichón-­Rivière exhibition in October 1945 that rifts were beginning to develop in the young movement. He identifies the artists clustered around Maldonado as the central culprits. In a pompously officious tone, Arden Quin reported to the room full of guests at the home of Pichón-­Rivière that “our movement, which is barely in the founding stage, is already divided, precisely because of a lack of polygonal ‘awareness,’ and the tendency of a part of our group to return to the ancient rectangular order, which we cannot accept under any circumstances.”98 Less than a month after Arden Quin publicly read the notes that culminated in “The Mobile” to the Buenos Aires cultural intelligentsia, Maldonado, together with his wife (Lidy Prati), his brother (Edgar Bayley), and several others, announced that they had established the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención (henceforth AACI).99 This group of artists set out to develop a resolutely self-­sufficient, wholly anti-­idealist art of pure form that would cohere with their notions of materialism.100 The other founders of Arturo were also committed materialists, but they were not as intent on bringing their work in line with such strict objectivity. They clung firmly to the vestiges of the aesthetic. As the artists in the new AACI began to explore the empirical limits and political dimension of their paintings and sculptures, they increasingly came to dismiss the traces of illusion and reference in the work of Arden Quin, Kosice, and others in their initial circle as lacking rigor, as evidence of not being concrete enough. They developed yet another model of invention, different from those elaborated by both Torres-­García and their former colleagues. Rather than the notion of discovering or finding order, which was how Torres-­ García defined invention, or that of an atemporal flash of inspiration, a creation ex nihilo in which something occurs, which was how ­Arden Quin, Kosice, and others in their initial circle characterized invention, for Maldonado and his new group the concept meant uncovering for the Concrete Art and Invention



first time the underlying materiality of art—­something that was always possible but had not been achieved because of the proliferation of myth. Invention was thus conceived as a form of full-­fledged recognition rather than creative discovery or clever contrivance. According to the AACI, the realization of the true artwork had always in the past been possible but it had never been accomplished because the historical conditions were not right. Therefore underpinning inventionist work for the AACI was an ethical and moral imperative to arrive at truth—­in other words, the inventive positing of the artwork in response to a past that precedes its realization. As always already a response rather than the inaugurating event of something entirely novel, this form of invention is given its status as “original” or “transgressive” in relation to the dominant notions of art, in this case the codes of the conventional realist artwork that promote identification, which it exposes as duplicitous or at least reveals as the invented fiction they “really” are. There was yet another factor underlying the tensions between the two factions: the growing affiliation of the artists in the new Asociación with the Argentine Communist Party. On September 19, 1945, the same day that a massive protest march organized by a broad political front of progressive groups (not only communists, socialists, and anarchists but also social democrats and even some members of the military) was held in the Plaza Congreso, the newly legalized Argentine Communist Party weekly Orientación magazine announced the membership of Bayley, Manuel ­Espinosa, Claudio Girola, Alfredo Hlito, and Maldonado in the Party.101 The publication in early 1946 of Bayley’s article “Sobre arte concreto” (On Concrete art) in Orientación made the political leanings of the new Concrete art absolutely clear.102 Bayley’s theoretical tract presents Concrete art as a truly Marxist aesthetic, wrestling at every turn with the mystifications of ideology.103 The author begins by reiterating the classic Marxist model of base and superstructure, with the latter’s dependence on the former. “In all ages,” Bayley writes, “artistic style has kept a relation with the way in which productive forces were organized. Thus, to each socioeconomic transformation there have corresponded, sooner or later, others of an artistic, spiritual kind.”104 The post–­World War II period that has just begun, he continues, is “an age of reconstruction and socialism” and as such “demands an art consistent with the material life of a society.” Only an art stripped of all metaphorical elements, an objective art of concrete invention, can meet the challenges of the new society: “Nowadays we are in a position to state that the value of a work of art does not lie . . . in an anecdotal meaning but, on the contrary, in the strength and quality of the invention that produces it.”105 In referring to “anecdotal meaning,” Bayley invokes the figural or nonliteral element of works of art: that conceptual dimension of art (including sentimental connotations and scientific or technical preconceptions) that links the material object-­world to the mind of the viewer. But for Bayley, the Marxist poet, the goal is to achieve “an absolute, radical Ch ap ter One

formalism that entertains no notion of reference or semiosis,” as literary critic Paul de Man writes in a different context. In this mode of seeing, de Man further explains, “vision is purely material, devoid of any reflexive or intellectual contemplation, it is also purely formal, devoid of any semantic depth and reducible to the formal mathematization or geometrization of pure optics.”106 By contrast, reference and illusion, as much as fiction and metaphor, from this point of view function in a tropological manner—­that is, they serve to construct “a substantive relationship that has to posit a meaning whose existence cannot be verified, but that confers upon the sign an unavoidable signifying function”—­and are thus considered to be ideological.107 Tropes are by definition meaningful, but their meanings can never be equated with that which is true in the sense of being literally demonstrable or justifiable: they posit a meaning whose existence cannot be verified. Tropes are thus ideological, creating imaginary relationships between the mind and the world. Better put, ideology is produced by the irresistible tropological potential of (linguistic or visual) representation, which carries or directs thought toward material objects and events. In the visual arts these biases in perception are organized in the construction of artworks through devices of geometry, framing, color, light, perspective, figuration, and the like. These devices align the perception of the spectator with the view of established traditions of looking at and contemplating art. These traditions have been imposed on art so concertedly that they have been naturalized. As such, they not only are a form of mastery over what is looked at but are also ideological—­in fact, they are the very definition of ideology. But these devices and forms of signification are effective only as they promote identification. By contrast, the question for Bayley will be which aspects of art form break with established modes of perception to produce distance and thus promote a critical awareness in the spectator. Bayley elaborates on the historical developments that in art have put pressure on the performative power of the tropological or ideological—­ that have, in his words, thrown “the very idea of representation in the work of art into crisis”—­and led to a “new art eager for objectivity”: Modern art . . . has been characterized by a permanent attempt at participating in the world, not through the copy, but by means of the invention of objective realities. Naturally, from the first nonfigurative expressions to nowadays, a manifest process has been accomplished. From the early cubist efforts still blocked by the abstract or figurative heritage, we have moved to new stages, no less important indeed, without the analysis of which it is risky to establish the return of representation. In the new stages of pictorial evolution, concrete, inventive trends have become increasingly clear, to the point of leading highly significant movements in our age.108

Invention serves here not to devise “a new manner of expression or new subjects,” as it did for Arden Quin and Madí, but to overpower Concrete Art and Invention



­representation and all other ideological residues that transform art objects into “signs” and to arrive at a truly “objective” and indeed “concrete” art that does not have a readily associative symbol, metaphor, or allegory. Said another way, invention is here not a concept or idea but a set of practices—­practices grounded in materiality that return the artist to his or her “definite responsibilities . . . vis-­à-­vis the transformation of the world.”109 Bayley’s belief seems to be that if artists negate the figural, the tropological, and all elements of signification once and for all, the morality will take care of itself, that less representation and more objectivity makes both artists and spectators more responsible. For Bayley, traditional representational artworks confuse the figurative and referential dimension of pictorial and sculptural objects with the material things they signify, they muddle “reference with phenomenalism,” as de Man would put it.110 This lack of distinction between the materiality of the signifier (the unit of meaning in the figural element) and what it signifies typifies traditional realist art. But it also characterizes the “subjective exaltation” of the early abstract and symbolist tendencies of modern art. The Concrete art of the AACI promises much more: it attempts to attain an immediate contact with reality. By working to purge fiction from artistic production, refusing to confuse the machinations of a cultural apparatus or lens of representation with an actual experience of the real, this art seeks to emphasize the artificial or constructed character of established forms of representation and provide a glimpse of the materiality, or what AACI artists call the objectivity, of painting and sculpture.111 The Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención

The Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención drew its initial inspiration from the anti-­idealist aesthetic of Concrete art in Latin America that understood the real as the interplay of a complex system of literal elements that have meaning through reference to one another, rather than through the things they describe. Yet in pursuit of an absolute radical formalism that does not transcend the material mechanics of the artwork, its exact fingerprint, as it were, the group’s members took that logic several steps further. Along the way they accentuated the deep chasm between subject and object, between the viewer’s perception of the real and the material of the world itself. Realist forms of representation, as much as forms of abstract art that mobilize phenomenality, disguise this gap. One of the central beliefs around which the Asociación would come together was that art compositions based on traditional codes of representation such as depth, illusion, verisimilitude, framed wholeness, and unity efface their own constructedness and through this transparency of form promote an identification with, and unquestioning acceptance of, a dominant way of seeing and understanding. Instead, AACI members favored reflexive constructions that foreground the materiality and negate Ch ap ter One

identification with the artwork, and thus promoted a critical awareness in the spectator. In this context, the basic task was clear: the critique of ideology. The aim was to single out a set of concepts that defined the relationship between art form and ideology and, in reversing or negating that form, to realize a materialist and nonideological art. The artists argued that such an art could produce a position of genuine knowledge in opposition to the illusionism of figurative art. The socialist roots of this model lie in the manner in which it extends the Marxist notion of ideology. Bayley, Maldonado, and others in the AACI argue that traditional art is marked by the aesthetic subordination to codes of representation. They posit these codes as ideological in two senses. Not only are they illusionist in suppressing awareness of the materiality of artistic production and the gap between what the artwork represents and how it represents it, but they also promulgate a class-­based worldview: in 1940s Argentina, that of the conservative oligarchs. What dialectic means for the artists and poets of the AACI is the dismantling of this ideological apparatus, these codes of representation, through a systematic process of aesthetic negation and subversion of illusionistic forms. In freeing itself from an essentially fictional form, the Concrete artwork becomes an autonomous and self-­enclosed object. For the members of the AACI, this dialectically structured form restores an active and cognitive relation between art and its spectators. To put this another way, the common error of figuration assumes a straightforward relation between a pictorial representation of something and the thing (in the natural world) it describes. However, as Bayley, ­Maldonado, and others in the AACI emphasize, this notion of figuration is caught up in a tropological system of signs that undermines the artwork’s relation to the actual world just as much as it performs that relation.112 To confuse the logic of tropes and concepts with actual experience of the real is precisely the action of ideology. The conclusion they draw from this argument is that in cultural production the relationship between subject and substance, between the mind and the world, the percept and the recept, is mediated by formal elements and that these formal elements are ideological. The artists thus aim to produce blunt, obdurate objects that mean to be nothing more than objects and thus cut through ideology to provide a glimpse of the actual world and, even more ambitiously, a model of how that world might be accessed.113 Established in November 1945, the AACI staged an early exhibition at Maldonado’s studio on San José Street in Buenos Aires.114 But it was publicly introduced in March 1946 at the Salón Peuser in Buenos Aires, where the group’s “Manifesto invencionista” (Inventionist manifesto) was distributed as a small pamphlet.115 Most of the works visible in photographs documenting the show appear to be low-­relief sculptures suspended from the walls. Their concrete objectness is emphasized, as is their equation with natural objects. They tend to concentrate on their own sphere of materials and meaning. Accordingly, the artworks efface Concrete Art and Invention



their status as signs. As one contemporary critic put it, “the abstract art on display is bold, consisting of open forms and structures that have no reference points.”116 The evident formal similarities among the artworks in this exhibition points to the attempt to advance a collective practice, which is in tandem with the artists’ call in the “Inventionist Manifesto” for a “collective art.”117 Contrary to Arden Quin’s claim that these artists had “returned to the ancient rectangular order,” many of the art objects exhibited in the Salón Peuser grapple with the problem of the frame, especially the contradictory pulls of an irregular frame, staged to create a dramatic confrontation of opposing qualities such as expansion into space and contraction into nothingness. Most of the paintings feature simple elements applied to flat, neutral backgrounds, with an internal structure of form and color establishing the dynamic interplay of pictorial relations. A case in point is Maldonado’s untitled, seven-­sided polygonal of 1945, which was also used to illustrate the “Inventionist Manifesto” when it was reprinted in the first volume of the AACI’s journal Arte Concreto ­Invención118 (fig. 1.7). The composition, painted in enamel on cardboard, features an off-­white monochrome background with a smooth, polished surface and neutral brushstrokes that are almost invisible. Attached near the center of the expansive white field that dominates the painting are two geometric elements, both in tempera, that seem to issue from a mathematics textbook or a radically pared-­down logotype. One is black with four sides of varying length, and the other, smaller one forms a red rectangle. Rather than float freely in the nebulous space of the monochrome background, the two elements play on each other as well as in relation to the framing edges of the picture. The top angle of the black form resonates with the left-­hand top edge of the painting. In a similar manner, the right side of the black form parallels the framing edge immediately to its right, while the left side of the form echoes one of the shorter edges on the left side of the composition. The red oblong, with its top left point dynamically attached to the bottom right corner of the black quadrilateral, also interrelates with the surrounding forms. The left side of the red rectangle continues to extend the right side of the black form, and that vertical angle is identical to the right framing edge of the picture. Together, the two forms within the white field create a number of angles that produce a dynamic interplay of tensions with the framing edge. The inner forms of the composition float in such a large space that they lose a sense of rational interrelationship. Likewise, the rectangle, as the sole regular shape and the only one aligned with the horizontal and vertical axes, seems like a misfit. And the relation of the two inner forms almost suggests, by the alignment of the rectangle and the irregular shape of the black form (which might be a rectangle in perspective), a meeting of a sturdy supporting element and a light, unstable one that might be resting on the other—­but again, that all seems negated by the spatial void in which they are sited. The irregular angles of the frame and black shape have an inevitable resemblance Ch ap ter One


Figure 1.7 Tomás ­Maldonado, untitled, 1945.

because they seem arbitrary in their tilts and angles. The black shape also resonates with the curious notch in the frame, and especially with the section above the notch, which relates in scale to the inner shape. But Maldonado appears to have gone out of his way to avoid alignments of scale, relationships that would invite comparison of depicted elements with the frame. Angles and vectors respond to each other as rhymes or meter, and this sense of being inside a metric or rhyme scheme is only accentuated by the arrangement of color. The cold black and red forms in the off-­white field seem to project forward toward the viewer. But they are kept in check, and the whole composition is flattened out once again, by the warm browns of the trim of the frame. The result is indeterminacy. Although the linked forms in the center resonate with the framing edges of the picture in a number of ways, whether the painting’s frame, the off-­ white field, or the central forms have primacy (and in turn contribute to Concrete Art and Invention


the shape of the others) remains unclear. The composition is thus locked in a definite though tenuous state, at once expanding and contracting, yet complete in and of itself. Arte Concreto-­Invención was launched in August 1946. The first volume, relatively short at fifteen pages, includes the “Inventionist Manifesto” and a number of other texts by Bayley, Simón Contreras, Hlito, Raúl Lozza, and ­Maldonado. The tracts are accompanied by reproductions of no fewer than sixteen irregular-­frame paintings as well as two concrete sculptures. The majority of the paintings take the form of what is referred to as “coplanarity” (coplanariedad), a topological notion that presumes the arrangement of a number of interrelated planes without the cohesion of an integrated structure. A coplanal is bounded only by the walls of the room and thus calls attention to the literal physicality of the architectural container. The “Inventionist Manifesto” is a glittering mosaic of allusions. Its basic gist is consistent with the ideas advanced by Maldonado and Bayley in the previous months: in opposition to “an art of representation” that trades in conventional signs and symbols and “dims the cognitive energy” of the spectator, the text proposes “a presentation art”—­a Concrete art—­ that is not regulated according to a fictional or tropological regime.119 This requires the spectator to shake off the debris of past convention, setting aside all forms of figural representation that seek to produce an illusion of space, expression, reality, and movement and that function in classical ideological fashion to instance an imaginary relation to real conditions of existence. In place of such illusions the authors of the manifesto envision a concrete material art that “surround[s] humans with real things and not ghosts” and thereby leads to a productive discovery of the differences between fiction and reality.120 Maldonado, in “Lo abstracto y lo concreto en el arte moderno” (The abstract and the concrete in modern art), one of the two essays he published in this issue of the journal, describes the development of the coplanal as the culmination of a series of critical negations that began with Concrete art’s determination to abolish all illusionistic traces from painting.121 These negations moved swiftly from the conceptual level of art to eradicate all residue of illusion. Maldonado offers each as the resolution of internal contradiction that occurs at the immediately preceding level. First “the traditional frame of the painting” was broken, a development initially accomplished by Rothfuss, Maldonado, Arden Quin, Prati, and Espinosa, and soon thereafter by Hlito, Primaldo Mónaco, and Jorge Souza. But the “picture or cutout frame” in turn “spatialized the plane,” allowing space to enter into the painting and introducing another ­visual element. To counter this, the artists Maldonado, Prati, Lozza, and ­Antonio Caraduje reduced figures to materials, turning them into shapes, each geometrical and of a single color. However, it soon became apparent that this negation only produced “a three-­dimensional solution to a two-­dimensional problem.” This led to a thorough reexamination of the picture or “cutout Ch ap ter One

frame.” In the paintings of Juan Melé, Alberto Molenberg, Lozza, and Oscar Nuñez, this reconsideration initially resulted in compositions that physically separated geo­metric forms in space. The cutout forms each had its own shape and color and was supported by wood. The irregular shapes were held together from behind by means of thin metal bars or rods without being contained in a frame of any type. Then the bars were eliminated, and the space between the geometric forms was incorporated into the compositions as a constitutive element. Positive and negative shapes were related to each other through mathematical proportions and color combinations and kept on a single level plane. (This is the “coplanal arrangement,” la disposición coplanaria.) Ultimately, Maldonado writes, the materiality of the coplanal, “our movement’s most important finding,” resolves the conceptual aporia presented by abstract painting, since it effectively eliminates visual illusion by reducing art to its most objective, literal elements. With the discovery of the coplanal, he writes, all residue of representation is finally abolished, and Concrete art is achieved in earnest: “Today, nonrepresentational art can, for the first time, face space and movement from a viewpoint that is absolutely concrete.”122 Just as the coplanal seemed to vindicate the medium of painting, it also brought it to a logical end. Molenberg’s Función Blanca (1946), a composition exhibited at the Galerías Pacifico in Buenos Aires in July 1946 and reproduced on the fifth page of the Arte Concreto-­Invencíon journal, is ­often cited as the first coplanar construction123 (fig. 1.8). Molenberg’s piece is an open structure, composed of three irregular elements separated from each other in fixed relationships and connected to the wall (which serves as the ground) with small wooden rods. The negative shapes belong to the ground. A smooth coat of white enamel paint ­evocative of the white


Figure 1.8 Alberto ­Molenberg, Función Blanca, 1946. Reproduced in Arte Concreto No. 1 (August 1946). ­Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, Prince­ ton University. Photo: John Blazejewski.

Concrete Art and Invention


Figure 1.9 Kasimir ­Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art. Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

background that Malevich introduced in the mid-­1910s as the symbol of the radical “nonobjectivity” of his art, as a break with all nature and all narrative, covers the three blocks of plywood (fig. 1.9). The formal relationship of Molenberg’s three white monochrome panels initially seems random, but the panels are in fact structured by an array of edges that correlate across the empty space. Certain edges echo, parallel, or intersect one another in complex ways. But these relationships are only between the forms themselves and do not involve a frame. The construction’s monochrome whiteness, together with the dynamism of its expanding compositional lines, leads the eye to the surrounding and intervening space. The inevitable result of the coplanal is to integrate art with its contextual surround and ultimately with architecture and design. What is striking about this transformation of the artwork into material object is the manner in which it subtly shifts the aesthetic field, the division between the objective and subjective poles of the artwork, beyond the ontological materialism articulated in Bayley’s “On Concrete Art” (where the artwork was basically equated with a natural object), and now more persistently compels the spectator to reflect on how she looks at art and how meaning is achieved in art. In a parallel move, it also encourages the activity and productive capacity of the spectator and grants her a greater role in the construction of signification. For the artists, this shift from questions of the ontology of meaning production to an insistence Ch ap ter One

on the equal role of the spectator in the production of content charges the artwork with an edge of social criticism, even political dissent. The open-­ended relationality of the compositions within the aesthetic field provides an interpretive space for the spectator and thereby serves as a model for nondidactic cultural forms. In this sense, there is an altruistic or egalitarian dimension in the Asociación’s empowerment of the spectator. Once what the latter sees and invents becomes of primary importance, the difference between spectators is dehierarchized. What one spectator sees, invents, and experiences and what another spectator sees, invents, and experiences merely reflects a difference between spectators. This logic is more theoretical than historical, since it involves describing how, according to the artists, the spectators ought to engage with these artworks. But seeing the AACI’s artists as confining their artistic experiments to theoretical propositions alone is too narrow. On the one hand, it is true that the difference, as the AACI describes it, between, for example, the interpretation of an artwork (the beliefs the spectators have about its meaning, what it leads them to “invent”) and the experience of an artwork (how it looks to the spectators) is obviously not a historical phenomenon; the experience of an artwork and the interpretation of an artwork have always been and will always be overlapping but not identical. On the other hand, the AACI’s effort to redescribe interpretation and invention as experience, and in effect to eliminate the fact that this theoretical argument is accompanied by an array of artworks that not only repeat the privileging of experience over belief but also seek to extend it to the possibility of experiencing (rather than learning about) a dehierarchized process, is also a historical phenomenon.124 The core strategy of the AACI, what the “Inventionist Manifesto” terms the splitting of “real things” and “ghosts,” or of “direct relationship with things” and “the fiction of things,” summons a form of materialist aesthetics (what de Man would refer to as “a language of the poets”) where spectators see things the way they appear “to the eye and not to the mind.”125 This is a form of vision without illusionism or a necessary reference to the artist’s purpose. By turning perception and signification back to the material substrate of the artwork, all reference returns to the real limits imposed by the materials themselves. Accordingly, the AACI’s model of invention culminates in artworks with a formal matter-­ of-­factness that runs counter to all values and characteristics traditionally associated with aesthetic experience. This type of concrete materialist aesthetics replaces questions of what the artist intended and what the work represents (figural questions about illusionism and ideology) with questions of what the work objectively presents and what the spectator literally sees, invents, and experiences within the aesthetic field (questions about the subject). Perceptual phenomena turn into “material events” that highlight perception’s grounding in a mechanism that shapes what is perceived.126 The final sentence of the manifesto, in full caps, at once epitomizes this logic and trumps Torres-­García’s definition of invention Concrete Art and Invention



as the act of discovery: “neither seek nor find: in v en t.”127 The materialist aesthetic completely empties the work of authorial and figural representation (that is the very mark of its materiality) and places the creative power on the side of the spectator. An ethics of spectatorship is implied here that values a kind of perception free of willful designs or emotional charge. Yet who exactly the AACI imagined the spectator to be remains unclear. There is little evidence in the traces left by the actual encounters between viewers in the 1940s and the AACI’s artworks to suggest that the contemporary spectators of this art comprehended it in the manner laid out so clearly in the Asociación’s texts and manifestos. In fact, the very question of comprehension has to be left open for the time being, especially given the befuddled responses the work received from its few critical reviewers in the 1940s. Accordingly, it may be more useful at this point to posit an ideal spectator. This would be a much more abstract figure than the actual viewers who encountered the artworks, a proposed or assumed spectator in the present but especially the future who the artists imagine will respond in a particular way when faced with the artworks. While the latter are purely literal and seek to eliminate all traces of idealism, the roles the artists ascribe to the spectator are as ideal as the sets of positions or functions they assume each of the artworks to put into place. Thus the shift from representation to presentation, or from painting to material object (in semiological terms, from sign back to signifier), renders the question of the object’s inherent meaning irrelevant. In turn, questions of what the spectator sees and invents in her engagement with the object take priority; awareness of the making of meaning and the multiplicity of that meaning (the different meanings the same object can have for different viewers in different situations) becomes central. The claim that the art object has no inherent meaning will turn out to have exactly the same significance as the avowal that it means different things to different people. Spectators for whom the same object can have different meanings are not viewers who have different beliefs about what the object means; they are spectators who have different responses to the object, whatever it means. That is, they do not have a different interpretation of the art object; they have different experiences of it.128 “Our Militancy”

Lozza’s essay in the first issue of Arte Concreto-­Invención, “Hacia una musica invencionista” (Toward an inventionist music), takes up the musical compositions of Matilde Werbin, a member of the Asociación, to theorize a Concrete music.129 Lozza suggests that the manner in which Werbin’s dodecaphonous music connects notated parts of a composition through variable segments of silence parallels the pictorial experiments of Concrete artists who seek to break radically with tradition. Werbin’s Concrete

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music, he writes, stands firmly against all metaphysical dimensions of music that have been traditionally located in the interplay of sound and temporal duration. It calls for the physical dimension of sound. This allows her compositions to lay the groundwork for a new structure of music that will unify duration and sound and will be truly Concrete. Although Lozza does not name Arnold Schoenberg or his student Anton Webern, his description of Concrete music in “Towards an Inventionist Music” is strongly reminiscent of their atonal method. Rather than working with the dynamics of soft and loud sounds, respectively decrescendo and crescendo, or sounds of short or long duration, he says, Concrete music is made up of an underlying “parallelism of sounds,” without transitions in duration and loudness.130 The unity of all elements of sound in a melting pot of identical organization that is responsible for the existence, development, and changing relations of the elements negates notions of compositional content. Sounds should not overlap in a Concrete composition, according to Lozza, but should interact with each other to assume the sonic equivalent of a coplanar significance. Silence, too, is totally rejected, considered neither a means nor an element of relationships. The silence that was exalted in past music, often to create drama and emotional effect, is described as “a contradiction to real musical composition: an attack on the values of sound that in invention are essentially balanced by the successive relations of temporal-­sound.”131 Lozza’s analysis of Werbin’s music makes a parallel between the way in which the composer’s arrangements turn away from conventional musical techniques and the Concrete painters’ and sculptors’ break with tradition. Concrete music, like Concrete painting and sculpture (and poetry), is without inherent content. It cannot be understood emotionally without a process of transforming or deciphering; it cannot induce moods and feelings that are not triggered by real events. Rather, it requires acts of concentrated listening, and it transforms the extremely individualistic character of traditional music into a personal but also collective type of experience. That Lozza’s is essentially the first article in this publication speaks volumes about the importance of modern music for these Concrete artists. But the central aim of the majority of the texts is to make and support the claim that the matter-­of-­factness of Concrete art makes it the true Marxist art. The unsigned editorial, “Nuestra militancia” (Our militancy), which opens the journal, comes as close as the Asociación would to identifying the public the artists imagined for their art.132 The column reveals the enormous ambitions and expectations the artists had for their paintings and sculptures: Our art has a revolutionary mission; its goal is to help transform daily reality through the effective intervention of every reader or spectator in the aesthetic experience. That is, we reject, for all practical purposes, the “evasion” that the

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old representational technique established as one of the conditions for the work of art. Henceforth, the artists of our movement will not remain indifferent before the everyday world nor before the problems of the common man.133


The editorial, with its explicit expression of “solidarity with all the peoples of the world and with their great ally, the Soviet Union,” firmly allies the artists of the Asociación with the Argentine Communist Party.134 It distinguishes between two kinds of political artist: figurative painters and sculptors (such as Berni) who produce artworks using conventional forms and techniques to represent social themes and the cohesiveness of national cultures, and Concrete artists who devise universal aesthetic procedures and a universally accessible language. The latter, the editorial asserts, are much more in tandem than the former with the inter­ nationalism of Marxist proletarian ideology. The aim of Concrete art from this perspective is to abolish national cultures, which are presented as inherently based on tradition and class. In their place, “Our Militancy” proposes the creation of “the foundations for a new art, in tune with the imminent social transformation,” which will enter into an international conversation.135 The editorial grants that artists working in both of these modes seek to make art that will play an active role in transforming the world in a progressive manner. But the commentary emphasizes that the role of the artist is only one part of the equation—­the revolutionary dimension of Concrete work is located in “the full and effective intervention of every reader or viewer of the aesthetic experience.”136 This supports the writers’ claim that aesthetic experience capable of developing the consciousness of the viewer must, by its very nature, be highly original. True revolutionary art, in other words, cannot depend for its existence on traditional concepts and devices—­it must be avant-­garde. The first lines of the journal’s second editorial, “Los amigos del pueblo” (The friends of the people), are explicit about this: “It is difficult to represent the will of the people by comfortably marching in the rear. In art, to be with the people effectively it is necessary to march at the front, with a fixed gaze and complete awareness of how society develops and of the conditions necessary for its transformation.”137 Concrete art, with its pursuit of invention and objective knowledge, and its straightforward conception of art and life, is thus presented as a vital component in the struggle against the mystifications that characterize bourgeois ideology. As opposed to a wayward bourgeois art, “comfortably marching in the rear,” relying on anachronistic traditions, and (at best) divorced from the interests of the democratic masses, Concrete art marches at the front, charting new paths with the best interests of “the people” in mind.138 The other articles in this publication manifest a similar avant-­gardist impulse. Contreras’s text “Sobre las artes aplicadas a la necesidad revolucionaria y el arte de la invención concreta” (On the use of the applied arts for the revolution and the art of concrete invention), dismisses socialist realist painters as “reactionary” and refers to the Argentine Concrete artCh ap ter One

ists as the “true revolutionaries,” and Maldonado’s article “Los artistas concretos, el ‘realismo’ y la realidad” (The Concrete artists, ‘realism,’ and reality) once again aligns the Concrete artists with Marxism and their production as “the future’s socialist art.” 139 But it is Hlito’s “Notas para una estética materialista” (Notes for a materialist aesthetics) that best articulates the anti-­idealist aesthetics of the Asociación in this publication.140 The text is composed of eleven theses in support of the Marxist notion of art. Like social life, Hlito explains, the history of art consists of a series of partial solutions to internal contradictions that have confronted its practice. According to Hlito, the dialectical materialist conception of art distinguishes between the material process of develop­ment (reference) and the objects (with their aesthetic properties) that result from that development (referents). Insofar as the links between the developmental process and those objects and forms are not guaranteed and the two cannot be mapped identically onto one another, the limits and conditions of possibility of the developmental practices propel the continuation of the production of objects and forms. The focus of a materialist aesthetics is therefore on the process of invention within the aesthetic field rather than on the objects produced. Yet Hlito does not simply posit art as a constellation of material ­elements that produce meaning. This would, after all, assume a type of meaning production that the Asociación was at pains to question. Rather, he supposes the artwork per se to be at least as complex, undecidable, and irreducibly unreadable as the material elements that produce it. He stakes everything on the possibility of the viewer’s creating a structure of aesthetic experience out of that experience’s basic units, its fundamental materials. Thus Hlito’s dialectical thinking on the materiality of art practice radically opens up the category of the aesthetic and the production of aesthetic meaning, first by demonstrating that aesthetic meanings are materially put into place through practice, and second by showing that those practices never exceed their material elements. Aesthetic experience is unthinkable and unattainable save as a structure and texture of material phenomena, of sensate experiences. This materialist interpretation of artistic practice, Hlito continues, is in direct contrast to idealist conceptions of art that mistakenly consider “judgment and aesthetic feelings as something already set in the sense of intuition or formal categories.”141 Insofar as these idealist and metaphysical conceptions make no distinction between the empirical/ material world (i.e., the physical and historical world) and its representations, between the literal and the figural, they are unable to contemplate the historical nature of the practice of art. Thus, for example, when the advocates of idealist aestheticism “speculate on the qualities of beauty or judgment, they confuse the properties of the natural object with those of the aesthetic one.” Furthermore, insofar as idealist aesthetics does not “see the difference between the physical-­historical world and that of representations,” it cannot be dialectically resolved in the object.142 By Concrete Art and Invention


contrast, a materialist aesthetics conceives of art—­and of the process of invention itself—­as a practice, to which aesthetic production and reception are dialectically (and cognitively) related. In a passage resonating with the AACI’s Marxism, Hlito explains: Dialectical materialism, when applied to the interpretation of artistic practice, establishes first a distinction between the process and its product: the mate54

­ ssentially rial object with its aesthetic properties. This interpretation differs e from idealistic interpretations. As the latter do not conceive [of] art and sensate activity as a practice, they cannot make such a distinction. In fact, they use unconditioned assumptions such as “representative faculty of internal sense” (i.e., preestablished forms of sensitivity that serve to determine the characteristics of judgment, et cetera). Their mistake must be found in considering judgment and aesthetic feelings as something already set in the sense of intuition or formal categories.143

From the perspective of the materialist conception of art as a practice, the work creates its own conditions of possibility, as Hlito elaborates: “For materialism, the object is defined and becomes real on the making.” The aesthetic property is to be found not in the representation or in the “settled product” but in the dialectical coming together of the artist’s process of invention, “the concrete materiality” of the art object, and the particular reception of the spectator.144 For Hlito, then, as much as for the other members of the AACI, genuine aesthetics are open enough for the perspective of the viewer to have a significant impact on the production of meaning. The artists of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención rejected the traditional aesthetic categories of art to replace them with a materialist conception of art as a practice. To consider aesthetic meanings like artworks as produced served to acknowledge the necessarily fictional nature of representation and interpretation—­the unbridgeable gap between the mind and the world, between form and content—­and to treat the material components of representation (the marks, objects, grammars, and tropes that make up representation) and the phenomenal elements of cognition as “real.” This materialist notion of aesthetics erased the established artistic boundaries between “representation” and “presentation,” reception and invention, thresholds that distinguished the difference not only between illusionistic and nonillusionistic marks, between “phenomenality and materiality,” but also between ideology and material reality.145 From Torres-­García to Mondrian

A series of exhibitions of the work of the artists in the AACI followed one after another in 1946. In September a show was staged at the Centro de Profesores Diplomados de Enseñanza Secundaria (Center of High Ch ap ter One


Figure 1.10 Lidy Prati, Concreto, 1945–­46.

School Graduate Teachers); two expositions were held in October, one at the Sociedad Argentina de Artistas Plásticos (the Argentine Society of Plastic Artists) and another at the new Ateneo Popular de La Boca (or Boca Popular Atheneum).146 The group also grew in number. Many artists now worked with irregularly shaped frames. Some, like Espinoza, Melé, and Sousa, subdivided their geometric compositions with black lines in the manner of leaded glass. Others juxtaposed differently shaped and colored planes. Prati’s Concreto (1945–­46) is a case in point (fig. 1.10). This impressive oil painting on wood board features three geometric planes, the two larger ones in titanium white and the third (top) plane in cadmium orange. Two thin wooden strips running along the edges of the forms hold the three oblong planes together. The strips are painted black and connected at the top to form a slightly tilted T shape, with a strong diagonal accent. Each of the structural elements contributes to the overall composition with equal weight, as in the painting by Mondrian. Dynamism and stasis coincide with neither sense dominating the other; the surface planes are unbounded and yet finite. Concrete Art and Invention


The irregular frames of earlier paintings also expanded in the co­planal composition, which separated the constituent parts or shapes of the painting and fixed them, by means of bars or rods, into configurations of leveled planes. The Asociación’s work in sculpture involved dynamic shapes, often in a single material, such as the untitled free-­standing form by Maldonado that illustrates “The Abstract and the Concrete in Modern Art” in the first issue of Arte Concreto-­Invención. The thin steel rods of this complex spatial construction are cut to different lengths and left in their material’s original color. Two metal struts, both of the same thickness as the central, vertical rod to which they are attached, cut a 90-­degree angle across the piece. More struts are connected to each end of the top horizontal rod, and these are arranged at acute angles. The diagonal axes of the rods lend flexibility and dynamism to the otherwise right-­angled, cantilevered articulation, but without compromising its rigidity. The sculpture’s evolution of lines through space defines rather than occupies area.147 The writings featured in the second issue of the AACI’s journal, Boletin de la Asociación Arte Concreto-­Invención (published in December 1946), demonstrate the impact that the group’s artworks and theories were having on the cultural environment, not only in Buenos Aires but also in Montevideo. Several articles published in Removedor, the official organ of the Taller Torres-­García, founded in 1944, had belittled the AACI and Madí artists. At first the critiques were indirect, focusing on the young artists’ growing fascination with the legacy of Mondrian. Guido Castillo, the editor of the new journal, dismisses the plastic invention of Neoplasticism as lacking artistic relevance. “[Neoplasticism] is not art,” he writes, because “it is almost pure technique, a manner designed to eliminate from art all that, by definition, does not pertain to it.” He continues: “Like all negative methods that have been turned into systems, [Neoplasticism] has eliminated everything without achieving anything more than the platitude of almost nothing.”148 For his part, Torres-­García in “Nuestro problema del arte de América,” published in the same 1946 issue of Removedor, warned of the danger lurking beneath the rationalism of Mondrian. “Mondrian’s theory” of nonrepresentational art, he writes disparagingly in a critique of the Dutch painter’s aesthetics, “has been sterile, and means the very end for art and painting.”149 It “belongs to colder regions” and is completely foreign to the School of the South. Falling back on his notion of a regional art with its own inherent traditions, he argues that coldness, “a product of the absence of feelings and emotion,” is not within the spirit of Latin American art, which is essentially sensuous and full of warmth, luminescent color, and humanistic feeling.150 There may also have been an unstated undercurrent to the dismissal of the younger artists by the circle around Torres-­García—­namely, the AACI’s association with the Argentine Communist Party. Torres-­García had insisted that the function of the work of art was to create a unified set or whole within a new aesthetic order, without any ideological discourse. Art for him should Ch ap ter One

be independent of politics or any other social cause.151 By contrast, the artists of the AACI had made no secret of their Marxist affinities and their attempts to ground abstract art in the laws of dialectical materialism. The blatant attacks against Torres-­García, the constructivist master who was already in frail health, manifests the confidence (not to say the arrogance) of these relatively young artists by late 1946. Maldonado explicitly rejects the constructivist synthesis that characterizes Torres-­García’s paintings and the Uruguayan’s dogged efforts to turn the medium of painting’s hard-­nosed objectivity against itself. Torres-­García’s craftiness with surface and framing and his persistent reliance on intuition (which draws on the reservoir of tradition in the culture) are dismissed as wrong-­ way detours from the heroic pursuit of an aesthetic of pure form.152 Maldonado homes in on Torres-­García’s “eclectic exploitation” (aprovechamiento ecléctico) of artistic styles, and especially on his turn to indigenous sources, which he dismisses as retrograde: “The real problem is that Torres-­García, stuck in the narrowness of his colonialist spirit, in the dusty archaism of ‘American curiosities’ and indigenist ‘pastiches,’ is incapable of appreciating the deep and emotive sense that is found in a whitewashable and lacquered surface.”153 Arden Quin and the artists affiliated with him were more open to organizing their work around the legacy of the Uruguayan constructivist, accepting the recent shifts in Torres-­García’s aesthetic as a satisfactory expression of dialectical thought. Such was certainly not the case for the artists of the Asociación. Sarandy Cabrera, one of the most outspoken students in the Taller Torres-­García, extended his teacher’s scathing critique even further. In “Originalidad e invención” (Originality and invention), also published in Removedor, Cabrera denounced the artists of Madí and of the AACI.154 He attacks what he refers to as the puerile romanticism of the irregular frame and reproaches the artists for their naiveté (for thinking that they are working against romanticism when in fact the opposite is true) and their evident lack of interest in achieving the type of universal art championed by Torres-­García. He faults the young artists’ devotion to Mondrian, whose work Cabrera claims reached a dead end, an impasse (callejón sin salida). He also expresses disdain for their “desperate search” for ­“invention.” “Invention,” he writes, “is undoubtedly one of the elements in art, but not the only one.”155 The obstinate pursuit of inventive discovery has, according to Cabrera, limited the scope of the new art; it has led the artists to miss the importance of intuition, which acknowledges the important role of cultural techniques in the production of novel aesthetic objects. It had also predisposed the artists to romantic forms such as the irregular frame.156 In their denunciation of the Madí and AACI artists, Torres-­García and his circle were obviously unaware of the deep rift that had developed within the young group, as well as of the considerably different understandings of invention elaborated by the various factions. Indeed, Cabrera identified them all as Madí. Concrete Art and Invention


From Buenos Aires we now receive the theory of MADÍ painting. . . . Madí’s ­basic principles precede its artworks and the movement champions invention as the unique generator of its art. . . . The importance Madí theorists give to their project is nothing less than total. Madí painting, however, in its singleminded pursuit of invention, highlights its geometrical appearance, albeit without any visible artistic function or concern for harmony. This way it gets lost in decorative simplicity, underestimating all difficulty, and fails to attend 58

to that which truly matters: order and measure. . . . In painting, the Madí artists pretend to be the originators of many things even though they have hardly earned the right to do so. . . . They also pretend to found a cold dynamic art, one with a mathematical, intellectually inclined spirit.157

Given these spurious attacks and uninformed conflations, it is understandable that Maldonado was exasperated—­incensed enough to utterly dismiss the previously undisputed patriach of Río de la Plata modernism and his immediate legacy. “Torres-­García is really a bluff. It is quite good that this ‘dear master’ and his ignorant disciples . . . have decided on their own to cut off bonds with abstract art. . . . It seems that not only here [in Buenos Aires] but also on the other side of the river [in Montevideo], our appearance has forced many demagogues of reality to disclose their true nature.”158 The parochialness of the self-­identified leader of the School of the South was at once highlighted and disdained. Maldonado continues in a tone that is as disrespectful as his words are disparaging: “[Torres-­García’s] works are the most absurd, immoral medley one can imagine. . . . Then he falls into the most defining aberration of all decadences: eclecticism.” But not even a sincere form of eclecticism: “On the one hand, the ‘master’ admits the local, binding nature of a ‘painting,’ whereas on the other he describes ‘constructive art’ as universal. This type of pseudo-­modern art is, in practice, naturalistic (bombastic and sentimental), meant to win awards and the high regard of the bourgeoisie, and to present the artist in all his glory.”159 Maldonado’s rebuttal to Torres-­García and his followers articulates the central aspects of the emerging AACI of which he was a key member. One is the understanding of “Concrete” art. The main point of nonrepresentational art, according to Maldonado, is not that it refuses figuration but that it completely rejects the possibility of illusionism, of representing space: “What is essential to abolish from painting is the law that mandates that two tints or two values determine the representation of a space.”160 Torres-­García’s compositions are ostensibly against perspective and the third dimension, but according to Maldonado the elder artist’s use of chiaroscuro and the residual dynamic of figure and ground in his paintings continue to render illusionistic space. Maldonado and the AACI continue to champion the principles discerned in the work of Mondrian: “For us,” writes Maldonado, “Mondrian’s systematizing spirit, consequent and incorruptible, as well as his unfailing optimism and

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­absolute modesty makes him the highest model of artistic dignity.”161 But the most consequential aspect of Maldonado’s essay is the development of a notion of invention that breaks with Torres-­García’s concept of invention as much as it does with the narrow-­mindedness of artistic practice in the Río de la Plata. As Maldonado writes, “invention” implies not only the presupposition of numerous conventions necessary to make something at all but also, as is evident in the work of Mondrian, the transgression of those presuppositions.162 In the end, then, he and the AACI only half-­observed Torres-­García’s counsel to young artists in the first issue of Arturo that they should not allow the influence of precursor artists to hinder their creative process. Having broken with the example of Torres-­García, their original mentor, Maldonado and the others in his cohort merely went on to develop an ambiguous relationship with another artist: Mondrian. The Argentine Concrete Artists

The Argentine Concrete artists came together around the idea that they could successfully combine their social concerns with the formal investigations that culminated in their paintings and sculptures. They intertwined the aesthetic and the political in an inextricable way. They conceived of form as a mediating element, analogous to thought, that connects with the world and produces meanings. Should a conceptual resolution of a problem become impossible, they would put more pressure on the materiality of the painting or sculpture, transposing the problematic into the domains of color, shape, and other formal mechanics. The existent structures and strategies of concrete components were revealed and identified. This led to the belief that traditional pictorial and architectural space could be disrupted and an array of new material possibilities opened up if the use of devices such as the frame—­designed to ensure the status of a work of art as discrete and autonomous from everything around it—­were challenged. The act of framing itself was seen as an imposition that could no longer be justified. The coplanal was also developed from these principles. It was theorized as a structure of composition that organized the materiality of the work so as to integrate that materiality with the formal components of its environment while avoiding all effects of visual illusionism. The coplanal’s disintegration of the plane seemed to resolve whatever planar problems of figure and ground, and of visual illusionism more generally, remained in the Concrete work, and to culminate in a truly material art that was forever in process. This notion of materiality, in a further turn, led the artists to explorations of the relationships between spatial form and spectatorial experience and between meaning and effect. The construction of meaning came to be seen as more dependent on effect than on cognition. As Hlito would later explain,

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As long as the picture consisted of a plane upon which forms were inscribed, space would constantly participate in it to create an ambiguous or illusory situation. In order to get rid of this last spatial remnant we thought of making pictorial elements corporeal and abandoning the canvas as a support. Some of our paintings of that time consisted of sets of colored planes, separated one from another in such a way that space really participated in the composition of the work.163 60

Thus the final negation of visual illusionism and signification culminated in the “corporealization” of pictorial elements. The elimination of all traditional spatial components from the art object reorganized the logic of the composition to encompass the space in which the artwork was exhibited and the spectator’s relationship to that space. In the process, the physical materiality of pictorial reception was opened up for contemplation. But new problems soon became apparent. Having arrived in late 1946 at the practice of physically separating forms in space and connecting them with rods (as in Molenberg’s Función blanca), by early 1947 the AACI had come to doubt the coplanal’s ability to negate all vestiges of illusionism and thus signification. The coplanal’s physical separation of forms in space left the problem of the wall itself interfering in the composition. Rather than freeing painting from all figure-­ground relations, the co­ planar composition became even more dependent on the contingencies of architecture, including the color and scale of the surface upon which it was placed. Hlito continues: But a new difficulty arose from the fact that the planes were at the same level and the whole required to be seen as a picture. The walls to which the paintings were fixed immediately assumed the optical function that the canvas had fulfilled before, so that the background reappeared again. The objects participated both in painting and sculpture, but without coming to have a coherence of their own. This experience, which some of us considered unsatisfactory and ultimately abandoned, at least served to prove that the requirement for a plane could not be taken beyond certain limits without leading painting to a dead end.164

The placement of the cutout plastic elements directly upon the wall had created yet another problem, which was that the wall functioned as the support and the cutout forms the figure. This led some of the artists of the group, in their apparent inability to resolve this residue of visual illusionism in the coplanar format, to return to the traditional format of the flat, rectangular picture plane distinct from its surroundings. A series of fundamental disagreements within the AACI ensued. Lozza, who had been one of the staunchest advocates of Concrete art and had cofounded the Asociación, broke with the group in late 1946. When he reappeared two years later, it was as the head of a movement that called Ch ap ter One

itself Perceptismo (Perceptism).165 The new configuration owed much to the Asociación. Like the latter, Perceptismo sought to break the rectangular picture plane, to critique visual illusionism as a form of ideology, to struggle against idealism, and to expand the spatial dimension of the artwork so that it encompassed its architectural surround. The key differences between the two groups are located in the aim to preserve the materialist ambitions of the coplanal and to resolve the conflict between the material object and the architectural support. Lozza developed the problem of coplanarity toward the flat composition totally devoid of visual illusionism by theorizing, in place of the traditional background, the architectural wall as a “field” in which colors and forms are linked. This entailed taking into account the perceived effects of color, such as optical illusion. Along these lines, he established a mathematical concept he called cualimetría (qualimetry) to fuse color fields with geometric forms of different shapes and sizes.166 The coplanal forms were mounted on a rectangular mural base that simulated a wall. The base was made of wood or canvas and painstakingly painted with enamel to create polished surfaces that seemed lacquered (fig. 1.11). The supporting bars were removed from the planar elements and affixed directly Concrete Art and Invention

Figure 1.11 Raul Lozza, Invención 150, 1948.


onto a rectangular or square monochromatic base or support, which had the effect of synthesizing color and form upon the field. The color relationships between the component parts of the work were integrated, as were those between the whole work and its support. However, to prevent this development from falling back into the structure of the traditional “window” frame—­that is, to prevent the flatness of the composition from becoming virtual—­Lozza developed a dramatic confrontation of formal instances, locking together the painting and the architectural wall in an unprecedented way.167 Perceptism thus razed all barriers at the site of the artwork, postulating a work of art so absolutely permeable that it merges with its spatial context.168 The organic interconnection of the art object with its surroundings, the use of an entire room, the lighting, the design and coloring of walls, and the interior architecture, combined, thanks to the use of elementary forms and color schemes, to form a unity of unique impact. In turn, not only the contingent character of the convention of framing but also the difference between meaning and effect was systematically exposed and dismantled. The specific logic of this compositional design system, which Lozza termed “open structure” (estructura abierta), consists of expanding strength lines according to which shapes are defined. As the composition of the work opens out in space, the spatial limit of the wooden support upon which the planes are directly attached becomes increasingly contingent. The support need only be large enough to provide a visual color “field” for the planar elements. The wall functions as the space on which the painting is set up and color forms play. The underlying principle of this maneuver is that the support should eventually be replaced by architecture, thus breaking down and abolishing—­remaking?—­the distinction between the artwork and its spatial surroundings.169 The painted surfaces come together in relation with each other both architecturally and as paintings. The whole is conceived as a solid body: construction and composition, space and time, statics and dynamics held in a single grasp. The spectator, for her part, is not placed in front of the artwork but is immersed in it. The artwork’s meaning is now determined by what it does, by what affects the spectator registers. Crucially, since each spectator sees or experiences the artwork differently, the latter not only negates a consistent meaning but indeed produces a limitless multiplicity of experiential accounts that cannot be argued with and must be simply accepted as differing. This is an aggressive form of painting, as charged, dense, and reverberating as Malevich’s Suprematist Painting: White on White (1918). It affirms that all painting is compromise, that conception will always trump execution. It may be rooted in negation, but it grows in the direction of expansion. It wishes to free painting from canvas or board and release it into everyday life.

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The Argentine Communist Party

Lozza’s departure from the AACI was evidently a sharp blow to the group. At that point, the Asociación was disassembled, and the core remaining visual artists (including Girola, Hlito, Enio Iommi, Maldonado, and Prati) consolidated into a tighter unit. At the same time, the irregular frame came to be seen as a technique that eroded the terms in which the normal recognition of painting was enacted but left the structure of painting intact. To escape that structure, the artists believed that they would need to develop another set of terms—­terms that could be discovered, doubtless, in the act of unsettling the old codes and conventions, but that would have themselves to be settled, consistent, reconciling subject and object, sign and meaning. The goal, in other words, now became repairing the social rupture produced by capitalism. Already as early as 1945, the AACI had begun to work closely with the Argentine Communist Party, publishing numerous texts and images on the literary and artistic pages of the weekly Orientación: Órgano Central del Partido Comunista. Maldonado produced several photomontages to illustrate special issues of the journal.170 In August 1946 he published a text, “La Falange contra Picasso” (The Falange against Picasso), in Orientación in response to an attack on Picasso, who had joined the French Communist Party three years earlier, by the Spanish fascist paper Arriba!171 The writer for Arriba! parodied Picasso for compromising his art to the Communist Party line. Maldonado’s comments reveal the possibilities that he and the Concrete artists then believed existed for art within the official communist framework. “This talk of ‘painting by order’ has been concocted in order to discredit the USSR. Nobody in the Soviet Union has forced a painter to do anything that was not to his liking. Those that make propaganda paintings do so by their own will, driven by their own aesthetic convictions. Yet those that choose to work in different types of aesthetic activity have been equally respected and received.”172 By the winter of 1946, however, powerful factions within the Argentine Communist Party were becoming increasingly skeptical of the AACI’s practices. This new sectarianism prompted Maldonado to pen a defense of the progressiveness of the Concrete aesthetic. As he wrote in the December 1946 edition of the AACI’s Bulletin: “It has been said that we are the people’s enemies because the people do not understand our works, that they prefer figurative painting and, within this, bad figurative painting. But to infer from this situation (which is not our fault though we have to endure it) that we are enemies of the people is malignant and aberrant.”173 When, in the summer of 1947, Pravda, the voice of the Soviet Communist Party, published an article calling for an art of socialist realism and proclaiming that the Soviet Union could not tolerate formalists such as Picasso and Matisse whose aesthetic of bourgeois decadence “contami-

Concrete Art and Invention



nates the pure air of Soviet art,” Maldonado responded with an article in Orientación.174 The essay, “Picasso, Matisse y la libertad de expresión” (Picasso, Matisse, and the freedom of expression), criticized the imperialist press for spreading false information. Maldonado declared firmly and insistently that Picasso and Matisse had not been excommunicated by the Soviets and that the Stalinist regime had not initiated another cultural purge. Almost as if refusing to believe the events taking place, or perhaps hoping to set the tone for a more open and tolerant artistic climate within the Communist Party and among its followers in Argentina, Maldonado wrote: “In truth, there is not—­and cannot be—­an official communist aesthetics. There is, yes, an ethic that the communist militant artist cannot in any way ignore—­e.g., it is not possible to at the same time be communist and sing tunes of despair, nihilism, and dreams, or of desolate parks—­but not an aesthetics.”175 But the Soviet attacks on “the reactionary tendency in contemporary bourgeois art [that] is presented under the banner of ‘originality’” kept coming.176 Vladimir Kemenov, former director of the Tretyakov Gallery and now chairman of the All-­Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, published “Aspects of Two Cultures” in the VOKS Bulletin in English specifically for foreign consumption. “Among certain formalistic artists in foreign countries,” Kemenov writes, “a yawning chasm [has] formed between their political views and public sympathies on the one hand, and their artistic practice on the other.” This chasm, he continues, has resulted in these artists’ “furthering (through their art) the very aims of the bourgeois reaction against which they vehemently protest in their political utterances and declarations.”177 The article must have been devastating for the members of the AACI. The manner in which Kemenov identifies a “true” art of “objective knowledge,” “ideologically forward-­looking” in its attempt to galvanize “the consciousness of the masses”—­all characteristics that the Concrete artists had seen as specifically defining their art—­with the style of socialist realism took the rug from under them. So did the reaffirmation of socialist realism by Soviet officials such as Andrei Zhdanov in the fall of 1947.178 “Reality in its revolutionary development,” Zhdanov maintains, could be depicted only in a socialist realist style that is optimistic, enthusiastic, and easily accessible to “the workers in the Socialist spirit.”179 Such insistence that artists follow the doctrines of socialist realism served only to provide further ammunition to those in the Argentine Communist Party who were dubious of Concrete art. By mid-­1948, the conservatives in the Party had finally gotten the upper hand. A review by the militant critic and economist Julio Notta in Orientación of an exhibition held at the Galería Van Riel in Buenos Aires, Salón de Nuevas Realidades: Arte Abstracto-­Concreto-­No Figurativo (New realities: Abstract, concrete, nonfigurative art), attacked the Concrete artists.180 The title of the show, a translation from the French association Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, already indicates the artists’ wish to play a Ch ap ter One

part in the international abstract movement. The event brought together a broad array of twenty-­six abstract painters, sculptors, and architects, who displayed their work and models side by side. The Italian architecture studio Rogers-­Belgiojoso-­Peresutti joined in with photographs of its projects. Whereas more liberal-­minded critics such as Córdoba Iturburu, writing for the newspaper Clarín in September 1948, praised the “creations structured with various material elements by inventive individuals,” Notta describes the exhibition as a “lamentable farce”: “This is an exhibition organized by the makers of an ‘art’ called Concreto-­Invención, Madí, or whatever other denomination corresponds to the various branches of ­Purist art. The exhibition is clearly without merit. And it reveals the depths of artistic depravity, stupidity, and shamelessness that can be reached when starting from an idealist philosophical concept that breaks any bond with life and people.”181 Notta goes on to juxtapose the “heroism” of the resistance fighters in Greece, Spain, and elsewhere in those years to the Concrete artist’s futile form of resistance: “The Greek guerrillas fight heroically in the mountains of their homeland against the invading Yankee? The Concrete artist crosses three perpendicular lines and period. The Spanish people amaze the world with their tireless clandestine activity against Franco? Mr. Madí will twist the frame of an umbrella.” At best, Notta writes, the misdirected work of these artists is useless to the needs of the moment: “The goal is to do anything in order to reveal nothing at all about what is happening in the lives of men.”182 Art, Notta insists, should be at the service of the people, providing aesthetic experiences that will elevate the people’s struggling spirit. Notta seemed aware of the fact that just over two years earlier the Concrete artists had published editorials in their journal that avowed the same artistic ideals. But he accused these self-­described “amigos del pueblo” of dilettantism and dismissed their work as recklessly aloof and indifferent to the plight of the people (el pueblo). Worse yet, Notta shamed the artists for hiding the political inadequacy of their art under the banner of the revolutionary struggle. Obviously penned in response to the “Inventionist Manifesto’s” claims that the Concrete artists are “not beyond any fight” and in fact are “in the front line of every fight,” Notta wrote: “And, more important, what should be rejected with indignation is the impudence of those who seek to invoke the ideology of the proletariat, Marxism-­Leninism-­Stalinism, to cover with this glorious flag their desperation, their betrayal and cowardice.”183 Times had dramatically changed. The same journal that less than a year earlier had welcomed the publications of the Concrete artists and promoted the AACI’s activities was now publishing tracts that condemned the movement and accused its members of cowardice and treason. The attacks in Orientación were but a sign of things to come. Maldonado and his Concrete colleagues were summarily expelled from the Argentine Communist Party a few months later, in the fall of 1948.184 With that expulsion, the revolutionary optimism with which these artists had Concrete Art and Invention



wished to imbue Concrete art quickly waned. Writing at almost exactly the same time, philosopher Theodor Adorno argued that critical theory functions like “bottles thrown into the sea” for future readers, whose identities cannot be known.185 It is an interestingly ambiguous simile and one that applies well to the art of the Asociación. As Maldonado remarked in “Actualidad y porvenir del arte concreto” (Present and future of Concrete art, 1951): “Despite all its efforts, today Concrete art fails to surmount the obstacles which prevent it from having a wider, more generous influence; but, no doubt, its most deeply hidden vocation, almost its raison d’être, is to succeed in acting on very wide sectors someday, to become a public art, open to millions of men. We can say, in fact, that the true meaning of Concrete art lies in what it may become, rather than in what it is at present.”186 Messages in bottles are usually cries for help, in this case from a bright-­eyed group of modernist artists who had seen their hopes for artistic invention to culminate in political emancipation crumble to dust. Yet the message of mid-­t wentieth-­century avant-­garde art in the Río de la Plata was a response to that plight too. It also demonstrated, as if to someone scanning a desert island for traces of smoke, that against the odds there were some survivors.

Ch ap ter One



The world of relations exists before and beyond the elements. The value of the elements is only a descriptive reference of the relations. The element is a secondary factor that I utilize to communicate my idea of relations.

J e sús S o t o, 19651 The modern mind has grasped this essential discovery: that nothing in the world is closed, stable and compact, that nothing escapes the universal process of transformation, that nothing in Nature—­and in the world of man—­is static and definitive. Where could this be better demonstrated than in the works of Soto, in which matter invested from all sides decomposes on our retina in intangible transient vibrations—­in the very image of the real world?

J e a n Cl ay, 19652

The group of European artists who in the late 1910s and 1920s adopted the programmatic name De Stijl (The Style) emphasized the intellectual components of art.3 As their artworks and writings reveal, the De Stijl cohort believed that painting and sculpture could transcend the particular and enter into a more universal synthesis, an aesthetic harmonization of the whole material environment. The group’s eponymous journal, De Stijl, was initiated and primarily edited by Van Doesburg, but their distinctive approach to painting is perhaps best encapsulated in the work of Mondrian. His compositions of the later 1910s sought to abstract from reality the most essential elements of visual perception. This led in the following years to an emphasis on forms rather than objects. But not an overemphasis, for what was sought in the end was the “inseparable unity” of “content and form,” as much as of “mind and body.” This unity could only be achieved if a “balance” or “equilibrium” was visually created.4 Imbalance implies conflicts and disorder, which, though part of life, should be overcome. In painting this could be accomplished through the interplay of two equal-­ranking opposites. Equal ranking but never symmetrical—­that is how Mondrian created the dynamic of his work. Thus pure relationships became all-­important, and none could be purer than the conjunction of straight lines—­straight lines, since they are


­abstracted and purified from their naturally occurring curved counterparts, and set not in the form of classical perspective, which focuses the eye, but placed at right angles to one another so that neither dominates. The opposites are equal in Mondrian’s paintings, if nonetheless opposed for being so, and this equilibrated opposition itself creates an extraordinary mix of tension and balance, dynamism and order (fig. 2.1). The aim was nothing short of achieving the equal rights of all of the elements in each composition while respecting the law of natural difference. Although Mondrian’s idealistic sense of universal geometry seemed far removed from daily life, the quotidian was fundamental to his philosophy. The modernist notion that drove his artistic practice led him to believe that art could be fully integrated into social life. The political implications of his aesthetic are located here. Pure plastic relationships do not allow for the domination of the individual, yet at the same time the society to which they metaphorically allude is based on the true individuality that comes with absolute equality. It is imbalance, the unwillingness of people to live by these principles, that causes injustices. The society of the future is a society where human consciousness comes to maturity and presupposes the necessity of allowing others basic rights. In a society of full human consciousness, art will quite simply be unnecessary. Yet this consciousness itself can be formed only by fostering this process in the creation of living environments based on pure plastic principles. Even after he broke with De Stijl altogether in 1925, Mondrian remained convinced that social life could be transformed toward greater harmony by way of nonrepresentational painting and architecture.5 The validity of this belief, as well as a sense of how difficult it was to maintain it as the twentieth century progressed, was at the center of a famous polemic between the artist Alejandro Otero and the critic Miguel Otero Silva (his cousin) that flared around the new work of the painter Jesús Rafael Soto in mid-­1950s Venezuela. Alejandro Otero’s review of Soto’s summer 1957 show in Caracas, in which the latter presented his abstract work for the first time in Venezuela, went right to the point in summing up a compositional problem that had preoccupied Soto throughout the 1950s: “As far as form is concerned—­the use of forms—­we might as well emphasize that [Soto’s] conception of painting tends toward the expression of an idea-­wholeness (una idea-­todo), and that the more radically and directly Soto conceptualizes the work as a unity, the closer he comes to his fundamental postulate”6 (fig. 2.2). This preoccupation resulted in a remarkable body of work that fuses the analytical process and the compositional process, an art that can be looked upon as being its own analysis. But as Otero continued his review of Soto’s Caracas show, he introduced a second notion altogether different from that of Gestalt-­t ype unity, or “idea-­wholeness” as he referred to it, which produces a tense relationship with the first: “The problem of unity, as it is currently understood in painting, is handled by doing without forms that have Chapter T wo

Figure 2.1 Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930. © 2015 Mondrian/ Holtzman Trust. Figure 2.2 Jesús Soto, Première vibration, 1957.


particular ­characteristics. Soto falls back on lines, on elements with an all-­encompassing value, which he uses as contrasts and repeats to the point of saturating the space, with one or many rhythms: movements, vibrations, and tensions. A more active dynamism, a total tension, is thus ensured.”7 Otero was fully conscious of the dialectic in Soto’s artwork that he was setting up: “Here arises a contradictory question . . . that is evident in the work to which we have been referring: only a part of these works—­and in my view, the most significant—­is in line with this principle of unity. The works generally go in the direction of the contrary idea.”8 Thus Otero singled out the internal tension that characterizes Soto’s mid-­to-­late-­1950s artwork, generated by the oscillation between the relative unity and wholeness of the overall structure and the vital openness and expansiveness that the use of serial repetition and rhythm gave the work. Soto’s reliefs, according to Otero, are at once utterly systematic and structured and yet dynamic, and not constructed around a center, such that the idea of a center is as it were expelled from the aesthetic field of the works, which are therefore, at the limit, rendered infinite, saturating the space in which they are installed. In Soto, Otero had found an adequate response to the attacks leveled at abstract and Concrete art in Venezuela by Miguel Otero Silva in March and April of 1957.9 Otero Silva had been unrelenting. Echoing Torres-­ García’s characterization of Mondrian a decade earlier, he dismissed the puritanical austereness and extreme color reductivism of Mondrian’s “topographic camp” of abstraction as fundamentally foreign to Latin America with its tropical climates, colorful cultures, and hegemonic Catholicism. With index finger raised in admonition, Otero Silva described the young Venezuelan artists who had retreated into geometric abstraction, who had locked themselves tightly within the confines of Mondrian’s “rigid, rigorous view of painting, within mathematical and conceptual canons that use rules and compasses as brushes,” as not only wrongheaded but also self-­loathing: “Turning their backs on their land and their people . . . they continue to bury themselves more each day in a uniform and academic formulism.”10 These young Venezuelan Concrete painters, most of who were provincial kids without formal education, arrived in Paris during the chaotic postwar period; lit up by their youthful rebellion, spurred by their voracious desire to discover new forms, they affiliated themselves with the abstractionism that was in vogue at the time, without stopping to consider that as an intellectualist and decadent mode it did not fit well with their personality, neither in their cultural makeup nor in the spirit of the country that had given them life. For ten years they have remained shackled within the narrow limits of that doctrine.11

Thus for Otero Silva the rigorous intellectual methodology of geometric abstract painting was as antithetical to the traditions of representation that had come to represent the Venezuelan subject as was its decadent Chapter T wo

expansiveness beyond the frame and into space. Ideas and concepts are necessary to beget art, he remarked, but color and figuration must maintain their preponderance over ideas. Otherwise painting speeds to its ruin, caught in a “cul-­de-­sac of abstract formulas.”12 For Otero Silva, those abstract formulas threatened the popular or national traditions with the appearance of “pure” art—­art that, ignoring what in his view was the obligation to help develop a particular national identity, had no social or political function. Formal experimentation, in other words, was merely an excuse to detach forms from political purpose. The Taller Libre de Arte

A key moment in the introduction of Concrete art in Venezuela was the foundation of the Taller Libre de Arte (Free Arts Workshop) in Caracas in July 1948.13 The Taller was established on the initiative of Cuban art curator and critic José Gómez Sicre, director of the Visual Arts Section of the Pan American Union in Washington, in collaboration with members of the artistic group Barraca de Mari-­Pérez.14 The latter was founded in 1945 by Enrique Sardá, Celso Pérez, and other art students recently expelled from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas (School of Fine Arts) for their open opposition to the relatively conservative pedagogical program established by the school’s director, Antonio Edmundo Monsanto.15 The first public for the Taller consisted of another group of students dismissed from the School of Fine Arts in 1947. These expulsions, together with the highly constricted context for the exhibition of abstract art in Caracas, prompted a steady stream of young artists of means to continue their educations in Paris. The French capital was then the location of artistic modernity in the Venezuelan imagination, the central reference point against which the artistic present was determined. It functioned as the site of artistic renewal for Venezuelan artists who believed in the need to find an alternative to the various types of figurative painting sanctioned by the Escuela de Artes Plásticas and considered to be a national heritage.16 The mid-­to late 1940s was a socially and politically promising time in Venezuela. A period of political turmoil yet full of progressive possibilities followed the military-­civilian coup that overthrew the dictatorship of General Isaías Medina Angarita in October 1945. The populist Rómulo Betancourt, leader of the political party Acción Democrática (Democratic Action Party), assumed the presidency. Betancourt’s government legalized the Communist Party, approved women’s suffrage, promised a new constitution, and passed a broad range of political and economic reforms that opened the way to electoral rule in Congress. The government also announced the candidacy of the liberal humanist Rómulo Gallegos, a prominent writer and educator, for the presidency. This culminated in late 1947 in Gallegos’s landslide victory as president of Venezuela’s first left-­wing government in the country’s first general elections.17 But looming above all of these positive factors was the new and pressing sense that Time-Objects



the self-­identity of Venezuela, a wealthy country due to its enormous oil reserves, needed to be recalibrated. The desire to transform this largely agrarian nation, arrested in its progress toward modernization by the twenty-­seven-­year dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez, into one of the era’s great societies was seen as a matter of great urgency.18 Gallegos’s inauguration in February 1948 was commemorated with a series of extraordinary events celebrating the nation’s cultural heritage, such as the large Exposición interamericana de pintura moderna at the Caracas Museo de Bellas Artes.19 The foundation of the Taller was an important manifestation of this new cultural spirit. The workshop became the locus of regular meetings, seminars, conferences, and exhibitions. It also became the site of important discussions on abstract art.20 An international group of intellectuals and scholars, including Cuban writer and musicologist Alejo Carpentier and French critic Gastón Diehl, participated in these increasingly wide-­ranging debates about modern art.21 The artists and intellectuals called for acquiring cultural wealth through the importation of artistic expertise and techniques. As Carpentier had emphasized in the previous decade: All art requires a professional tradition. . . . That is why it is necessary that the young [artists] of America have a thorough knowledge of the representative values of modern European art and literature: not in order to undertake the contemptible labor of imitation . . . but in order to try to get to the bottom of techniques, through analysis, and to find methods of construction capable of translating with greater force our thoughts and sensibilities as Latin Americans. . . . To know exemplary techniques in order to try to acquire a similar expertise and to mobilize our energies to translate America, with the greatest possible intensity: this ought to be our constant credo for the years to come, even if in America we do not dispose of a tradition of expertise.22

Frankly acknowledging the subjection of Latin America, Carpentier’s appeal for an entirely new direction in Latin American art was in tandem with the direction of the Taller. The latter also launched the periodical Taller, which paid special attention to developments in geometric abstraction in Paris and in particular to the formation of Los Disidentes, a rebel group of young Venezuelan artists and critics that came together there in 1950.23 The Taller’s first show opened on July 4, 1948, and featured the work of the painter Mateo Manaure. This event was followed by a large group exhibition of young artists (Exposición de pintores jóvenes), including ­Manaure, Soto, Carlos Cruz-­Diez, and Narciso Debourg.24 The show featured paintings that were tied to the aesthetics of the past rather than ­directed toward questioning the precepts of contemporary Venezuelan art. Of the thirty-­eight artworks on display, four were landscapes, two each by Debourg and Soto (fig. 2.3), both of whom would soon relocate to Paris and begin to produce radically different work; ten were still lifes; Chapter T wo

and there were six composition studies.25 The exhibition, in other words, was replete with generic art objects that had little to challenge the spectator to think differently and that catered to the tastes of a conservative middle class. The prologue to the exhibition’s catalogue, penned by Bernardo Chataing, describes the mission of the show as seeking “to structure an authentic Venezuelan pictorial tradition.”26 As the artworks featured in the exposition plainly reveal, that “authentic” point of view derived from the lessons of the traditionalist Círculo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Circle) and the figurative landscape and portrait traditions that persisted in Venezuela in the previous decades. But the Taller would go on to function as an important site of ambitious art in Caracas. In October 1948 it hosted the first exhibition devoted to Concrete art in the country. The event featured the work of the Venezuelan painter José Mimó Mena and artists of the Buenos Aires–­based Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, including Lidy Prati, Alfredo Hlito, Juan Melé, Juan del Prete, and others. The provocative statement by the artists published in the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition of the Asociación must have shaken up the local artistic community: “We do not paint faces, we invent things. . . . We do not have contempt for anything. We don’t need to. We invent the theme/subject and put the brain and materials to work in the production of abstract art works. We are very keen on color and are seduced by geometry. We also try to be sincere about the truth of the plane and the space.”27 Time-Objects

Figure 2.3 Jesús Soto, El puente, 1946.


The exhibition of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención at the Taller also contributed to the explosion of the cult of Mondrian that, as was the case in Argentina and in Brazil, would have a huge impact on Venezuelan art at midcentury. Many of the country’s artists would soon make pilgrimages to New York or locations in Europe with the explicit mission of studying Mondrian’s paintings.28 Venezuelan artists subsequently produced work that mediated the lessons of Mondrian in various ways. For some, the Dutch master’s compositions opened up the possibilities of spatial suggestion. For others, his paintings reduced plastic form to a set of precisely definable elements purged of both expression and figuration. Yet others saw Mondrian’s canvases as generating an overall surface glow, or vibration, that took them into a fourth dimension in which space and time are inseparable. As Soto puts it in retrospect: “It seemed to me that [Mondrian] had made a sudden leap in the direction of purely dynamic painting realized through optical means . . . that he was about to make the image move optically.”29 What all the young artists saw in Mondrian’s purist aesthetics and pared-­down compositions was fundamentally different from the visual arts that had prevailed in Venezuela for some time. Los Disidentes

In late November 1948, merely nine months into his elected term, Gallegos, whose administration undertook measures to reduce the influence of the military, was overthrown in a coup d’etat. The right-­wing military junta that followed, initially led by Carlos Delgado Chaubaud as president, systematically dismantled the democratic gains of the previous three years. The political system was immediately annulled, legitimate elections and political guarantees were interrupted, and the constitution of 1947 was renounced. The new military government also unleashed a repressive effort against the Democratic Action Party and the unions, and the regime eventually targeted communists and the media.30 When Chaubaud’s presidency was cut short by his assassination in November 1950, General Marcos Pérez Jiménez, whom many suspected of having had a hand in the plot, became the de facto leader. The Pérez Jiménez era, propelled by the enormous fortunes made in the oil and construction boom of the 1950s, advanced the futurist myth of technological progress in Venezuela.31 Those with money embraced the cause of modernization with unprecedented enthusiasm, understandable if one takes into account the newness of their fortunes and their desire to become fully integrated with a highly industrialized society. This society championed culture that avowed the myth of industrial progress over traditional forms. As art critic Marta Traba observed with hindsight a couple of decades later: In Venezuela culture was purchased with the same commendable fervor with which North Americans purchased it at the beginning of their industrial Chapter T wo

develop­ment: the best art collections in the continent are in Venezuela; they have been acquired with a munificence unknown to us before. People bought the progressive and experimental trend. . . . [M]oney favored those artistic forms that, positioning themselves in the extreme avant-­garde, created an image of progress, technology, and scientific advancement that was urgently needed.”32

It was in this context that Los Disidentes, made up of young Venezuelan artists and critics residing in Paris, was established in 1950. All but one of the group’s members were artists: mostly painters but also poets, musicians, and sculptors. Many had gravitated to study at the Atelier d’Art Abstrait, the abstract art studio in Montparnasse founded by Jean Dewasne and Edgar Pillet.33 A few years earlier, in 1945, Dewasne, whose abstract painting combined color series with intuition, had joined the gallery of the fledgling art dealer Denise René. Founded in February 1944, the Galerie Denise René would host numerous shows featuring Latin American artists in the 1950s and 1960s.34 In 1946 Dewasne had also been one of the cofounders (along with Fredo Sidès) of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris, which was devoted to exhibition of geometric abstract art and featured the work of many Latin Americans. Indeed, the type of geometric abstraction that the Cercle et Carré and Abstraction-­Création championed in the 1930s was undergoing a strong revival in Paris in the immediate postwar period. The geometric tradition had its own journal, Art d’Aujourd’hui, published under the direction of André Bloc from June 1949 to December 1954. It also had several exhibition venues, including the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles and the Salon de Mai, devoted to abstract art. Critics such as Leon Degand and Michel Seuphor were strongly associated with this artistic tendency.35 The latter’s argument, articulated in his 1949 book L’art abstrait, ses origins, ses premiers maîtres, that geometric abstraction has a universal significance that transcends national boundaries, would doubtlessly have resonated deeply with the young Venezuelan artists, who were determined to shake off their local roots and participate on an international level.36 Dewasne was an early defender of the work of Victor Vasarely, which the Venezuelan artists followed closely. His monograph published in 1952 placed Vasarely at the forefront of the art scene with an undisputed visibility and prestige.37 The manner in which Vasarely by the early 1950s had integrated graphic patterns drawn from his commercial art practice into a remarkably clear geometric abstract style of painting void of any intuition and in no way dependent on the natural world seemed at once to repudiate the informel and tachiste tendencies developing in Paris and to construct a bridge between his work and that of Concrete artists such as Max Bill, Richard Lohse, Josef Albers, and others associated with the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm.38 All of these artists worked with hard-­edged, geometrical units that systematically adhered closer to the surface than any other form of abstraction did. Their paintings Time-Objects



were usually assembled into well-­balanced compositions of form and color. The Galerie Denise René’s support of Vasarely gave him a platform from which to develop his ideas in public.39 This resulted in a number of exhibitions of canvases that repeated simple geometric elements and excluded all perspectival devices and spatial ambiguities. As Otero’s lead article in the first issue of Los Disidentes reveals, the group’s name was drawn from a description of young Venezuelan artists by the French critic Gaston Diehl in a March 1950 article in the French journal Arts.40 In the 1940s Diehl had spent some time in Venezuela, where he was the founding director of the Venezuela-­France Institute. In this capacity he created a professorship in the history of art at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas of the Central University of Caracas, curated an important exhibition, De Manet a nuestros días (From Manet to our time), and raised the prevalent level of art criticism with the articles he contributed to newspapers.41 The essays in Los Disidentes, edited by J. R. Guillent Pérez, Otero, and Manaure, primarily offered a cultural critique of the distortions, self-­righteousness, and provincialism of the Venezuelan art context.42 They also sought to establish a strong relationship with the advanced art of the prestige-­bestowing center: Paris. Rather than consider the latter’s cultural forms simply as a colonial inheritance, Los Disidentes saw the criteria of innovation and modernity dominant in Paris as means which, if assumed, could empower them to at once free themselves of colonial or imperial subjugation and acquire a type of ­independence and artistic recognition that was unavailable to them back home. For Guillent Pérez, writing in the first issue of Los Disidentes, the fundamental characteristic of Latin American culture is its “colonial identity,” which has been utterly internalized and has become a fundamental component of subjectivity: “Our economy, art, and intelligence continue to exist in the colonial realm,” Guillent Pérez wrote; “as long as we are content to receive and imitate, we will never abandon colonialism.”43 To go beyond this colonial subjectivity, he continued, “we must seek out the means and methods for loosening the ties that bind and subjugate us.”44 To do this, he called on “today’s young Latin American” to “pass all of Latin American culture and life through a sieve of doubt.”45 In particular, he warned Venezuelan artists to be skeptical of all that supposedly is traditional in Latin America and to acknowledge the legacy of colonialism in the unconscious. To continue to champion and advance local traditions, “local color,” is to escape the reality that the Latin American imagination has been conquered by the hegemonic culture of European and North American modernity, he argued. It is to perform the colonized other.46 To contest these circumstances of subjugation, Guillent Pérez advocated reappropriating Western culture in turn: “The only thing that we can reasonably (historically) do about [the condition of subservience] today is reconquer the Western world in the intellectual sense, by reconquering that foundational element of our reality, in order to achieve historical Chapter T wo

equilibrium.”47 In other words, Latin Americans should reject the cultural codes put into place by the colonial powers and internalized over the years by the colonial subject, and in their stead usurp the dominant codes of the center, reshaping them in ways that enable the construction of a more independent Latin American identity.48 “No” to the Venezuelan Status Quo


In a series of essays, Los Disidentes articulated the need for an extensive revitalization of Venezuelan art, complete with a disavowal of traditions such as the Baroque and styles such as figurative and impressionist realism that had been encouraged by the colonial entity and were now completely assimilated as one of the foundations of Latin American subjectivity. The excesses of the group, its testings, forcings, and exacerbations, are in stark evidence in the journal: We did not come to Paris to take courses in diplomacy or to acquire “culture” to serve our personal comfort. We came here to confront the problems, to struggle with them, and to learn to call things by their real names. Therefore we cannot remain indifferent to the atmosphere of insincerity that constitutes the cultural reality of Venezuela. We intend to contribute to its improvement by ruthlessly attacking its defects, so that the blame may fall upon those truly responsible, or their supporters. . . . We . . . are the first victims of this deplorable state of affairs. Today we are speaking out against these conditions, and if we do so loudly, it is because it is necessary.49

Two sentiments predominated in the many conversations among the artists: that the European cultural legacy could not be avoided, let alone ignored, but had to be confronted directly, and that the full independence of modern Latin American art was imminent but could not rely on the quaint culture patronized by the local elite. Yet as Guillent Pérez recalled: We Latin Americans had acted in a provincial manner in relation to Western culture. As it became clear that Latin American culture could not be compared in any real way to European culture, the farcicality of continuing to persist in speaking of and supporting the idea of something that could be called the culture of our countries also became apparent. . . . We understood that to be true Latin Americans the first thing we had to do was to renounce our immediate cultural heritage.50

Guillent Pérez may have gone too far in his disavowal of the Venezuelan cultural heritage. But his claim that for these young artists the Venezuelan painting traditions that focused on natural landscape and rural customs performed the anachronistic world of the colonized is revealing. The artists struggled against what they saw as a culture of backwardness and provincialism manifested, for instance, in figurative realism, or in Time-Objects


a pseudo-­impressionist pictorial tradition that sought to capture “the exuberance of the natural environment,” as contributing ideologically to colonial subjectivity.51 This form of art, in their view, left no room for conceptual reflection between itself and the subject, and so it created an illusion of immediacy in the totally orchestrated world of the colony, of proximity between the colonial myths and the colonial subject. It impeded Venezuela from becoming truly independent. For Los Disidentes, then, the local norms and limits assigned to artistic practice in their homeland affirmed the prevailing hegemonic order, a phenomenon that worked against the interests of artists and intellectuals who sought to develop a more independent Venezuelan culture. The agency of these subjects under the existing conditions remained largely unrealized, while the anachronistic beliefs and forms of the status quo encouraged continuation of the models of uneven development established by the colonizers and imperial powers. Regressive viewing habits, such as the continuation of perspectival forms and the tropical landscape tradition, amounted to an essentially pathological approach to art, leaving spectators at the mercy of colonial hierarchies.52 The group thus denounced both the backwardness of Latin American art and its (related) subservience to Western culture.53 The editorial in volume 5 of Los Disidentes reveals these artists’ militant perspective on the world of art and their wholehearted repudiation of the all-­too-­comfortable tastes of their public back home: We are against what we feel to be regressive or static, against that which has a false function. We have been the result of and the witness to much that is absurd, and it would be a shame if we could not say what we think in the way we believe it should be said. We have wanted to say “NO” now and on behalf of “The Dissidents.” “NO” is the tradition we wish to initiate. . . . “NO” to the phony Salons of Official Art. “No” to that anachronistic archive of anachronisms called the Museo de Bellas Artes. “NO” to the Escuela de Artes Plásticas and its graduating classes of phony impressionists. “NO” to the exhibitions of national and foreign merchants that number in the hundreds each year in the Museo. “NO” to phony art critics. “NO” to phony musicians and artists of folklore. “NO” to phony poets and writers who simply write to fill up space. “NO” to the newspapers that support so much absurdity and to the public that each day submissively moves toward the slaughterhouse. We say “NO” once and for all to the Venezuelan consummatum est, for which we will never be anything more than a decrepit ruin.54

Negation here indicates a crisis of value as well as a stance against the establishment. The artists attack the workings of the habitual order, which, they suggest, buttresses the dominance of colonial culture. Counter to the Venezuelan “no,” Los Disidentes encourage the appropriation, in their own terms, of geometric abstract art, which they see as

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promising a universal significance. This art’s value is real to the extent that it could be said to express social truth—­a truth that constitutes a critique of the time-­space of the here and now. To the group, geometric abstraction signified modernity, and its adoption appeared to be the most adequate expression of the modern vision of the world the artists aspired to depict. By the early 1950s, Venezuela was undergoing great economic changes due to the petroleum boom. The major cities were in the process of being reconstructed, and the ways of the past were rapidly disappearing.55 Given the country’s façade of progress, many in Venezuela came to consider traditional forms of painting and sculpture primitive, infantile, anachronistic, and inappropriate. Politicians, the established ruling class, and the newly wealthy all sought ways to convey the sense of optimism, forward movement, and strength that they increasingly felt. An innovative abstract art that was replete with the rhetoric of universality and timelessness seemed to be appropriate for representing such notions; besides, abstract art appeared to have the additional benefit of being divorced from politics and representations of the gross social inequities that characterized the country in these boom years. Otero, for example, in issue 4 of Los Disidentes, argued that abstraction’s singular concern is with the literalization of core lines, planes, and colors and the mobilization of those literal elements to build a new pictorial language.56 As he put it a few years later in his debate with Otero Silva: Abstract art is . . . a new language in order to express a new reality. In the end, aren’t reality and language the same thing, when we are talking about artistic expression? In abstract art this congruence is realized more efficiently than in any previous art form. In figurative painting or sculpture, an image can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways because the symbols are imprecise. In abstract painting or sculpture the form is exactly what it is and nothing else, because an identification has been reached between form and truth.57

Otero stresses the similarities of abstract art to language in order to outline how the new art produces meaning—­though he acknowledges that what abstract art “says” cannot be abstracted from art, as occurs with language, because art is not constituted by a sign system. Abstract art, in other words, is not the aesthetic transliteration of speech. It is something distinctly literal; at the same time, it is a concrete material practice. Los Disidentes advanced a type of art that was not only novel within the context of Venezuela but also more genuine, more “true” in both Otero’s and Guillent Pérez’s sense: “All of us must work so that the intelligence, the art, and the social life of Latin America are firmly grounded in truth.”58 In their struggle against the dominance of figurative painting and the prevailing cultural institutions in Venezuela, the artists called on a new generation “to participate in the revitalization and modernization,




the restructuring of our culture.”59 Art, they insisted, would do well to leave behind the sensuously colored, landscape-­oriented regional figuration that had dominated the artistic context in Venezuela and take part in a broader modernist culture. Although the journal Los Disidentes was published in Paris, it was Spanish-­language only and primarily directed toward a Venezuelan readership.60 The intellectual ground was thus set for Venezuelan artists to disavow figurative and pseudo-­impressionist pictorial forms and nativist subject matter and to embrace instead an entirely new artistic vocabulary. Merely two years following the foundation of the Taller Libre de Arte, where the exhibition featuring the abstract work of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención was first held, Venezuelan artists and critics (and presumably some collectors as well) were actively calling for an art that was not afraid to engage directly with, and even appropriate for its own purposes, the extreme reductivism and timelessness of an intellectually rigorous and ambitious geometric abstraction. The universalism of a Concrete or an abstract art had a double function in this context. It at once served to transcend national boundaries (thereby giving it a transnational historical significance) and to offer a nongeographically or historically specific style that thus would not rile the Venezuelan dictatorship and ruling oligarchs.61 The austere pictorial forms and structures of geometrical abstraction were appropriated, but the politically radical underpinnings of the work of artists such as those involved in the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención were entirely sidestepped. Otero Silva, in his early 1957 critique of the wave of abstract art that predominated in 1950s Venezuela, grants that the initial impulses of “the geometric and scientific Mondrian school” “were built on rebellion and nonconformity.”62 The trouble, he continues, started the moment that abstract art was, in effect, summarily adopted as the pathway to the future. The hegemony enjoyed by abstract art in the 1930s and 1940s, when ­Nazism took hold in Germany, when Spain’s fragile democracy was overrun, when horrendous concentration camps arose in the heart of a ­Europe in flames—­“at that point a large group of artists, terrified by human cruelty, escaped into straight lines and flat colors that expressed nothing but at least did not torture or kill or debase mankind”—­effectively gave lie to the technique’s truth.63 The negation of all humanistic content and the reduction of the work of art to its most basic formal attributes produced an escape route for “young people without faith and without horizons for the future, dissatisfied with reality but lacking in principles that might contribute to its transformation.”64 It also resulted in elitism: “the substitution of the aesthetic (that is, artistic) evolution for cerebral (that is, technical) appreciation of the work” created an obsessive objectification that had lost its own raison d’être.65 For Otero Silva, the tragedy of abstract art lay in the way it calls into question the humanist promise that individuals have the capacity to function as the subjects or authors of their own acts. Thus, in what he calls “the prison bars of abstraction,” Chapter T wo

of abstract art’s elimination of human intuition and spontaneity in ­favor of an obsessive objectification that had regressed into its own fetish, Otero Silva saw a kicking of what is already down: the centered individual, the creative human subject.66 “Le mouvement”

In his review of the Soto exhibition, which I suggested earlier was also partially a response to Otero Silva’s critique of abstraction, Alejandro Otero did not deny the systematic nature of the artist’s compositions, their “pure constructedness,” their overall “unity.” But he added that the opposite was also present, that there was an infinite openness in Soto’s new paintings, a proliferation of heterogeneity and free play evident in the art’s “expression of movement and energy.” The result was a body of work that featured not only “relationships” but also “energy and tension, dynamic-­spatial characteristics, and movement.”67 The observable kinetic effects in Soto’s new art were doubtlessly what led to the inclusion of his paintings in the landmark show Le mouvement, mounted in Paris by the Galerie Denise René in the spring of 1955.68 Along with the work of Soto, the show featured artworks by Yaacov Agam, Pol Bury, Robert Jacobsen, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Tinguely, and Victor Vasarely, and was accompanied by an exhibition pamphlet with texts by Vasarely, Roger Bordier, and Pontus Hultén. The latter, who initiated and curated the show, argued in the brochure that highlighting the temporal, kinetic dimension of the art object is one of modernism’s great innovations. For Hultén, “movement is a spark” that enables artworks to extend beyond the realm of aesthetics and enter into the sphere of “life” itself.69 This is not a surprising claim, but it leads to an even more remarkable one. Hultén writes that a work of art with a kinetic rhythm that never repeats is “one of the freest that one can imagine, a creation that escapes all systems.”70 The implications are, first, that structural “systems,” vaguely defined, curtail spectatorial experience, and second, that artworks that move in time are more “open” and experimental than those that do not, and that such openness grants the spectator a much greater range of reception possibilities.71 A kinetic art also resolves the final vestiges of the traditional divide between the artwork and the spectator in the aesthetic field, enabling the spectator to enter into an active experiential relationship with the artwork. As artistic experience, movement can play a strong role in sensations of intense absorption, thrusting spectators into unfamiliar explorations of flexible coordinates of space and time. The sense of immediacy and presence of movement, its unfolding nature, drew the spectator into the work of art. The philosopher Henri Bergson developed a detailed description of the need to participate in motion in order to grasp it. He writes, “In order to advance with the moving reality, you must replace yourself within it.”72 In other words, to perceive movement one must participate in it. Movement has a projective Time-Objects



aspect, a progressive moment in a direction, and therefore induces an increased sense of involvement with the artwork, a sense of presence that could be described as an impression of reality. In another text included in the exhibition brochure, Hultén provided a genealogy of modern sculpture’s exploration of a fourth dimension connected to time and motion, locating the beginnings of this phenomenon with the cubists and futurists.73 He singled out Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel of 1913 as the first “kinetic ready-­made” and identified Tatlin’s mobile architectural projects of the 1920s, Naum Gabo’s technoscientific Kinetic Construction (1920) (fig. 2.4), in which a single weighted vertical rod of wire set vibrating by a clock spring produces a virtual volume, and Duchamp’s Rotary Glass Plates (1920), where a spiral pattern painted on a motor-­driven rotating disk creates the illusion of a material body, as the first instances of real (and not merely metaphorical) movement in art.74 According to Húlten, more than anything else it is the manner in which these sculptures refute autonomy and self-­sufficient purity and move art into actual space and time that opens the way for kinetic art of the type featured in Le Mouvement. An art of time and motion signals a significant step beyond not only the traditional emphasis on sculpture’s static perpetuity but also the notion of sculpture governed by its own rules. The gist is that with the advent of a dynamic virtual space ­created by the motion of objects, art can engender the participation of the spectator. As Bordier writes in the brochure, “Whether in the mobility of the piece, the optical movement, or the role played by the spectator, the work of art has become . . . something that . . . can constantly and perhaps indefinitely be re-­created.”75 The exhibition organizers do not discuss why the interaction of the spectator within the aesthetic field is important—­what function the spectator might now be able to play in art. Furthermore, just exactly how kinetic artworks expand beyond the realm of the purely visual to increase the perceptual awareness of the spectator is also left unclear. Instead, an art of movement is simply pronounced to be an intervention that can break free of constraining “systems” and clear the way for a more open aesthetic experience. Bordier touches on a concern that would become central to theorists of kinetic art in the following years, namely the distinction between the use of “virtual” or illusory “optical movement,” apparent only to the retina, and of “actual movement”—­“the mobility of the work itself.”76 The ­kinetic work of Vasarely, according to Bordier, is entirely of the virtual type, with only an illusory movement generated by the artwork. By contrast, the sculptural machines of Tinguely actually and perpetually move; there is nothing virtual about them. In between these two poles of kinetic art are artworks that mobilize “induced” movement. Whereas Agam’s paintings rely on optical movement, his Relief Transformable (Transformable Relief, 1953), which spins on a spindle, actually moves, but the spectator must set it in motion. The viewer is challenged to rearrange the forms of the art object, and in the process to experience a dialogue of hand and eye. Chapter T wo

Figure 2.4  Naum Gabo (1890–1977), Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave). Presented by the artist through the ­American Federation of Arts 1966. © Tate, ­London 2015.


The hand detaches and replaces the elements; the eye records and judges the displacements. As if to redress the balance between the slow action of the hand and the immediate response of the eye, Agam makes it possible to spin the entire structure on its axis, so that the apparent order of the surface is dissolved in a fleeting pattern that the eye cannot grasp. But the spectator’s active participation actually impels the work and changes its structure. Induced movement is another way of drawing the spectator into the logic of the work. Indeed, motion (whether virtual, actual, or induced) in kinetic art functions to make the spectator’s direct, physiological response to the stimuli offered by the art object a primary concern. Vasarely’s text in the exhibition pamphlet, “Notes pour un manifeste” (Notes for a manifesto), reveals his own Bauhaus background, as well as the enormous impact of László Moholy-­Nagy on his intellectual and artistic development.77 Although Moholy-­Nagy died in 1946, he remained a prominent force in art throughout the 1950s. His writings were widely disseminated, and his rationalism and belief in progress with the aid of science continued to be a source of inspiration for many young artists. In his Bauhaus book, The New Vision (1929), Moholy-­Nagy stresses that in an age when energy represents reality better than solid form, volume and mass are no longer sufficient for sculpture; rather than static objects, light and movement are closer to the heart of the modern world.78 The line that Moholy-­Nagy traces from a sculpture based on mass, to a perforated sculpture, followed by what he calls sculpture in equipoise, and finally kinetic art, is almost literally taken up by Vasarely in “Notes for a Manifesto.” Importantly, for Moholy-­Nagy kinetics means not only actual but also virtual movement, in the sense of light beams. His ­Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Bühne (Light Prop for an Electric Stage) of 1922–­30, a motor-­driven contraption connected to colored light bulbs that project a constantly varied display of light, shatters the appearance of solid mass through light and motion (fig. 2.5). Moholy-­Nagy advocates the activation of space in the aesthetic field by means of a dynamic-­constructive system of forces and hopes to substitute relationships of energies for the old relationships of form in art. The spectator, instead of being merely receptive, eventually becomes totally engaged as a participant in an event, experiencing “a heightening of his own faculties, and becom[ing] an active partner with the forces unfolding themselves.”79 This ethos culminated in Vision in Motion (1947), in which Moholy-­Nagy identifies kinetic sculpture as the fifth and last of the successive stages in the development of plastic form.80 The opening paragraph of Vasarely’s “Notes for a Manifesto” compresses the history of modern art from Édouard Manet’s formal innovations to Alexander Calder’s “replacement of volume by space.”81 Following this synopsis, Vasarely presents his credo: “The need for a new knowledge has affirmed itself by the invention of pure composition and the choice of unity.” He singles out three-­dimensional “space,” the ­doctrine of “pure composition,” and the pursuit of overall “unity” as the Chapter T wo


Figure 2.5 László Moholy-­ Nagy, The Light Space Modulator, 1922–­30. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA. Museum purchase funded by Lucile Bowden Johnson in honor of Frances G. McLanahan and Alexander K. ­McLanahan. Bridgeman Images. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-­ Kunst, Bonn.

key ­artistic concepts of his time and calls for an autonomous art capable of “conquering dimensions superior to the plane.”82 The new art, according to Vasarely, does not leave the world behind; rather, it relates to it on a more fundamental level. Critical of the pervasive tendency in twentieth-­century art to restrict the articulation of surfaces to the handling of form, Vasarely writes that formal arrangements of colors and planes, especially if the latter are subdivided into positive and negative shapes of high-­contrast repetitive patterns, can produce a powerful “illusion of motion and duration.”83 Indeed, this will become one of the core principles of his own compositional theory. The painting Eridan II (1956) provides a good example of his use of positive and negative “spatial feeling”84 (fig. 2.6). Gray squares appear, almost as if intermittently, in the upper, darker area of the relatively large canvas, while small white dots radiate in the area below. The ­oscillating Time-Objects

Figure 2.6 Victor Vasarely, Eridan II, 1956. Detroit Institute of Arts, USA/ Bridgeman Images. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

or rocking movement produced by the luminescence of the forms seems to have a life of its own. The visual effect points to the fallibility of visual perception, culminating in an optical illusion that simulates movement, vibration, or even the physical warping of the canvas. In “Notes for a Manifesto,” Vasarely also takes up the convention of the frame, calling for an abstract art that breaks through the frame’s limits and expands into three dimensions. He suggests that the development of a plastic formula capable of producing a different kind of illusion, grounded in a combination of negative afterimage effects and the spectator’s heightened sense of visual perception, could be facilitated by motion.85 Vasarely considers such an expansion of the viewer’s perceptual experience to “worlds that have up to now escaped the investigation of the senses” to be full of possibilities.86 He is convinced that the plastic arts are ripe for a vast integration of painting, sculpture, architecture, and urban planning.87 Vasarely’s notion of a unity of the arts echoes Max Bill’s efforts to contest the entrenchment of painting and especially sculpture as separate categories of objects, detached from any kind of social function. Indeed, Bill practiced as an architect and resisted, as an artist-­architect might, the isolation of sculpture and painting from human activity and presence.88 The recognition that the border between the arts is flexible separates Bill’s (and Vasarely’s) approach from that of Naum Gabo, who saw art, like science, as autonomous, self-­sufficient, and detached from life. Gabo too had promoted kinetic art. With training in engineering and knowledge Chapter T wo

of modern physics, he argued that energy and vitality are the products not of mass but of invisible energy particles passing through space, for which line is the visual analogue. Gabo had also produced a complex body of work, both before and shortly after he left Russia, which included small-­scale designs for such things as a radio station, an institute for astrophysics, and an airport.89 These point to a link, such as one finds in early Russian constructivism and De Stijl, between sculpture and architecture, and a search for models on which to rebuild the relationship of architecture to society. But such utilitarian interests were not part of Gabo’s subsequent thought or work, which were not experiments or workshop models but complete, small-­scale, hand-­made delicate objects.90 When asked by art historian Herbert Read in 1944 how he arrived at his forms, Gabo referred to the external world, chiefly landscape.91 By contrast, Bill relied on the denial of nature and the agile creativity of the mind to produce his art. This is what separates Concrete art from abstract art—­the latter implies an art that is “abstracted from” nature and therefore permits the introduction of nature by another route, while Concrete art is generated entirely by the mind. Even though Bill acknowledged the Russian artist’s contribution to kinetic art, Vasarely’s art of the mid-­1950s was clearly much closer in kind to Bill’s than to Gabo’s. Like Bill, Vasarely insisted on the autonomy of the arts vis-­à-­vis the natural world. While his central concern was with the two-­dimensional pictorial plane, he, like Bill, saw the ultimate destiny of the plastic arts in architectural terms. Vasarely lays out the various stages of development in a note from 1954.92 He is convinced that the process of abstraction moves the subject matter, techniques, media, and genres of plastic expression in the direction of the unity of the arts. Indeed, just one year earlier Vasarely had put such a synthesis of the arts into form with a series of large murals commissioned by Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva for the housing center of the Central University of Caracas. Villanueva had drawn up plans for this state-­led modernization project in 1944 during the dictatorship of Medina Angarita when the architect was put in charge of town planning. But the most significant components of Villanueva’s massive university undertaking were erected in the early 1950s during the authoritarian dictatorship of Pérez Jimenéz. The sporting zone, complete with a large stadium, was ready for the Panamerican Olympic Games of 1952. The main lecture hall or amphitheater (the Aula Magna), the partially covered central plaza (Plaza Cubierta), and a 4685-­ foot walkway that links various zones of the campus with a canopy of reinforced concrete, were completed in 1954. Villanueva envisaged the university city as a grand synthesis of the arts, an extraordinary fusion of all the artistic movements current at the time, and he buttressed the abstract program of the campus with major commissions by, among others, Jean Arp, Antoine Pevsner, Fernand Léger, Calder, and Vasarely.93 The enormous financial support given to the university project by the dictatorship indicates its usefulness as a propagandistic tool in Time-Objects



­ romoting the success of the regime. For his part, Villanueva insisted p that his buildings had nothing to do with the various governments that commissioned them.94 Yet Pérez Jimenéz’s support for the project tainted the Venezuelans who contributed to its overall program as sympathizers of the dictatorship. As historian Marina Gasparini observed, “For several artists and intellectuals of Venezuela during the 1950s, to support and collaborate with the project for the University City was to adopt, definitively, a complaisant attitude towards the regime.”95 That complacency was only reinforced by the model of spectatorship envisioned by Villanueva, whose imposing project with its gigantic sights and synthesis of the arts—­a veritable Gesamptkunstwerk—­sought to engulf and overwhelm the spectator. These factors prompted numerous artists, including Soto, to rebuff Villanueva’s request to contribute to the Central University project.96 The three large mural structures that Vasarely created at the university clearly acknowledged that the transition of painting into architectural space no longer carried the promise that this shift had in the 1920s work of El Lissitzky, for example. All three of the “architectonic ‘movements,’” as Vasarely referred to them, were still primarily concerned, even on the environmental scale, with the ambivalence of the picture plane.97 ­Homage to Malevich (1953; fig.2 .7), an open-­air, double-­surfaced ceramic wall that Vasarely situated in the middle of the large covered plaza near the university president’s office, “dynamizes” Malevich’s square and turns it into an illusory third dimension. Both sides of the enormous mural (300 square feet) are covered with black and yellow sheets of fired ceramic panels. The panels form a geometric motif that undulates in the eye of the spectator. At the terminal point of the winding wall, Vasarely placed an opening that has the effect of perspectivally distorting the square within an illusory pictorial space. The three-­dimensional projection is the result of the tension between the plane and its distortion—­an optical instability that will come to define Vasarely’s notion of cinétisme.98

Figure 2.7 Victor Vasarely, Homage to Malevich, 1953. Photo: Alejandro Bárcenas. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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Vasarely’s second and third abstract mural structures, Sophia, a large ceramic composition (approximately 646 square feet in surface area), composed of three horizontal panels placed, friezelike, near the top of the facade of a squat building supported by a series of pillars, and Positive-­Negative (fig. 2.8), another large piece (with a surface area of ca. 60 square feet) made of aluminum plates and set up in a vast entrance hall, materialized one of the fundamental problems of art: the reproduction of movement in static turns.99 In the case of Positive-­Negative, the kinetic effects become particularly striking as the spectator walks along the 215 square feet of wall surface. The sculpture’s repeating vertical strips of aluminum reflect the ambient light of the natural environment, and the play of inclined surfaces and cutout areas produce a trembling, vibrating curtain. The piece is specific to its location and placement. Yet if it opens up to architectural space, it carries none of the promises of the historical avant-­garde that engaged radical abstraction in the production of a new industrial culture of the collective in the 1920s and 1930s. Vasarely’s forays into real space by means of optico-­kinetic forms in the city university project would give confidence to Venezuelan abstract artists who were already experimenting in this direction. As Otero wrote in May 1952: “Today, abstract painting tries to go beyond the picture frame in order to integrate with and transform reality itself.”100 And yet it is important to note that Vasarely’s mural structures in public space are esTime-Objects

Figure 2.8 Victor Vasarely, Positive-­Negative, 1954. Photo: Germán Martínez. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.


sentially autonomous. While they reflect on the formal relations between the aesthetic object and the space that surrounds it, the compositions entirely ignore the public for whom they are produced and the social conditions of the space; they are detached from questions of concrete specificity, in terms of both production and reception. It is obvious that Otero Silva associated Vasarely’s work for Villanueva with the direction in which the art of the young Venezuelan painters was developing: “It seems to us perfectly reasonable that architects and builders would be so pleased with abstract painting, as in general they are.”101 Abstract painting, after all, according to Otero Silva is inherently decorative and can function only as a part in a larger overall scheme. This, Otero Silva continued, is “definitively archaic and regressive,” since the individual objects or paintings in an ensemble lose much of their significance when they are removed and looked at in isolation. What was at stake, then, for Otero Silva, was not so much the issue of abstraction as that of aesthetic ­autonomy. The problem with an art that melds with its context was not that it might lack a recognizable subject but that its proper meaning hinges on its relationship to a larger environmental design.102 The submission of the young painters “under the architect’s utilitarian rod,” he concludes, is the logical outcome of the effect of the legacy of Mondrian.103 The latter, from Otero Silva’s perspective, wants painting to “cease to express man’s social and spiritual problems” in order to become a “complement to architecture”: “[Mondrian] is architecture’s fifth columnist, who got into painting in order to work toward a return to the lost slave galleys.”104 Thus, according to Otero Silva, Mondrian’s antihumanism had tainted the work of the young Venezuelan painters who, in their effort to emulate the Dutch master, had purged all traces of humanity—­of the “self” of humanism—­from their art. The result is a necessarily incomplete, purely decorative art that exists only by virtue of its destination. Alejandro Otero tried to answer Otero Silva point by point. He did not dispute the important impact Mondrian’s work had had on the young artists. 105 He also did not challenge the distinction Otero Silva established between “humanistic” art and “functional” art: “At first his definition seems correct as a definition. He attributes to the term functional a sense of practical utility and to the term humanistic a capacity for human content.”106 However, the error, according to Otero, was in Otero Silva’s limited understanding of abstract art as merely “a series of algebraic formulas and in its integration with architecture a subordinate attitude on the part of painters in relation to architects, and a degradation of painting, which, according to his criteria, reduces it to a minor art.”107 Far from a limitation, Otero remarks, the collaboration of painters with architects often culminates in a highly creative fusion of artistic perspectives. Despite the fact that the object produced by the painter for an architectural project “might be created with an eye toward the spatial relations architecture provides,” it can also result in powerful works of art, which Chapter T wo

could stand on their own merit even if “removed from their particular, architectural environment.”108 Otero thus saw both an open integration with architecture and a closed autonomy in the same work. This dynamic is what created its vital tension and gave the art its importance. A constellation of artistic and environmental factors was central to the project of the artists affiliated with Los Disidentes. But that does not mean that they collapsed these factors into one another. Rather, the artists sought to produce art objects that were highly autonomous and yet openly related to the characteristics of their surroundings as they integrated volume, space, light, and color. Otero wrote in a mid-­1951 ­letter to Venezuelan art critic Alfredo Boulton that the aim of the young Venezuelans in Paris was to achieve a “unity of the arts”: “What we are striving for is a close collaboration among painting, architecture, sculpture, et cetera . . . painting and sculpture for the benefit of architecture and vice versa.”109 But that unity would respect the proper values of each medium or register and come together more as an arrangement than as an amalgamation. The “synthesis” of which Otero wrote maximized art’s visual power in ways that could produce a grand and wide-­ranging aesthetic effect. ­“Abstract art’s subject matter is life,” he states, “and for that reason it can share its creative process with the processes of architecture because it is freed from the thesis of ‘art for art’s sake,’ because it is capable of being active and functional, and because it desires to communicate with what is most anonymous and with the life of men, their daily realities and their customs, seeking to awaken the creative potential latent in every human being. That is our ideological position.”110 According to Otero, in calling for a return to the legacies of figurative representation and popular authenticity, humanist critics such as Otero Silva were retrograde, stuck in anachronistic ways of representing the world. Despite their commitment to social progress and their opposition to imperialism, these critics’ belief in the continued validity of figurative realism was fundamentally conservative. All in all, this aesthetic debate in 1950s Venezuela was riddled with political and ideological positions: to those left-­wing supporters of the figurative or impressionist legacies, the work of the geometric abstract artists was reactionary; for right-­wingers, the international language of abstract art hinted of communism; and for Los Disidentes, supporters of the legacies of figurative or impressionist realism were out of touch not only with contemporary artistic developments but also with the universal potential of breaking down the barriers between the national and the transnational, as much as those between art and life. Given Los Disidentes’ belief in the coalescence of the arts and the facility with which their work could be integrated into an all-­embracing program, it is not surprising that Villanueva traveled to Paris to commission them to produce art objects that would serve as integral parts of his own totally harmonious ensemble. He sought artists who would make mural-­size pictures as well as other objects for an architectural Time-Objects


design conceived of as a synthetic environment in which every element was intended to contribute to the aesthetic experience of the whole. The military dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez produced little in the way of expansion of human resources, health care, and education, but it realized a number of grandiose monuments in the 1950s. The cornerstone in this grand vision of modernity was the comprehensive project for Caracas’s university city designed by Villanueva, the general’s favorite architect. 92

“A Ceaseless Metamorphosis”

Figure 2.9 (opposite page) Jesús Soto, untitled (Paisaje de ­Maracaibo), 1949. Figure 2.10 (opposite page) Jesús Soto, Cacharros, 1948.

Upon graduating with a degree in painting from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas in 1947, Soto immediately assumed the position of director of the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Maracaibo, then the largest oil center of Venezuela. He had developed a pictorial style that was highly indebted to the tableaus of Paul Cézanne and the cubists in their analytic period. Canvases such as El Puente (The Bridge, 1946), owe much to the compositions of Cézanne, while landscapes such as Paisaje de Maracaibo (1949; fig. 2.9) reveal his careful study of Picasso and especially Georges Braque’s paintings of 1907–­9. But the public debate that followed the exhibition in Caracas of Otero’s series of Cafetera (Kettle) canvases in 1949 seems to have had an important impact on Soto’s conception of art. Indeed, paintings such as Cacharros (Pots) of late 1948 reveal the artist straining at the limits of figuration and of any similarity to models of the world of objects (fig. 2.10). The elements depicted—­an oil dispenser perhaps, behind a wine decanter, with a pot and a drinking glass also on a table—­are barely (though still) discernible. Soto followed closely the activities of Los Disidentes, first through the group’s controversial publication, and also through articles such as “El caso de Los Disidentes” (The case of The Dissidents) by José Francisco Sucre, published in the June 1950 issue of the Caracas daily El Nacional, which berated the artists and denounced their activities.111 He also kept abreast of the heated debates on the relevance of geometric abstraction to the Venezuelan context. Soon after his first solo exhibition, held in May and June 1949 at the Taller Libre de Arte in Caracas, Soto began to produce abstract pictures all bearing the title Composición dinámica (Dynamic Composition; 1950), which dissolve the motif, or rather straighten and formalize it, ultimately subordinating it entirely to the pictorial composition112 (fig. 2.11). The artist’s preoccupation with planes, perpendicular lines, and informal swirls of ellipsoid forms reaches a pitch of pure plastic creation in these paintings, leaving behind all contact with the natural world in the process. In 1950, apparently disenchanted with his students and evidently realizing the limited opportunities and deteriorating political situation in Venezuela, Soto made the decision to emigrate.113 A few months later, in October 1950, he relocated to France with a six-­month national scholarship. Many of the Venezuelan artists with whom he immediately became Chapter T wo


associated in Paris had contributed to the publication Los Disidentes. The rue Trétaigne apartment of Soto’s family friend, painter Aimée Battistini, was their meeting place.114 Battistini, who also wrote for the journal and provided operating funds, introduced the young artist to an array of the Parisian intelligentsia.115 Soto’s fascination with the paintings of Josef Albers and the legacy of the Bauhaus in general was superseded only by his reverence for the austere and self-­reflexive work of Mondrian.116 As soon as he could, he traveled to the Netherlands, visiting the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Kroller-­Müller Museum in Otterlo, to study Mondrian’s transition from classical figurative work through expressionism and cubism, before he came upon the neoplastic practice for which he is best known.117 Soto saw how Mondrian, through a slow, painstaking process of evolution, appropriated the formal structure of cubism and adapted it to his own ends. Beginning with his first cubist works, Mondrian systematically reduced the elements of plastic form to a set of precisely definable units, and extracted a dominant trait from each natural element he saw. Searching for evidence of a fundamental law, a common denominator, in every detail of every study, he focused his investigations in a way that slowly condensed the structure of the natural world to the core principle of a rhythmic horizontal-­vertical division of the picture plane (fig. 2.12). Nature was systematically compressed, through a continued logical process, into the form of an abstract geometrical structure. But Soto recognized that Mondrian’s painting, while it retained self-­ sufficiency, developed its own relational logic once the aesthetic process began. Each signifier had implications for those surrounding it. The presence of a horizontal line necessitated the addition of an intersecting vertical line. And as the aesthetic process developed, it was characterized by increasing probability. Soto recalled a few years later that when he first saw Mondrian’s 1917 painting composed entirely of plus and minus signs, he realized right away that the Dutch artist had “summed up the world” in the most elementary way with “two graphic signs—­the vertical and the horizontal.”118 Rather than merely the juxtaposition and balance of surface planes, Mondrian’s paintings sought nothing less than a synthesis of “the opposite forces of the real world with the simplest possible graphic expression.”119 Mondrian coupled his relentless pursuit of the fundamental components of painting—­of a semantics of painting—­with the negation of any form of spatial perspective, considering any construction of space through a two-­dimensional plane an illusory trick. This included all allusions to depth created by color, which he eliminated by systematically balancing areas of extremely pared-­down hues, enlarging those of low luminescence that visually receded, and reducing the more luminous in such a way that they did not emanate from the surface of the canvas. Painting for Mondrian could only be flat and two-­dimensional. Stasis, harmony, and absolute presentness predominated, as the tableaus related a state of suspension, of changelessness. Chapter T wo

Figure 2.11 Jesús Soto, ­Composition dynamique, 1950. Figure 2.12 Piet Mondrian, Composition in Line (Black and White), ca. 1916–­17. © 2015 Mondrian / Holtzman Trust.


Soto’s visit to Holland also exposed several more unexpected aspects about Mondrian’s work. First, he discovered that reproductions of Mondrian’s paintings, which presented the compositions as free of flaws, bore little relationship to the obvious tension between their perfectly constructed proportions and the minor imperfections in the texture of the canvas, as well as the evidence of brushstrokes revealed in the originals. The facture lays bare the history of the process of production of the paintings and is an index of the artist’s subjectivity, both of which were effaced in reproductions. Second, Soto realized how each of Mondrian’s canvases succeeds the one made immediately before it by, in effect, systematically challenging its propositional structure. In this way Mondrian directly confronted the past while at the same time struggling pictorially to break new ground.120 Soto was particularly intrigued by the manner in which Mondrian comported himself as a subject in relation to the pictorial material—­in essence, to the object. Subjectivity and substance did not appear as wholly separate entities; instead one engendered the other in a reciprocal and always already historical relation. That which thinks and that which is—­that is, the subject and the object—­were postulated as symbiotic. As such, Mondrian and his compositions enacted the semblance of reconciliation, while at the same time blatantly confronting the history (and tension) from which there is no escape. Soto’s close readings of Mondrian’s painterly practice convinced him that Mondrian had, at the end of his life, abandoned the austere program that he had developed in the previous two decades and was moving toward an abstract painting that experimented with illusion. Compositions such as New York City (1942), Broadway Boogie-­Woogie (1942), and Victory Boogie-­ Woogie (1942–­44) turned neoplastic painting inside out (fig. 2.13). The new aesthetic was grounded in a spatial dynamic of movement and vibration, with an endless play of equiluminant colors on an off-­white background advancing and receding incessantly and causing a slight trembling in the retina of the spectator. The so-­called flicker or popping effect is particularly strong at the line intersections, where effects of simultaneous contrasts generate optical oscillations.121 The nodes at which the lines intersect produce more optical depth than those areas where the lines (whose function is to reinforce the surface effect) remain isolated from one another, revealing that rather than merely a matter of image transmission, visual information is processed in a relational manner. As Soto remarked in 1961: “Mondrian’s last works—­The Victory of Boogie Woogie—­those lights! There one sees the beginnings of vibration in painting.”122 Accordingly, for Soto, Mondrian’s work was located at the nexus of a number of contradictory binaries, including not only flatness and depth but also two-­dimensional stasis and three-­dimensional dynamism, predetermined schema and risk, and sheer objectivity and visual illusion. Soto meticulously tracked Mondrian’s painterly steps and pursued answers to problems that the Dutch artist had left unresolved. But more important, his aim was to go beyond Mondrian’s metaphysical abstracChapter T wo


tion. In the same way that the latter had started from cubism and moved toward nonrepresentational painting, Soto began with abstraction and worked to develop a pictorial language that exceeded it.123 This led him to the production of a series of artworks that started from nondrawing concepts, such as seriality and grids that challenged conventional ideas about the role of the artist, and downplayed intuitive decision making and corresponding models of expressiveness: “I told myself that I could no longer continue to draw impulsively, or with that intuitive freedom of traditional drawing; I thought I had to find a way to work that opposed so-­called sensitivity, that I had to change the script, and I found this in repetitive elements.”124 To proceed beyond “intuitive freedom” and “an artist’s sensibility” was to parallel the path to objectivity that, as we saw in the previous chapter, was followed by the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­ Invención. But it was also to cut across the discourse of humanism that was the reigning intellectual paradigm at the time in France. Jean-­Paul Sartre’s existential Marxism, which claimed to be the rightful heir to the legacy of Western humanism, enjoyed a considerable prominence in the decade following the Second World War.125 In “Existentialism Is a Humanism” (1946), Sartre maintains: “We are now upon the plane where there are only men”—­a statement that echoed his well-­known characterization of existentialism in terms of the priority of “existence” over ­“essence.”126 However, unlike that of Maldonado and the Asociación de Time-Objects

Figure 2.13 Piet Mondrian, Victory Boogie Woogie (unfinished), 1942–­44. © 2015 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust.


Arte Concreto-­Invención, Soto’s art, as well as the comments he made about it, betrays an a priori mistrust of Western humanism. The support of the industrialized nations of the West for a string of brutal dictatorships in Venezuela had rendered the values of liberal humanism highly hypocritical, little more than ideological window dressing for the corruptions of the imperial powers. This, together with the discoveries he made while studying the paintings of Mondrian, led Soto to the conviction that relations, rather than essences, are the fundamental determinants not only of social life but also of cultural life and of the latter’s prized products such as painting. The belief that painting, and artistic production more generally, is the result not of compositional incident and artistic decision making but of a predetermined network of structural coordinates that are antisubjective and keyed to the very limit of collapse would prove central. As he observed in a 1965 interview: “My work is totally abstract. It was born out of a study of painting, not of life. . . . Works, for me, are, above all, signs, not material things.”127 In one sweep, then, Soto desubjectivizes painting and reformulates it in figural and semiological terms. Yet the relationship of signs (and the signs themselves) remains abstract and rarefied, immanent to the aesthetic field and apart from the social dynamic of the lived world. The social constitution of representation, the social reality of the sign, remains unrecognized. Instead, the artwork is put forward as an immediately present entity that does not signify anything outside of itself. It simply is, in an absolute way. Soto’s pursuit of painterly compositions made of relations of elements, of structural coordinates, prompted him to search for other activities that might satisfy his notion of abstraction. Utterly dismissive of the idea that there is a fundamental difference between the cultures of science and humanities, he concluded that the human arts, insofar as they involve time, are dependent on counting, measure, and proportion. This took him directly to mathematics and modern music. He found that the “flight into system” and method of both the cerebral acrobatics of mathematics and the schematic orders of new music was independent of experience and structured as a field of play between obedience and excess.128 The subject in turn comes to be subordinate to the object; human perception functions as an interface with physical realities. In the process, the compositional method and the picture become one within the aesthetic field. Soto saw in modern music a system that was at once structured, systematic, morphologically consistent, and yet capable of supporting infinite diversity. A key body of work for him in his new quest was that of French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, a confidant of ­Battistini. Soto befriended the composer in the early 1950s and attended his concerts.129 Boulez had taken on the modernist imperative that the artist be not merely the tool of blind natural genius or tendency of the time but, rather, historically and aesthetically self-­conscious. He studied the dodecaphonic or twelve-­tone compositional method in the late 1940s with Arnold Schoenberg’s pupil René Leibowitz, with whom Soto also Chapter T wo

developed a relationship.130 A systematic mode of musical organization, the dodecaphonic method is created from “tone-­rows” consisting of all twelve notes of the tempered chromatic scale, where each appears once. The technique is a means of preventing emphasis on any one particular note or pitch. All twelve notes are thus given more or less equal importance, and the music avoids being in a key. By 1951–­52, just around the time that Soto and Boulez became acquainted, the composer was moving beyond the dodecaphonic system toward the development of a “total serialism” that attempted to replace composition altogether with an objective-­calculatory ordering of intervals, pitches, long and short durations, and degrees of loudness: an integral rationalization such as had never before been attempted in music.131 Here we find an asymmetrical and fragmentary partitioning of the basic row forms, dispersed by “diverse multiplications” (pitch or rhythmic cells infused with the properties of other cells), which in turn proffer musical networks further modified by “elisions,” “tropes,” and “parentheses.” The rhythmic structures are linked to serial structures by what Boulez referred to as “common organizations, which will also include other characteristics of sound: intensity, mode of attack, timbre. Then to enlarge that morphology into a coalescent rhetoric.”132 Musical transformations occur as characteristics of sound coalesce. Now not just the pitch of the note (to which the dodecaphonic system had been limited) but also its length, volume, tone, and rhythm are established in advance of the composition. But rather than yielding to the unifying internal elements of the series, the row is employed as a source of smaller cells, which develop rapidly along separate trajectories.133 In the new method of systematic variation, the row no longer functions as an integral structure but as a proliferating machine.134 Boulez was careful to distinguish between composition as “bookkeeping” (carefully observing the demands of the row) and composition as “free play” (which “projects itself toward the unperceived”).135 The high modernist serial procedure that he described operates on the basis of detachable partitions that can be individually modified, reversed, or multiplied. Yet he emphasized the importance in musical composition of ensuring that all of the elements are recouped in some kind of unified structure. This is a consequential point, for it at once projects serialism toward risk and unpredictability and constrains its operational field of referents aprioristically to pure, unified musical elements. Serialism, in other words, was for Boulez the terrain of perpetual crisis—­a site where combinational properties are pressed up against free play. Soto became fascinated with Boulez’s attempt to derive the greatest possible variety of sounds employing only the most reduced means. In particular, he considered the composer’s notion of an asubjective algorithm (i.e., a nonhuman actor to generate the series) that could generate maximal uncertainty and opacity to be full of potential for visual art. He saw that Boulez’s quasi-­mathematical multiplications (by definition Time-Objects


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i­ naudible) involved two-­tiered modalities of construction: generative multi­plication processes on the one hand and unpredictable fields of finely proliferated networks on the other. This meant that the serial structures simultaneously featured highly centralized algorithms and incoherent arrays—­that is, the inner workings were fundamentally different from the outer appearances. Soto immediately began to systematize and serialize his pictorial vocabulary accordingly.136 But while the Concrete art methods in the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención of the Río de la Plata, in which the emphasis was on the stubborn materiality of the elements of composition and all vestiges of the phenomenal, in Paul De Man’s terms, were negated in favor of the material, for Soto the opposite would be the case. “The elements I use,” he explained, “I use solely to realize an abstract world of pure relations, which has a different existence from the world of things.”137 Dematerialization was the goal, and the material­ism of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención was transformed into a highly structured and overdetermining code of unlimited relationships with no connection to the literal or real. Visual components were reduced to individual units devoid of representational meaning, and compositions were built on the repetition of formal elements unfolding in dynamic progressions based on particular codification. Color, too, was now systematized, consisting of hue, intensity, and saturation, just as for serial composers sonority is analytically split up into pitch, timbre, duration, loudness, and so on. Concrete reality, in other words, was “codified” into signs rather than presented, and was considered to be inaccessible without some form of mediation.138 These complex experiments and Soto’s unrelenting interrogation of the possibilities of composition led the artist to mine deeper the logic of systematic variation that had become part of his discussion with Boulez: “I sensed that through music I could find a different way to handle pictorial elements, that would respond better to the concept I had of abstraction and that was a different way to decipher the universe.”139 The first thing he discovered was that adopting the precompositional manipulation of serialism in music, whose organizational principles arise directly from serial technique with its a priori demands, allowed for the production of paintings without the back-­and-­forth of compositional arrangements. Most decisions could be made in advance. Once the code was set, the elements of the painting did not need to be balanced, adjusted, or even materialized. Moreover, from the point of view of reception this mode of production entails a dispersion of subject positions within the aesthetic field. The serial composition does not establish a single point of view but juxtaposes an array of intersecting perspectives. It does not so much present a static set of notes as place in motion a series of discursive transformations and combinations. In short, it dismantles the totality of the composition into its variable units, releasing them to a performative function of distribution. For Soto, this culminated in a number of noncompositional, fully abstract pictures that drew on serial concepts. Chapter T wo

Between 1952 and 1953, Soto constructed a body of paintings developed within the limitations of the rule of permutation. Dropping from his work all traces of immediacy promised by figurative references, he began to systematize and serialize his pictorial vocabulary to abstract the chromatic units that constituted the compositional elements of his canvases, maintaining that art “should develop . . . with the same seriousness as philosophy, mathematics and scientific research.”140 The definition of form as an all-­over grid system, or as a striated serial progression, enabled a destruction of conventions, the reduction and nonhierarchical integration of materials, and the emancipation both of the material and of the subjectivity that uses that material for composition. A self-­imploding structure came to predominate; human intentionality, consciousness, and will were offset, as were all signifying elements from the center of the composition. A visual tension is the result, since the inclination of the spectator is to fill the vacant center. This is why Soto welcomed it.141 Repetitions and Progressions

In his first canvases in Paris, Soto worked with systematic repetition of simple geometric forms, or elements, in light and dark colors on a flat surface. Employing the serial principle, the paintings are entirely constructed through a meticulously calculated coordination of pictorial elements across the surface plane rather than composed through intuitive processes or notions of depth; they are generated in a pragmatic, intellectual, quasi-­scientific manner from within the elements themselves. The spatial relationship between the component parts is therefore primary, structuring the overall composition in a methodic way. Each of the pictorial elements is functionally equivalent to the others and organized systematically into a unified and logically transparent structure. The effect of the permutations is incumbent on demonstrating the underlying serialization. What matters most is the potentially infinite multiplicity and interaction of relations. Soto also discovered that serial repetition, a type of order that, like the grid, can be continued infinitely with each fragment equal to the whole, not only obliterates centered composition but also introduces progression of pictorial density. This culminates in canvases such as Répétition optique (Optical Repetition, 1951), in which the identical modular units of black, white, and yellow diagonals are repeated across the picture plane with an interplay of high-­luminance forms with others of low luminosity; the juxtaposition of contrasting colors creates a powerful dynamism that takes the artist’s nonrepresentational art to another register. Likewise, the square pictorial elements of Sans titre (Progression) (Untitled (Progression), 1952), in alternating series of white and green squares, are distributed across the plane of the canvas in a highly calculated manner (fig. 2.14). Linking the vertical lines of green squares traversing the canvas from left to right are double numbers of white squares arranged Time-Objects

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Figure 2.14 Jesús Soto, Progression, 1952.

in vertical stripes: first one, then two, then four, then eight, and so on. Furthermore, there is no alteration in density between the center and the edges of the rectangular area. By systematically repeating the same unit on the painted surface, Soto at once visually destroyed the surface of the composition and interfered with the integrity of the elements. The latter are serialized in so smooth a gradation that it becomes difficult for the eye to discern a stable pattern; the dynamic tension between the individual elements and the pattern as a whole disturbs any attempt to focus. The painting inevitably culminates in an optical dazzle, which, as critic Guy Brett observed, “is real to the eye but has no material existence.”142 In both morphological and functional terms, artworks such as Optical Repetition and Progression have much in common with the row in Boulez’s conception of serial technique after 1951—­itself a highly developed and articulated structure whose internal logic generates a series of unique but related arrangements, a kind of scaffolding whose appearance may or may not be perceptible, but which nonetheless remains omnipresent. Canvases such as Repetition-­Progression, The Little Yellow, and Optical Wall, all of 1951–­52, imbue geometric patterns with a virtual dynamism. ­Illusory motion is generated not by the formal elements themselves but by their relations. Yet the rational clarity of the compositional process,

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with the tableau broken down into a calculable ensemble of formal elements producing a closed, seemingly ­mathematical system, foregrounds the interpretive act of the spectator, the analytical dimension of spectatorship. The gradation between the abstract and the concrete, between intense illusion and the literal plane, establishes the structural logic of the picture. Although the actual and the illusory are never entirely reconciled, the spectator nevertheless can test the possibilities of alternate involvement and detachment. But the repetitive patterns of these canvases also create a reiterative optical kinetic oscillation that resonates with Mondrian’s experiments with dynamism and his attempts to exceed bidimensionality and lead the eye to the space beyond the frame. Theoretically, the pictorial structure of the new paintings, with its geometrical standard unit or pattern that is repeated over and over again, could be extended in all directions endlessly due to the lack of any center of gravity. There are no fixed boundaries and no central position of focus available to the spectator. As Soto recalled, “the concept of composition” had already ceased to exist in these paintings “because it is an order that can be repeated ad infinitum, and where every segment is equal to the whole. The work was just the fragment of an infinite reality.”143 Pictures could be wholly constructed by juggling the simple geometric patterns of rectangles and squares—­that is, without really composing at all. The combination of absolute clarity and unity evident in paintings such as Repetition-­Progression and the remarkable openness of the conceptual order from which those internal relations are derived (that is, its repetition) generates tension. The compositions are open, insofar as the series can be extended to infinity, and yet closed at the same time insofar as each picture is entirely arranged into an overall grid. Differentiation and dedifferentiation are coupled in each work.144 Soto’s attempt to draw parallels between the organization of rows in serial technique and color scale culminated in paintings such as Étude pour une série (Study for a Series, 1952) and Peinture sérielle (Serial Painting, 1953; fig. 2.15). The ambivalent interaction between the continuous and the discrete that is prevalent in these compositions evokes the manner in which musical notes interact. Soto sought to restructure painting in a way similar to that used by modern composers to restructure music while preserving the same writing system of twelve tones. This led him to reduce the color scale to an absolute minimum, preserving from the myriad possible tones and nuances only the three primaries, the three secondaries, plus black and white. In the process, he arrived at his own series of eight colors (white, yellow, orange, red, green, blue, violet, and black), each of equal value and assigned a specific number, which he could now explore within systems of permutation such as is done with notes in serial music.145 Using sequences of points and employing a code, Soto situated the colors according to the rules of the operative structural principle. Small dots of hue were arranged on the surface with the



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Figure 2.15 Jesús Soto, Étude pour une série, 1952.

intervals precisely organized so that relationships between them were emphasized, rather than traditional chromatic harmony. Thought was subordinated into numbers, and the latter were in turn encoded as colors. The compositions, with their emphasis on computational thinking flowing into the structure of the painting, seemed indifferent to their appearance. Only distantly related to pictorial language, the paintings, as combinatory games using numberlike symbols, came to simulate thought—­not merely the expression of a thought already formed but a quality of inflection of thought. Seriality and Visual Displacement

The serial schemes of Soto’s canvases of this period, with their calculated arrangement of small triangles, squares, or dots, evenly spaced and of equal size but different colors, produce optical vibrations on the pictorial surfaces. The basic elements of each scheme are brought together to form larger sets that regroup and contain them. The relation between the units inside each set in principle remains fixed. Indeed, the spectator encounters nothing more than the plastic result of these fixed relations between simple elements. The unqualified acceptance of programmed sequences to determine the structure of the work is what separates these Chapter T wo

compositions from the contemporaneous designs of Vasarely. The latter would never have hesitated to shift the established and working system according to his individual intuition. Vasarely’s results were thus always half-­systematic and half-­aesthetic, depending as much on his subjectivity, or “talent,” as on the compositional system. Soto, by contrast, fascinated by the dispassionate rigor of seriality, in the early 1950s explicitly explored calculated systems of composition (or, better put, noncomposition) in which the subjectivity, let alone intuition or expressiveness, of the artist plays no part in the final result. These include modular all-­over grids, serial progressions, and repeated, predetermined patterns, all of which are ways of not composing, of refusing the meanings of parts and divisions, and therefore skirting the subjective input of the artist in the production process. This is as close as painting would come to a structuralist, antihumanist position in the 1950s. The pictures anticipate and implement the notion that the human subject is led by circumstances external to her control and that her power to alter the scheme of things is minimal at best. From this perspective, structures and their internal relations, rather than human will and consciousness, are the fundamental determinants of cultural life. The simple elements that constitute the grammar of Soto’s paintings are not crowded together but widely and evenly spaced. The artist soon discovered that the smaller the modules, the more their apparent oscillation seems to increase as the elements lose their individual identity. The paintings have neither a top-­bottom nor a horizontal-­vertical orientation. They can be placed on the ground, hung on the wall, or suspended from the ceiling to equal effect, and the operative logic of each composition remains the same even if the viewer moves around it.146 The paintings thus generate an open and dynamic form that is nonetheless internally and logically consistent. As the artist explained in an important 1965 discussion with Brett: “The elements I use, I use solely to realize an abstract world of pure relations, which has a different existence from the world of things. My aim is to free the material until it becomes as free as music—­ although here I mean music not in the sense of melody, but in the sense of pure relations.”147 As with listening seriously to music, then, the relation and combination of the individual elements in Soto’s paintings are also necessarily appreciated fundamentally as a sequence. The notion of a sequential color system without any concession to balance or symmetry led Soto to vary his systematic color progressions by making use of the serial possibilities offered by the rectangular format, from simple bilateral symmetry to more complex alignments around the central plane. This resulted in a number of paintings that explore the latent prospects of a procedure that may have initially seemed limited but developed its own richness and complexity from the basis of these restrictions. Here a comparison between a Concrete painting by Lidy Prati and a typical serial painting by Soto, such as Peinture sérielle (Serial Painting, 1953), elucidates the novelty of the method developed by the latter. Prati’s Time-Objects


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Figure 2.16 Lidy Prati, Composición serial, 1948. Collection MALBA, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires.

Composición serial (Serial Composition, 1948), for instance, features a strict mathematical grid with square and linear elements distributed precisely and painstakingly across the surface plane in a nonsequential arrangement; some lines are horizontal, others are vertical, and sometimes the lines are doubled to equal the squares in area, but all are uniform in scale and interval (fig. 2.16). The colors of the individual units vary in turn from carbon black to vermilion red and maize yellow. Whereas the black and red modules are solid, the yellow ones are outlined in black. Prati made the overall grid pattern of the painting irregular by fragmenting, doubling, and rotating the primary units. The composition is made up of separate elements that do not function independently, giving it a rhythm of convergence, progression, and interruption. Spatial distinctions dissolve, as the colored forms and the white ground appear to vibrate on the Chapter T wo

same plane. Moreover, the geometrical pictorial design adheres to the parameters of the framing edge, even if the alternating discontinuity of individual elements undermines that edge. The aim is precisely to maintain a balance between the overall sequence and the distinct elements. By rejecting the notion of synthesis, and thus diverting the spectator’s attention from the completed scheme to the path by which it is set up, Prati provides a space for the viewer’s discrimination and judgment. As with Prati’s Serial Composition, the elements of Soto’s Serial Painting are repeated in sequences that involve complex overlapping and are constantly variable (fig. 2.17). In both paintings, the pictorial elements of the composition are reduced to neutral, standardized forms and treated as a vocabulary of modular units. The individual components do not suggest anything substantive; instead, the valence of an element is produced exclusively by virtue of its logical relation to those adjacent to it. All pictorial units are rendered equivalent and arranged in a materialist, gridlike format into a unified and logically transparent organization. Furthermore, the homogeneous patterns of repeated elements in both examples are connected in unpredictable ways, but in Soto’s painting there is no alteration in density between the center and the edges of the rectangular area. The dividend of Prati’s approach is that the centralized work pictorially conforms to its rectangular format. By contrast, the edge


Figure 2.17 Jesús Soto, Pintura serial, 1953.


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of Soto’s Serial Painting seems arbitrary, as it obtains an overall vibrancy that provokes strong reactions on the physiological plane. Moreover, as I noted earlier, the operative schema of Soto’s painting is theoretically extendable beyond the limits of the canvas, which is not at all the case in the organicism of closed forms that structure Prati’s composition. The arrangement of forms in Soto’s painting can in principle and structure flow endlessly into space, unhindered by the parameters of the picture plane. The experiments with seriality led Soto to focus more closely on the relationship between space and time, which he referred to as “time-­space.”148 This is an understanding that goes beyond a mechanical conception of time as a series of individual moments or units and an analytical conception of space as ordered and segmented, like a map that provides exact bearings and orientation, to rely instead on the spectator’s subjective experience of time and space as nonsegmentary and directionless. Rather than posit time in relation to movement in space, Soto now theorized it as duration, as a subjectively inflected temporality. In turn, his work challenges the notion of artworks as static visual objects, conceiving them instead as temporal events that are fundamentally dependent upon a singular experience within the subject itself. The problem of subject–­object relations is thereby identified as dynamic rather than absolute. To grasp subject–­object relations in this way is already to have to think through a performative contradiction: an opposition may be posited, but on the understanding that its grounding is unstable or contingent. Again Soto’s investigation of modern music and his association with figures such as Boulez was crucial in the development of this perspective.149 Soto’s paintings of the mid-­1950s, as well as the comments he made about them, correlate in important ways with Boulez’s contemporaneous experiments with the dimensions of time and space in music. The composer had folded the idea of a “striated” progression, or space, in music onto another notion of space in music: what he described as “smooth” movement or smooth space.150 His theorization of the variability of musical space—­striated space and smooth space—­led him to redefine the concept of the “continuum.”151 Instead of identifying the continuum with some kind of musical continuity, Boulez construed it as the very possibility of partitioning musical space in various ways, of gathering heterogeneous elements (continuity, discontinuity, and the like) in a virtual sequence. The difference between striated and smooth space thus depends on the space’s mode of division. For example, “frequency space may undergo two sorts of partition: the one, defined by the standard measure, will be regularly repeatable, the other, imprecise, or more exactly, undetermined.”152 Striated partitioning can be effected in various spheres: temperament, for example, “striates” the music’s pitch space, as pulsation “striates” its temporality, thereby offering localizable reference points for the ear.153 By contrast, where partitioning is undetermined, resulting in reference-­free smooth space, the ear loses its bearings. Boulez likens this audible condition to the eye’s failure to gauge distances on Chapter T wo

completely smooth surfaces. As a result, smooth space is less easily categorized than striated space. Smooth space can be classified only “in a more general fashion”; smooth space is known only by “the statistical distribution of the frequencies found within it.”154 It is important to note, finally, that Boulez’s analysis of musical space privileges the production of music over its actual sound, let alone its social reception. Thus, even if smooth space actually resembles striated space in some specific musical context, its mode of partitioning, and hence of musical being, is qualitatively different.155 Soto adapted some of these notions of space into his paintings. With Rotation, for instance, a fixed element and a mobile element appear in his work for the first time156 (fig. 2.18). A series of white squares are repeated on a white quadrilateral surface. The distance between the squares is equal to the height and width of the squares themselves. Soto added thin black lines to materialize one edge of each white quadrangle. These horizontal and vertical lines progressively rotate around the squares, creating the impression that each square is turning clockwise on itself. The white squares cease near the center of the work, but the rotating black lines continue to the right-­hand edge of the picture plane. Further on the line is reduced at both ends, indicated now solely by a pair of black dots that turn in the same direction as before. Toward the bottom right-­hand

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Figure 2.18 Jesús Soto, Rotation, 1952.



section of the picture plane, a pair of dots suggests the echo of these lines in such a way as to extend the appearance of rotation. Finally, near the bottom of the square field, those dots are represented as if they are in an orthogonal projection, so they run in continuous lines. The black lines and dots of Rotation, which are placed on (and then continue from) the white squares, seem to move or jitter the longer one looks at them. Although they are clearly discernible, their position and stability are not registered by the system of visual perception that defines the locations of forms (their motion, depth, spatial organization, figure/ ground segregation, and the like). This is pure illusion: a magic trick enabled by the dematerialization of forms that Soto had learned from his studies of seriality. Metamorphosis

The rotations and progressions that characterize Soto’s serial paintings culminate in compositions such as Desplazamiento de un cuadrado transparente (Displacement of a Transparent Square, 1953; fig. 2.19) and ­Déplacement d’un élément lumineux (Displacement of a Luminous Element, 1954), which feature various forms of vibration resulting from the visual ­effects of superimposition of patterns. The concern again parallels Boulez’s contemporary explorations in music, but the main issues are now how a striated space in which the statistical distribution of the units used is in fact equal tends to meld with a smooth space in which it is not, and how “texture” can be crafted in such a way as to lose fixed and homogenous values, becoming a support for slips in sequence and displacements in intervals.157 This is in essence a kind of communication between the two kinds of space-­time: the striated, which intertwines fixed and variable elements, produces an order and succession of distinct forms and organizes horizontal sequential lines and vertical superimposed planes, and the smooth, which is the continuous variation or continuous development of form, fusing superimposition and sequence. The two concepts of space intersect, with the vertical and the horizontal cut through by a diagonal that moves forward in the direction of the spectator. Two grids glide over a yellow square in Displacement of a Transparent Square. One consists solely of small quadrangles and the other of dots, which makes them transparent. Similarly, in Displacement of a Luminous Element, a black grate with a perforated grid of circular units is placed on top of a white ground. Another plane of white dots—­produced, stencil-­ like, from the same grille on a sheet of clear acrylic—­is superimposed on the first one, though the grate of dots on the Plexiglas is slightly displaced relative to the perforated grill beneath it. The paintings effectively fuse Moholy-­Nagy’s characteristic superimposition of transparent planes to displace the surface and approximate a form of immateriality with the illusion of movement in Malevich’s Suprematist Painting: White on White, in which a painted white square at the threshold of visibility appears to Chapter T wo

glide atop the white expanse of a square canvas.158 They also shift Soto’s experiments with the nuances of visual perception in a new direction. His art now begins to emphasize what Boulez would call the “interval” (when harmony and line are linked diagonally—­the characteristics of which figure in each of them to varying degrees), so that the diagonal becomes the dominant organizing factor.159 The receding central space appears as a result to be the source of an outgoing radiance. These pieces took Soto to the work that marks what in retrospect is one of the most significant steps in his artistic development: Métamorphose (Metamorphosis, 1954), first exhibited at the Salon de Mai in Paris that year (fig. 2.20). The composition comprises three formal schemes that overlap. A square network of evenly spaced small white dots is painted on a transparent Plexiglas sheet that protrudes at an oblique angle about two inches from the surface of square board that hangs on a wall. The board Time-Objects

Figure 2.19 Jesús Soto, Desplazamiento de un cuadrado transparente, 1953.

Figure 2.20 Jesús Soto, Métamorphose, 1954.

features a grid of small black squares, slightly displaced from the center of the plane that serves as their support, together with a yellow square that is displaced further to the left. The overlapping, at a slight angle, of similarly patterned planes produces not only an additional dimension of depth, varying densities, and ultimately unequal concentrations of dots and squares but also “luminous nuclei” that radiate from the picture plane. Although the construction is clearly three-­dimensional, Soto’s primary aim seems to have been to create illusory space.160 In essence, Metamorphosis turns the perspectival function of previous compositions inside out, as the pictorial pattern now seems to come forward in space rather than recede. If the spectator stands directly in front of the piece, the actual projection is almost impossible to detect. All that can be noted from the static contemplative perspective is a slight

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modification of the total field that is due to the incidence of light on the projecting surfaces. The effect is so direct that the visual plane closest to the eyes of the viewer appears to float in front of the second, deeper plane with enough speed to cause a retinal disturbance. It hovers like a veil a few inches over the gridded field. The superimposed grids have no role in themselves and certainly do not function to harmonize the painting. Rather, their purpose is to accentuate the modulation in the eyes of the spectator, a dynamic effect of optical depth and constant visual oscillation of the superimposed squares, which is amplified if the spectator shifts her position ever so slightly. Oscillation between the three figures enables none of them to dominate. The optical illusion performed by Metamorphosis is carried even further as the material surface of the image appears to dissolve. The picture evaporates before the fluttering gaze. Solid matter is negated and transformed into a progression of immaterial wave oscillations. On the one hand, the illusion, which has no retinal existence, becomes real; no longer merely an effect, it is the result of a purely physiological response known as “steropsis.” This is the ability to perceive depth from the differences between the images in the two eyes. As neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone explains, “When you look at an object”—­the ground plane of Metamorphosis, for example—­“light from it hits the foveas of both retinas. All objects at the same distance from the observer as that object—­the fixation plane—­will map onto precisely corresponding locations on the two retinas.”161 But objects such as the Plexiglas sheet and the ground above which that sheet hovers also cast images on noncorresponding points on the two retinas. The brain interprets these differences in the visual images as depth. On the other hand, the illusion remains forever tentative; whereas the visual system that characterizes the properties of forms can distinguish the grid of white dots on the Plexiglas from the grid of black squares, the yellow square, and the off-­white ground on the background plane, the position and stability of the dots and squares are not easily registered by the visual system that defines the location of forms. Accordingly, the particles on the surface seem to move forward and backward, to shift sideways, and sometimes to spin before the eyes of the spectator. Then, too, since the white of the dots on the Plexiglas is equiluminant with the yellow square and the off-­white ground, the lack of difference in light intensity leads the eye to perceive all of the forms as being on the same plane, while throwing the black squares that are in fact on the background plane into the foreground of the composition. The positional indeterminacy of the white dots and background produces an illusion of ongoing radiance, and this effect is accentuated as the spectator changes position in front of the work. With Metamorphosis, Soto develops yet another type of optical device to achieve the effect of oscillation. This mode of dynamism hinges on the location of the spectator’s eyes in relation to the obdurate object at any




given moment. The grids and dots are static, but as the spectator moves before them they shift accordingly. This detachment of the elements opens a field rich in possibility. Intangibility becomes manifest and space is warped to take on an element of time. Time and space are incorporated, however, not by way of a random breeze, as in the suspended spatial constructions of Aleksandr Rodchenko or Alexander Calder, or by means of a motor, as was the case with an increasing number of artworks exploring movement in the mid-­1950s, but through the interplay of the image on the transparent Plexiglas, the background surface, and the parallel movement of the spectator in front of the picture plane. The superimposed elements lock in the vision of the spectator positioned in front of the stationary art object and fuse the spectatorial gaze and the artwork in an unprecedented manner. They effect a move away from a lingering hermeneutic, because there is no stable image that the spectator can look at for a meaningful period. Thus the artwork is not a visual object but a visual effect that takes place in time and as such foregrounds the experiential and perceptual rather than the interpretative. As greater stress is placed on the activity of the spectator, on the location of the spectator’s eyes in relation to the art object, the work moves into the domain of the kinetic environment. Yet as literary critic Umberto Eco would observe about artworks such as Metamorphosis a couple of years later, “These structures are kinetic because they use the spectator as a motor. They reflect the movement of the spectator as well as that of his eyes. They foresee his capacity to move and solicit his activity without constraining it. They are kinetic structures because they do not contain the forces that animate them, they borrow their dynamism from the spectator.”162 In this turn art is no longer a static and isolated object but a series of relations with the spectator that it imagines and sets as subject in its movement. This is, in short, Soto’s first kinetic composition.163 Like music, which cannot be brought to a standstill, Soto’s art now fundamentally requires movement for its realization. But the movement is not that of the actual object; rather, it is both a luminescent dynamism, which makes the eye quiver under the influence of colors and forms over a firm surface, and the motion of the spectator in space. The compositions establish a strict, structural linkage between the spectator’s bodily motion and the visual changes resulting from this action. The art, through an elementary geometry and repetition of lines and colors, refuses to remain fixed and expands to open a new structural and perceptual field. Abstraction is reversed as the artwork shifts into the space (and time) of the spectator. The latter is now no longer merely the receiver of a visual object entirely produced by someone else. Rather, standing or moving before the art object, the spectator becomes a fundamental part, a co-­producer, of the aesthetic composition. Vision is conceived not as a unilateral act on behalf of the viewing subject but as a dialogic experience between viewer and viewed. The art object requires the spectator for the completion of the creative process—­the spectator transforms the art object into an artwork. Chapter T wo

The spectator’s visual perception of an artwork such as Metamorphosis changes with every physical movement she makes before the piece, and this further integrates her and the artwork in space and time. The dynamic factor is the relationship established between the spectator’s vision and motion on the one hand and the new illusionary space on the other. In this context, a comparison of Soto’s Metamorphosis with the contemporaneous paintings of Vasarely is revealing. Although Vasarely’s compositions of the 1950s are grounded in the placement of basic units, they generate a broad spectrum of perceptive responses. The painstakingly constructed surfaces of paintings such as Eridan-­II, Tlinko-­II (1956), and Vega-­II (1957–­59) consist of the repetition and permutations of what are essentially the same forms organized at regular intervals and painted in black and white (fig. 2.21). The high-­ luminance contrast lines of the black and white effect a powerful virtual motion, while the repetitive patterns bring about an emphatic illusory stereo-­depth. The paintings are obviously two-­dimensional in the sense that they induce the optical impression of a field that spreads toward and beyond the four boundaries of the canvas, yet they also, in certain sections, pop or flicker on the retina of the spectator. The work pulsates backwards and forwards, into the third dimension and back to the picture plane, converging on central points or vortices of activity. It is precisely because the two effects are presented simultaneously that the surface of the canvas disintegrates in the eye of the spectator. The optical phenomenon is purely physiological. By contrast, Soto’s newer artworks integrate real movement and are constituted and experienced in duration. The fanning-­out effect that is a common characteristic of Vasarely’s compositions is absent from artworks such as Metamorphosis and can rarely be found in any of Soto’s post-­serial work. In fact, the division into formally distinct units that characterizes Metamorphosis is the direct antithesis of Vasarely’s spreading procedure. Moreover, the optical oscillation discernible in Vasarely’s paintings (as in Soto’s earlier production) is now, in Soto’s later works, fully dependent on the physical movement of the spectator in a reciprocal action with the art object. In this exchange, the creative activity of the eye of the spectator generates a dramatic complement to the effect produced by the physical apparatus, so that the process of interaction involves establishing a relationship in space with the work. This relationship closes the gap separating the surface of the artwork and the spectator, the object and the subject. Aesthetic experience becomes a matter of mutual interaction between the eye of the spectator and the art object. But insofar as the spectator must physically move to actualize the composition—­that is, to produce the artwork—­not just the spectator’s body but also the element of time becomes one of its core components. The artwork does not exist outside of duration. Space, time, and the spectator are inextricably linked. The triadic relationship is particularly evident in photographs, since static photographs of Metamorphosis do not convey the dynamic Time-Objects



Figure 2.21 Victor Vasarely, Tlinko II, 1956. Kunstmuseum Basel, Gift Carlo Laszlo, Basel, 1964. Photo: Kunstmuseum Basel, Martin P. Bühler. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

dimension; for that dimension to occur, the relationship in space and time between the art object and the embodied and mobile spectator who encounters it is necessary.164 The artwork is perpetually in the process of formation, and its realization is by necessity located at the nexus of time, space, and spectatorship that now composes the aesthetic field. New Kinetic Language

Soto’s concern with the superimposition of compositional elements capable of producing optical movement on the picture plane led him, quite rapidly, to liberate line from the physical support. His art objects now Chapter T wo

demanded to be seen in terms of the development from painting to sculpture. Spirale (Spiral Relief, 1955) is the best-­known example of this new kinetic art (fig. 2.22). The piece, first shown in the 1955 Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, was made in the weeks following the Galerie Denise René’s Le Mouvement exhibition and is probably the result of the artist’s encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics, 1925), featured in that show.165 Spiral Relief is composed of two helical forms. One is painted in white on a sheet of transparent Plexiglas, superimposed at a distance of 10½ inches in front of another, larger spiral, painted in black and dark red on a wooden surface colored white. The superimposed spirals juxtaposed to the intervening blank space create relentless vibrations, engendering a visual sensation of virtual movement and volume. The physical qualities of the diverse materials employed seem to lose their solidity, volume, and weight through simple optical manipulations. Materiality and immateriality are in tension, but in a purely visual manner. Soto has no evident interest in the inherent physical properties of the materials. Moreover, the fragile and dematerialized optical effects that Time-Objects

Figure 2.22 Jesús Soto, Spirale, 1955.


challenge the eye’s power to control what it sees intensify and decrease depending on the spectator’s position. As the spectator ambulates laterally across the work, the lines of the spirals seen against the luminous white ground join and separate, and the two layers alternately contract and expand. The incessant rippling effect of this work differs significantly from the optical effects obtained by the mere repetition of elements on a flat surface in Soto’s art of the previous two or three years. What Soto discovered is a phenomenon technically known as the “moiré effect.” It is the product of two identical (or almost identical) forms composed of high-­contrast lines placed one on the other but slightly out of alignment. Each form is sufficiently large to permit the optical vibrations but not large enough to attract particular attention. The configuration of corresponding elements that in Spiral Relief create the effect on the retina can be analyzed into its component forms only with concentrated effort. The sensation produced is a heightened and accelerated optical reaction. The artwork’s fascination lies in its perpetual capacity to elude the spectator’s perception.166 The moiré effect thus harmonized well with Soto’s newly developed notion that visual phenomena are constituted rather than constituting, overdetermined rather than subjectively composed. The large-­scale objects of the series titled Vibration that Soto began to make in 1957 fill the spectator’s eyes or at least occupy a wider angle of vision (fig. 2.23). In turn, the simulated intimacy produced by smaller objects such as Spiral Relief, which still retained the gadgetlike quality of a model or a miniature replica of something larger, is now replaced by a total intimacy that is akin to the immersive effect of cinema. But Soto’s exploration of movement and the dematerialization of forms and materials in the Vibration series—­through the superimposition of elements such as coils or metal bars delicately hanging on threads a few inches in front of striated or linear backgrounds—­did not tilt the balance that he sought between differentiation and dedifferentiation. If there is no breeze in the room and the spectator stands motionless before one of the reliefs, the artwork evokes harmony and stability. But when even the gentlest breath of air pushes against the elements, an optical sensation of rippling movement is generated where the suspended wires and painted stripes coincide. No longer attached to the flat surface of the painting and yet juxtaposed to the regular grid of lines on the background panel, the dangling tangle of coils or metal bars becomes optically fragmented as it interacts with the designs on the painted surface. As a result, the suspended forms jump even further forward, and the geometry of the artwork begins to oscillate visually. That effect only intensifies as the spectator shifts even slightly in relation to the art object. Art becomes first and foremost relational, and relations in turn facilitate the fourth dimension: time. Indeed, the latter will function as a key to Soto’s subsequent work, which links the experience of space to the subject’s inner sense of time as duration.167

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Rather than mediating duration through uniform units, and more specifically through a succession of instants (a spatial concept akin to a line), Soto’s work will now render duration absolute, as a succession without distinction. Like the notes of a musical composition, which are not discrete to consciousness but continuous, each permeating and overlapping the other, Soto’s relief sculptures of the late 1950s and the 1960s develop a continuous or qualitative multiplicity with no resemblance to number. This in turn blurs the subject–­object dichotomy and connects the human subject’s internal sense of temporality—­the time experienced directly in daily life—­to external space. Space and the materials within it become essentially active from the inside out and wholly temporal. Intuited by the subject, they can no longer be objectified as aspects that are merely exterior, out there. Rather, they become elements of a total, enveloping experience through which the subject lives in the world. In the process art comes to exist solely in terms of an ephemeral and ever-­changing phenomenon, “a ceaseless metamorphosis” that is perpetually made new to the eye, as art critic Jean Clay described it in an early essay on the work of Soto, and no longer as a stable object that can be perceived and understood in a brief instant.168 Soto’s sculptural reliefs of the late 1950s, “complex snares in which the eye loses its orientation,” bombard vision and throw impersonal, practical conceptions of space and time into disarray.169 The intricate and polymorphic forms shift back and forth, disappearing and reappearing, coming together and separating incessantly before the spectator, who loses her visual bearings and cognitive habits in the now-­indivisible flux of space-­time. Intellectual notions of space and time (such as those championed in the natural sciences) that had hitherto served as points


Figure 2.23 Jesús Soto, untitled (Vibration), 1958.


of reference and a support for the human subject are irrevocably thrown into question by intuitive experiences that are contingent, particular, undetermined, ephemeral, and resistant to system. Flickering visually in front of a stable background, the suspended materials dissolve into a mirage before the spectator’s eyes, reducing all optical relations to zero, only to rematerialize as if in a form of virtual reality. Insofar as the artwork remains open and dynamic, continually in movement, so does the subject. And it was this subject in the never-­ending process of what philosopher Gilbert Simondon would at the time describe as “individuation” to which Soto’s reliefs allude.170 They offer a theory of the subject that reverses the emphasis on ontological materialism articulated by key ­artists of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, discussed in chapter 1. Yet if in the case of Soto’s reliefs it is no longer the artist or intentional ego but the aesthetic field that produces the work of art, by realizing totally immanent artworks, which stand outside of society, history, and ideology, Soto’s artistic practice assumes that spectatorial relations are solely determined by the formal procedures structuring the artwork and thereby in a sense forgets the subject as much as did the materialism of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención. This is something that a small group of Argentinian artists who had also relocated to Paris in the 1950s, and to whom I shall now turn, will seek to rectify.

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Subjective Instability


Our labyrinth is only a first experiment directed toward eliminating the distance that exists between the spectator and the work of art.

Groupe de R e ch erch e d’A r t V i su el , 19631 The point is to awaken people’s creative capacity to participate, to decide for themselves—­ and to lead them to work with other people so as to develop common initiatives so that they play a real role in what determines their life.

J u l io L e Pa rc, 1968 2

In the mid-­1940s the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención confidently advanced its mode of Concrete art, with its radical exploration of form, inventive agenda, and world-­historical mission, as the only contemporary art that mattered. The group saw its artistic productions as those best capable of negating previously established sets of skills and frames of reference. The implication was that such reversals and distortions could be used to resist the dominant codes of a conservative cultural establishment and redirect culture toward a socialist future. But these grand claims and beliefs were challenged in comments made by several mal­ intentioned artists who had recently claimed that Carmelo Arden Quin and Gyula Kosice had founded Arte Concreto-­Invención in 1940 and were its genuine representatives. The response was quick and to the point. The editors of the second issue of Arte Concreto Invención (published in December 1946) wrote a short text on page 2 dismissing the spurious assertions: We must clarify that Arte Concreto-­Invención was founded in November, 1945, without the aid of these gentlemen. In 1940 Arden Quin did not have any contact with abstract art or with painting (his first paintings are in 1945), he was a superrealist poet, and Mr. Kosice had no contact with any kind of art (his first poetic attempts were published in the journal Arturo in 1944, and his first artistic objects are from 1945). Let us also take this opportunity to make clear that our movement has nothing to do with the group that goes by the name of “Madí.”3

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Arden Quin, Roth Rothfuss, and Kosice founded the Grupo Madí, together with the painter and sculptor Martin Blasko, in mid-­1946. In addition to painting and sculpture, its members practiced the arts of poetry, music, dance, literature, and architecture and presented a versatile, dynamic profile that advocated transformation, especially that achieved through motion of the artwork in relation to that of the spectator. The term Madí—­enigmatic, opaque, forever lost in translation from the crazy language of artists—­began to appear in a series of provocative flyers signed with the words “Movimiento Madí—­Buenos Aires—­Junio de 1946.”4 The leaflets, distributed on streets and subways in Buenos Aires, featured slogans that announced the innovations of the new art movement: “m adí destroys the taboo of the square by breaking with the traditional frame,” states one. “This is a transcendental act, a marvelous act,” declares another. Many of the pronouncements sought to trump the pursuit of objectivity by the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención. “For an essen ti al art, abolish all figuration, romantic-­naturalism, for a real invention!” And another: “subv ert the existing values of expression, representation, and magic. . . . Produce a great m adí commotion of reality.” The handbills specifically reference physical movement, invention, and the asymmetrical frame: “Articulated forms and irregular frames are the sculpture and painting of in v en tion.” Or again: “For a Madist invention of objects in space.”5 The first Movimiento Madí exhibition opened in August 1946 at the Instituto Francés de Estudios Superiores (French Research Institute), which had a space in the Galería Van Riel in Buenos Aires.6 The exhibition brochure features a page written entirely in French, largely to honor the sponsoring institution but also to internationalize the movement.7 The first sentence reads as follows: “We, the Madistes, taking the essential elements from each of the arts, build, that is to say, we produce a real invention.”8 Real invention indeed. This is the same empirical objectivity sought for by the Madís’ nemesis: the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­ Invención. Evidently the struggle, at this stage of Madí’s development at least, was to one-­up the Asociación’s rigorous pursuit of materiality: “With this [real invention], we express nothing, we represent nothing, we symbolize nothing. . . . The work is in space and in time: it exists. This is a transcendent act, a marvelous act. Our art is human, profoundly so, since it is the very essence of the person who consciously and actually creates, makes, builds, and invents.”9 That person is at once the artist and the spectator. The multimedia event began August 3 at the French Research Institute and ran for four days. Documentary photographs reveal that coplanal paintings as well as compositions with irregular frames were hung on the walls.10 A piece by Rothfuss and a full-­scale version of Kosice’s mobile Royi were located on the stage, while smaller sculptures were placed on shelves near the entrance to the room. Banners reading “Movimiento

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Madí” (Madí Movement) and “Por un arte esencial” (For an essential art) were suspended from either side of the stage. The exhibition brochure lists the order of events during the four days of the show. A concert of modern, atonal music by Esteban Eitler and Juan-­Carlos Paz was to be featured on the first day, while more concerts, a Madí dance by Paulina Ossona, and a wide range of other cultural activities were scheduled to take place over the course of the exposition. The artists’ international ambitions are evident in the brief exhibition brochure, which features texts written in English and translations into French of some of the flyers that were distributed a few months earlier.11 A mention of the “Manifiesto Madí” (Madí manifesto) appears near the front of the publication, while a statement on the back page declares that “Madí will inaugurate the high age of art in all its essence and will found the myth of pure in v en tion: its universal orders and styles.”12 The “Madí Manifesto”

The “Madí Manifesto” is a jumbled mess of contradictory statements and vague assertions.13 It begins with an opaque declaration of aims: “Madí Art (Nemsorismo) should be identified as the organization of the proper elements of every art as they have developed. This includes the absolute values of presence, dynamic movement, the subject itself, playfulness and plurality. All traces of interference by expression, representation, and signification are therefore abolished.”14 The manifesto then goes on to echo Arden Quin’s claims in the introduction to Arturo about the effect of economic development on cultural phenomena.15 In a further break with the position of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, the manifesto is highly critical of Concrete art, and in particular of the manner in which Concrete art preserves the “vices and taboos of ancient art.” These include “figure–­ground relations,” the “rectangular frame,” and the “absence of plastic theme” in painting, and “stasis” and the “relationship between volume and space” in sculpture, all of which the manifesto claims Madí has surpassed with the invention of the irregular frame, mobile objects, and the development of an intermedia of painting, sculpture, drawing, music, dance, literature, and architecture.16 The “Madí Manifesto” ends by presenting “invention”—­through the analysis of vision—­as the primary objective of the movement.17 Invention is thus not a means to an end but a goal in and of itself. The relationship between invention and radical politics that runs through the writings of Bayley, Maldonado, and other artists in the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­ Invención is largely absent from the “Madí Manifesto.” The one exception is a proclamation that appears midway through the text: “Madí rises up . . . in its struggle to construct a new classless society.”18 This statement, which echoes Bayley’s writings as well as the spirit of Arden Quin’s opening essay in Arturo, can probably be attributed to Arden Quin. His

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communist leanings were similar to those of the artists in the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, but his aesthetic convictions, guided by his devotion to Torres-­García, were of a different sort altogether. The Madí movement’s second exhibition was held at the Altamira Academy in October 1946. The exact circumstances that led to the staging of the show at the Academy are waiting for their historian. But it is very likely that the artist Lucio Fontana, who, along with art critic Jorge Romero Brest and artist Emilio Pettorutti, taught at the school, facilitated the exhibition for the Madís.19 The folded, single-­sheet flyer that advertised the event reproduces a number of the group’s prior statements, lists its participants, and announces that the show will feature several media formats. A film crew from the Noticiario Argentino no. 78 made a newsreel of the event, which was shown in cinemas the following month.20 The publicity savvy can be attributed to Kosice, who was often referred to in the promotional material as the group’s spokesperson, and photographs of his work are included in the press reviews. “The Madists, led by Kosice,” reports a December 1946 article in Time magazine that features a picture of Royi, are “getting ready to put out their own dictionary, listing their ­version of Spanish as it is spoken by Madistas.”21 What a coup it must have been to secure these television and world news reports. Time also quotes an unidentified Madí, almost certainly Kosice, to present the group’s aesthetic agenda: “We Madistas . . . don’t express anything, we do not represent anything, we do not symbolize anything. We create the thing in its unique presence. . . . The thing is in Space and is in Time; it exists. Our art is human, profoundly human, since it is the person in all its essence that consciously creates, does, builds, invents.”22 The White Manifesto

The same month as the Madí exhibition at the Altamira Academy, a group of Fontana’s students published what has come to be known as the “Manifiesto Blanco” (White manifesto).23 By most accounts, the manifesto articulates the ideas of Fontana, who had been an admirer of the activities of the young members of the Concrete art movement in Buenos Aires during the 1940s.24 Suggesting that Fontana wrote the “White Manifesto” in response to a number of tenets advanced by the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, whose activities the elder artist keenly followed, Maldonado elaborated: Between 1946 and 1947, in Buenos Aires, I was in extended contact with Lucio Fontana. At that time, our points of view did not coincide. Fontana represented a conservative tendency in Argentinian art. However, he followed our movement with great interest and sympathy. And for our part, we were quite fond of this artist who had fought on the front lines of abstraction in Europe; we were inclined to overlook the neobaroque sculpture that he was producing at

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that moment. In 1946, in a tone of challenging humor, he had his students in the Altamira School of Art publish the “White Manifesto.” It was written in the context of those friendly debates, in order to take sides about certain proposals I found too fickle, and even superficial.25

Maldonado’s claims are further supported by the possibility that the title “White Manifesto” is taken from the last line of the “Inventionist Manifesto” (after which Molenberg’s Función blanca, discussed above, was also likely titled) and that its central concepts of space and time are directly related to the Asociación’s notion of materialist aesthetics. However, the incoherence of the “White Manifesto,” its varied typefaces and separate text sections, and its notions of fluid space and simultaneity all suggest that it was written to oppose the carefully planned, highly rational premises of the Asociación and that it is closer in kind and more in response to the Madí events and manifestos (which are equally incoherent and ludic) than to those of the Asociación. The “White Manifesto” calls on “all the scientists of the world . . . to direct part of their research toward the exploration of the luminous and the malleable [in art] and the development of instruments capable of producing sounds that will aid in the realization of a four-­dimensional art.”26 The latter will reconcile art, science, and technology, be free of artifice, and adapt to the increased tempo of modern industrial society. It will expand the basic aesthetic apparatus and bring together elements of time and space. Yet, the manifesto continues, four-­dimensional art will also present a number of challenges. For instance, traditional categories such as static representation that illustrate unchanging, perfect, harmonious systems will become utterly anachronistic, as will the restrictions of the flat surface. In their place, artists will have to develop new ways to link art to the dynamic elements of light, color, sound, and movement.27 The “White Manifesto” also explicitly calls on artists to produce art that acknowledges the new relations between humans and technology, including the human subject emerging in the current context of dramatic technological change: “We aim to coalesce all the new experiences of man in a synthesis, which, when merged with the function of man’s natural conditions, will create a new manifestation of being.”28 In the process, matter has to overcome its traditional limits and expand throughout time and into space. Spazialismo is the term Fontana would soon apply to this new paradigm.29 It encompasses a new placefulness, no longer beholden to physical space but acting on its own quasi-­autonomous psychical terms. It valorizes the “transient and the dynamic” and rejects stability. Space is collapsed into the cozy places of the psyche. As Fontana would put it a few years later in his “Manifesto tecnico dello spazialismo” (Technical manifesto, 1951), in which he rearticulated many of the themes in the “White Manifesto,” abstract art is no longer sufficient for the creation of the fourth dimension. It is now necessary to devise intimate “forms,

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color, sounds, through space.”30 At stake in Fontana’s basic dictum is a major issue: the spatiality of the psyche. To propose that space produces forms, colors, and sounds is to suggest that the site from which art emerges is psychical in nature. Of course, to emphasize the spatiality of psychic life is to deemphasize the durational flow of life. Space, rather than time, becomes the form of inner sense. The psyche becomes the spatial receptacle for experience. In the process, intimate space loses its clarity, while exterior space becomes tantamount to infinite space, at once full and compressed into intimacy. Julio Le Parc

Immediately following the distribution of the “White Manifesto,” ­Fontana and his students at the Altamira Academy organized a collective exhibition in a derelict house in central Buenos Aires. They painted the walls of the main floor in various colors and tarlike materials and arranged a number of sculptural objects in unconventional positions throughout the space (e.g., some were hung upside down from the ceiling, others propped up in a corner). The house was brightly illuminated, and as dusk fell, floodlights projected masses of color into the Buenos Aires sky. Although specific reports of the multimedia spectacle are sparse, it seems to have been attended well enough to come to the attention of the police, who considered it a public nuisance. Not long after sunset the city authorities abruptly stopped the event.31 Julio Le Parc was one of the students who participated in this short-­ lived art exhibition. He had enrolled at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes in the mid-­ to late 1940s and, like the others, been fascinated by ­Fontana’s knowledge of, and experience with, the European avant-­garde. Fontana’s interest in Madí and in the activities of the artists who coalesced as the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención also had a huge impact on the young Le Parc, who would go on to adopt for his own artistic practice the focus of the “White Manifesto” on the basic aesthetic apparatus as well as the futurist belief that art would inevitably incorporate space, time, and movement.32 Le Parc dropped out of school in 1947. When he returned to the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes in 1953 to complete his studies, he soon befriended Horacio García Rossi, with whom he would form an artists’ group at the end of the decade. At the time Argentina was in the midst of a strong social conflict that was partly manifested in a pronounced political confrontation between the supporters of Peronism and the opposition, and an equally powerful cultural conflict in the country pitted the oligarchy against the large constituency of Peronists. As the historian Luis Alberto Romero has shown, Perón’s supporters did not promote a different cultural mode from the established one; rather, they sought in their own way to appropriate it, to participate in something they viewed

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as valuable but also heretofore forbidden. For their part, the oligarchy sought to restrict access to the province of culture, excluding all but elites from this entitled realm.33 However, by the early 1950s the anti–­abstract art dimensions of Peronism, which had been articulated in the late 1940s speeches of Oscar Ivanissevich, had tempered with the realization that abstract art had become the primary mode of modern art in the inter­ national realm. The Argentine government, wanting to cast itself as open to renewal and modernity, had become much more practical and tactical, and abstract artists came to predominate in official exhibitions. As Andrea Giunta has observed, “for a country that was trying to open up its economy, attract foreign capital, and orient itself in a way that would demonstrate new forces of progress at work, paintings of gauchos and flatlands—­the usual topics of regionalist nationalism—­would hardly have served as a standard. Abstract art was a timely political instrument that the government employed to introduce itself onto the international scene.”34 Le Parc and García Rossi met at a student demonstration at the Escuela in 1955. Political tensions had been high all year, with a thwarted military coup in June and a successful one in September overthrowing the twelve-­year Perón regime. In an attempt to ease the transition, the new president, Eduardo Lonardi, included a number of Perón loyalists in his administration, but he lasted only two months in the Casa Rosada and was ousted by the anti-­Peronist contingency of the military. In his place, the armed forces installed General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu.35 All this while, the country was at a standstill economically, politically, and socially. So too was culture, as the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) in Buenos Aires was occupied by the army.36 The fall of Perón produced a vital moment of reevaluation of all institutions—­cultural, political, and social—­and current and former students of the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts) joined together to demand a revised and updated curriculum. García Rossi subsequently introduced Le Parc to Francisco Sobrino, and in the second half of the 1950s the artists, together with Hugo Demarco, began regular meetings and showed together as a group and in small-­scale solo exhibitions in Buenos Aires.37 The four artists’ interest in an aesthetic that emphasizes the spectator’s optical response and downplays the maker’s subjective personality and expressiveness led them to focus attentively on art’s basic visual elements. One of their central concerns was the smug elitism that for the most part denied the general public access to codes for viewing and understanding traditional works of art. Le Parc and his friends sought to dismantle the prevailing hierarchy and to replace it with a greater egalitarianism by creating work that all spectators would be able to respond to equally. In 1956 Le Parc traveled to France on a grant from the French cultural services. He and García Rossi had been selected to represent Argentina

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in that year’s Paris Biennial, which had just been launched by the new minister of culture, André Malraux. Sobrino arrived in the French capital a few months later. In Paris, the artists’ preoccupation with Concrete and kinetic art grew as a result of a steady stream of shows featuring the work of Georges Vantongerloo, Max Bill, Nicolas Schöffer, Victor Vasarely, and others at the Galerie Denise René. The Argentinians intensely debated the importance of predetermined mathematical sequences and progressions in artistic compositions, seeing these as capable of limiting compositional incident and intuitive decision making in the construction of art, and they contemplated the possibilities opened up for artistic practice by optical effects and movement, whether actual, virtual, or incurred.38 Their aim was to find unitary systems that would govern the surface, the shapes, and the interaction of the pictorial components, in accordance with a program (or algorithm) arranged in advance. These systems had no significance in themselves: they were simply working tools. But they also enabled the individual artists to assess the success of compositions that would emerge. Moreover, the methodical manner in which the predetermined systems were applied to the canvas surface allowed each artist to abstain from interfering subjectively. Such interaction, after all, would upset the homogeneity of the results obtained. The art produced using this method was at once autonomous and visually intense, introducing a range of new aesthetic elements. Questions of how far intensity could be taken and how involved the spectator could become in realizing the work of art rose to the fore.39 In the 1950s the road to worldwide recognition for many artists still went through Paris. Owing to the extraordinary concentration of intellectual talent there following from this belief, the city remained a capital of the arts.40 It was a place where art—­submitted to critical judgment and transmuted—­could be denationalized and artists given an existence that was not based on national origins. At the same time, to attain success in Paris was also to be made visible and acceptable in the artists’ own national space. Despite the turmoil produced by the colonial war in Algeria, the social atmosphere in France when Le Parc and his colleagues arrived was upbeat. The government of Charles de Gaulle had embraced a model of technological modernity that was strongly supported by the country’s intelligentsia.41 An art of light and movement suited this futuristic spirit well, and kinetic art rapidly became the cultural phenomenon of the moment, with Vasarely as one of its primary theorists. Le Parc and the others met Vasarely at an opening at the Galerie ­Denise René and soon thereafter visited the elder artist’s Paris studio. Vasarely was at the time advocating for artists to work in teams comprising different specialists with shared concerns. The notion of the artist as a self-­sufficient entity, or “solitary genius,” could according to Vasarely no longer be maintained. As he remarked in 1960, the search for a science of art had begun and “only groups of researchers, working with science and technology, will truly create.”42 Evidently impressed by the rigor and Chapter Three

seriousness of the young Argentinians, Vasarely introduced them to the painter Vera Molnár, who worked in the style of geometric abstraction, and to her husband François Molnár, who had studied psychology in Budapest and was committed to fusing art with science (i.e., the exact and rational knowledge of specific phenomena) and technology (i.e., the application of science on the level of art). The Molnárs were friends of Soto, whom they had met at the Galerie Denise René in 1956. At the time François Molnár was fascinated with the creative possibilities made available by the mathematical theory of topology, and this interest overlapped with the spatial dimension of Soto’s new work. Topology studies those properties of surfaces that are unchanged by any deformation that is continuous and those of abstract spaces that are invariant under homeomorphic transformation. For ­Molnár, this form of abstract geometry provided an answer to the problem of mediation between art and society. Unlike Marxist reflection theory, which maintains that all apprehension of the external world by art is just a duplication of it, topology provides a way to think about the correspondence between the world and the artwork that can maintain a one-­to-­one relation between points but goes beyond mimesis. As Molnár theorized: “In topology, a circle can be turned into an ellipse or any other continuous figure; there will always be a ‘one-­to-­one’ correspondence between the points of these forms, but they do not resemble each other in the usual sense of the word. Thus, music, dance, and architecture resemble nothing but themselves, but that doesn’t prevent their coexisting with, or in some cases conforming to, the theory of reflection.”43 Topology therefore provided Molnár with a tool with which to understand perception as contingent upon the situation, transforming before the viewer’s eyes and yet anchored in the world; it presented, in the language of Pierre Boulez, both a smooth and a striated space-­time simultaneously, or, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari would subsequently have it, “a plane of consistency.”44 Like Soto, Molnár was concerned with the external process by which light enters the eye: the visible.45 This approach consisted of finding equivalents for the visual world in stimuli alone. Twentieth-­century ­notions of form such as Gestalt theory emphasized the ability of human sensory perception (and especially vision) to transform external stimuli into a coherent formal structure or whole—­the innate capacity of the brain to organize the visual according to universal, unchanging laws. For Molnár in the 1950s, perception was a direct activity: innate rather than acquired. The role of the system of vision was neither to decode inputs nor to construct percepts but to extract information.46 He maintained that the optical image on the retina contains all the information necessary for perceiving objects in space, because the human perception mechanism is sophisticated enough to achieve this all by itself. In 1957 Soto introduced the Molnárs to the French painters Joël Stein and François Morellet.47 Stein had moved through postwar surrealist circles in the 1950s, while Morellet had a keen interest in Concrete art Subjective Instability

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and serialism. A couple of years later, again spearheaded by Soto, the Molnárs organized a meeting with Stein, Morellet, Yvaral (Jean-­Pierre Vasarely, son of Victor), and the contingent from Argentina, which by that time consisted of not only Le Parc, Sobrino, and García Rossi but also Demarco, Francisco García Miranda, and Moyano. The two cohorts realized that they shared a number of concerns, and they began to meet regularly to discuss the possibility of coming together as a large group.48 The artists debated the association’s internal structure with great intensity, for although they had the same interest in coalescing into a larger entity, they were of different opinions about exactly what kind of affiliation it would be. Some, such as Yvaral, thought along the lines of Victor Vasarely that the group should function as a theoretical and experimental research community. Others were more interested in exchanging ideas about aesthetic situations and collective actions that would involve participation of the public. But this notion of participation, which emerged very early, was almost a heresy for François Molnár, who considered the role of the contemporary artist to be similar to that of the scientist working in a laboratory. According to Molnár, theory should be put into praxis only after it is fully developed. His core concern was to reconcile art, mathematics, and technology (the application of rational knowledge) and to put aside the intuitive creations of the individual personality in favor of artistic research. For Le Parc and the other Latin Americans, it did not make sense to carry out research within a closed framework. They sought a more open situation where the optical effects of the work could be tested on a number of spectators. In between these positions, artists such as Stein argued that the aim of the group should primarily revolve around the possibilities opened up for art by the anarchic and the ludic. The budding constellation of artists also took up the issue of whether they should work and exhibit collectively. Morellet strongly supported the idea of anonymous production, blurring if not obliterating distinct authorial identities. For him, it was important to work mainly as a group and to put aside the less important personal demands of individual artists. But for García Rossi and some of the others, the individuality of artistic production still had great significance. The issue was left unresolved, which led to the paradox of a collective body of work with a number of personal signatures. Nothing made and exhibited was to be anonymous. Not surprisingly, this arrangement soon caused such tension that the artists ultimately decided that they should each remain within his or her own particular area of research and not enter that of others in the group. While it was obviously difficult to attain genuine collective outcomes with these types of restrictions, the operation of the association nonetheless soon became more important for each of the artists than the particularities of any individual participant.

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Centre de recherche d’art visuel

In July 1960, the two clusters of artists publicly announced that they had founded the Centre de recherche d’art visuel (CRAV), where they would work together to actualize their common formal and theoretical goals. The artists wrote in their initial declaration, “Act of Foundation,” which sums up both the theoretical underpinnings and the working methodology of the group, that their aim was to pool their research projects so as to be in a better position to move their work forward.49 They maintained that CRAV would enable the consolidation of research, discussion, writing, and making. All individual artistic activities (which they would continue to develop) would be submitted to CRAV for assessment and evaluation. Their use of the word research at once emphasizes CRAV’s mission and the artists’ effort to demystify the artistic creative process in favor of an objective investigation of visual phenomena, including the relationship between the art object and the eye of the spectator.50 Everything turns on the idea that art could become rational, like mathematics or science, with its relationship to objects (or technological apparati) as one of theory to practice.51 The writings of French philosopher and engineer Abraham Moles were of notable importance for several of the members of CRAV. In particular, Moles’s Theorie de l’information esthétique (1958; Information Theory and Esthetic Perception) had a significant impact on François Molnár, who had assumed the role of CRAV’s primary theorist.52 The book stands as a bold and imaginative integration of the mathematical theory of communication that had recently come to be called “information theory” with behavioral science and structural aesthetics. Born of the writings of Claude Shannon and the cybernetician Norbert Wiener, where information ceases to be simply the content of communication and gains a materiality in its connection with the world of physics, engineering, and biology, information theory in the 1950s and early 1960s promised to solve many of the problems that had long resisted adequate formulation, including that of aesthetic perception.53 Instead of considering communication between machines via electrical channels, which concerned Shannon, or between machines and humans, which concerned Wiener, Moles contemplated the channels of communication between art and humans. In the process, he proposed the outline of a program of research in the psychiatry of perception. One of Moles’s most important contributions in Information Theory and Esthetic Perception is his distinction between the semantic and the aesthetic. “One must distinguish in every message [that] a human receptor (perceiver) receives: (a) a semantic message, expressible in symbols, determining translatable, logical decisions; (b) an aesthetic message, determining interior states, untranslatable.”54 All messages include semantic and aesthetic parts. In speech the two seem about equally divided, while in art the aesthetic is much richer. The

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information within both the semantic and the aesthetic parts of a message can vary along the original–­banal continuum. “The . . . goal pursued by the work of art is always to give the receptor (perceiver) ‘a little too much information,’ a little too much originality.”55 Works of art can thus be encountered repeatedly without exhausting the information in them.56 Moles’s analytic approach provided Molnár with a way to argue for the complex richness of the aesthetic. It also pushed Molnár beyond the synthetic approach to pursue a theory of visual perception that would consist of finding equivalents for the visual world in the stimuli alone. According to the synthetic approach crucial to the strictly scientific principles of Concrete artists such as Max Bill, the optical image on the retina, including, of course, the changes that it undergoes over time, contains all the information necessary for perceiving objects in space, since the perception mechanism of humans is sophisticated enough to achieve this by itself. But Moles (and Molnár following him) found this theory insufficient. For elements to be perceived as whole, Moles argued, “a ­cerebral scanning of the visual field is necessary.”57 Humans can integrally apprehend only a limited number of information elements as a form. If the message, signal, or image has a high number of elements, the eye either neglects some of them or proceeds to scan the field, fixing on only a small section at a time. Moreover, “we make use of only an infinitesimal fraction of information that reaches us from the external world.”58 There is a maximum limit to the flow of perceptible information. Openness occurs when this flow is exceeded, as the individual is left to select, with the conscious or unconscious aid of criteria derived from her previous experience, forms of information from the message presented that may complement or contradict a more conventional continuity and in turn generate new perspectives. Molnár discussed with the members of CRAV what he saw as the close relationship between the conceptual framework of information theory and the type of artistic production they were attempting to realize. Art, he insisted, is fundamentally concerned with communication. Yet an artwork is more than simply the content of a communication. Rather than a mere transmission from a source to a receiver, the exchange between an artwork and a spectator is a dynamic process. If, according to Molnár, there was an informational quality to the type of art CRAV aspired to develop, then it was not because the new work conveys more artistic information than ever before but because it takes on the attributes of information and is conceived (and grasped) in terms of its informational dynamics. Thus the informational flows displace the question of visual representation from the center of artistic concerns in favor of a problematic of mutations and movement within immersive and multidimensional informational topologies. But by the middle of December, François Molnár and four other members of the CRAV had left, disenchanted with the group’s direction.

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Molnár’s letter to Geneviève Sobrino, the Centre’s secretary, clearly articulates CRAV’s aims as he understands them and serves warning about the collective’s loss of perspective. Affirming his and the group’s belief in the research and teamwork necessary to solve the many problems posed by modern art, he deplores what he concludes is a profound difference between his idea of research and that of most of the others in the group.59 The conflict seems to have been prompted by a statement made by an unidentified member of CRAV that “we do not want to carry out scientific research but human research.”60 Molnár, a student of the sciences, called for a greater faith in the potential progress provided by mathematical and scientific investigation. He was arguing in the context of an art world in which “visual art has become a nothing—­not the metaphysical, capital letter Nothing, but a vulgar nothing—­in the hands of petty swindlers, the only way to escape this vacantness . . . is to base one’s work on a few results of modern science. At the present time it is vital . . . to have at least a broad understanding of the optical, perceptual, affective and, lastly, combinatory, topological and statistical aspects of our visual art.”61 Molnár recognized that the group was united in its rejection of work that sought to process personal experiences, such as Tachism and “dripping.” All involved in the CRAV believed in the necessity of change within the realm of art. But, Molnár stated, in a manner that must have been difficult for the others to take, “we need to have the lucidity and the courage to admit that at present our paintings are hardly any different from current art.” This was the crux for him: the artists were on the right track, but the art was still undertheorized and therefore not yet ready to be shown publicly. At best, it stood as “precious experiments toward future research. . . . Using our formal research, and with much hard work, one day we could perhaps found a scientific aesthetic and, thereby, modern art itself. . . . But for the moment . . . our works should not be exhibited. Or, at the most, exhibited for a few connoisseurs (painters, theoreticians, people likely to understand the meaning of our research) as research, and certainly not as finished works of art.”62 In his view CRAV, while renouncing the status quo in the art world—­identified as “fifty-­odd ­critics,” “two hundred–­odd galleries,” and “a few hundred snobs”—­had yet not determined who its proper public was (“who exactly we are painting for”). Molnár reminded the group of the egalitarian ideals—­that “painting should belong to everyone”—­that brought them together in the first place. He also summoned CRAV’s stated commitment to Vasarely’s idea of “the multiplication of artworks” and the artists’ unanimous decision not to work for “a handful of rich art lovers.” “Our intention should be to prepare certain changes,” he concluded, “not only within the works, but also within artistic society at large. Running after art critics or galleries is no way of preparing for such a change. . . . If our aim is simply to make it in the ‘system,’ the Centre de recherche d’art visuel is in no way different from other artistic groups and is doomed to fail before it starts.”63

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François Molnár would virtually disappear from the art world, as would Vera Molnár and Simone Servanes, who both quit CRAV in solidarity with him. But Molnár’s words and warnings did not signal the end of the group; they did not even represent the beginning of the end. Rather, Molnár’s departure represented the end of the beginning for a group that would go on to meet weekly at a studio on the rue Beautreillis in the Marais district of Paris for almost eight years.64 13 4

The Human Eye

The first act of the remaining CRAV artists was to organize a show of painting, sculpture, and drawing in their large studio. But ironically, given the artworks on display in this exhibition, a broadsheet posted on the wall of the studio stated that the group would henceforth abandon the medium of painting and work instead with new hardware: “plastic, Plexiglas, ­metals and alloys, electrical equipment, projections, reflections, black light, and the like.”65 The text, “Essai d’appréciacion de nos recherches” (An appraisal of our research), explains that these materials provide great opportunities for the study of “the visual phenomenon, perception, law of information, and practical tests on probability and chance,” since they are not encumbered with centuries of tradition.66 This well-­established notion holds that technical factors such as materials have their own logic, their own autonomous development, and that revolutions in thinking or perception are caused by revolutions in technology.67 Yet CRAV saw an even greater potential in the new materials, including the ability not only to translate the present but also to prefigure the future—­to invent imagined realities of a world to come. CRAV’s “An Appraisal of Our Research” begins provocatively: Our main concern is to take up a conscious stance in the current art scene on both the artistic and the social level. . . . We are faced with two alternatives: either we carry on in the mythical world of painting, with our particular degree of artistic ability, accepting the situation of the creative artist as a unique and favored individual whose social position is currently established; or, by demystifying art, we may reduce it to the clear terms that are equivalent in all human activity. We’ve made our choice!68

Fighting words indeed. But words that also express several concepts that will come to define the new group. One concerns a refusal of the romantic figure of the artist-­creator, the “solitary genius” that Vasarely had already deemed outdated.69 Another is the call to cease painterly production al­ together, since it is irreparably tainted with anachronistic and problematical traditions and beliefs. A third is the rejection of the concept of the artwork’s absoluteness and definitiveness in favor of an emphasis on the excess and hence instability of information. Instead of appearing as a pure signal sent from the artist to the spectator through the materials, Chapter Three

the artwork is theorized as open ended, unstable, and internally contradictory, creating a sort of feedback similar to that produced by electricity interfering with itself. This feedback of multiple signals encourages in the audience a “complex seeing” that is active in selecting from among several conflicting possibilities at any particular point. Inasmuch as the artwork concerns the problem of form, it also poses the question of the organization of perception. A fourth notion is the need to demystify art to reveal the underlying true nature of the aesthetic. This will lead the artists to embark on a lengthy research phase, during which an intense production of art and an open-­ended debate will take place at regular meetings. Along with the critique of notions of the precious artist and of the auratic art object, CRAV continued to study the visual relationship between the work of art and the spectator. “There must be no more production exclusively for: the cultivated eye, the sensitive eye, the intellectual eye, the aesthetic eye, the dilettante eye. The human eye is our point of departure,” the artists wrote in 1961.70 The emphasis is thus solidly on vision, which CRAV regarded as an unmediated process. The eye was theorized as an extended technology. The road to free the spectator from the compliance demanded by the recent proliferation of visual images, both in the established art world and in the increasingly spectacularized urbanscapes of 1960s modernity, ran through an interrogation of perception and of visuality in general. The artists believed that if they produced visual objects that limited their effect on the spectator to pure physiological response, the ethical dimension would take care of itself, that the more the works of art tapped into the spectator’s nervous system, the more egalitarian they would be. Artworks generated by an experimental program in which visual perception was separated from traditional cultural interpretation would enable a greater number of spectators (regardless of their intellectual, social, or economic background) to assume a significant role in the reception of art. The shift in Le Parc’s work during these years provides a good example of these developments. His art of the late 1950s consists of grid-­based, nonrelational compositions that rely on progression and juxtaposition. In a gouache such as Séquences progressives ambivalentes (Ambivalent and Progressive Sequences, 1959; fig. 3.1), successive black-­and-­white (or black, white, and gray) painted squares, rectangles, or circles decrease in width as they progress across the surface of the canvas. The shapes and forms have no significance in themselves; each is closely related to the next, and those relations are preestablished prior to their execution. The compositional elements come together visually to form larger sets that regroup and contain them, such that the existing relation among the elements inside each set in principle remains fixed. The resultant work is in fact nothing more than the plastic outcome of these fixed relations between simple elements when they form a set. Le Parc was at the time also experimenting extensively with chromatic permutation. Employing a full spectrum, ranging from yellow through Subjective Instability

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Figure 3.1 Julio Le Parc, Séquences progressives ambivalentes, 1959.

green, blue, violet, red, and orange, he kept the colors invariably pure, never shaded by black or white. Furthermore, consistent with his non­ relational compositional practice, when commencing a painting Le Parc abstained from using hues other than those fourteen selected at the start. Though limited in number, these colors are capable of encompassing all of the conceivable variations of the chromatic range. The artist consolidated the spectrum of colors with simple geometrical shapes. The forms in a picture such as Séquences ambivalentes (Ambivalent Sequences, 1959; fig. 3.2) are painted in simple combinations of one or two ranges of hue in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal displacement, which results in steadily bending the lines of dots in one direction or another. Le Parc then juxtaposed four surface patterns, covering the entire area, over which he superimposed new ranges, also four in number. The potential combinations are infinite. The multiplicity of designs, transparencies, colors in space, light, relate to the spectator on a level of purely physiological optical response, as if the eye is captured by the two-­dimensional surface of the painting and given no alternative other than to travel across those two dimensions, impelled by the energy of the field of vision. For the spectator standing immediately before one of these pictures, the progressions are ambivalent and produce a virtual movement across the surface of the picture plane.

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Figure 3.2 Julio Le Parc, Séquences ambivalentes, 1959.

By mid-­1960, Le Parc had quit painting altogether and started to experiment with glass, wood, translucent plastics such as Plexiglas and Lucite, and various kinds of metal. These new materials, which at once extended the work of the Madí artists and revealed Le Parc’s growing awareness of the legacy of the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, enabled the artist to expand his earlier painterly exploration of progressive sequences and displacements into three dimensions. Le Parc’s new work typically took the form of mobile relief sculptures (fig. 3.3), consisting of sets of thin plastic squares or metal units with shiny surfaces strung at regular intervals on nylon threads and suspended in front of a wooden board painted white. The elements of the mobiles echo Soto’s, as much as Rodchenko’s and Calder’s, hanging wire constructions as they move in response to air currents, continuously changing their relative position. The tension of the surfaces that characterize Le Parc’s earlier painting and work with transparent plastics is maintained with the new relief structures insofar as the slightest breeze keeps the individual plastic and metal units in an unstable state. But unlike the work of Gabo and Pevsner, for whom art, like science, is essentially detached from social reality because it is governed by its own rules, and unlike Soto’s Vibrations, which juxtapose hanging elements and a linear backdrop to produce an impression of oscillation in the eyes of the spectator, Le Parc’s new sculpture

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Figure 3.3 Julio Le Parc, Saturation, 1961.

casts luminous reflections and thereby extends into the room in which it is installed, creating an environmental effect.71 As light falls across the undulating units, their real movement is projected onto the surrounding walls and their shadows and reflections radiate in space. Here the play is between substance and appearance. The sheets of light blend into their shadows and reflections and vary in shape and intensity according to the position of the spectator and the location of the illumination sources. From the spectator’s point of view, a work of art made of light seems more immaterial than an opaque image. Moreover, a luminous artwork has an intrinsic temporal dimension, simply because it is almost impossible to conceive of light in any but temporal terms, as light is not a state but a process. The new mobiles thus use vernacular materials divorced or abstracted from their normal context, and their effects develop by means of an operation that occurs in the spectator’s own time. Occasionally a shiny square lights up brilliantly as it reflects the source of light directly. Le Parc’s exploration of the prospects opened up by the combination of transparency, movement, and light led him to a concerted investigation of the various ways in which artworks mediate atmospherics such as the impact of glare and shade in the room, or any people or objects adjacent to the sculpture moving at different speeds (fig. 3.4). The effect is that of a continuity that sets off a discontinuity. The mobiles maintain enough visual similitude from one moment to the next for the differences to propel the spectator’s attention forward and backward in time. In this sense, they imitate the mind’s eye. How do we anticipate things?

Chapter Three

How do we remember things? Not as dramatic scenes but as projected or ­retrieved moments; not in coherent wholes but in bits and pieces. We think in parts more than in wholes, and try as we might to fit the parts together, discontinuities remain. Moments and details keep emerging or coming back to us as images in their own right, differing slightly each time as they shift in the mind. The illuminated mobile is the device that Le Parc uses to evoke this process or projection or recollection, and ­instability is the term he uses to refer to this phenomenon. As Le Parc’s art became increasingly three-­dimensional in 1959 and 1960, it lost much of the timeless and autonomous materiality that he previously claimed for it. His compositions now took the form of perpetually changing, immersive environments. These new relief structures and mobiles privilege process over structure as they expand into the multiple projections of refracted light throughout a room. In turn, material substance and human subject are collapsed in the aesthetic field; the space occupied by the artwork and that by the spectator are no longer distinct. The spectator is immersed in the parameters of the work of art, and the value of the object is rendered relative.

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Figure 3.4 Julio Le Parc, Mobile transparent, 1960.


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CRAV’s emphasis on the reconciliation of art and science as an ideal led the artists to change the name of their association to Groupe de recherche d’art visuel (henceforth GRAV) at the end of 1960. Their first public act was to distribute a collectively written brochure at the exhibition, “Bewogen Beweging” (Moved motion), organized by Pontus Hultén and others for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in March 1961. The Stedelijk’s comprehensive exhibition of developments in kinetic art was essentially a followup to the chronology sketched by Hultén in Le Mouvement at the Galerie Denise René a few years earlier.72 For the new show, Hultén and the other curators constructed an extensive genealogy, complete with ample documentation, of artists who had worked with or significantly informed kinetic art in the twentieth century. Hultén and his team invited Le Parc and Yvaral to participate, and Le Parc, true to the stated principles of the new group, requested that illustrations of the work of his GRAV colleagues also be featured in the catalogue. When these materials arrived too late to be included in the publication, the artists decided instead to write and distribute “Propositions sur le movement” (Propositions on movement), a short tract that theorizes the ways in which movement can productively complexify the spectator’s experience in the aesthetic field.73 The controlled use of movement is said to be capable of disturbing “the single perception of phenomena,” enabling in turn the establishment of a new relationship between image, movement, and time. That relationship, the authors insisted, goes beyond a simple exchange between the artwork and the spectator, and now involves duration. The tract emphasizes the virtuality of temporal events, the qualitative change that movement brings not only to an art object that moves but also to the space that it moves in and modifies. “Propositions on Movement” articulates the core ideas of GRAV in its very early years. The artists, now operating as a team, sought to produce art with which to study the physiological relationship between compositions of form on the one hand and the eye of the viewer on the other. This led not only to a reconsideration of the Concrete art notion that form is a system of unvarying relations among specific elements, but also to the collapse of the distance between the plastic space of the artwork and the subjective space of the spectator. That distance has traditionally helped the spectator to organize spatial relations—­to organize the subjective pole relative to the objective pole within the aesthetic field. Its collapse resulted in the production of contingent artworks that integrate actual and virtual motion, thrust viewers into unfamiliar explorations of flexible coordinates of space and time, and place increasing emphasis on the perceptual instability of the spectator in the context of art.74 Le Parc and GRAV had come to consider the optical instability produced by information overload as a physiological fact, based on the properties of the retina. Instead of seeking ways to stabilize these optical Chapter Three

conditions, they took advantage of their instability by putting together compositions that produce a succession of ever-­differing perceptual conditions and a shifting continuum of sensations. The latter plunge the spectator into the borderline states where the laws of an innatist account of perception are no longer operative and the constructive force that ought to manifest itself spontaneously in normal visual activity fails in its most straightforward mechanisms, such as recognition of the “right shape” or differentiation between a shape and its background. The notion of physiological instability grew in complexity when it was coupled with that of perceptual instability. In this context, the artwork came to be theorized not as an object but as a field, and spectatorship as an active process of apprehending often-­unstable relations. Far from the traditional concept of the centered artwork that provides a whole vision that is organized around one point or logic, Le Parc and GRAV now developed compositions with multiple focal points. This accentuated the position of the spectator, who, to orient herself, now had to order the strong pull of each of the different centers of the artwork in relation to her position in space. If, as I showed in the previous chapter, Soto’s late 1950s work balanced a relative stability and wholeness with a vital openness and discontinuity, the art of Le Parc and GRAV tilted the balance firmly in the direction of the latter. By unleashing this negativity as a force of dissonance and instability, the artists sought to break the spectator’s imaginary position of security and unity before the artwork and restore a sense of perpetual process and change. Le Parc’s mobile relief sculptures epitomize this phenomenon (fig. 3.5). The grid of reflective units that undergirds each of these art objects spreads the multiple visual stimuli evenly across the multiple surfaces. The mobiles do not possess a center around which the parts revolve. Rather they rely on a hyperstimulation of peripheral vision, causing oscillations and fluctuations of attention and shifting “the eye’s usual function of taking things in through shape and its relationships in the direction of a new visual situation based on the field of peripheral vision and instability.”75 The destabilizing effects these artworks produce as they animate light and dark on concave strips of polished metal also have a temporal dimension. The components move at varying speeds. The optico-­kinetic work thus isolates an essential property of the phenomenal world and highlights a new awareness of reality too: that it, like the epistemology that necessarily underpins it, is inherently unstable. For Le Parc, the primary reason for taking the pure response of the human eye as a starting point was that it is egalitarian—­the part played by the visual organ is common to everyone. It is not culturally conditioned or esoteric. An art devoid of emotion and symbolism gives every eye the same sensation. Yet in opposition to the definitive work, forever precise and exact in its effects on the spectator, Le Parc and GRAV were also attentive to the visual changes that take place over time in optical experience. Instability was the term the group used, as noted earlier, to Subjective Instability


Figure 3.5 Julio Le Parc, Mobile argent sur noir, 1960.

refer to the effect of “hard-­to-­control elements” on visual reception, to the drowning of meaning in a sea of visual and sensual phenomena. But now Le Parc coupled this notion with a social theory that maintained that the overload of information parallels what he described as the “real” in modern urban life. Contemporary reality is fundamentally unstable, and therefore only an unstable, indeterminate, and contingent art could adequately represent it.76 Le Parc mobilized indeterminacy as an artistic procedure in two important ways. From the perspective of production, the artworks are developed within a nonrelational system of composition that, once established, eliminates all subjective decisions. This in turn places greater emphasis on all the elements necessary to produce and exhibit the artwork. The second and more specific way in which Le Parc marshaled indetermiChapter Three

nacy involves the reception side of the art phenomenon, the spectator to whom the artwork is addressed. From this perspective, randomness is the result of the flickering visual effect produced by the compositional elements and by the chain of optical reactions they induce, since both rely on where the eye happens to come to rest at a certain instant and how long it remains there. Instead of definitively regulating the placement of the units in the manner of Concrete art, GRAV artists typically produced artworks characterized by an overload of sensory information that gives “rise to an infinite number of possible visual situations.”77 Participation

With the departure of Molnár, Le Parc assumed the role of GRAV’s primary theorist. At first the program stayed narrowly focused on the exploration of the physiological relationship between the art object and the eye of the spectator. But in several key essays of 1962 and 1963, Le Parc began to shift the discussion in the direction of a greater concern with viewer participation. The change was in part generated by the first penetrating critique of the artists’ activities. Dutch sculptor Joost Baljeu’s open letter to GRAV, which appeared in the Amsterdam-­based journal Structure in 1962, questioned the group’s epistemological assumptions: “It is not by changing the functioning of the eye (eyesight) that art changes,” Baljeu chided, “but by the artist’s visual understanding changing in accordance with the changes in life.”78 By this time Le Parc had little interest in altering the “visual understanding” of the artist. But substituting Baljeu’s emphasis on the artist with his own more recent concerns with the spectator, Le Parc wrote in “A propos de art-­spectacle, spectateur actif, instabilité et programmation dans l’art visuel” (On art as spectacle, the active spectator, instability, and programming in visual art, 1962) that he and GRAV were increasingly interested in producing art capable of fundamentally transforming the spectator’s visual apperception of the lifeworld in which she resides. “The idea,” he explained, is to ­allow the artwork “to be realized in space and time, subject to the foreseen contingencies of a determinate or indeterminate character coming from the medium in which it occurs and the activated or active participation of the spectator.”79 As a result, the spectator will come to apprehend “a partialness that will include sufficient visualizations to make perceptible the unstable totality.”80 Rather than understanding the percept as the effect and image of the object, Le Parc now came to see the stimulus, what the eye registers and receives, as distinct from what it perceives. He thus separated the recept from the percept and ceased to consider the latter as an unmediated image delivered to the eye. Visual perception, from this perspective, is interpretive; it takes place after reception, after the eye registers the object, through a system of processing information that is more conceptual than physiological. The eye, in other words, is not a passive sense organ that receives the imprint of the object but a generative organ that brings Subjective Instability

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the topological, and hence social and cultural, context to bear on the perceptual process.81 In formal terms, Le Parc’s search for visual information that incorporates contextual and temporal aspects, as well as a certain degree of randomness, led him to produce kinetic artworks that mobilize spectatorial engagement in order to enable the viewer to experience the unstable structures in real, present time. Theorized as excessive propositions, as events (rather than things) that give rise to a large number of conceivable visible possibilities, the now often motorized compositions of light and movable planes of metal and glass incorporate indeterminacy into their core structure. Visual reality from this point of view is a dynamic process, a continuous uninterrupted flow. Processing the indeterminate data that the eye receives, the spectator perceives the work in the real time of the present. This is not only a case of the fusion of spectatorial participation with the construction of the work in real time but also an effort to decouple the artwork from its support, as the components that transmit the visual data become largely irrelevant. The format merely functions to construct a field that operates in the space and time of the spectator. Built into that exchange are disturbances and atmospherics, which may be of “a determinate or indeterminate character,” inherent to the process of transmission, the context, or the particularities of the spectator.82 The multiple ways in which this type of work can come together are equivalent, meaning that there is no correct way in which to integrate a composition. The particularities of perception are always different, contingent on a number of factors, and each spectator “who is physiologically activated and feels the work to be unstable” is encouraged to develop her own “particular interpretation.”83 In “On Art as Spectacle” Le Parc also took up that aspect of kinetic art that depends on the motion of the spectator relative to the art object for its effect. Perception in this type of art, he argued, “lies . . . in the close relationship between the movements of the spectator and the multiple visual situations that result from those movements.”84 In themselves, each of the visual sensations produced by the spectator’s motion has only a minimal value. However, when the kinetic artwork encompasses the dynamism of both the spectator and of the component elements, the result is an acceleration of movement. In this “third state,” as he called it, “the slightest displacement of the spectator produces a visual movement that is much larger than the movement of displacement.”85 The activity of the elements and that of the spectator increase the intensity of the acceleration, with each multiplying what the other does. This is an exercise in parallels and equalities that treats the artwork and the spectator on one and the same level. It is a matter not just of the elements having an effect on the spectator but of a symbiotic relation between the elements and the spectator in space and time. Instances of this “third state” are apparent in Le Parc’s series continuels-­ lumière (continuous light; fig. 3.6). These kinetic sculptures take the form Chapter Three

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Figure 3.6 Julio Le Parc, Continuel lumière mobile, 1960.

of optical toys. They typically consist of a light beam projected into a spherical unit in which a number of small sheets of polished aluminum are arranged perpendicular to the spectator’s vantage point. The signal, or ray of light, is corrupted by the steady counterrotation of asymmetrical fan blades propelled by a small motor and within the device (fig. 3.7). The aluminum sheets reflect the light of the projector and produce an intricate movement of luminous images and courses of splintered light. The accent is thus placed upon the perceptibility of a light signal in relation to the interference produced by movement. But the full visual effect depends on the motion of the spectator through the space in which the quasi-­sculptural construction is installed. When a spectator stands before the object, the lines of light appear to move laterally across the surface in all directions. But when seen from an angle, the fan blades reflect the light beams forward into the space of the room, where they create pools of light and shadow. From this perspective, the artwork is composed of the entire ensemble of equipment and operation necessary for its realization, including the light, the aluminum sheets, the propeller mechanism, the humming sound of the motor, and the space into which the broken beam of light is cast, as well as the reception side of the artistic institution. In short, the artwork encompasses the entire apparatus, including the spectator’s place in relation to it. Subjective Instability

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Figure 3.7 Julio Le Parc, Continuel lumière mobile (detail), 1960.


By mid-­1963 Le Parc had fully embraced the idea that the artwork fundamentally depends on the spectator for its actualization. The objects he began to present are not so much works of art as materials for artworks.86 If the art spectator had traditionally functioned as a receiver of a finished, unchangeable art object, Le Parc now sought to guide her away from that model of alienated passivity, which he began to refer to as “spectacle.”87 Le Parc hoped that the spectator, in actualizing the artwork in her own real time, would think constructively of how the artwork in question functions and what its relationship to the broader context of society might be. The text, “Proposition pour un lieu d’activation” (Proposal for a place of activation), which Le Parc wrote and read that year at the Twenty-­Second International Convention of artists, critics, and art students in Verucchio, Italy, sums up these new concerns: “The tendency we advocate strives to open up the work, and to alter the work–­spectator relationship. It Chapter Three

asks the spectator to play a more active part. . . . The end purpose of our work is to free people from their dependence—­passivity—­and from their ­usually ­individual leisure activities and involve them in an activity that will trigger their positive qualities in a climate of communication and interaction.”88 The active participation of the spectator is thus mobilized to create an interplay between the aesthetic experience and the social situation in which the latter is realized. The artwork is now located in the circuit running between the art object, the physical and cultural context, and the spectator in the form of a participant, rather than in the specificity of a medium or the underlying compositional logic. In “Proposition for a Place of Activation,” Le Parc remarked that he and his GRAV colleagues had developed artistic strategies capable of jolting human subjects out of the mesmerized dependence produced by the prevailing social order. This entailed the arrangement of an array of sounds, lights, and objects in a new type of heterogeneous space. The aim was to develop a newly formed space powerful enough to encourage spectators to participate actively, culminating in “a collective situation to which every individual action contributes.”89 Evidently Le Parc is here referring to the inherently immersive, excessive, and dynamic labyrinth that he and GRAV had just installed as the central part of their collaborative installation L’instabilité at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris in the context of the 1963 Biennale de Paris. The labyrinth, 9 feet wide, 63 feet long, and 7.5 feet high, took the form of a winding passageway with multiple rooms in between. Within the large, constructed space, the artists installed a broad array of objects and ensembles that viewers, as they made their way through, would mobilize to construct artworks. The effect was to repress the spatial conditions of viewing that have traditionally structured art spaces and to wholly immerse the spectator in a shifting environment. The objects in the labyrinth and the labyrinth as a whole are deliberately directed to eliminate the distance between subject-­object, spectator and work of art, within the aesthetic field. The labyrinth’s engagement of the spectator does not rest on foreknowledge but on surprise, action, and provocation. Even before setting foot in the structure, the visitor would pass ten large columns on casters that suddenly moved (fig. 3.8). The vacillating pillars would alert the spectator to the fact that she is about to cross the threshold into a funhouse-­type space. Inside, the interplay established between order and free movement, a dominant feature of any labyrinth, relates closely to the aesthetic of the game. Like a game, in which the match requires the player for its actualization, the labyrinth requires the spectator, without whom there can be no artwork, only the possibility of one. Upon entering the labyrinth through two short hallways, the spectator encountered a series of enclosed spaces, each of which featured an autonomous installation that relied upon the fusion of the object, viewer, and space. Le Parc’s mobile relief Lumière en vibration (1963) was installed in the second full room of the structure (fig. 3.9). The sculpture Subjective Instability


Figure 3.8 GRAV, Plan du Labyrinthe I, 1963.

was made of light. A screen perforated with small holes hung from the ceiling immediately below the projection. The screen was suspended by nylon filament and moved slightly in response to drafts in the space. The reflective elements of the mobile sculpture touched on the entirety of the room as well as on the bodies of the visitors as they walked into and through the area. The playful integration of art, spectator, and architecture diminished the mobile’s intrinsic value and refocused the problem on the interactions among the spectator, the object(s), and the space. The viewer would no longer stand before the artwork (as in painting) or circumnavigate it (as in sculpture) but would walk directly into it. In the process, all elements of aesthetic distance were abolished. Rather than comforting, however, the immersive experience was tenuous and unstable, as the perpetually moving light challenged the spectator’s sense of space, let alone of art.90 Entering into the labyrinth was thus a matter of self-­abnegation, something like an encounter with the sublime, which defeats the subject’s efforts to comprehend or conceptualize it adequately. All of the artworks in the labyrinth were in one way or another concerned with motion and engaged with questions of space and time. Many implicated the spectator in the realization of the work through Subjective Instability

Figure 3.9 Julio Le Parc, Lumière en vibration, 1963.


Figure 3.10 (opposite page) Julio Le Parc, ­Cellule à pénétrer, 1963.

­ anipulation of the various gadgets and devices. Others made visually m manifest an array of juxtaposed and superimposed forms, continuing GRAV’s pre­occupation with unstable transformations. The spectator’s sense of being an autonomous subject observing self-­contained objects was completely dissolved in favor of a mode of immersive participation. The artists also shaped the visitor’s journey through the topological puzzle of the labyrinth by placing obstacles along the path and devising a number of light and sound effects. This effectively resulted in an expansion of the role of the viewing subject, with regard to both her ocular aptitude to instigate variations in the perceived optic and her capacity to produce kinetic and aggregate exchanges on or within the work of art itself. Le Parc’s installation in the structure’s fifth room is particularly telling in this respect. The piece, Cellule à pénétrer (Cell to Enter, 1963; fig.3. 10), was multisensorial. The room’s walls were covered with aluminum, and large reflective metal sheets were suspended from ceiling to floor. As the viewer moved through the space, the metal sheets would clang as they banged into one another. The reflective veneer of the walls and shifting plates would combine to create a multitude of visual repercussions. The spectator would not be able to see the entire work at once, to abstract herself from time and space to gain a perspective on the whole piece. As a result, Cell to Enter refused to settle into a mental image and existed only for the duration of the encounter. In a state of perpetual fluctuation, the piece would be transfigured with every new viewing. What the spectator would apprehend with a momentary peripheral glance constantly eluded her perceptual grasp. In this sense Cell to Enter, like the mobiles and the continuels-­lumière series as a whole before it, encouraged a tentative, present-­tense, haptic experience of space and time. But it also facilitated a transformative experience of liveness and co-­presence with fellow ­spectators. Le Parc and GRAV mobilized the labyrinth’s inherently dynamic and indeterminate spatial sequence to synthesize art and architecture and to expand the role of the spectator in the realization of the artwork. The piece functioned as a field of displacements and movements that would immerse the visitor in the context of others making their way through the space. When seen close up and in detail, the labyrinth appeared as a kaleidoscope of differences and bewildering heterogeneity, as each room deserved proper and specific reflection. The intrinsic quality of the individual objects was decidedly compromised by their function as integral parts of the overall scheme of the labyrinth. Every object contributed to the aesthetic experience of the whole. Thus, rather than presented as distinct fragments, each with its own identity and structure, the art objects within the labyrinth constituted a meshwork of overlapping visual formations, hybrid reinventions, cross-­pollinations, and singular variations. Each spilled over into the adjoining rooms and hence opened up to a larger milieu. The artworks spread and interacted, mixed and mutated, within the closed yet differentiated spatial sequence. Chapter Three

“Stop Mystification!”


In response to the critical success of L’instabilité, GRAV wrote, published, and distributed a tract titled “Assez de mystifications” (Enough mystifications!).91 It expressed the artists’ “deep anxiety” and “disgust” with “a situation that still showed obliging consideration for the art object, the unique artist, the myth of creation, and what now appeared to be the vogue: groups, regarded as super-­individuals.”92 “Enough Mystifications!” singles out for derision a review of the third Paris Biennial published in the journal Arts in October 1963. In this glowing assessment of GRAV’s contribution to the biennial, the critic Pierre Faucheux described the work of the artists as “vital, . . . the latest look to date.”93 The artists ridiculed Faucheux’s turn of phrase and lambasted art critics who, “to justify their intermediary role between work and public, . . . come across as people who are initiated, and, in one fell swoop, give the spectator an inferiority complex.”94 They explained that possession of codes of viewing is a process, not a given, and that it is sustained by relations of power. To counter this “tremendous bluff” that goads the spectator into accepting “not only what is forced upon him as art, but a whole system of life as well,” GRAV aimed to eliminate “the distance between the spectator and the work.”95 In other words, collapsing the gap between the spectator and the work in the aesthetic field would render the prevailing codes moot and thereby free the spectator from the false rhetoric that had been put into place to distance her from the artwork and from crucial aspects of social reality as well. To close that gap, the artists proposed the use of participation: “We want to put the spectator in a situation that he triggers and transforms. We want him to be aware of his participation. We want him to head in the direction of interaction with other onlookers. We want to develop a marked ability to perceive and act in the spectator. Any spectator who is aware of his power to act and tired by so much abuse and mystification will be able to make the true ‘art revolution’ himself.”96 This was not entirely new, of course. As I will show in the following chapter, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and various other artists working in the early 1960s in the context of Brazil mobilized participation to provide the spectator with a greater role in the construction of meaning. Participation was also a key feature of contemporary art forms such as Happenings, or the Fluxus “event,” and as we saw in the previous chapter, it was central to the modern music of Pierre Boulez. But by 1963 Le Parc and his colleagues in GRAV sought to expand the concept and apply it to a much broader public than had been the case in the context of previous official art museums and galleries. When in the spring of 1963 Michel Faré, director of the Musée des arts décoratifs in the Louvre, invited GRAV to stage an exhibition of its work, the group requested that the museum expand its invitation to hold a large manifestation of the art produced by the New Tendencies, which

Chapter Three

was the name given to a constellation of European artistic movements of which GRAV was a part.97 The artists of the New Tendencies came together around a shared interest in harnessing developments in science and technology for the production of art. In November 1962, GRAV coordinated a gathering in its Paris studio of many of the artists exhibiting in the New Tendencies exhibitions.98 Several subsequent meetings followed, and in early 1963 the decision was made to consolidate the New Tendencies into a coherent unit. Towards this end, the group changed its name to the singular New Tendency, emphasizing its shared concerns.99 The New Tendency show opened at the Palais du Louvre, Pavillon de Marsan, on April 17, 1964. It featured art from a cosmopolitan constellation of fifty-­t wo artists from eleven countries. Faré’s opening essay to the catalogue describes the work and aims of the New Tendency very much along the lines of the program of GRAV in the immediately preceding years. The members of the New Tendency, he wrote, want to make art “more accessible and more social.” They therefore made artworks that were easily replicated and simply modified, and they “attach[ed] a great importance to the principle of instability that justifies an always modifiable space-­time [continuum] in order to better respond to our contemporary sensibility.”100 GRAV exhibited its second labyrinth, Labyrinthe II, in the New Tendency exhibition101 (fig. 3.11). Many of the objects and installations in this constructed space were designed to be manipulated, with switches, keys, buttons, and levers present in quite a few rooms.102 The artists also placed a number of small staircases that the visitors were obliged to climb and descend as they made their way through the spatial sequence. Mobiles, kaleidoscopes, and sculptures employing various kinds of light and emitting an array of sounds were variably present too. Le Parc installed Continuel-­lumière-­cylindres (Continual-­Light-­Cylinders, 1962) about halfway through the labyrinth (fig. 3.12). The artwork consisted of a sizable circular screen ringed by a cylindrical aluminum lip that protruded 10 or so centimeters from the wall. A fixture placed beneath the blades of two fans that slowly moved counter to one another projected light in continually changing patterns onto the screen of the flattened metal cylinder. The interaction of the light, the blades, and the shining concave surface of the screen combined to produce rotating effects of light and shadow. The machinelike object thereby thwarted notions of the closed, definitive, and static artwork, as well as of fixed and permanent perception. Optico-­kinetic art had seemingly become a product of its time, a mode of representation that gave the impression of fitting seamlessly within contemporary society—­the aesthetic of an era characterized by technological advances in all spheres of life. With the funhouse environments of their labyrinths, Le Parc and GRAV reconciled two fundamentally opposed concepts of space and modes of spatial experience—­namely, a closed space that imposes a frame on the

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Figure 3.11 GRAV, Plan du Labyrinthe II, 1964.

real space of experience and objects (complete with underlying laws affecting a number of different individual manifestations) and an open space that is more polysensual and practical and focuses on individual perception.103 In the former position, space is abstracted and all points are equivalent. The spectator is absolutely detached, perceiving a neutral field marked out solely for the convenience of mapping. In the latter position, space is perceived from the subjective individual perspective. Here the notion of singular artworks in a static world is shortcircuited in favor of conjoined phenomena requiring not only a more rapid and agile visual exploration in time but also a greater emphasis on other tactile sensations invoked as the spectator moves through the successive areas of the labyrinth. From this perspective, objects are judged by their spatial relationship to the spectator (they are near or far, and so forth). The subject position is sensorial and mutable; the viewing experience is downplayed in favor of viewing as experience.

Chapter Three

Far from forming organic unities that carry the spectator hypnotically through a spatial sequence from beginning to end, GRAV’s labyrinths are formally uneven, interrupted, discontinuous, with their parts juxtaposed in ways that disrupt conventional expectations of artworks and prompt the visitor to speculate on the dialectical relations between the various installations that constitute parts of the whole. Organic unity is also disrupted by the use of different media—­lights, plastics, metals, sounds—­that do not blend smoothly with one another, cutting across the ensembles rather than neatly integrating with them. In this way, too, the spectator is made aware of the several conflicting modes of representation operative within the labyrinth. She is in turn alienated from the constructed space, unable to identify emotionally with it, so that her habitual patterns of judgment are disrupted. Familiar objects, media, and experiences are presented in an unfamiliar way, inducing the spectator to question attitudes and behavior that she previously considered

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Figure 3.12 Julio Le Parc, Continuel-­lumière-­ cylindres, 1962.


“natural.” Insofar as she is encouraged to assess the labyrinth and the experiences it embodies, she becomes an expert collaborator in an open-­ ended practice, rather than the consumer of a finished object. Thus for Le Parc and GRAV the labyrinths are the very figure of change within a consistent structure—­a model of permutation and transformation within an ordered environment of a series of rooms, or cells. What matters most within the labyrinths is the association among the pieces in the rooms and the spectator’s relationship to the entire surroundings rather than the actual meaning or content of any one of the installations. The structure functions as a network that links the multiple locations together. Yet the conceptualization of space in GRAV’s labyrinths is not, as the artists maintained, just a type of topological space premised on displacement as a kind of palpable substance, with distinguishable outlines and spaces of concentration and dispersion. It is also highly structured. A comparison between the logic of these edifices and the labyrinth ­designed by the Situationist International for Amsterdam’s ­Stedelijk Museum in 1959 helps to elucidate this point. Situationist theory, which was greatly concerned with the projection of new typologies of antifunctionalist architecture, found the notion of a labyrinth with interconnecting passages well suited for its social goals of engaging the inhabitant in active participation in urban experience through a process of defamiliarization. The Stedelijk labyrinth involves what cultural historian Simon Sadler has described as “a sort of psychogeographic assault course.”104 Featuring irrationally irregular ceiling heights (“sometimes five meters high . . . , sometimes 2.44 meters . . . , [or it] may drop in certain places to 1.22 meters”), an array of manufactured ambient effects (including precipitation, mist, wind, heat, light), and “a system of uni­ lateral doors (visible and openable from one side only),” the Situationists’ labyrinth aims to destabilize the visitor and “increase the occasions for getting lost.”105 But just as crucial to the Situationists is the presentation of a theoretical link between the visitors’ experience in the Stedelijk’s space and their experiences in the urban context beyond the walls of the museum. The fitting out of the space, the group wrote, “involves neither interior decoration of some kind nor a reduced reproduction of urban ambience, but tends to form a mixed environment, never seen before, through the mélange of interior characteristics (furnished apartment) and exterior (urban) ones.”106 The circuit of the labyrinth is fashioned in such a way that it could be extended well beyond the gallery space and deep into the city. The Situationists also propose that the “micro-­dérive” within the labyrinth in the Stedelijk be supplemented by “a systematic dérive to be undertaken by three Situationist teams operating simultaneously in the central area of metropolitan Amsterdam.”107 Drifting through the city on foot or by boat, these groups are to remain in contact with each other by means of walkie-­talkies. Thus the transgression of the Stedelijk’s architectural periphery is more than an artistic gambit for the Situationist International—­it is a counterideological ploy.108 Chapter Three

In contrast to the ill-­fated Situationist labyrinth, those designed by GRAV stay within the narrow confines of the gallery space. They are also highly rational: the spectator is directed through a clearly delineated path set out in advance, and it is compulsory to traverse all of the areas. This dimension of GRAV’s program is schematic and aggressive in its attempt to compel the spectator to physical interaction. As the group writes in “Enough Mystifications! II” (1963), “As far as possible, we want to force the spectator out of his apathetic dependence which makes him accept, in a passive fashion, not only what is imposed upon him as art, but as a whole life system. . . . participation is compulsory.”109 In sum, GRAV’s labyrinths emphasize movement. The latter is theorized not as aleatory and nomadic, in the manner of the Situationists’ notion of “drifting” visitors, but as structured and engaged, due in large part to the physicality of the architecture of the labyrinth and the tactility of the often ludic forms of participation called for by the art installed in the fashioned sequence. The spatial relations of GRAV’s labyrinths are grasped phenomenologically by bodies moving gradually and temporally through the spaces. Only once the visitor has traversed the entire sequence can a more total and abstract sense of the area begin to be comprehended. Yet the spectator’s original sense of the labyrinth’s topological organization, based as it is on the body moving through the space, never entirely disappears and is never completely erased by the spectator’s subsequent development of a topographical point of view once she has emerged from the space. GRAV’s labyrinths mobilize these two distinct, at times partly opposed ways of perceiving space, one topological and the other topographical, and reveal that the two are always simultaneous with each other—­that space is fundamentally relational. The associations among the individual parts (or rooms) of the labyrinth are continuously unfolding; they persist even when the visitor’s experience undergoes substantial contortions. These experiments with space enabled GRAV to explore the feasibility of what Umberto Eco, very much in dialogue with this type of art, describes in The Open Work (1962) as a painstaking and mathematically predictable creation of morphologically nebulous form, of process rather than product-­based compositions, of indeterminate configurations that are at the same time internally and logically consistent.110 Herein lies the fundamental importance of GRAV’s labyrinths—­they can be seen as both physical support systems and conceptual structures that allow both order and freedom of movement to exist in any type of element within their configuration. But by the time the New Tendency show opened at the Louvre, Le Parc had begun to criticize the movement publicly. Immediately prior to the exhibition, he published two pamphlets outlining his concerns: “N.E.A.N.T.” (Nothing) and “Position vis-­à-­vis de la Nouvelle Tendance” (Position in relation to the New Tendency).111 In both publications Le Parc railed against the New Tendency for its indiscriminate inclusiveness. He complained that too many mediocre artists had been allowed to Subjective Instability


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become affiliated with the group and cautioned that the New Tendency’s lack of criteria seemed likely to transform the movement into everything that it was initially against: “a new academicism.”112 Artists should not forget the reason why the open work was theorized in the first place, he insisted, which was to close the gap between the spectator and the artwork, the subject and the object, by establishing a dialogical relationship between the two. Moreover, the fact that much of the work produced in the name of the New Tendency uses the play of light and movement serves only to accentuate the “worrying reality that a whole army of fiddlers and aficionados of electric drills are getting kitted out with electric saws and wires, and the like, simply because games with light and movement are becoming fashionable.”113 These new developments, Le Parc warned, simply replace one type of object with another, “one habit with another. Instead of hanging up paintings in the Louvre they now hang up boxes, lights, wooden reliefs, et cetera.”114 Genuine art, he concluded, strives to transform the prevailing order of culture rather than to produce ever-­new versions of what is essentially the same thing. A Day in the Street

GRAV’s attempts to develop counterforms of cultural experience that challenged established orders and hierarchies in the arts led it to seek ways to integrate the dynamic work of art into everyday life in a real and not simply a metaphorical manner. These efforts culminated in the group’s happening-­like event Une journée dans la rue (A Day in the Street), staged in Paris on April 19, 1966. The daylong occasion employed the gag, the joke, the ludic, to stimulate visual attention and physical interaction. It mobilized play as a means with which to activate the engagement of the spectator and trouble what media theorist John Durham Peters refers to as the “power machine” of the clock that artificially coordinates the collective actions of people and creates a public grid for their common world.115 GRAV, as I have just shown, designed its labyrinths as sites where the gap between the work of art and the spectator would disappear, where the engaged spectator would bring the artwork into being in the aesthetic field. The radical playfulness of these manifestations thinly disguised a serious sense of purpose. Play, the artists had come to believe, is capable of realizing a direct communication between the viewer and the experience that is proposed to her because it shortcircuits foreknowledge, not to say ideology, relying instead on surprise, action, and provocation. In other words, by means of play, especially when it is grounded in the banalities of everyday life, the spectator can break through habitual modes of experience that are dominated by numbing and a ceaseless production of the same and become more aware of her own situatedness in the world. GRAV thus mobilized the ludic for aesthetic as much as for social purposes. The artists encouraged spectators to abandon their seriousness Chapter Three

and their routine passive activity through playing, to have fun and realize new forms of experience in a context with no beginning or end. By construing aesthetic experience as performance, and in the belief that breaking the usual norms of everyday behavior will trigger an overcoming of the systematic strategies of separation that make individual solitude and powerlessness seem natural and inevitable, Le Parc and the group took art directly to the most public (and democratic) of spaces—­city streets—­to forge a closer connection between art and the daily life of individuals.116 Instead of attaching itself to one specific location, A Day in the Street took place in a number of urban locations. The objects and activities presented were keyed to prompt a potentially large, diverse audience, including many people who would not regularly visit museums, to become engaged in creating a new kind of art and interact with those around them in unconventional ways. GRAV’s objective was to construct an ideal audience for its work and to focus that audience’s attention not only on the playing out of aesthetic activity but also on its relationship to other individuals with very similar material and subjective experiences—­to prompt the new public to discern a condition of commonality and interdependence with others in its environment. Urban space is now theorized as the site of ludic activities and events that have the potential—­especially in their participatory nature—­to intensify social engagement, with far-­reaching political effects. From early in the morning until midnight on a typical workday, the artists arranged a series of objects and “situations” on a more or less informal basis throughout the city of Paris, from the Latin Quarter to the Champs-­Elysées117 (fig. 3.13). The objects they designed and placed on the boulevards, like those previously installed in the labyrinths, strained customary notions and behavior. Various small optical toys, such as Le Parc’s

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Figure 3.13 GRAV, Un journée dans la rue, 1966.

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Cadeaux surprises (Surprise Gifts, 1966), were parceled out to passersby; large modular sections of Plexiglas in Sobrino’s Éléments modulaires á manipuler (Modular Elements to Manipulate, 1963) were left for people to assemble in permutations of their own choosing; and a huge optical instrument, Stein’s Kaléidoscope (1965), was pieced together and made freely available to anyone interested in exploring it. A Day in the Street was thus perpetually mobile. Across the city and in each of its instantiations, the event demonstrated a temporal, diachronic understanding of art. Rather than reinforce the model of a static phenomenon or artwork realized in one space and directly offered to full view, A Day in the Street unfolded slowly, one location at a time, over the period of a day. The map Le Parc drew to document the event could not adequately capture its operation—­this makes the difference apparent. The map presents a simultaneous account of all the separate displays that day, fixing them and reifying the event in its totality. But it could not represent the discursive manifestation of A Day in the Street as it was experienced over time. Le Parc devised a series of objects that literally sought to throw daily commuters and local residents off balance. He placed his Dalles mobiles (Mobile Slabs, 1964), which featured an orange sphere dangling over a sequence of wooden slabs with uneven foundations, in Montparnasse, and his Sieges sur resorts (Seats on Springs, 1965), a set of stools with springs instead of legs that bewilder as much as delight those who sit on them, in the Jardins des Tuileries. His Chaussures pour une marche “autre” (Shoes for an Alternate Walk, 1965) challenged participants to walk in them while keeping their balance, and the Lunettes pour une vision “autre” (Glasses for an Alternate Vision, 1965) effected a distorted view of the surroundings. Le Parc’s games offered the participants the opportunity to act out their fantasies (not unlike the manner in which ludic activity in childhood can effect the externalization of the ego) and to rediscover elements of their surrounding world—­and, in turn, their personal attitudes to that world—­that had long been naturalized. While Le Parc and the group as a whole imagined that A Day in the Street might interrupt people in their everyday activities and induce a momentary reflection on taken-­for-­granted habits, they were not so naive as to believe that this effort would be enough to shatter once and for all the routine urban weekday, let alone the monadic lifeworld of consumer capitalism. They recognized that the one-­day happening would at best produce “a mere situational shift” and that a genuine and lasting transformation of reality would require many more. Yet they were convinced that by participating personally and bringing their art “into direct contact with a relatively large number of people that have not been forewarned,” they would get “beyond the traditional relationships between art and its public.”118 Indeed, one of the central aims of the project was to transfer agency from the artists and artworks to the spectators.

Chapter Three

During the daylong event, the artworks included in A Day in the Street became interlocutors between the spectators and the surrounding space of the city. They involved the spectators completely, encouraging them to break with the institutionalized structure of urban experience by producing their own creative manifestations of the city. A questionnaire circulated by Le Parc and García Rossi to individuals who happened to be walking in Paris that day sought answers to certain concerns, asking, for instance, about the relevance of modern art, of art galleries, and of happenings such as A Day in the Street.119 The survey implicitly emphasized that A Day in the Street was an experiment, incomplete in itself and realized only through the audience’s reception of it. The event came to resemble a cross between a laboratory, a circus, a festival, and a forum for public discussion—­what in playwright Bertolt Brecht’s terms would be described as a “scientific” cultural phenomenon for a scientific age.120 The participants were encouraged to think beyond the action, to refuse to accept it uncritically. But also like Brecht, Le Parc and GRAV did not discard emotional response. On the contrary, they placed immense emphasis on the need for participants to enjoy themselves, to respond with sensuousness and humor. Venice and After

Barely two months after GRAV’s A Day in the Street, Le Parc, who had a retrospective of over forty artworks on display in the makeshift Argentinian Pavilion at the 1966 Venice Biennale, was awarded the Biennale’s coveted Grand Prize for Painting. The Galerie Denise René immediately put out a catalogue to commemorate the artist’s success in Venice. The preface to this publication, written by Le Parc though signed by GRAV, links the award-­winning work to the goals of the group as a whole: “The works presented by Julio Le Parc at this Biennial reflect the working methods of the Groupe de recherche d’art visuel, of which he is a member.”121 Yet the preface represents the concerns of the group very much along the lines of Le Parc’s recent interests: not only is there no reference whatsoever to GRAV’s earlier eye-­object investigations of perception, which continued to be important to Yvaral and García Rossi, but the notion of the artist as a professional engaged in pure research and perceptual investigation is completely absent, replaced now by an understanding of the artist as a person with a deeply critical approach to the static nature of prevailing social conditions. Furthermore, the notion of instability is summoned, and the concept of the open work theorized by Eco is brought up numerous times. The group’s research, the text states, rejects the “definitive, closed” artwork in favor of the “open and nondefinitive” artwork, subject to an array of “contingencies that directly establish the relation to the spectator.” Along with deflating “the overrated role of the artist-­creator,” open works, in their dialogical structure, encourage the usually passive

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spectator “to play a decisive, active role” in generating the artwork and its interpretations.122 Openness is presented as a panacea: capable of fusing not only spectators with art but also art with an ever-­larger public. The massive critical attention that Le Parc received following the honor bestowed upon him in Venice tended to highlight the artist’s idiosyncratic objects and installations and to ignore the work of GRAV. When a report did address Le Parc’s association with the group, it was usually to comment on the contradiction involved when an artist who works in a collective that has taken up a position against the figure of the unique, inspired individual receives the most conventional award offered by the art world. As the editors of the Paris-­based journal Robho asked Le Parc in a 1967 interview: “You were awarded the prize in Venice, the traditional consecration of the individual artist, and you didn’t refuse it. Nor did you make a declaration against this prize. Was [the award] not a trap set for you by the world of painting, a trap enabling that world to recuperate you?”123 Le Parc openly acknowledged the paradox but countered that turning down the prize would have been equally inconsistent: “Refusing the Venice prize is something that could only be done from an individual’s position. To be consistent, before refusing the prize, it would have been necessary to refuse to take part in the Biennale. To refuse to take part in the Biennale was equivalent to refusing all public events on the art circuit. And there is no need to have a production if one is not trying to reach the public.”124 But Le Parc added the surprising caveat that he felt the need to take the prize to please “my friends, my fellow countrymen.”125 In this turn, the cosmopolitanism that he had so carefully cultivated in the previous decade in order to evade the conservative artistic values of the ruling oligarchy back home, which tended to emphasize a national (as opposed to modernist) culture, collapsed with the weight of a ton of bricks, and he became an Argentinian artist once again.126 Largely in response to this criticism, in the autumn of 1966 Le Parc transformed Denise René’s offer to organize an exhibition to pay tribute to his new art star status into a show of GRAV’s multiples. The group’s text on the topic of the multiple, “Multiples recherches” (“Multiple Research Projects”), was published in the catalogue. The essay extols smaller, less expensive artworks produced in multiple editions, claiming that they demystify the notion of a definitive and eternal artwork, “depersonalize” the artist, devalue the artistic “gesture” and “what the artist ‘does’ or ‘makes,’” and grant the imagination of the spectator an unprecedented role.127 But the most significant aspect about this text is the way it shifts GRAV’s concern away from the object/spectator to the object/public. This, it is worth recalling, had taken place in Le Parc’s work of the preceding two or three years and had been plainly articulated in GRAV’s “Recherche d’art visuel” (Research in visual art) of 1964: “It is no longer a matter of the particular function of particular forms, but of the evolution of the relation between plastic concerns and the needs of society.”128 Yet “Multiple Research Projects” goes further, calling for the production of “playrooms” Chapter Three

that might function as forms or sites of social agitation. These playrooms would be temporary and tailored to the particularities of the specific contexts in which they were to be assembled, including the distinct needs of the types of spectators that frequent the sites. This would in turn help transform the nature of existing relationships between art and its public by encouraging a collective form of spectatorship. The emphasis on what art could do to address the social “needs” of “the general public” was the theoretical basis on which A Day in the Street was organized.129 It was now also being mobilized to support the group’s advocacy of multiples.130 When GRAV was invited to participate in Lumière et mouvement: Art cinétique à Paris (Light and Movement: Kinetic Art in Paris), an exhibition held at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris in the summer of 1967, the group built what it called Parcours à volume variable (Course with Variable Volume; fig. 3.14). This “course” featured numerous light and sound effects and an array of other devices to pique the spectator’s senses and motivate collective spectatorship and participation. The route was also tough to walk through.131 An altered ceiling had visitors ducking to steer clear of snags, ridges, uneven heights, and several moving objects. Various obstacles were placed on the slanted floor, including blocks, gaps, and narrow passageways that had to be negotiated. The effect of Course with Variable Volume was not entirely unlike that of the labyrinths, though now the walls were gone and the entire exhibition space became a complex obstacle course.

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Figure 3.14 GRAV, Parcours à volume variable, 1967.

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The essay that the group published in the catalogue for the Lumière et mouvement exhibition focuses on the use of electric light as a material in art.132 A few months earlier Morellet had observed that “it is only routine and tradition that have hitherto prevented direct sources of artificial light (lightbulb, neon tube) from taking the prominent position that they deserve in the aesthetic arsenal.”133 GRAV had now broken through that routine. The group explained that in its new work incandescent light functioned as a tool with which to surprise and “provoke” the spectator, directly influencing the latter’s behavior and “replacing the artwork or the show with an evolving situation calling for audience participation.”134 In other words, GRAV’s investigation of the perceptual phenomena induced in the spectator by the medium of light serves the same function as its labyrinths and playrooms—­the aim in all cases is to shift the spectator from her habitual patterns of behavior, introspectively and consciously, and to encourage a collective aesthetic experience where new values might be affirmed.135 In the following months, Le Parc pushed GRAV to explore group participation in greater depth by experimenting with the various ways in which the artists could generate a spontaneous, festive environment.136 Indeed, Le Parc by this time had constructed a very clear narrative of the group’s trajectory: The idea in the beginning was to change the passive, dependent spectator facing the fixed, definitive work. First we tried to establish direct—­nonaesthetic—­ relations with his eye. We got rid of any individual or subjective messages. Then we solicited the spectator with varying degrees of more or less active participation. . . . In the new situations that we propose, individual participation can have an impact on the other spectators, producing an interaction. Thus the situation obtained can be the product of a collective action.137

Le Parc gives an example of what he has in mind by these proposed “new situations”: the group planned to purchase a large vehicle, renovate its interior into a labyrinth, and drive it to “a different town every day.”138 This, he concluded, would allow GRAV to reach not only a much larger public than ever before but also a totally different one than had hither­to been the case. The group would pedagogically engage with the new spectators, elaborating on “the divorce between art and the public” and under­lining “the closed, antipopular side of current art.”139 Echoing the partisan projects of the various Soviet agitprop groups of the 1920s and 1930s, who, seeing art as a direct intervention in the class struggle, developed traveling art, film, and theater shows, Le Parc and GRAV now planned to take “the festive universe” of the labyrinth and playrooms to towns and villages where contemporary art was rarely present.140 The prospect of contestation was central in the editorial that Le Parc wrote and published in Robho upon his return from a four-­month sojourn to Latin America in late 1967 and early 1968. Le Parc’s essay, “Guérilla Chapter Three

culturelle” (Cultural guerrilla), shifts his previous artistic-­pedagogical commitment firmly in the direction of an active political commitment (though he by no means abandoned his ludic activity). He wrote that the role of the artist and intellectual was to reveal social contradictions and develop actions that would aid people to carry out the necessary social changes. Culture, he argued, is profoundly ideological and “contributes to the continuation of a system based on relationships between the dominant and the dominated.”141 Observing that “anything that justifies a situation of privilege carries in itself the justification of the underprivileged situation of the vast majority,” Le Parc called for the demystification and hence destruction of the “mental patterns” that were used by a minority to ensure dominance over the majority. These myths are the ideological language itself, “the mirages that maintain the situation.”142 In a passage that echoes the writings of Edgar Bayley two decades earlier, Le Parc elaborated on a number of strategies that artists could adopt to “fight against every tendency toward the stable, the durable, and the definitive, everything that increases a state of dependency, apathy, and passivity linked to habits, established criteria, and myths—­and other mental patterns born of a conditioning that colludes with the structures in power.”143 Myth, he asserted, is itself the very logic of ideology; it consists of “systems of living that, even if we change political regimes, will continue to maintain themselves if we do not call them into question.”144 The only way that artists can contribute to altering this order of things, Le Parc argued, is by transforming the social relations of the work of art in such a way that they critique ideology and question the dominant systems of representation and meaning. These strategies would serve to instruct the spectator on how to think critically and, ultimately, how to activate a radical politics. But little of this would actually be realized. A couple of weeks after Le Parc’s “Cultural Guerrilla” was published, France came to a standstill with widespread uprisings and a general strike. These events, launched by students and workers rather than by artists, were accompanied by a festival-­like atmosphere on the streets and calls for genuine social and political change. On June 7 Le Parc was taken into police custody as he approached the Renault plant in Flins-­sur-­Seine just west of Paris, which had been occupied by striking workers the previous month.145 The authorities accused him of supporting the illegal takeover of the factory, and, after twenty-­four hours in prison, demanded that he leave the country within ten days. Officially deemed a threat to the state, Le Parc relocated to Brussels on June 18. For the French government there were several advantages to expelling a highly visible artist such as Le Parc. In crisis mode and trying to win back public opinion following many media images of police brutalizing students on the streets of Paris, the French authorities set out to tap into the xenophobic feelings of a significant portion of the electorate by blaming the unrest on “foreign influences.”146 There followed a steady stream Subjective Instability

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of highly publicized arrests, and this included Le Parc’s widely reported detention and rapid banishment from the country. From the onset of the uprising in May, many artists, including Le Parc, had occupied the École des beaux-­arts, Paris’s erstwhile art institution, and transformed it into what came to be referred to as the Popular Studio in support of the students and workers in the general strike. Posters were produced anonymously and put before all of those in the occupation, who would vote the proposals up or down. Collective activities in the art studios resulted in the production of a large number of placards that soon found their way onto the streets and into workshops147 (fig. 3.15). But since a considerable number of students at the École de beaux-­arts were foreign nationals, the French Ministry of the Interior under the direction of the newly appointed Raymond Marcellin bolstered their claims of foreign intervention in the crisis and put everyone who had the inclination or audacity to collaborate with the revolt on notice that they could be next by expelling Le Parc, whose radical challenges to the status quo of the art world and of society at large were publicized broadly.148 To protest against Le Parc’s expulsion from France, the other members of GRAV openly refused to participate in any further expositions. A large letter-­ writing campaign in support of Le Parc’s right to return also ensued.149 When, in October 1968, Le Parc’s lawyers arranged for him to be permitted to reenter France, the artist published “Démystifier l’art” (De­ mystifying art) in the journal Opus International.150 Here he argued that the events of that year had exposed a number of prevailing myths that those in power were perpetuating to preserve their hegemony. In this largely self-­reflective article, Le Parc addressed the logic underpinning his activities within the GRAV since 1960. He began by singling out two strategies that the engaged artist might adopt to avoid the hazards of assimilation. The first is to “highlight the contradictions in the art field, the role of art in society, and our own contradictions.”151 This can best be done through texts, manifestos, declarations, public debate, exchanges of ideas with other artists, and other practices that seek the ideal of a just culture and society. The second way in which the avant-­garde artist might negotiate the cultural system while remaining critical of it is by transforming, as much as possible, bourgeois notions of “the artist, the work of art, and the relationship between the artwork and the public.”152 Although Le Parc fully acknowledged the transformative effects of the uprisings of May and June 1968, he concluded that ultimately the conditions of the art world remained unchanged. The old, bad habits persisted, he argued: artists continued to produce “class-­art” (i.e., art that is consumed only by the bourgeoisie), galleries kept on showing it, critics went on critiquing it, dealers and collectors continued to assign monetary value to it, and the “general public,” with good reason, remained skeptical of it. But rather than despair, as artist Jean Dubuffet had done publicly in “Asphyxiating Culture,” published earlier the same year, Le Parc remained defiant: “We must continue to carry out (as in Chapter Three

May) a genuine devaluation of myths, myths that those in power use to maintain their hegemony. We find those myths within art: the myth of the unique object, the myth of the one who creates unique objects, the myth of success, or worse, the myth of the possibility of success.”153 He calls for “bringing the protest all the way into the artist’s studio.”154 It is, after all, only the rank and file that, with a change in its behavior, can alter the prevailing cultural order; only a tenacious critique by artists of the bourgeois myths of the artist, the artwork, and the gallery/museum complex can transform the status quo in the art world. Now in particular, he maintained, the goal of art and artists should not be reduced to a competition of formal trends. Rather, it should become a fundamental part of a struggle between those who, consciously or unconsciously, hold on to the reigning order of things and seek to preserve and prolong it, and those who through their activities and their positions strive to explode it by searching for openings and changes. The tacit refusal (on the part of artists who otherwise protested against the social system) to transform fundamentally the sites and modes of production of art produced the illusion that artists contribute something to change in the social system, while avoiding the recognition that their actions sustain the existing logic and operation of that very system. This led Le Parc to the conclusion Subjective Instability

Figure 3.15 Anon., untitled affiche, École des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1968. Courtesy Gerrish Fine Arts.

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that it is only by demystifying art and the art world, by highlighting its contradictions, by destroying the preconceived concepts of the work of art, the artist, and the myths to which they give rise, that artistic practices will be able to generate an effective cultural and hence social change. Le Parc’s manifestolike text crystallized many of the recent goals of GRAV. However, at a meeting attended by Morellet, Stein, Sobrino, and Le Parc in the month following the latter’s return from exile, the artists decided to terminate the group. Several reasons were provided for the split. Sobrino held the conventional world of art responsible. Stein opined that GRAV had long since stopped operating in a meaningful way.155 Le Parc, too, complained about the perpetual indecisiveness and increasingly strong differences of opinion among the artists. He observed that the situation had gotten to a point at which “the small amount of work carried out (completed) in the name of the Group, with neither the agreement nor the collaboration of all of the members, no longer fits the description of collective work.”156 For his part, Morellet attributed the dissolution of the group to the schismatic effects of the individual signature and to members’ refusal to adopt his initial proposal that everything produced by the artists be signed with the name Groupe de recherche d’art visuel.157 In sum, by late 1968 the divisions between the artists had become too great for GRAV to continue. Understandably, the vast attention garnered by Le Parc as a result of the Venice Biennale award in 1966 and the notoriety that followed his expulsion from France in 1968 had produced a considerable amount of tension in the group. But what had long been the core objective of GRAV—­to activate the spectator—­had lost its raison d’être, and this was surely one of the key factors contributing to its demise. Following the events of May 1968, the tactic of challenging the passivity of the contemporary human subject with novel gadgets and media techniques came to be seen as the work of a naive, technocratic avant-­garde. It had certainly lost the potential to offer a model of societal transformation. Furthermore, as the art critic Jean Clay astutely observed just a couple of years later, even the strategy of participation had been turned back upon itself by the conditions of production and experience put into place by advanced consumer capitalism: “Many well-­wishers in official circles approve of participation in art as a remedy for unrest: ‘Let them participate! It will keep them out of mischief for a time.’”158 Participation, seen as so full of promise earlier in the decade, had by the end of the 1960s become a core element in the “false sublation” that literary critic Peter Bürger would soon describe as the “neo-­avant-­garde.”159 The questioning and critique of ideology and ideological systems would come to replace the concern with participation in critical art practice. In November 1968, GRAV disseminated its “Acte de Dissolution” (Article of dissolution).160 The communiqué restates the group’s long-­ standing mission to demystify art and rouse the spectator’s desire to

Chapter Three

participate, to decide for herself, and to lead her to play a significant role in what determines her life. But it concludes that “the events of May and June proved more than enough to stir people up and call into question the contradictions of society, and as a result of them our program did not materialize.”161 Historically, then, GRAV’s well-­developed art practice based on the idea that active participation in the realm of art could serve as a model for meaningful engagement in the social sphere fatefully met its match in the form of a widespread student revolt, massive public demonstrations, and general strikes that brought the country of France and much of the Western world to a halt. Real life was in the end more powerful than art. The “Di Tella Generation”

When Le Parc returned to Latin America for an extensive series of exhibitions and public events in 1967, he found the local debates to be more radicalized than ever before.162 While organizing a much-­anticipated retrospective at the Instituto Di Tella in Buenos Aires, he met and inter­ acted with a new generation of critics and artists who regarded him as an exemplar of international success. Le Parc had been hailed by the Buenos Aires art world in the mid-­1960s, and this only increased with his triumph at the Argentinian pavilion in Venice. Writing in 1966, Buenos Aires–­based critic Oscar Masotta, whose important publications would accompany the emergence of what came to be known as the “Di Tella generation” of Argentine artists, lauds Le Parc’s “stubborn negation of [artistic] intuition.”163 “The humanism of Le Parc is a humanism of the artist’s anonymity and the public’s ‘participation,’” writes Masotta. “Anyone, literally, could be the author of each of Le Parc’s works.”164 Casting Le Parc as the driving force of GRAV as a whole, Masotta sums up the artist’s principles as follows: The process of constructing the work . . . follows . . . a set of previously ordered operations to produce what could be called an “experience” or an “exploration.” . . . One thus begins with the “structure” (an intelligible set of relations) in order to produce an “event” (an object embodied in the perceptual and real world). The elements to be worked with . . . form larger sets that regroup and contain them, with the relation existing between the elements inside each set in principle remaining fixed. And indeed, the “experience” (which will be realized . . . by the viewer-­participant, or by the artist, neither with a privileged position) is nothing more than the plastic result of these fixed relations between simple elements when they form a set.165

Masotta thus singles out Le Parc’s reconceptualization of Concrete art concepts of objectivity and predetermination and his emphasis on the spectator’s subjective act of perception and “experience” as the artist’s

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greatest contributions. And for the young critic, the fact that Le Parc had managed to have his work participate within the international art world only added clout to his artistic practice. Yet, by the time of Le Parc’s retrospective at the Instituto Di Tella the following year, the mood had changed. The show was widely reviewed in the local press. The commentary was exceedingly favorable, with journalists going out of their way to identify Le Parc as an Argentinian artist. “Le Parc Returns Triumphant,” reports one headline; “He Left Our Country un 1958, When in Order to Dedicate Himself to Art He Worked as a Civil Servant. Now He Returns Full of Honors,” blares another.166 But revealingly, although this was one of the most prolific periods of Masotta’s career as an art critic, he did not review the exhibition. Like Le Parc, ­Masotta was strongly sympathetic to a left-­wing cultural agenda, and this may have led him to conclude that public criticism would be tactless. But it is more likely that Le Parc’s work no longer held the interest it once did for the young critic. In the mid-­1960s Masotta integrated into his artistic thinking the lessons of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, whose writings he was first to translate into Spanish, as well as the cultural criticism of structuralist Roland Barthes.167 As a result, by 1967 Masotta was advocating what art historian Daniel Quiles has described as “a new genre of art that was designed to critique and demystify artistic, mediatic and political structures for a newly enlightened viewer.”168 This new genre, with its pursuit of demystification and emphasis on the spectator, was in obvious ways indebted to Le Parc’s program. At the same time, however, Masotta’s call for “a structuralist awareness of one’s imbrication with structures of language and power” challenged the foundations of the humanist logic that drove Le Parc’s work.169 But it did not take long for others on the progressive end of the artistic spectrum in Argentina to begin to write critically of Le Parc’s working method. For instance, artist León Ferrari argued that though the “intention, or result [of Le Parc’s artistic practice], is to introduce works with ingenious, innovative, or amusing characteristics, and to attract a great number of visitors,” the artist still operated “from an elite position in close cultural alliance with the minority and, at times, in institutions belonging to the minority. This has made [him] appear to be participating in the cultural paternalism that the minority often feel toward the majority.”170 By contrast, Ferrari points to the art practice of key members of the Di Tella generation, who, while producing a type of work that picked up on the innovations of Le Parc, took those ideas into another register. Here is Ferrari again: On a different plane we find certain media-­based works of art and, soaring above the works themselves, ideas publicized by Roberto Jacoby and Eliseo Verón on the utilization of the mass information media in works that are not limited to formal play but which “act on the receptor,” to “make [him] do [things].”

Chapter Three

These ideas, especially Jacoby’s, include enlarging the receptor-­public and using the information media to reach that audience, and they constitute one of the most valuable antecedents of the new avant-­garde.171

More than “reaching out” to the public, the art of Jacoby and his cohort predicated that all-­encompassing mythical structures of mass media and ideology perform a fundamental role in the construction of the artwork (and, more generally, the subject). Building on the legacy of Le Parc, the artists of the Di Tella generation discarded the model of the Concrete or post-­Concrete artistic work as the object of interaction between artist and public. But they also dissolved the privileged function of the mediatory object and replaced it with the disembodied forces of mass-­media communications. As Masotta, the Di Tella generation’s most supportive critic, explained: “What is occurring today in the best pieces is that the contents are being fused to the media used to convey them.”172 In other words, the Di Tella generation artists precipitated a basic shift in the aesthetic field as an abstract system of information, circulation, and distribution produced by different media began to take a central position. This was, of course, a rather paradoxical outcome for an artistic avant-­garde that, in the very process of revealing and exposing the limiting institutional parameters of art, suddenly found itself turning to the institutional media as a source and manifestation of art. But to adequately assess the relation of these developments to the legacy of post-­Concrete art, it will first be crucial to reflect on the mediation of Concrete art by Brazilian artists in the mid-­twentieth century. Whereas the Concrete art of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención sought to champion the objectivism at the material origin of perception and Soto, Le Parc, and GRAV hoped to salvage the subjective result of perception, on a philosophical level this divide was bridged by the turn to phenomenology by Brazilian “Neoconcretism.”

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The Instituting Subject


It’s clear to me that the forms of participation we have developed are our most powerful innovations. These are what distinguish our work from what has been advanced in the ever-­so-­civilized contexts of Europe and the United States.

Hél io Oi t icic a , 19 6 81 Participation [for us] isn’t something that exists solely for its own sake. It’s also not merely our way of asserting, as do Le Parc and his group, that art is a bourgeois problem. All of this would be too simple and straightforward. . . . True participation is open, and this means that we will have to put aside the idea that we can really know just exactly what it is that we give to the spectator-­author.

Lygi a Cl a r k , 19 6 82

The Brazilian modernist tradition is generally said to have begun with Modern Art Week (Semana de Arte Moderna), held in São Paulo in February 1922. Artists, musicians, poets, and other cultural figures organized an array of events that coupled European modernism (especially cubism, expressionism, and surrealism) with national traditions. This modernization of culture was fused with regional components that used a figurative language to reflect on questions of national identity. But by the late 1940s and early 1950s the new geometric abstract language of Concrete art, which avowed a universalist aesthetic relatively autonomous from the political domain, began to challenge the local, nationalist themes and traditions that were then dominant in Brazilian culture. Art historian María Amalia García has persuasively shown that the introduction of Concrete visual art (as opposed to poetry, or even to what scholar Rachel Price has termed “concrete aesthetics”) in Brazil was largely a byproduct of the writings on and by the Argentinian Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención (AACI).3 In “Invencionismo,” published in the Rio de Janeiro daily Correio da Manhã on December 1, 1946, the influential Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade recognized the novelty of the Argentinian visual art group, while also pointing to ­contradictions in


its aesthetic objectives.4 In outlining the aims of the AACI, Drummond de Andrade emphasized that the primary idea presented by the young Argentine artists was “invention” of the new, an ambition that he noted had already resulted in manifestos, art exhibitions, paintings, musical compositions, and even a journal, Arturo, all of which encouraged more inventions. But Drummond de Andrade also argued that the logic underlying the artists’ attempts to fuse art and society through the development of “pure art” was unable to reconcile the highly intellectual pursuit of the art on the one hand and the negation of individualism on the other.5 Ultimately, the author rejected the claims of Argentine Concrete artists as confused, the stuff of juvenilia: “The implication is that figurative art is idealistic and abstract art (excuse me! Concrete art) is materialistic, as if materialism and spiritualism could not coexist in any shape or form in artistic expression.”6 Although Drummond de Andrade’s critique did not contribute much substance to the critical interpretation of the work of the AACI, it in­advertently introduced some of the complexity of the work of the ­Argentine artists to a new public in Brazil. Barely three months later, the Curitiba-­based journal Joaquim republished Drummond de Andrade’s text along with the Asociación’s “Inventionist Manifesto,” thereby dispensing this crucial theoretical tract of the Argentinian Concrete artists and its critical assessment to a wider Brazilian audience.7 Joaquim also printed four images of the group’s irregular-­frame paintings: one each by Tomás Maldonado, Jorge Souza, Primaldo Mónaco, and Raúl Lozza.8 The importance of abstract art steadily grew in Brazil in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Signifying modernity, abstract art—­and in particular Concrete or geometric abstraction, rather than the abstract expressionism favored by US painters and critics during this time—­became what literary critic Pedro R. Erber describes as “the quasi-­official aesthetic of Latin American developmentalism.”9 Numerous Brazilian artists and cultural institutions as well as a growing number of collectors embraced it in the mid-­t wentieth century. García singles out the exhibition 19 pintores (19 Painters), held at the Prestes Maia gallery with the support of the União Cultural Brasil–­Estados Unidos (Brazil–­US Cultural Union) in 1947, as a pivotal moment in this trajectory.10 Particularly decisive was the contact that the Italian-­Brazilian artist Waldemar Cordeiro, who had relocated from Rome to São Paulo the previous year, established with the painters Luiz Sacilotto and Lothar Charoux.11 Although at this time the work of all three artists was expressionist with figurative references, by 1949 it came to be characterized by a type of geometrical abstraction, a shift that was accompanied by a number of reflections about the latter type of painting in São Paulo–­based journals. In 1949 Cordeiro published a short text titled “Abstracionismo” (Abstraction) in Artes plásticas and another piece, “Ainda o abstracionismo” (Yet more abstractionism), in Revista dos novísimos, while Charoux’s essay “Abstracionismo” (Abstraction) appeared in Revista dos novíssimos.12 For Cordeiro, abstraction Ch a p ter Four

represented a way out of the crisis of belief that confronted the visual arts at this historical juncture.13 He maintained that both expression and figuration were obsolete and that only by streamlining form and arriving at an art of clarity, stability, and order could the current artistic problems be resolved: “The canvas must be understood as only a plane, a defined space, and the composition an experiment of interdependencies.”14 Cordeiro’s new emphasis on reason, in both the production and the reception of the plastic work, loudly echoed the practice and writings of the AACI, revealing the considerable impact these artists across the border were having on the art context in Brazil. As Drummond de Andrade’s review of the aims of the AACI already indicates, the highly charged figuration-­versus-­abstraction polemic in Argentina and Venezuela at midcentury was no less heated in Brazil in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In São Paulo, the journal Artes Plásticas was one of the central sites of the debate. In the same issue that Cordeiro published his defense of abstraction, the editors included an interview with Cândido Portinari in which the Rio de Janeiro–­based illustrative and populist painter maintained that nonfigurative art was ill suited to the Brazilian context.15 Others took issue with abstraction’s alleged solipsism, dismissing it as “a cold, lifeless game of forms and colors.”16 Politically engaged artists and critics in Rio de Janeiro also critiqued abstract art for what they saw as its lack of social purpose and its obsessive pre­occupation with formal innovation instead of more relevant topical issues.17 The considerable support that geometric abstraction received from state government officials, some important industrialists, and owners of the media empires, as well as from international capital, only furthered the suspicions of left-­wing Brazilians that at best abstract art was a marker of class difference, at worst a tool of cultural imperialism.18 But the enthusiastic endorsement of Concrete art by the highly esteemed and politically engaged art critic Mário Pedrosa, who had just returned to Brazil from a lengthy exile, gave weight to the initiatives of progressive artists working in this mode.19 During the late 1940s an infrastructure to institutionalize abstraction in Brazil was established through the founding of three important museums of modern art in the country’s largest cities: the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (São Paulo Museum of Art) in 1947, followed by the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro) and Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo), both in 1948. Products of the steady economic growth and industrial development that became a reality in Brazil in the 1930s and 1940s, all three institutions supported ambitious exhibitions of art and design, tapping into the interests of a small but strong faction of the new urban cultural elite. This new constituency of young professionals and entrepreneurs who regarded modernization (and its accompanying internationalism) as indispensable for Brazil’s future saw great cultural benefits in maintaining an active dialogue with the The Instituting Subject



­contemporary ­international art world. Consequently, members of this small but powerful faction of the growing urban middle class became active patrons of art and supported a more forward-­looking aesthetic than did the traditional oligarchy. For this public, modern art came to represent cosmopolitanism and Concrete art the future. The establishment of these new museums of modern art was the culmination of an accord between this new group and various branches of a Brazilian state that had generally adopted the developmentalist ethos of a highly planned and rationally constructed future.20 The three museums facilitated the proliferation of art and cultural events in Brazil at midcentury by presenting the impression (at home and abroad) of a dynamic, forward-­looking society. The institutions provided a discursive context for modern culture with which the intelligentsia and other interested parties could engage. Their impact on Brazilian culture was to be enormous, as they generated significant changes in the possibilities of artistic production. The first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo opened in March 1949 with the telling title Do figurativismo ao abstracionismo (From figuration to abstraction). Curated by the flamboyant Belgian Léon Degand, who served as the museum’s artistic director during its first year, the show featured work by a large array of abstract and Concrete artists. Degand’s exhibition elaborated a teleology, with geometric abstraction serving as the most advanced form of nonrepresentational modern art. There the work of European artists such as Jean Arp and Wassily Kandinsky, who a couple of decades earlier had been active in the Cercle et Carré group, was exhibited alongside that of painters and sculptors such as Vantongerloo and Sonia Delaunay, who had collaborated with Abstraction Création in the 1930s. Also featured were paintings by artists associated with the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, which along with the journal Art d’aujourd’hui and the Galerie Denise René had been strong supporters of abstract art in postwar Paris. Objects by Cordeiro, Samson Flexor, Cícero Dias, all recent converts to abstraction in Brazil, were also included.21 The turning point in the debate concerning abstraction in the Brazilian context was the inauguration in October 1951 of the São Paulo Biennial, an event that would legitimate abstract art in the country once and for all. The result of discussions that began in the late 1940s within the context of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, the Biennial was justified along lines that are nowadays quite familiar, namely that a well-­publicized, highly expensive international event featuring what was deemed to be the most advanced art of its time would reflect well on the prosperity and sophistication of São Paulo in the mid-­t wentieth century. Artists from twenty-­five countries—­nearly 750 artists in all—­were included in this grand exposition. The show was underwritten not only by the national government and the municipality of São Paulo but also by a significant number of industrial interests.22

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Nevertheless, the first Biennial was harshly criticized in the press. The São Paulo–­based Communist Party journal Fundamentos ran an issue almost entirely devoted to articles condemning the work on display.23 The recurring argument was that abstract art was purely formalist and as such evaded the social struggles of twentieth-­century life. Other critics complained that much of the art featured in the exhibition was cold and sterile and that only a small elite would be able to understand its hermetic language. The old oligarchy in Brazil disparaged abstract art as completely foreign and saw its assimilation in the Brazilian context as having a potentially contaminating effect on the nation’s culture, which in the visual arts was understood to be mostly figurative and realist, even if mediated by modernist form.24 But by the early 1950s the quarrel between the abstractionists and the nonabstractionists that divided artists and critics had tilted in favor of abstraction. The decision by the international jury of the first São Paulo Biennial to award the two top prizes in the show to modern artists-­–­one a French member of the École de Paris and the other a Swiss Concrete artist—­abruptly changed the tenor of the debate in Brazil. The prize for painting went to Roger Chastel’s Les amoureux au café (Lovers at a Café, 1951), a cubo-­fauvist rendition of a couple cavorting in a café, and that for sculpture to Max Bill’s Dreiteilige Einheit (Tripartite Unity, 1948–­49), a spiral structure in which a stainless steel plane twisting upon itself is the three-­dimensional projection of the topological formula for a plane triggered by a single continuous line25 (fig. 4.1). The aesthetic model generated by Bill’s work, fusing as it did analytical interest and artistic contemplation, served to call attention to the efforts of a number of younger artists working in Brazil whose Concrete paintings and sculptures were also featured in the show. These included Cordeiro, Almir Mavignier, Abraham Palatnik, Geraldo de Barros, and Ivan Serpa. The jury granted the latter’s entry a national prize for painting, and the winning works were purchased by the museum, while Palatnik’s kinechromatic sculpture, strongly endorsed by Pedrosa, received an honorable mention.26 Following the first São Paulo Biennial, as well as the retrospective of Bill’s work that opened at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in March of the same year, the spectrum of nonfigurative art gravitated increasingly toward Concrete art. The latter, with its exclusive use of purely plastic elements and its pursuit of a universal idiom, suited the interests of those who imagined that visual modernity in Brazil would best be accomplished by the universal progress of form. The positivist belief that the process of industrial modernization would parallel a change in visuality helped Concrete artists to find their place in this context. By 1953, when the cultural division of Brazil’s Ministry of External Affairs invited Bill to deliver a series of high-­profile lectures on art, architecture, and society, the empiricist principles and ultrarationalism of Concrete art was no longer foreign to Brazilian culture; many artists had taken it up.27

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Figure 4.1 Max Bill, Unidade Tripartida, 1948–­49. Collection Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLitteris, Zurich.

Artist Groups

Grupo Ruptura (Rupture Group), consisting of Cordeiro, Sacilotto, ­ haroux, and others, first exhibited in an eponymously titled exhibition C at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo in December 1952. The show featured nearly thirty-­five objects that purportedly ruptured Brazil’s dominant aesthetic traditions.28 To mark the event, as well as to fend off misleading critiques of the work exhibited, the artists collectively wrote and signed the “Manifesto Ruptura” (Ruptura manifesto)29 (fig. 4.2). The layout of the polemical broadsheet reveals the strong connection between these plastic artists and a group of Concrete poets, including Augusto and Haroldo de Campos and Décio Pignatari, who launched the first issue of the journal Noigandres that same year. The latter became the magazine of the São Paulo Concrete movement.30 Ch a p ter Four

According to the manifesto, the issues of central concern to the Ruptura group were those typical to Concrete art: the process of production follows general apriori axioms; all traces of the artist’s subjective intervention are to be purged; and the art functions as a “means of conceptually deducible knowledge.”31 The “Ruptura Manifesto” also condemns “all varieties and hybrids of naturalism,” as well as “the hedonistic non-­ figurativism . . . that seeks the mere excitement of pleasure and displeasure.” In their place, the authors call for an art that will function “as a means of knowledge deducible from concepts, . . . above opinion and demanding for its review a previous knowledge.”32 The manifesto thus limits the role of the spectator to rationally analyzing the properties of the fully determinate work, thereby desubjectivizing the spectator’s personal perspective in order to arrive at a completely detached and unambiguous understanding of the proposition. That this is homologous with Bill’s aesthetic program is not by chance; Cordeiro and his colleagues were ardent followers of the Swiss artist’s project. Ruptura largely adopted Bill’s mechanistic production methods and his geometric vocabulary, as well as the empiricist conception of the interaction between the artwork and the spectator that he advocated. Assuming Concrete art’s method of production, the Ruptura artists considered art a type of instrument, a The Instituting Subject

Figure 4.2 Grupo Ruptura, Manifiesto Ruptura, 1952. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art, museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund.

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functional guide for the exploration of perception. Art for Ruptura was a purely intellectual, abstract procedure, with clear organizing principles. Objectivity, verifiability, and predictability were thus the crucial components of artistic practice, which should adopt mathematical principles and search for fixed values of spatial form.33 The importance of the Ruptura project in developing Concrete art in Brazil cannot be overemphasized. The group’s optical exploration of formal elements and chromatic variations, separate from either symbolic or emotional implications, eliminated questions of subjectivity from the production of artworks and instead advanced an array of issues pertaining to design and visuality. Moreover, Ruptura posited a strictly contemplative relationship between the art object and the spectator. The group considered the artwork to be autonomous and complete, imparting its logic to the spectator in a direct and transparent manner. The spectator’s only task was to avoid anything that could obstruct her view, to encounter art without interference, and to marvel at the simplicity of the operation by which the pictorial form is developed. Indeed, from the perspective of the artists, this very condition of disinterested contemplation would enable the spectator to be most efficaciously moved by the artwork. In other words, they deemed art’s distinctive power to stir and transform the spectator’s beliefs and attitudes to be largely due to its irreducible autonomy. The affective nature of the work of art, ground for its revolutionary political potential, was seen to be entirely dependent on the clarity by which its form developed. Ruptura’s conceptualization of the artist as a producer, together with its embrace of graphic design, industrialization, and architecture, brought it into alliance with numerous other cultural groups. The artists’ agenda in effect went beyond advancing a particular aesthetic; it also concerned improving the rights of cultural workers confronted with the power of institutions of all sorts. Cordeiro, more than anyone else, served as the spokesperson for the artists34 (fig. 4.3). His column in the Folha da Manhã advanced the work of those with whom he collaborated in Ruptura, but it also regularly denounced the programs of the artistic institutions.35 Drawing from a left-­wing position informed by the writings of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, Cordeiro promoted Concretism as a project that could transparently lay out the creative process and thus grant a greater number of people access to art.36 He also considered it crucial that artists organize in order to confront the might of state institutions, especially the rapidly growing power of private interests in the art world.37 He was quite clear in positioning the artist in between the cultural institutions and the growing urban middle class, and he called on artists to negotiate better conditions from the art world managed by a powerful elite that was more interested in the culture of European and Western centers than in the art developing in their own backyard.38 Ruptura took up those aspects of Concrete art that concern perceptual investigation. These are related to the Gestalt tendencies that the artists Ch a p ter Four

saw in Concrete art: the image on the plastic form is a fully anticipated one, a proto-­image, and it is above, or at least outside of, the realm of sense experience. Art, from this perspective, is a means of communicating knowledge that, though plainly visible, has hitherto been inaccessible. Although it denies all forms of naturalism, Concrete art has the central task of elucidating natural phenomena. This led directly to an interest in mathematics and physics as the basis for how art stipulates the human senses.39 The latter could be measured as quantities, and the quantification forms the basis for perception. Yet what is perceived is conditioned by a whole layer that itself seems to escape perception: the rationalism that codified the cultural techniques involved in the production of the artwork. Concrete art in Rio de Janeiro culminated in the formation of another cohort of artists, the Grupo Frente (Front Group), initially led by Serpa, who taught at the Atelier Livre of the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de ­Janeiro, and it included Aluíso Carvão, Lygia Clark, João José da Silva Costa, Lygia Pape, and Décio Vieira.40 Frente, whose first exhibition was realized in June 1954 at the Instituto Brasil–­Estados Unidos (Brazil–­United States Institute), was committed to geometric abstraction.41 Yet the Frente artists refused to concur fully with Ruptura’s denial of intuition in the process of artistic production, believing that such a disavowal universalizes a European subject position (embodied by the Concrete artist) The Instituting Subject

Figure 4.3 Waldemar Cordeiro, untitled, 1952. Photo: Edouard Fraipont. Collection John Harald Orneberg.


and completely ignores the particular contingencies and sensibilities of the artist working in the Brazilian context. The discrepancy between the two discourses of reception quickly led to a notorious feud between the groups. While the Grupo Ruptura artists condemned their Rio de Janeiro counterparts for lacking rigor, blurring the boundaries between subject and object and therefore breaking with the central tenets of Concrete art, the Frente artists in turn rejected Ruptura’s wholesale adoption of Concrete art’s scientific rationalism and its failure to contemplate the impact of the art object’s properties on the perception of the spectator.42 That Ruptura had misunderstood certain key aspects of Concrete art—­ most importantly, as I explained in the first chapter, Bill’s conviction that once a predetermining structure for a composition is set it can be played off an intuitively guided decision-­making process—­was largely lost on both groups of Brazilian artists. The exhibition I Exposição nacional de arte concreta (First National Exhibition of Concrete Art), which took place at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo in December 1956 and in its parallel institution in Rio de Janeiro in February 1957, consolidated Concrete art in Brazil.43 The show, coordinated by São Paulo artists and poets Cordeiro, Décio ­Pignatari, Haroldo and Augusto de Campos, and others, included paintings, sculpture, drawings, engravings, and poetry.44 The latter was hung on the wall as visual art.45 As critic-­poet Ferreira Gullar recalls in retrospect, the exhibition went fairly smoothly in São Paulo, but when it traveled to Rio de Janeiro sharp differences in the interpretation of Concrete art were exposed: The day after the opening, during a public debate organized at the União Nacional dos Estudantes (the National Students’ Union), there was a fairly radical dispute. . . . During the presentations, people from the audience wanted to express their opinions and at times question the Concrete postulates, which caused intolerant and sectarian responses from the paulistas [the São Paulo Ruptura artists]. . . . That’s where the real differences among us began, as a product of [the paulistas’] intolerance and sectarianism.46

The theoretical concerns of the Rio de Janeiro artists remained allied to many of the principles of Concrete art but varied markedly from those of Ruptura.47 Elements of sensuality and subjective expression were much more important for Frente. Those differences, Pedrosa noted in “Paulistas e Cariocas” (1957), were most evident in the artists’ use of color: “Color for the paulistas is color-­surface, pure luminosity, color for the form, which here acts as the object; color for the cariocas [the Rio de Janeiro Frente artists] is space as well as light, i.e., vision, so as to say of empty spaces, it is negative form.”48 In other words, whereas color as a series of atomistic vibrations that could be quantified is subordinated to form in the paintings of Ruptura and as such serves as a representation of (or a complement to) form, in the art of the Rio de Janeiro artists it was a nonmeasurable, qualitative phenomenon, a symbol of pure change Ch a p ter Four

akin to duration itself. As such, color on a material surface functioned as a spatial and temporal tool, extending the work beyond the usual parameters and into the realm of subjective experience. Pedrosa pithily summed up the differences between the two groups in the following way: “While [the cariocas] love above all the canvas as the last sensory-­physical contact with matter, and through it, with nature, the paulistas love above all the idea.”49 The critiques that went back and forth between the São Paulo artists and their Rio de Janeiro counterparts became intense. Cordeiro had recently argued that art offers an “independent and specific existence” and should be distinguished from subjective experience.50 “Art is, after all, not expression, but product,” he maintained: “The universality of art is the universality of the object.”51 During the Rio de Janeiro installation of the show, Cordeiro accused the Frente artists of not having understood the principles of Concrete art. Their work, he protested, lacked rigor and criteria for judgment. He also took issue with Frente’s liberal use of color, which he claimed was hedonistic, and with the Rio de Janeiro artists’ continued fascination with what he referred to as the “worn-­out” legacies of Mondrian.52 Instead, Cordeiro called for an art that would take on the possibilities of industrial design: a utilitarian art that is fundamentally rational and technological. This led him to various dimensions of architecture that adopt Concrete geometry. The austere design model of Bill’s Bauhaus-­inspired Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (1953–­68), which had by then generated enormous interest in Brazil, was no doubt somewhere on the horizon of his rationalizations.53 Gullar countered on behalf of the Grupo Frente. While careful not to disparage Concrete art, he chided the São Paulo artists for having adopted whole cloth the overly mechanical and rationalized formalist tendencies that he viewed as some of its more unfortunate legacies. This “dogmatic position,” Gullar asserted a couple of years later, “culminates in a kind of systematization of expressive processes and values.”54 By contrast, the Rio de Janeiro artists are, according to Gullar, more concerned with reconciling the material object with the viewing subject, and in particular with the space where the objective world and subjective experience meet.55 From this point on, Gullar began to reconceptualize Concretism to include elements of subjectivity and sensoriality. Far from diminishing the importance of Concrete art, he sought to develop it further: “The Concrete experience cleansed our painting of literary references, of scenic folklore, and in this sense readied us for more profound, more responsible, more universal work. It prepared us as well for a criticism of [Concrete art’s] own postulates and a relocation of its problems. From a critical objectivity one should pass to a creative objectivity.”56 Pedrosa tried to mediate between the São Paulo–­based Concrete artists and their peers in Rio de Janeiro. He recognized the significant differences between the two groups, yet he claimed that both held great The Instituting Subject

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promise for Brazilian art because both had adopted Concretism: “For both the paulistas and the cariocas, Concrete art presents, in varying degrees, a good part of the Brazilian hopes for the future of the visual arts.”57 But according to Pedrosa the Frente artists were perhaps a bit more ambitious than their São Paulo counterparts in that they sought to generate from Concrete art something unique to Brazil. That they did this not by tapping into the country’s cultural heritage but by appropriating and refunctioning “universal” art forms to mediate local needs turned the relationship between Brazilian art and modernist production from the capital centers on its head. The new, unique Brazilian culture would be a hybrid, a type of local universalism that is attentive both to hegemonic forms and to particular national characteristics. Cariocas

The Rio de Janeiro painters for the most part used oil paint, goache, and a brighter palette than their São Paulo contemporaries. The nuances of the brushwork in Serpa’s Forma bi-­ritmada (Birhythmic Form, 1956) and in João José’s compositions of 1953 generate subtle interpenetrations and fusions of color areas. By contrast, many of the paintings of the São Paulo artists were produced with synthetic enamel in order to achieve homogeneous color planes and an almost industrial finish. The chromatic variations in the latter contrast greatly from one painting to the next and aim for a sharp visual dynamism among clearly defined shapes. In spatial terms, the São Paulo artists were largely preoccupied with the question of how to isolate forms on the canvas, whereas the Grupo Frente artists were much more concerned with the overall composition. Along with a sustained engagement with architecture and light, an investigation of pictorial space was central to the carioca artist Lygia Clark in the mid-­1950s. Attention to the axis between positive and negative space and a search for an integration of form and space drove her inquiry in the 1950s and 1960s. The internal division of many of her early paintings is structured by what she came to refer to as an “organic line.”58 This is a pivotal line that exists at the nexus of planes represented in her early geometric paintings. Hingelike, the organic line holds the formal elements of the composition together, even when they diverge from the single plane that one finds in more conventional painting. In the case of Quebra da moldura (Breaking the Frame, 1954), the juncture represented by the line is that between the picture surface and the picture frame, though it overlaps and in many ways “breaks” the frame (fig. 4.4). That is to say, the surface plane of the painting passes through and overwhelms the peripheral device that traditionally serves as a border hemming in the flat plane. Clark’s organic line appears at the nexus between the wood of the frame and the canvas of the picture surface. This thin seam is almost imperceptible when the frame is of a different color than the painting. But when both the frame and the canvas are painted the same hue, the Ch a p ter Four

organic line becomes an important visual element in the painting’s structure, not unlike what one finds in a corner of a room where two planes of the same color come together. The line is thus at once an intersection, a seam, and a cut. The break does not produce fragments but, paradoxically, generates a coherent totality.59 Clark’s organic line also extends (metaphorically at least) into actual space, so that her compositions approach the condition of borderlessness. Internal spatial tension and notions of aesthetic closure and completeness are eliminated in favor of an open expansion of the painting across different modalities and dimensions of space, privileging what is contingent and full of spatial possibility rather than the fixed im­mutable object. In this manner Clark’s paintings approach the experiments with the irregular frame of the young Concretists in mid-­1940s Argentina. Both investigations probe and put pressure on the fine line that separates painterly space from real space and attempt to collapse the two within the field of the aesthetic.60 Clark’s shift from endeavoring to expand beyond the set limits of the two-­dimensional picture plane to experimenting with the unique effects The Instituting Subject

Figure 4.4 Lygia Clark, Breaking the Frame, 1954. Photo: Romulo Fialdini. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural Association.

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Figure 4.5 Lygia Clark, Planes on Modulated Surface, 1956. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural Association.

of three-­dimensional space is first made evident with artworks from two series, Planos em superfície modulada (Planes on Modulated Surface, 1956–­ 58) and Espaço modulado (Modulated Space, 1958–­59), for which the artist pressed a number of cutout plates of thin duratex onto a wooden support and hung these on the wall (fig. 4.5). The planes of the black, white, and gray compositions are held together by the support but now appear to be individually independent, loose, and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. The organic line on which the picture surfaces hinge is displaced from the border to the core of the tableau, where it at once divides and connects each of the flat wooden plates. Clark further emphasizes the materiality of the paintings by slightly floating them in front of the wall, a tactic that pushes the objects beyond the parameters of painting and into the realm of relief sculpture. They could not be extended further without shifting into literal space. The only way to continue this line of experimentation without repetition was either to move away from painting al­together, which Clark would soon go on to do, or to stop conceiving of the canvas

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or board as a surface on which to paint, treating it instead as a three-­ dimensional entity to be manipulated.61 Clark’s experiments with the spatial plane of painting were exhibited in a three-­person exhibition (with Lothar Charoux and Franz Weissmann) held at the Galeria de Arte das Folhas in São Paulo in 1958. To address some of the fundamental questions about the nature of the art object raised by the artist’s new work, Gullar wrote “Lygia Clark—­uma experiência radical” (Lygia Clark—­a radical experience) in 1957.62 The critic considered the development of Clark’s painting as it came to throw the convention of the frame into question and to extend beyond the pictorial plane into “a space that is no longer separate from the world.”63 “Within the world,” of course, also includes the body of the spectator, and Clark’s work of the later 1950s began to encompass the space and time of the viewing subject in its overarching logic. As the artist stated in a 1959 interview, I am once again aware of the difference between the space expressed by the seriated form and the other space. Faced with a seriated composition, there is the spectator and the work. He is distant from it and remains so, becoming aware of the space, using each form as a starting point and a point of arrival. The spectator becomes aware of mechanical space (time). My objective is to make the spectator participate actively in this expressed space, penetrating within it and being penetrated by it. He sees less in the optico-­mental sense, and he also feels it in an organic way.64

The destruction of the picture plane thus led to the corporealization and temporalization of space. The physical conception that had been traditionally projected onto a plane exterior to the subject, Clark wrote in “A morte do plano” (1960; “Death of the Plane”), is no longer sufficient. “The plane arbitrarily marks off the limits of space, giving humanity an entirely false and rational idea of its own reality.”65 To demolish the plane is thus to break with the idea that the surface of a painting is an empty, atemporal zone that is ready to receive substance, and to allow it instead to exist in space and time as a plane. It is, in short, to recognize that the plane is the artwork; the artwork is the plane. In Clark’s Casulo (Cocoons) and her Contra-­relevo (Counter-­reliefs), both circa 1959 (fig. 4.6), the allusion to Vladimir Tatlin’s work is unequivocal. The latter’s Counter Corner-­reliefs (ca. 1914–­15) were typically constructed from sheet metal, glass, wood, twine, and other common materials, highlighting their intrinsic relation to the architecture in which they are installed. Tatlin’s works declare a fundamental opposition to the “aura” of easel painting and in particular to the semi-­mythical view of the expression of the solitary artist-­genius working in the traditional media of paint, bronze, or stone (fig. 4.7). Similarly, in her work of the 1950s, including the Counter-­reliefs and Cocoons, Clark abandoned the traditional tools of painting and its associated focus on formal composition and color to work exclusively with unconventional art materials such as tin, plywood,

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Figure 4.6 Lygia Clark, Counter Relief, 1958–­60. Photo: Mario da Costa Grisolli. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural Association.

and industrial paint. No longer within the parameters of what one could properly refer to as painting, these art objects comprise spatial planes that are either folded inward, creating an inner space, or unfolded in multiple planes. Planes alternately swell and pile up one in front of the other. The process of abstraction is turned inside out; perspective is reversed, now extending forward into the space of the spectator. This development is comparable in important ways to that evident in Hélio Oiticica’s paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, although, as I will show, the latter explored these basic structural questions of art through color as much as through materiality.66 In both cases, however, the pictorial order of the artwork expands the aesthetic field to engage the experience of space and time in a fashion that connects it with the legacies of the historical avant-­garde, particularly those of De Stijl and Constructivism. The comprehensive manner in which Brazilian artists addressed the audacity and unbridled optimism of these earlier formations in the 1950s and 1960s, a period when many in Europe had largely forgotten the historical stakes of the avant-­garde in their struggle to emerge from the Second World War and its aftermath, is remarkable. Some drew on the legacy of Mondrian, Malevich, and others in a superficial way by imitating the external forms of geometric abstraction. But Oiticica, for one, seems to have recognized the limitations of this approach quite clearly, and he contrasted it with Clark’s and his own investigations of the dynamics of the surface itself. Ch a p ter Four


Figure 4.7 Vladimir Tatlin, Corner Counter-­Relief, 1913–­14. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow / Bridgeman Images.


In early 1959 the idea to stage a large exhibition featuring many of the Concrete artists then working in Rio de Janeiro gained traction.67 Painters, sculptors, printmakers, and poets who worked in the mode of Concrete art were invited to participate in the event, held at Rio’s Museum of Modern Art in March of that year.68 Clark and her peers asked Gullar, whose poetry was featured in the exhibition, to write the introduction to The Instituting Subject

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the show.69 As Gullar has explained: “I set about looking at their works one by one. With their pieces in front of me, I realized that our [Rio de Janeiro–­based Concrete art] work was very different from what the majority of the paulistas were doing. In that instant I became conscious that a new art had been born, another form of expression that, though it might originate in Concrete art, now had little to do with its postulates. That’s how I proposed the term Neoconcrete.”70 In Gullar’s view, the particular mediation of Concrete art by the Rio de Janeiro–­based artists whom he would go on to identify as Neoconcretists opened a new set of expressive possibilities. The Neoconcretists adopted a geometric vocabulary, but not the rationalist production methods and causal reception theories of Concrete art that conceived of space as the interval between the spectator and the world she sees. Instead, they championed the subjective imagination of artists unhindered by regimenting structures of science and mathematics, as well as the radical elimination of contemplative distance in favor of an openness to the spectator’s embodied perception of the work of art in space and time.71 For the Neoconcretists, and especially Gullar’s theorization of the group, the problem of agency could not be resolved simply by assuming that the isolated, unified Cartesian cogito, with its notions of self-­awareness and universal subjectivity, could be revitalized with modifications appropriate to the new social and historical circumstances. A proper consideration of the implications of social action, of expression, and of history required, Gullar argued, a new ontology that realized the world as a fully material thing, a presence, physically impinging on the spectator, and as such would constitute a break with the prejudices of the dominant (i.e., Cartesian) account of subjectivity.72 Yet Neoconcretism did not completely break with its immediate predecessor; it retained a number of Concrete art’s core principles. For one thing, the Neoconcretists were equally dismissive of all forms of expressionism, and especially of the manner in which expressionist abstraction grounds the meaning of an artwork in the personality/individuality of the artist. For another, many of the Neoconcretists adopted a geometric vocabulary. Whether in their pictorial investigations of planar space or their sculptural studies of material time, their overarching concern with the relation of lines and surfaces prevailed. But in the “Manifesto neoconcreto” (Neoconcrete manifesto) Gullar published in the Sunday supplement of Rio de Janeiro’s Jornal do Brasil on March 22, 1959, to accompany the group’s inaugural exhibition, the work of the participating artists is differentiated from what is described as the “dangerously acute rationalism” of Concrete art that “makes science out of art.”73 Gullar argues in the “Neoconcrete Manifesto” that Concrete artists start the process of artistic creation from the wrong end, from positivist ideas of time, space, form, structure, and color, and because of this they get only as far as illustrating these a priori notions. He also contrasts Concrete art’s model of spectatorship, which requires the viewer only “to Ch a p ter Four

be stimulated [by] or to react” to the work’s properties, to the Neo­concrete artwork that challenges notions of the disembodied separateness of ­vision, of the world of objects as distinct from that of subjects (upon which that world and those objects act causally). Whereas the Concrete artist speaks to the “eye-­machine” (olho-­máquina, referring to a mechanical viewing object, a machine of the visible), Neoconcrete art is directed at what he in the manifesto calls the “eye-­body” (olho-­corpo, referring to a viewing subject).74 To conceive of the spectator as a machine of the visible is to idealize the human body into a universal machine. By contrast, the concept of a viewing subject implies a more fleshy, more nervous, more visceral notion of sensation. According to Gullar, insofar as the theoretical principles of Concrete art remain tied to an underlying referentiality (i.e., to the visualization of an idea), they fail to capture the expressive possibilities of the geometric abstraction developed by the historical avant-­garde. The latter, which theoretically emerged in response to contemporary advances in physics and mechanics, culminated in several post-­cubist movements that rationalized the process of art production in unprecedented ways. But Gullar maintained that the work of “true” artists such as Mondrian and Pevsner was able to achieve a dissonant “expressive power,” even though the artists revered the objectivity of science and the precision of mechanics. If, as Gullar reasoned, one judges Mondrian’s neo-­plasticist or Pevsner’s constructivist compositions solely according to the claims the artists made for them, then the artworks would have to be declared failures. For instance, if one does not accept Mondrian’s utopian principle that the vertical and horizontal planes are the fundamental and universal rhythms of the universe, then one must conclude that his paintings are basically flawed. However, Gullar continued, even though many of Mondrian’s principles were unsound, the vitality and fertility of his work continued unabated. To understand this seeming paradox therefore requires consideration of the new “space” that his work created in the context of the present: “There is no point in seeing Mondrian as the destroyer of surface, the plane and line, if we do not perceive the new space that his art creates.”75 The parallels between Gullar’s interpretation of Mondrian and Clark’s statements about the death of the plane are striking. For both Mondrian and Clark, the space that emerges from the fragmentation of the plane expands into the realm of the spectator, so that the subjective reception of the spectator actualizes the new space in the present. Spatialization (espacialização) is the term Gullar employed to explain how the work of art “continually makes itself present” (está sempre se fazendo presente) to the viewer in the phenomenological field.76 He argued that if the spectatorial act perpetually and dynamically leads back to the starting point of the work of art, then it does so in order to revive and maintain the creativity of that moment from the perspective of the present. But just exactly what kind of subjectivity is modeled by that new expressive space is not something either Gullar or Clark questioned.77 The Instituting Subject

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In sum, the “Neoconcrete Manifesto” maintains that neither objective knowledge (i.e., empiricism) nor practical knowledge (i.e., rationalism) is sufficient to comprehend the experience generated by the Neoconcrete artwork. Rather than existing apart from the spectator and acting upon her causally, the artwork derives its fundamental unity and meaning from the fullness of the spectator’s subjectivity in space at large. This unity is necessarily contingent, perpetually coming together anew and never settling in absolute terms. The Non-­object

Gullar followed the “Neoconcrete Manifesto” with an even more provocative tract, “Teoria do não-­objeto” (Theory of the non-­object), first published in the Jornal do Brasil in December 1959.78 There the critic argued that the logical and inevitable consequence of the struggle of Neoconcretist artists against naturalistic representation and rationalistic construction was the death of painterly and sculptural objects and the birth of the “non-­object.” The latter he defined not as an “anti-­object” but as “a special object through which a synthesis of sensory and mental experiences takes place. It is a transparent body in terms of phenomenological knowledge; while being entirely perceptible it leaves no trace. It is a pure appearance.”79 All true works of art are non-­objects, Gullar claimed, because genuine art by its very nature breaks with notions of inertness and permanence to promote a critical awareness in the spectator, making her more aware of the way she experiences the world at any given moment as an embodied, perceiving subject. The non-­object is thus theorized as an open proposition that generates novel interpretations as a precondition of its realization; the subject it implies is always irreducible to the individual it hails. The similarities between Gullar’s conception of the non-­object and the definition of the art object by the Argentine Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención (AACI) are striking. Both Gullar and the Argentine artists argue for artworks that present rather than represent matter (and the world) to the spectator, artworks that block any identification with, or unquestioning acceptance of, a meaning or subjective positioning decided in advance.80 Both impose difficulties in reception, resisting the utilitarian logic of Concrete art with its rationalist and empiricist connotations of completely comprehending its object, compelling the spectator instead to reflect on how she looks at artworks and how meaning is achieved in art. The spectator is thus placed in the role of an active producer rather than a passive consumer. Meaning, for both, is not innate, natural, or given but a relational, open-­ended, and conditional process. In both cases, the strategies of negation, far from reflecting a flight from the real so that the transcendental subject can foreclose contradiction, result from an effort to open contradiction, to collapse the differences between art and reality and break free of false identifications Ch a p ter Four

that determine the possible forms of spectatorship. Gullar’s argument differs significantly from that of the AACI, however, insofar as he emphasizes that the artwork takes place within the space of the spectator and is inherently social, that the meaning of the artwork is realized only within the parameters of the immediate social reality. By existing forever in the present moment, the non-­object necessarily requires for its completion the participation of the spectator, and therefore initiates a public reception in the here and now.81 Gullar theorizes the non-­object as the logical culmination of the art of the avant-­garde and sees the utopian quest for an integration of the arts in the space of living as the motor of its development. The genealogy he constructs moves from impressionism (in which “all possibility of controlling the pictorial expression was limited to the internal coherence of the picture”), to cubism (in which the representation increasingly lost significance and the painting as material object gained in importance), to Mondrian and Malevich, whose canvases brought about a new structure, a new form of being, a new “significance.”82 For both Mondrian and ­Malevich the frame’s traditional function of demarcating virtual from actual space lost its sense, and the perimeters of the canvas became the new extent of the painterly object. But rather than a material object, Gullar argued, the canvas came to operate as a springboard for the construction of the work in actual space. Gullar wrote that the canvas for the traditional painter served as a mere material support upon which the suggestion of natural space was sketched. This metaphorical space was necessarily surrounded by a frame, which functioned to insert that virtual zone into the actual space of the world. The frame thus acted as the border between fiction and reality, at once protecting the painting’s virtual construction of space and enabling it to communicate freely with the veritable space that extended beyond it. The need for the frame was eliminated, however, when Mondrian, Malevich, and their followers radically abandoned figurative representation. The pictorial space evaporated, Gullar argued about the work of Mondrian, and the canvas ceased to become a surface on which to paint and became instead a surface to be painted.83 At this juncture, pictorial space spilled over into the actual space and time of the world, endowing both with a new richness and new meanings. Gullar also tracked the development from metaphorical to actual space in sculpture. In particular, he singled out the way that the Russian historical avant-­garde stripped sculpture of figuration, mass, and weight and abandoned the tradition of the pedestal to produce objects “that would inhabit space without a support.”84 The result is that “painting and sculpture are converging toward a common point. . . . They become special objects—­non-­objects—­for which the denominations ‘painting’ and ‘sculpture’ perhaps no longer apply.”85 The non-­object, in other words, leaves behind all notions of metaphorical space, let alone the figure–­ background relationship and distinctions between artistic media; it does not signify anything other than itself in actual space. The Instituting Subject


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Gullar explained that the dissolution of the frame in painting and the elimination of the base in sculpture are not exclusively questions of a technical or physical nature. Rather, these negations signal attempts by artists to show that the world of the art object is neither distinct from the spectator as subject, acting upon the spectator causally, nor always already disassociated from the spectator, anchored in a precious temporal moment, but a place and time that the spectator as embodied subject actively inhabits in the present. Given this, the collapse of the distinction between metaphorical and actual space allows the spectator to escape from culture’s established conventions in order “to retrieve that desert, mentioned by Malevich, in which the work of art appears for the first time freed from any signification outside the event of its own apparition.”86 Rather than Concrete artists, it was the tachist and informel painters that were Gullar’s targets in this important tract. He denounced as “conservative and reactionary” the tendency of these expressionist artists to continue to validate the conventional supports of painting and sculpture.87 Tachist and informel painters relegate the work of art to what is inside a frame and thus do not get beyond the point that cubism arrived at in the early 1910s. The Neoconcrete artists, by contrast, break with the framing conventions of modern art and produce non-­objects that are free of temporal constraints and fundamentally require the participation of the embodied spectator in order to become manifest. Without the spectator to actualize it, Gullar proclaims, the “non-­object” exists only as a potentiality. But Gullar’s “Theory of the Non-­object” was to be the swan song of the Neoconcrete movement. In November 1960, as the group was preparing its second public event in Rio de Janeiro, Gullar encouraged the artists to realize that the true non-­object “leaves no trace” and that therefore an exhibition of non-­objects should function accordingly—­it should self-­ destruct.88 As he has explained in retrospect: “The proposal was to place explosives behind or within all the non-­objects. People would engage with the works at the opening, and then at 6:00 p.m. we would announce that the exhibition was about to close and ask people to leave the gallery. After that, we would explode the exhibition.”89 When the majority of the Neoconcrete artists participating in the show rejected Gullar’s scheme outright, the critic concluded that they did not understand the premises articulated in his manifestos, and he abandoned the movement. Soon afterward the group itself dissolved altogether.90 Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica

Once Gullar came to see avant-­garde art and its institutions as hopelessly elitist, he shifted his efforts first to the Fundaçaõ Cultural de Brasília (Brasília Cultural Foundation), and then to the activist grouping Centros Populares de Cultura (Popular Culture Centers), which saw local popular culture as a much more potent force in generating political transformaCh a p ter Four

tion than the experiments of modernist art.91 His departure from the Neoconcrete project posed a significant problem for the artists. The most important critic in the young movement and one of its founding members was disavowing it, calling instead for art that more pointedly challenged the oppressive culture of social and economic inequality. Questions emerged about who the proper public might be for ambitious modern art. Gullar’s political radicalization and wholehearted engagement with popular culture had a consequential impact on Clark and Oiticica.92 Art historian Sergio Martins argues that the shock of Gullar’s defection forced Oiticica to operate as an intellectual as much as an artist: “On the one hand, [Oiticica] now had to defend his understanding of the avant-­garde against accusations of alienation or political ineffectiveness from left-­wing positions such as the one Gullar had now embraced. On the other hand, Oiticica had to negotiate his own position in relation to a sustained interest in and respect for Gullar’s ideas, both old and new. This meant . . . positioning artistic practice in terms of its social insertion.”93 I believe that with this we come close to the heart of Oiticica’s 1960s production. But I think that the same impetus could rightfully be extended to Clark as well. For both artists, art would become a form of performative activity rather than simply the production of experimental objects exhibiting certain common features. The emphasis of their artistic practices came to be inclined more toward a process than a finished-­ work notion of art. Both in conception and in execution, their art objects would be prescriptions for performances, plans for something to be done. The goal would be a change in spectator habits of perception provoked by objects that undermine any sense of wholeness, focus attention on their own incompleteness and the decontextualized quality of their parts, and dialogically engage the spectator in novel ways. The first step in the artists’ response to Gullar’s departure was to distance their work even further from residues of Concrete art. For Oiticica, the optical investigations and mechanical production methods of Concrete art did not sufficiently integrate the intuition of the spectator in the present context, and he contrasted these with his and Clark’s attempts to produce artworks that required the participation of the public in order to be complete. Both he and Clark became highly critical of Concrete art’s adoption of the undialectical dualism of subject and object that had been central to Western thought since René Descartes and other early modern philosophers elevated epistemology over ontology. He, and to a large extent Clark, now insisted that relations could not be reduced to the dualism of an isolated, contemplative, integrated subject and an object that is entirely external to that being. But instead of discarding the idea of subjectivity, these artists redefined it, eliminating the inside–­outside opposition that had always underlined it. For them, experience, as much as relationality, implied a state or condition prior to or deeper than the interior registering of (or reflection on) something entirely external. The Instituting Subject

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­ xperience is mutable, always changing according to the specificities of E the human subject’s context. In this renegotiation of the relationship between the artwork and the spectator, which, for Oiticica at least, was coupled with the transcultural relationship between the national context and imported cultural products and technologies, these artists rekindled a specifically Brazilian practice of syncretism known as antropofagia ­(anthropophagy). The anthropophagic movement, largely spearheaded by the poet and dramatist Oswald de Andrade and the painter Tarsila do Amaral in the 1920s, inverted the colonialist trope of the cannibal and advocated the creation of a unique Brazilian cultural identity, one that was at the same time fully cosmopolitan, through the consumption and critical re­elaborations of both national and foreign influences. Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago” (Anthropophagist manifesto) of 1928 was stimulated both by the myth of the Tupinambá and other indigenous ethnic groups who were said to cannibalize their defeated foes in order to incorporate their powers, and by the belief that all national identities are agonistic, arrived at through processes of critical absorption of an array of different cultural perspectives. Andrade deployed the cannibalist metaphor to construct an anticolonialist project in which he proposed selective assimilation of cultural products and technologies from abroad.94 The metropolitan cultures of Europe were to be neither uncritically emulated nor intolerantly disdained but openly “devoured” so that an autonomous cultural project could be developed in Brazil.95 This meant “the critical swallowing up” of cultural legacies, “elaborated not from the submissive, reconciliant perspective of the ‘good savage,’ but from the disillusioned viewpoint of the ‘bad savage,’ the whiteman-­eater, the cannibal,” as the Brazilian concrete poet Haroldo de Campos put it.96 Alien cultural influences were absorbed and recast in the mold of local conditions, and thereby melded with indigenous cultural motifs. This tendency assumes not only the inevitability of cultural interchange across geographical borders but also the consequent impossibility of an unproblematic recovery of national origins undefiled by alien influences. By calling on this tradition, explains cultural theorist Suely Rolnik, Brazilian countercultural artists “attained an especially radical freedom of experimentation, generating artistic proposals of great force and originality.”97 Oiticica in particular adopted this syncretic practice in the 1960s and 1970s, as he sought to disrupt the hegemonic nature of the European avant-­garde and its practices by introducing local elements and absorbing it into tropical experience.98 Referred to in the late 1960s as Tropicália, this transcultural movement related anthropophagy not only to external subaltern materials and elements but also to the increasing proliferation of an emergent mass culture in Brazil in the course of the previous decade.99 It is worth recalling, however, that the starting point of the work of Neoconcrete artists such as Oiticica and Clark in the 1950s was not with anthropophagy but with the legacies of abstraction that had most Ch a p ter Four

­decisively departed from traditional devices of pictorial representation (such as illusionism, depth, and perspective) in favor of working with the actual space of the picture plane. As their artworks and writings make clear, Clark and Oiticica understood abstract art not only as a formal and conceptual tool but also as a phenomenological event, with the new spaces opened up by abstraction empowering the spectator’s embodied experience. In the 1950s, when they were still using a pictorial format, these artists created works that were ridden with dialectical tensions. For example, the dissolution of the figure/background relationship in Clark’s Unidades (Units), a 1958–­59 series of small black relief paintings with only a white groove to one side, produces a correspondence between the plane and the surface of the work (fig. 4.8). Echoing Malevich’s monochromes, these paintings by Clark convey a sense of infinite space in the field of the plane (by means of the use of a particularly dense matte black pigment), while at the same time extending Mondrian’s long-­standing attention to the framing edge, the border where the painted panel meets the rest of the room.100 By bounding parts of the surface area painted black with a shallow white groove, Clark made the white edge appear optically elastic, as if the interior of the painting and the space beyond were continually expanding and contracting in relation to one another. Wrapped in light, the black hue appears dense and the picture seems to float upon the wall. Furthermore, in a manner that recalls Aleksandr Rodchenko’s important triptych of monochromes, Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921), Clark’s black planes are applied not with a brush but with a spray gun, so that no brushwork will expose the presence of the artist’s hand. In this and many other instances, Clark radically dissolved the historical institution of “painting,” reducing it to the problematic reality of the “plane.”101 The shift from two-­dimensional to three-­dimensional space in Clark’s paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s is comparable to a similar transition in Oiticica’s artwork of this period. The artist addressed the phenomenological perception of the spectator in several ways. One is through color. Taking up Van Doesburg’s notion that every painting is essentially a color idea, Oiticica produced color-­saturated surfaces that work in tandem with the supporting plane to expand the aesthetic field and permeate the space of the spectator.102 For instance, his ­Metaesquemas The Instituting Subject

Figure 4.8 Lygia Clark, Unidades, 1958–­59. Photo: Sergio Roberto Guerini. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural Association.

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(Metaschemes) paintings of the late 1950s, which comprise permutations of rectangles and squares across the surface plane, are concerned with formal modulation and symmetry, but also with the problem of the support, especially its passivity and inertia as a plane on which colored paint is applied.103 Rather than a hierarchical structure, the relationship these compositions establish between figure and ground is unstable, due in no small part to the artist’s use of color and light and his dispersion of single geometric forms within the limited space of the material plane. The geometric order of the compositions, what Oiticica calls their “Mondrian­ structure,” is locked in mortal battle with the “insistent back and forth” of the rich, dense colors.104 A similar quality of back-­and-­forthness characterizes Oiticica’s 1959–­ 62 series Invenções (Inventions), whose title echoes the obsession with invention among Río de la Plata Concrete artists in the 1940s. Oiticica’s Inventions consist of square wooden panels of equal size, painted in oil and placed irregularly on the wall throughout the room in which they are installed (fig. 4.9). Oiticica hung the panels in sequences of three or four units across a wall, with each protruding about ½-­inch from the wall by means of small wooden strips affixed to the back. The sides as well as the back of the panels are painted the same colors. The artist arranged the lighting in the gallery so that the paint on the backside of the panels would throw color on the wall around them.105 Thus color peels away

Figure 4.9 Hélio Oiticica, Invençaõ n. 4, ca. 1959–­62.

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from its figurative or delineative functions to become a fundamental element of the artwork. It comes to project its own visuality, with traditional notions of front and back, or inside and outside, thrown into disarray. Oiticica’s experiments with both sides of the painted surface soon led him to create the double-­sided, mostly white Bilaterais (Bilaterals, 1959; fig. 4.10), painted wood constructions suspended from the ceiling on wires away from the surface of the wall, and ultimately to make the asymmetrical, multiple-­planed, alternately yellow and luminous red Relevos espaciais (Spatial Reliefs) of 1960, which also hang freely in space106 (fig. 4.11). The latter constitute a spatial presence in the form of a cluster of intersecting planes suspended in the middle of the room. The effect is that of a transition from traditional wall-­based painting to three-­dimensional space The Instituting Subject

Figure 4.10 Hélio Oiticica, Bilaterals, 1959.

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Figure 4.11 Hélio Oiticica, Relevo espacial, 1960.

without abandoning the flat support of the plane. The structure of these reliefs obliges the spectator to circumambulate the paintings as well as to walk between them and into the virtual space they establish. In this sense, the artworks acquire a distinct temporality. Oiticica was explicit about this effect. Reflecting on the recent developments of his work in 1960, he wrote that “the spectator sees not only one side in contemplation, but tends toward action, turning around it, completing its orbit, in a multidimensional perception of the work. From here on, evolution occurs in the sense of appreciating the work from all perspectives and investigating its dimensions: color, structure, space, and time.”107 From another perspective, the formal and chromatic features of the artworks

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literally acquire an architectural dimension, what Oiticica refers to as “architecture of painting.”108 In the process, the difference between the artwork and its support disappears, while the sharp geometric fronts and backs of the brightly painted planes interconnect with the other Spatial Reliefs in their midst. The manner in which the dynamic formal and chromatic structure of Oiticica’s art of this period expands the aesthetic field to integrate the bodily experience of the spectator crystallizes the Neoconcrete approach articulated by Gullar: “The structure is only valid if considered as a chromatic vehicle—­[it is] the means by which color invades space, locates itself within and modulates it. We are no longer dealing with allusive color, neither local color nor symbolic color, but with structural-­color, the emotional meaning of which emerges from the form in which it occurs.”109 Walking among the suspended units, the spectator in the aesthetic field relates to the three-­dimensional composition not through contemplation alone but also through an embodied phenomenological perception. The boundaries between artistic creation and the actual world are ruptured.110 The spectator’s corporeality in this case is theorized as more than simply a material entity in the world that has somehow extracted itself from the situation. Rather, it is posited as an incarnate “body-­subject,” to borrow philosopher Maurice Merleau-­Ponty’s apposite term, conditioned by myriad spatial and temporal factors.111 With his Núcleos (Nuclei) of 1960–­63, Oiticica consolidated these attempts to shift the formal planes and chromatic dimensions of painting into space and to place the spectator’s phenomenological experience in the present at the center of his practice (fig. 4.12). The series also assumes an aerodynamic form. Each Nucleus is composed of multiple flat square panels, painted on each side, attached to each other in an orthogonal wooden lattice and suspended from the ceiling. The spatial arrangement forms a maze that includes several virtual spaces. The suspended panels construct distinct spatial zones that come together as a coherent whole only with the spectator’s phenomenological interaction. Each panel is painted in a single color in multiple layers.112 These alternate among various shades of orange, yellow, or red, with their different tones becoming more apparent over time as the spectator navigates through the ensemble. Insofar as the color and shape of the panels echo elements in the room in which they are placed, the differences between painting and its support become less distinct, as the painted planes blend in with their surroundings. The suspended planar units thereby fuse color with form, the core elements of painting with those of architecture. The ensembles fail to coalesce outside of the spectator’s imminent spatial, corporeal, and temporal encounter with them in their specific sites. The Nuclei thus go beyond being merely formal compositions, let alone visual products of preestablished formulas and problems, to function as philosophical investigations of the nature of “being-­in-­the-­world.”113

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Figure 4.12 Hélio Oiticica, Oiticica with Nucleo 6, 1960–­63.

Like the artists of De Stijl who sought to integrate the arts into every­ day space, Oiticica during this period explored the basic structural questions of painting through color and irreducible planar units, beginning with the pictorial order and expanding outward to the experience of space and time. Mondrian argued in 1926 that nonfigurative abstraction should be based on a “concrete manifestation,” seeking a “plastic expression of vitality.”114 In order to achieve this, he continued, “the ‘painting’ of purely abstract art is not enough; its expression must necessarily be realized in our material environment and thus prepare the realization of pure equilibrium in society itself. Only then will ‘art’ become ‘life.’”115 By Ch a p ter Four

the early 1960s, Oiticica had arrived at a similar conclusion. “I no longer have any doubts that the era of the end of the picture has been definitely inaugurated,” he wrote: For me, the dialectics which surround the problem of painting evolved, together with the experiences (the works), in the direction of the transformation of the painting-­picture into something else: the “non-­object.” It is no longer possible to accept development “inside the picture” because the picture is now already depleted. Far from being the “death of painting,” this is its salvation, since true death would be the continuation of the picture as such, as the “support” for “painting.”116

Accordingly, for Oiticica painting had to move beyond the picture surface and integrate the space of living in the present in order to remain vital. In the process, the distance between the artwork and the spectator collapses altogether. As the artist remarked in 1960, before the work of art the spectator “no longer mediates through static contemplation, but finds his own vital time as he becomes involved in a univocal relationship with the time of the work. Here, the work is closer to the pure vitality of Mondrian.”117 But contrary to Mondrian, for Oiticica “the space of the living” is not a site of order. On the contrary, it is a site of fundamental instability and of disorder. In turn, the main concern of the utopian elements of his work would increasingly become to make manifest the strangeness of the world. Conduits

Following her experiments with geometric abstraction in the 1950s, Clark expanded her painterly practice into three dimensions, and the early phase of her sculptural work culminated in the series of interactive ­Bichos (Creatures) dating from the early 1960s118 (fig. 4.13). These are hinged, asymmetrical metal constructions that come to life over time through the direct intervention and manipulation of the spectator. Each Bicho functions as what Gullar terms a “quasi-­corpus,” a quasi-­body, which “can only be understood phenomenologically.”119 For Clark, the shift to the production of three-­dimensional objects was an important solution to the elimination of the frame. However, the Bichos are not exactly art objects; rather, they are ambiguously situated at the epistemological divide between artworks and mundane things, articulating constructive intention and lived experience. They function as catalysts for the act of exploring, manipulating, discovering beyond the primacy of the eye, and as such they materialize the moment when art might at once be realized and overcome by a mere bodily gesture. The Bichos place production fully in the hands of the spectator, who now becomes the protagonist of the work. They initiate new patterns and institutional relations. As Pedrosa astutely remarked: The Instituting Subject


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Figure 4.13 Lygia Clark, Creature, 1960–­63. Photo: Nuno Franco de Sousa. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural ­Association.

Lygia summons the spectator to share, if not in the creation, certainly in the budding and in the life of the work of art. The observer is no longer a passive and purely contemplative subject in face of the object; nor is he an ego­ centric subject who, in order to impose himself, denies the work, the object. . . . [Rather,] Clark invites the subject-­spectator to enter into a new relationship with the work, that is to say, with the object, so that the subject may share in the creation of the object, and this, transcending itself, may make him reach the fullness of his being.120

Participation, in other words, is the tool Clark used to abolish the contemplative attitude in confrontation with the work and invert the artist–­ spectator pact. It is the spectator (now in the form of a full-­fledged participant) who brings the object on display to life, transforming it into a living artwork in the present. The curator Paulo Herkenhoff has observed that the titles and spatial problems introduced by the Bichos reveal an underlying topological dimension. Some of Clark’s Bichos metaphorically evoke celestial planes, such as Relógio de sol (Sundial) of 1960–­63, while others address the confluence of algorithms and modern art, such as Pancubismo (Pancubism), also of 1963.121 With the Bichos there is also the spatial issue of a topological surface. Like a möbius strip, the Bichos are unilateral: “the Bicho has no Ch a p ter Four

other side.”122 And yet they devour the materiality of a Concrete object and, not unlike the operation of Kosice’s Royi, discussed in the previous chapter, emphasize instead the spectator’s body and technical performance. The spectator’s sensuous touch contrasts to the hardness of the cold metal out of which the object is made. Moreover, the difference between the manner in which a Bicho is set into motion—­through the manual force and activity of the spectator—­and the wind-­generated force of the abstract wire constructions of Soto or Le Parc, or the motorized sculptures of Jean Tinguely, Nicolas Schöffer, or others experimenting with kinetic art in the early 1960s, is quite revealing. Unlike the mobiles of Soto and Le Parc that employed a natural stimulus to initiate movement, or the motor-­generated contraptions of the Kinetic artists, Clark’s Bichos are set in motion by the particular techniques of manipulation actuated by each spectator. The presumption is that spectators in different contexts will engage with the Bichos in different ways because bodily techniques, what cultural anthropologist Marcel Mauss reffered to as “techniques of the body,” are not natural but cultural, taught through tradition by society.123 Thus Clark’s Bichos break with the contemplative relationship between the spectator and the artwork that had traditionally structured the reception of art, and introduce a new haptic mode of spectatorship. By the mid-­1960s, Clark had taken the radical step of abandoning the production of art objects and producing instead non-­objects in the form of relational artworks that require the active participation of the possessive spectator for their actualization and engage more with effects and affects of the body than with the production of meaning. With works such as Caminhando (Walking, 1963–­64), she had almost entirely transferred the function of making the artwork to the embodied spectator (fig. 4.14). Caminhando includes Clark’s instructions to the participant to use a pair of scissors to cut continuously along the length of a strip of paper twisted into a möbius loop, being careful not to converge with the preexisting cut since this would split the strip. “When you have gone completely around the möbius strip,” she explained, “choose between cutting to the right or the left of the cut already made. This notion of choice is decisive, and within it resides the only meaning in this experiment. The work is its act. . . . At the end, the pathway is so thin that it can’t be cut anymore.”124 The mode of address now shifted fully into the present, with what the artist described as “only one type of duration: the act. . . . Nothing exists before and nothing afterward.”125 The end of the path is also the end of the work, which is at once material and ephemeral and exists only in the act of its actualization. The only meaning of the experience lies in the act of carrying it out. The artwork is the act that alters and rearranges in perpetuity. This turn in Clark’s art in the mid-­1960s clarified several issues for her. For one thing, the new role of the artist became clearer. In her words, that role was now “to give the participant the object which has no importance The Instituting Subject


Figure 4.14 Lygia Clark, Walking, 1963. Photo: Beto Felicio. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural Association.

within itself and will only have it in the sense that the participant acts.”126 As Gullar observed, Clark fully transformed the artist’s function: “For Clark the artist is no longer the author of the work but someone who instigates the creative act in others. . . . There is no longer any room for the artisan-­like exercise of making the work, nor of conceiving of it as a project to be carried out; the artist’s role is now only that of proposing situations in which the other lives out experiences that may not be aesthetic but sensorial and psychological.”127 For another thing, Clark’s new work went a long way toward resolving the question of who the proper public for her art might be. As she remarked in “A Propósito da magia do objeto” (On the magic of the object, 1965), the self-­sufficient and “complete” work of art caters to those with sufficient privilege and education to be able to decipher it. This type of artwork, she wrote, is “the problem of an elite.”128 By contrast, artworks such as Caminhando are structured around a more candid and straightforward relationship with the spectator; to grasp the experience that they propose does not require the layers of advanced learning and previous experiment demanded by the traditional work of fine art. Instead, these new artworks offer “a more direct communication.”129 They call for a spectatorship based in haptic experiences and a wider affective body (where affect is understood as the preconscious and physiological) rather than an interpretation of content. They no longer cater to an elite. Hapticality, as cultural theorists Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey explain, is a “capacity to feel through others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you.”130 This Ch a p ter Four


Figure 4.15 Lygia Clark, Abyss Mask, 1968. Photo: Sergio Zalis. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural Association.

relationally determined model is, importantly, “not regulated”; rather, “to feel others is unmediated, immediately social, amongst us, our thing . . . we feel (for) each other.”131 Accordingly, Caminhando, like the Bichos ­before it, functions as a mediating entity between all of the elements of the aesthetic field and crystallizes what Clark would soon come to describe as a “relational object.”132 Clark’s Nostalgia do corpo (Nostalgia for the Body) series of 1964–­68 is also specifically opposed to the relationship between subject and object in traditional aesthetics. The series consists of various objects (such as gloves, masks, suits) that are manipulated by the spectator. A case in point is Máscaras sensoriais (Sensorial Masks, 1967). Here the role and technical performance of the spectator reaches a new level: the object is now attached directly to the body, worn and comprehended not by the visual sense but as a sensorial filter through which an expanded definition of haptic space is explored. Made of cloth and other materials, and incorporating goggles, ear coverings, and a small nosebag, the Sensorial Hoods fuse eyesight, hearing, touch, and smell to problematize conventional notions of subjectivity. And with the Máscaras abismo (Abyssal Masks) in 1968, Clark completely blocked the sense of vision in favor of artworks that provide a way to think through the body (fig. 4.15). A blindfold covers the eyes and increases the subject’s awareness of haptic experience The Instituting Subject

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and the totality of the body as it turns inward and submerges in the sensorium as a whole. During the mid-­1960s, Clark and Oiticica relinquished the character of their artworks as meaningful objects to become open propositions without any inherent value or significance; they achieve their bearing or meaning only by making the spectator a participant in a process through which the relationship between the art object and the spectatorial subject becomes fully symbiotic, or dialogical in the terms of Mikhail Bakhtin. The production of the art object by the artist is preceded by the latter’s consideration of the needs of the spectator in the act of spectatorship. In other words, the generation of art goes beyond the initiative of the artist, who now merely serves to introduce an object or a set of relations as a conduit, and fundamentally includes the particularities of the spectator, who is compelled to transform those conduits into an artwork within the aesthetic field. At the same time, the artwork initiates a process of simultaneous, reciprocal exchange with the spectator that decenters the subject in the cofunction of self and other. As Bakhtin emphasized on numerous occasions, this sense of interconnectedness between self and other, inside and outside, artworks and everyday life, forms the foundation of the creative process: “A cultural domain has no inner territory. It is located entirely upon boundaries, boundaries intersect it everywhere, passing through each of its constituent features.”133 Shifting away from an emphasis on the panoramic vision of a nonpositional self-­consciousness, with their non-­objects Clark and Oiticica begin to posit the reflective relation­ship of the subject to the world as chiasmatic, complexly interwoven with reciprocal interpenetrations and crossings. Moreover, the intertwining of self and other is generalized to all of the subject’s ties with the world, every relation being simultaneously a taking and being taken. The non-­object does not try to untangle this inter­t wining of self and world; rather, its function is to interrogate this tangle, situating itself neither on the side of the artist subject nor on that of the viewing subject, but, rather, at the intersections where the multiple entries of the world cross. Clark’s use of the term hinge to describe Diálogo de mãos (Hand Dialogue) of 1966, a work made in collaboration with Oiticica and consisting of an elastic band connecting the wrists of two people, is particularly helpful in fathoming the implications of the notion of chiasm for her work134 (fig. 4.16). Here the möbius strip links the participants’ wrists, which conduct a tactile dialogue through movement of the hands. The two hands are thus simultaneously in the relationship of being touched and touching each other. This equivocation between touching and being touched summons one of the structural characteristics of the body itself: the body theorized as both subject and object. In turn, the internal–­ external divide is replaced with a view toward processes of individuation through which our sensation is always on the border of those two seemingly separated worlds. So actually the outside is not the outside but a fold, which affects our capacities of sensation, perception, and affection. Ch a p ter Four

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Figure 4.16 Lygia Clark, Hand Dialogue, 1966. Photo: Guy Brett. Courtesy of The World of Lygia Clark Cultural Association.

Gone now are subject–­object distinctions. Gone too are the false certainties and verities concerning who is acting upon what. Here the subject in the world is forcefully revealed and reemphasized. Indeed, Clark’s experiments in the late 1960s and 1970s stand as what critic Guy Brett describes as a vanguard attempt to reintegrate sensory experience and psychic interaction, “to reconnect the interior and the exterior world, the knower and the known.”135 In the process, Clark moves away from her earlier tendency to equate consciousness (be it reflective or pre­reflective) with The Instituting Subject

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subjectivity, which had ignored the important role played by unconscious processes in the creation of the subject. This formulation establishes a parallel between the phenomenological passage from the preobjective to the objective and the psychoanalytical passage from the unconscious to the conscious. More than the phenomenological body situated in the flesh of the world, the body theorized in Clark’s work is now above all a desiring body, hungry for sensual encounters with the world and with others. It is an unorganized and unintegrated subject, a dispersed self, resistant to coherent narrative reconstruction.136 The participants in her projects are encouraged to be fascinated both by the conduits that Clark introduces in the form of props and by everyone and everything else in the space of the performance. This is a form of experience that is suffered or enjoyed without a strong, centered subject, but it is experience nonetheless. The Need for All to Act

The change in the public debate in Brazil that followed upon the military coup of April 1964 had a significant impact on the underlying logic of Oiticica’s work. The populist government of President João Goulart, elected in 1961 by a moderately left-­wing coalition, had formulated an independent foreign policy. Goulart’s administration formally renewed diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and resisted political pressure from the United States and its allies in the region to expel Cuba from the Organization of American States. It also instituted a tactical alliance with the Communist Party of Brazil, coming together around the idea of facilitating modernization, which involved relations of power and property, including agrarian reform, wages, adult literacy campaigns, and concerted efforts to preserve Brazilian ownership and jobs in the face of foreign encroachments into the Brazilian economy. This culminated in a nationalist populism that was isolationist and critical of capitalism, but in no way moving toward revolution. The effects of the military coup of 1964 were immediately evident in many segments of society. Unions were censured, universal literacy initiatives were abruptly canceled, universities were scrutinized, political censorship was introduced, and civil rights were radically curtailed. But the new military government made little attempt to control politically progressive cultural productions.137 Cultural critic Roberto Schwartz has persuasively argued that the new military regime allowed the avant-­garde culture of the Left to thrive in Brazil in order to counter the antiquated nationalism that emerged in the wake of the 1964 coup.138 While the leaders of the coup were nationalist, they were also modern, having readapted the developmentalist nationalism that was central to Brazilian politics in the 1950s. The values of family, nation, and religion were regarded as important, but so too were recent social developments in Western

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capitals.139 The cultural sphere was seen to play a crucial role in bringing about a much-­needed social and economic transformation, and in so doing to advance the nation’s developmentalist goals. This led the regime and a good number of its largely middle-­class supporters to reject the populist rhetoric of an authentic national culture.140 During these tumultuous years, Oiticica shifted his art practice beyond strictly formal and phenomenological concerns to a more complicated relationship with the local social context. In the process, he began to develop an artistic practice with a greater political investment in the national popular materials, voices, and images that might ground it in progressive politics. This shift was manifested in several new bodies of work that would subsequently provide the structural basis for his post-­ Concrete production. These projects continued to emphasize the dynamic potential of color, but they were no longer constrained within the parameters of painting; rather, they were now non-­objects to be manipulated, entered, or worn.141 Oiticica stressed that these new explorations arose from his determined efforts to corporealize color. However, the new artworks no longer rely solely on structures that the spectator encounters; rather, they operate through what Oiticica called the “suprasensorial,” the expansion of the spectator’s normal sensory capacities. This includes “the rediscovery of rhythm, dance, the body, the senses, which finally are what we have as weapons of direct, perceptual, participatory knowledge.”142 Importantly, he was careful to distinguish his suprasensorial propositions from the investigations of stimulus-­reaction processes that preoccupied Soto, for instance, with his Op art, as it came to be called, or GRAV in its early work, seeing these as purely limited to a measurement of somatic response.143 For Oiticica, the revolutionary potential of art rested in its ability to extend the realm of the senses in the direction of what Pedrosa famously referred to as “the experimental exercise of liberty.”144 This existentialist conception of self-­making through action would over the course of the 1960s be folded into the phenomenological notion of the subject adopted earlier by Oiticica, Clark, and others and lead to a fundamental reimagining of the artistic self: its ethic, its anxieties, its ideals. But it would be left to the next generation of artists to qualify how much scope for transformation was actually available in the new social and political conditions. In 1963 Oiticica began to explore the possibilities of what he termed the Bólide (fireball), a new artistic form that crystallized his attempt to materialize color. As an object, the Bólide is a class of receptacle—­a commercial glass or plastic bottle, canvas sack, or painted wooden box—­which contains a heterogeneous array of raw pigment, found objects, and materials from everyday life. The artist gave the objects and materials, which included not only solids such as coal, shells, and rocks but also sand, liquids, and other precarious substances, a new significance by displacing them from their vernacular context and locating them in a container

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in the context of a work of art. “The need to give a new structure to color, to give it ‘body,’” he wrote in a journal entry of October 1963, “brought me the most unexpected results, one of which was the development of the Bólides from opaque to transparent, to a stage where color not only presents itself in the oil and glue techniques, but in its pigmentary state, contained in the actual Bólide structure.”145 The spectator is encouraged not only to look at the Bólides but also to touch, feel, and weigh the materials. This playful aspect is crucial to the operation of the works insofar as it encourages a more intense and complete relationship between the spectator and the art object. Importantly, the Bólides are not placed on pedestals the way that sculpture is usually exhibited but on the floor or ground in actual space. The detached, contemplative relationship that traditional sculpture establishes with the spectator is also discarded in favor of a new mode of perceptual behavior, realized through the increased participation of the spectator and extending beyond the conventional notion of the object as the end of aesthetic expression. Some of the Bólides, such as Bólide caixa 9 (Box bólide 9) of 1964, feature hinged panels or sliding drawers that are to be opened. Inside these small, enclosed spaces are materials that are to be manually explored by the spectator. Other Bólides appeal to the sense of smell, such as Bólide saco 2 (Olfactic bólide) of 1967, which consists of a large bag full of coffee beans whose aroma one inhales through a tube. Yet others, such as Bólide vidro 05 ­“Homenagem a Mondrian” (Glass Bolide 05 “Homage to Mondrian,” fig. 4.17) or Bólide vidro 10 (“Homenagem a Malevich Gemini”) (Glass Bólide 10 [“Homage to Malevich Twins”] ), both of 1965, contain liquids of various colors in glass containers. All of the Bólides operate by fusing the individual subjectivity of the spectator and the normative significations of the containers with the found objects inside. Unlike the investigation of the role of context performed by Duchamp’s readymade objects, Oiticica’s Bólides assimilate the everyday function of found objects and the manual participation of the spectator into the constructed aesthetic proposal. Yet the containers are far from functionalist, as they merely serve to pique the senses of the spectator, who is encouraged to handle, mix, or alter the formal and chromatic relationships of the elements inside. Perception is no longer merely a visual phenomenon; it now becomes tactile and olfactory. The Bólides materialize color from the natural and social contexts. The spectator is invited to experience the texture of color when transmuted into solids, liquids, or gas, into substances that could be rough or smooth, harsh or soft, opaque, brilliant or transparent. Later Oiticica extended the idea with the Area Bólides and Bed Bólides of 1968–­70, which function as collective sites of leisure and carnivalesque humor in that they break with the awkward rigidity and stiffness common to cultural conditioning in the context of art. Oiticica described the Area and Bed Bólides and their transformation into Ninhos (Nests), such as the one exhibited in 1970 at the Information show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as “open” sites of “unconditioned behavior” free of constraint and repression146 Ch a p ter Four

(fig. 4.18). These artworks are not sculptural objects but dealienated (though not desublimated) projects in space that require the embodied participation of the spectator. This aspect of the Bólides leads directly to Oiticica’s Penetráveis (Penetrables): architecturally scaled wooden cabins that phenomenologically structure the spectator’s interaction with spatial fields of color. The Penetrables feature vibrantly painted surfaces and walls, what Pedrosa describes as “labyrinths of color,” that the spectator encounters as she finds her way through the ensemble.147 While the wooden cells spatialize color, they also grant it mass and architectural value. Like the Nuclei of the early 1960s, the Penetrables offer no vantage point from which the spectator can comprehend the whole composition simultaneously.148 They are immersive: they can only be experienced tactilely and temporally. As such, they fully integrate the non-­object (now in the form of a color-­structure) to space and to time, with the spectator at the nexus. Oiticica’s Penetrables culminate in constructed, immersive environments such as Tropicália, first installed at the Nova objetividade brasileira (Brazilian New Objectivity) exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1967 (fig. 4.19). Tropicália consists of two Penetrable cabins made of wood and brightly colored tarpaulin, of the kind commonly seen on favela shanties across Brazil in this period.149 The ensemble, which soon came to name a popular movement of music, is a conglomeration of aspects of urban and rural Brazilian culture as much as of political The Instituting Subject

Figure 4.17 Hélio Oiticica, Bólide vidro 05 “Homenagem a Mondrian,” 1965.

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Figure 4.18 Hélio Oiticica, Nests, 1970. Figure 4.19 (opposite page) Hélio Oiticica, Tropicália, 1967.

nationalism and aesthetic transnationalism.150 It is also a materialization of Oiticica’s ambitious text, “Esquema general da Nova Objetividade” (“General Scheme of Brazilian New Objectivity”), 1967, written to consolidate, in the form of a list, the central concerns of the exhibition, and to establish the grounds for strategies of participation and collective action in contemporary Brazilian art.151 The first item on Oiticica’s list is what he calls a “general constructive will,” by which he means the absorption of all foreign cultural influences into a uniquely Brazilian ­entity. To explain that process of constructive creativity he summons the transcultural legacy of the anthropophagic: “Anthropophagy would be Ch a p ter Four

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the defense that we possess against such external dominance, and this constructive will is our main creative weapon.”152 Foreign “influences” are to be melded with national elements for the purposes of creating something truly characteristic of Brazilian culture in the mid-­t wentieth century. This is therefore an art that is worldly and defiant in the face of hegemonizing forces of modernity. Suspect of the fraught concept of modern art for its complicity with North American and European cultural hegemony, Oiticica, with Tropicália, develops an artistic practice that bears the traces of Brazil’s asymmetrical relation to the site of hegemonic order and does not assume a premature antinationalist discourse. This is an artistic practice that reproduces and reinforces processes of cultural differentiation and that produces Brazil’s identity in particularist terms. Nationalism and transnationalism, from his perspective, are not at odds with one another. Rather, they exist in a dialogical relation that preserves key elements of each. In this sense, Tropicália is defined by nationalism as a site of resistance against cultural imperialism and the homogenizing forces of modern art. Grounded, materially specific, and relational, it is an aesthetic negotiation between cultural traditions and fixed national borders. The second element of the platform of Brazilian “New Objectivity” concerns “the phenomenon of the demolition of the picture,” which Oiticica maintains began in the 1950s with the establishment of Concrete art and fanned out in a number of directions in the 1960s.153 He locates the key development beyond the elimination of the picture plane in Clark’s “discovery that the creative process takes place in the direction of immanence, not in the old-­fashioned way based on transcendence . . . , [but] in a ‘discovery of the body,’ a ‘reconstitution of the body,’ through supra-­and infra-­sensorial structures, and action within collective participation.”154 Indeed, in this essay Oiticica identifies spectatorial participation in its various forms—­“collective participation,” “social-­dialectical and poetic participation,” “playful participation”—­as the central element of the New Objectivity.155 While the participation of the spectator is manifest in several ways, the artist writes, there are two modes that are currently dominant in Brazilian art: one involves haptic “manipulation” or “sensorial-­corporal participation” and the other a “semantic” participation.156 The two types of participation combine to produce “a fundamental, total, significant, nonfractioned participation.” The stakes, he insists, are high, since “there is currently in Brazil the need to take positions in regard to political, social, and ethical problems, a need that increases daily and requires an urgent formulation.”157 Tellingly, Oiticica equates the current means mobilized to carry out an aesthetic program, or to produce art, and the political demands placed on the contemporary artist to ground his or her practice in progressive politics. He does not draw a distinction between artistic experimentation and cultural critique. From this perspective, aesthetic tactics are political tactics as well, and the latter involve collectivity.158 Ch a p ter Four

In “General Scheme of Brazilian New Objectivity” Oiticica outlines two routes to collective art: manifesting individual productions in a public site, and engaging the public “in the actual creation of the work.”159 He argues that each is important to the Brazilian context, since each questions for whom the artwork is made. This leads him to reconsider the concept of “anti-­art,” which he defines as a confrontational practice that communicates on a large scale, “not for an elite reduced to ‘experts,’ but even ‘against’ this elite, with the proposition of unfinished, ‘open’ works.”160 The “openness” of anti-­art is what distinguishes it from the earlier historical avant-­garde. Extending beyond practices of negation, anti-­art is proactive, advancing new configurations that the spectator transforms into artworks. The artist, in this new order, assumes the role of facilitator or “educator.” She is “a social being, not only a creator of artworks but also a modifier of consciousness.”161 The spectator, in turn, becomes a partner in the creative act, for it is she who ultimately realizes the artwork. It does not exist without her.162 Tropicália mobilizes a number of national-­popular materials that are not connected in and of themselves. Its design draws on the slapdash architecture and disorderly grounds of the favelas that proliferate in Brazilian cities, but the ensemble as a whole offers a set of conflicting aspects of contemporary reality that do not add up. It presents those contradictions, that fundamental lack of coherence, as an “objective” representation of the contemporary Brazilian condition. Unlike the operation of GRAV’s labyrinths, for instance, Tropicália is not organized in a linear manner. Nor is the spectator’s behavior structurally preordained. Instead, Oiticica’s architectural ensemble encourages the spectator to engage in individual acts of discovery and in a process of active self-­making with numerous opportunities for transformation. Upon entering the large sculptural installation, the visitor is immediately encouraged to follow footpaths of different grades of gravel that cut between sandbags, mounds of earth, and various tropical plants. Along the way, poems by Roberta Camila Salgado (the artist’s sister-­in-­ law) are scrawled on fragments of cardboard, wood, metal, and bricks and distributed throughout the composition.163 One path through the ensemble leads to a small booth (Penetrable PN2) made of five wooden panels painted in different colors. The booth has no cover, and gravel covers the entire floor. A large transparent plastic bag full of sand hangs on the inside of the panel that serves as the door to the edifice. A number of macaws, banana trees, and regional plants that have a symbolic status in Afro-­Brazilian cults are situated in and around the two cabins, and a sweet scent of sandalwood permeates the entire installation. The maxim “Pareza e um mito” (Purity is myth), suggestive of the anthropophagist belief in the impossibility of an unproblematic recovery of native authenticity, is inscribed in capital letters near the top of this shack. Oiticica described Tropicália’s central cabin (Penetrable PN3) as a “closed labyrinth without a ‘way out’ at the end.”164 Plastic fabrics with The Instituting Subject

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­alternating printed and monochrome (orange or blue) designs hang before some of the compartment’s wooden panels. Other panels are overlaid with a darkish cotton or painted in white or black. The narrow passageway through the ramshackle hut winds around spiral-­like, growing darker as one penetrates deeper into the space. At the center of the shack is a completely dark carpeted chamber, with a black-­and-­white television that is permanently switched on to a local broadcast. In 1967 Rio de Janeiro, the broadcast featured a proliferation of Portuguese and dubbed North American programming intermixed with Brazilian productions.165 The spectator in the cramped, darkened room is thus fully engulfed in the incandescent glow and blaring sound of the electronic machine, while a strong fragrance from plant material fills her nostrils.166 The placement of the television within a shantylike edifice surrounded by parrots, tropical plants, local scents, and brightly colored plastic accentuated the extreme disjunctions and uncomfortable assimilations of modernity in mid-­t wentieth-­century Brazil, where the technological and the tropical, the modern and the archaic, came together in awkward new hybrids. Writing about Tropicália in March 1968, Oiticica described the manner in which the image and sound of the broadcast “devours the participant, because it is more active than his sensory creating”; he referred to the installation as “the most anthropophagist work of Brazilian art.”167 Yet the heap of stereotypical Brazilian elements—­the look of the favela shanties, the smell of the tropical plants, the sound of the exotic birds—­ together with technological phenomena such as television broadcast that had recently brought about enormous transformations in social behavior and consumption, does not cohere unproblematically into an image of the Brazilian condition in the 1960s. The glaring contradictions are laid bare, exposed for all to see. The project presents Brazilian culture in the process of digestion. “No one ‘loves Brazil’ more than I,” Oiticica stated, but in order to “construct” an understanding of Brazil at that juncture, he continued, “I have to ‘dissect’ its guts, to ‘plunge into the shit’” of its “diarrhea.”168 Tropicália functions as an allegory of Brazil in the mid-­t wentieth ­century. It challenges Western notions of the country as forever quaint and outside of time by juxtaposing in one work different stages of modernity.169 The concept of Tropicália, Oiticica explained, came directly from a fundamental need to characterize “what is typically national, tropical and Brazilian. . . . [It is] an extremely ambitious attempt to create a language that would be ours, characteristic of us.”170 Thus for Oiticica Tropicália served as more than an installation, it was a new “language” that employed the metaphor of anthropophagy to produce an accurate image of 1960s Brazil “to the downfall of the universalist myth of Brazilian culture, entirely based on Europe and North America.” “For the creation of a true Brazilian culture,” the artist continued, “this accursed European and American influence will have to be absorbed, anthropophagically.”171 Accordingly, as if directly resolving the aporias Guillent Pérez and Los Ch a p ter Four

­ isidentes saw in Venezuelan, and by extension, Latin American culture D in the twentieth century more generally, Oiticica mobilized anthropophagy as a way of “turning the tables” on the impact of European and American culture.172 It ingests and digests that culture, “which bombards us from the outside,” and “throw[s] it back as a valid creation and as our own thing, thereby neutralizing the cultural colonialism to which [the Western powers] wish to permanently subject us.”173 But Oiticica’s most important body of work of the mid-­1960s is what he called the Parangolé174 (fig. 4.20). The artist appropriated this relatively open slang term, roughly translated as “what’s happenin’?” or “what’s

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Figure 4.20 Hélio Oiticica, Parangolé capa 04 “Clark,” 1965.

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up?,” to name cape-­like garments that he made from a vast range of painted and sewn-­together materials that were to be worn and publicly flaunted, with the participant’s body as the galvanizing core.175 Some of the garments are easy to put on and wear, while others are more cumbersome to don. Yet each functions as a double surface, a möbius strip, with no inside or outside.176 Oiticica wrote that, more than objects, more than stitched-­together painted fabric, the Parangolé reflect “a searching process, searching for the roots of the objective birth of the work, the direct perceptive molding of it.”177 Each functions as a “constructive nucleus,” actualized as an artwork only in the spectator’s act of wearing the cape as she dances to samba music.178 All of the Parangolé’s details are relative. If there is a structure, it is the spectator’s direct bodily engagement—­the emphasis is wholly on the ephemeral performance. The pieces of fabric in and of themselves are relevant only as catalysts. Wearing, dancing, touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting are crucial to the dynamic of Oiticica’s work from the mid-­1960s on.179 Needless to say, this is a phenomenon that completely abandons traditional means and procedures of artistic production and culminates in an altogether new mode of spectatorial interaction within the context of art. The artist, colorfully described by Pedrosa as “an absolute sensorial machine,” engages the spectator phenomenologically, and encourages her to bring the artwork to life with the whole body and all the senses.180 Oiticica developed the Parangolé in 1964. He had begun to frequent the deeply impoverished favela da Mangueira on the north side of Rio de Janeiro in 1963 and integrated (as much as he could) into its large community. He also enrolled in an instruction course at the Escola de Samba Estação Primeira da Mangueira, one of the most important samba clubs in the city, with the aim of mastering the steps of the samba and parading on the streets with the dancers during the carnival celebrations. In the mid-­1960s, artist Luciano Figueiredo explains, “carnival was not the big spectacle that it is today where anybody can watch or participate. It was already a national festival and samba was the great music, but the celebrations in the streets were for the poor, while the rich samba-­ed in black tie at luxurious balls.”181 For Oiticica, then, the favela community of Mangueira and the study of samba constituted a class and racial transgression that functioned as a form of subversion of his white middle-­class background. It was a way to distance himself from the refined cultural environment from which he came, as well as from the bourgeois appeasement that in general characterized the aftermath of the military coup of 1964. Instead of direct political action and protest against the military regime, the artist adopted a position of marginality. But for Oiticica samba and the culture of Mangueira more generally also seemed to be designed explicitly for the type of interior expansion that characterized what he termed the suprasensorial: “The rehearsals themselves are the whole activity, and the participation in it is not really what Westerners would call participation, because the people bring inside themselves the Ch a p ter Four

‘samba’ fever as I call it. . . . I am sure that from that disease no one recovers.”182 Pedrosa saw in Oiticica’s turn to the samba and to the milieu of the Mangueira the route through a threshold into another concept of art altogether. No longer the producer of visual objects, the artist was now the facilitator of sensual experience: “The initiation to samba led Oiticica from the visual experience in all its purity to a form of tactile and kinetic experience based on the sensual realization of materials, where the whole body, which had previously been ordered around the distant aristocracy of the visual, became the source of sensoriality.”183 The Parangolé thus offer the spectator the world every second as a fully material thing that physically impinges on her—­becoming part of her, touching her, winding itself into her very subjectivity. They take no distance from the world around them, and in this sense the process that Pedrosa describes is also the incorporation into Oiticica’s work of elements of the cultural, architectural, and environmental space of 1960s Brazil. The Parangolé are made of fabric, paper, plastic, netting, and other materials. The first versions apparently consisted of tents, banners, and flags. But soon, with Parangolé P4, the cloak was designed to be worn by the spectator in the form of a cape when performing the physical movements of the samba dance. The layers of colored cloth become visible as the spectator sways, as do the assortment of subversive statements written on folds in the inner lining of the cloaks—­texts such as “we are Hungry” (Cape 14), “I embody revolt” (Cape 11, fig. 4.21). “Guevarcália: in memoriam [Che] Guevara” (Cape 16), and the like. The Parangolé demand direct corporal participation from the spectator; beyond covering the body, they require that the spectator move, dance. “The very ‘act of getting dressed’ in the work already implies a corporal-­expressive transmutation [uma transmutação expressivo-­corporal] of the spectator, which is a primordial characteristic of dance, its primary condition.”184 A form of transformation—­or “transmutation”—­takes place as the spectator’s body is “woken up” by the artistic proposition and becomes active and expressive.185 “This ‘wake up’ process,” Oiticica wrote in 1969, “is a supra-­ sensorial one: the participant is shifted off his habitual field to a strange one that wakes up his internal fields of feeling and gives him conscience of some area of his Ego, where true values affirm themselves. If this does not happen, then participation has not taken place.”186 The explosive nature of the Parangolé was made manifest on the first night of their public enactment, which took place at the Opinião 65 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1965.187 When Oiticica, who had been formally invited to contribute to the show featuring Brazilian art alongside US Pop art and French nouveau réalisme, arrived at the opening along with several samba dancers from the favela da Mangueria wearing Parangolé, carrying banners, and dancing to samba music played on drums, tambourines, and cooking pots, museum officials ejected the entire group from the building. Martins has argued that this tension was the result of the asymmetrical mode of participation The Instituting Subject


that characterized the Parangolé: “upper-­class spectators were unlikely to join the dancing as immediately and wholeheartedly as Magueira dancers summoned for that purpose and fellow avant-­garde artists.”188 If constituents of the Museum of Modern Art’s largely bourgeois public were hailed as participants, it was as “antagonistic” participants, confronted rather than empowered by the art.189 But the obvious class and racial tension that this act of censorship revealed was coupled by what was clearly the sponsoring institution’s fear of the revolutionary potential of artworks that require the spontaneous and uncontrolled participation of the public. For in the act of compelling the spectator to become a full-­fledged participant in the present, the Parangolé allude to the need for all to act, to become protagonists, in order to bring about the necessary transformations of society—­a society in the early phases of being governed by a military dictatorship that would suppress all civil rights and freedom of expression. Oiticica rejected simple representational readings of the Parangolé (or of the Bólides and Penetrables, for that matter) that folded his work into Brazilian folk myth. “It is not the case,” he wrote, “as the name Parangolé, derived from folklore slang, could lead one to suppose—­of implying a fusion of my work and folklore, or the identifications of this nature, transposed or otherwise, carefully superficial and useless.”190 Such an imaginative rediscovery of fullness and plentitude drawn from the past ignores that cultural identity is a matter of becoming as well as of being—­that it belongs to the present as much as to the past. Instead, the artist described his work as a process in present time capable of capturing a sense of the “live potentiality of a culture in formation [uma cultura em formação].”191 Importantly, this is a historical notion of identity, constructed through memory, fantasy, narrative, and myth; it is made not through an uncovering of a essential cultural identity with stable, unchanging, and continuous frames of reference and meaning beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes of actual history, but through a positioning within discourses of history and culture. Yet Oiticica singles out a specifically Brazilian culture “in formation,” characterizing a Brazilian condition; it is, as he explained in 1968, a “conscious, objective attempt to impose an obviously Brazilian image upon the current context of the avant-­garde and national art manifestations in general.”192 In other words, to counter universalist myths about Brazilian culture, the artist offered a more contingent, unstable, hybrid image of that culture and presented the true Brazilian condition as one that, like all cultural identities, is in perpetual flux. More than objects to be worn, however, the Parangolé entail physical movement and subjective transformation. The participants are at once the core of the artistic propositions and their generating force. But the artworks and the transformations they facilitate take place in time, and thus they greatly extend phenomenological explorations of the subject–­ object relationship. Oiticica described the dynamic as follows: “There is, The Instituting Subject

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Figure 4.21 (opposite page) Hélio Oiticica, ­Parangole capa 11 “I ­embody revolt,” 1967.

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as it were, a violation of [the spectator’s] ‘being,’ as an ‘individual’ in the world, distinct and yet ‘collective,’ towards one of ‘participator’ as a motor center, nucleus, not only ‘motor,’ but principally ‘symbolic,’ inside the ‘structure-­work.’ This is the real metamorphosis that takes place there in the inter-­relation spectator/work (or participator/work).”193 That interrelationship, which encompasses not only the spectators dancing with the capes but also the witnesses to this act, also marks the beginnings of a shift in the phenomenological model that had previously informed Oiticica’s artistic practice.194 For the subjective idealism that postulated his earlier conception of what Merleau-­Ponty called being-­for-­me, of continuity between experience and reality, came to be bifurcated by a contrary notion, one that initiated a move in Oiticica’s work away from a phenomenological model to a structural one—­the notion that there can be a viewpoint taken on the subject that brings the artwork into being, that the spectator is visible not only for herself but also for others. The problem of subjectivity ceases to be only a question of personal experience and becomes part of a larger concern for an individual’s agency in the world. Thus, whereas Oiticica’s earlier art conceives of the human subject as free and self-­making through action and posits the lived body as the primordial means of contact with the world, now the relation between the way the spectator feels herself to be and how she imagines others see her begins to rupture that phenomenological idealism. The subject becomes simultaneously the producer of the artwork, generating new ways of living in the world, and the art object itself, which in turn introduces an entirely different model of subjectivity from those discussed above. It was at this juncture that Oiticica’s work would henceforth operate, right through to his untimely death in the following decade.

Ch a p ter Four

Conclusion The title of this book—­Abstraction in Reverse—­is meant to be provocative. Throughout, I have developed three main themes related to this reversal. The first is located within the commitment of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American artists to move away from the limitations of abstract art without slipping back into antiquated illustrational or figurative modes. This led to the breakup of the notion of the formal self-­identity of the static and self-­sufficient art object and the focus instead on the artwork’s incompleteness and the decontextualized quality of its parts. A close analysis of a number of artistic practices has revealed how it slowly but steadily became more necessary for these artists to transform the operative logic of their artworks, to displace them, to turn against their pre­ suppositions, and little by little to modify their terrain. I have detailed the manner in which this called for not only entirely new conceptions of the artwork but also new formulations of the relationship between art and its site of exhibition and realization, including the social dimensions of that relationship. Another theme concerns the reversal of the regional or national perspective. From chapter to chapter throughout this book, this theme has been articulated and rearticulated from diverse points of view. The Latin American artists upon whose work I have focused understood early on that to participate in the discursive space of the modernist art world—­ from which, as artists from the periphery of that world, they were structurally very distant—­could provide a way for them to escape the national and regional traditions controlled by the largely conservative cultural establishment in their native countries. In turn, artworks were made that operate in the mediating space between the national and transnational art worlds, and the division between those poles was troubled. Within that “between” space, struggles of all sorts were refracted, diluted, merged, and transformed according to an artistic logic and in artistic forms. This theme, and the attempt to comprehend its theoretical and practical consequences, provided an understanding of the ways the art

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in question connected to both the symbolic circuits in which it was originally produced and the political, economic, and social world on both the national and international level. The third of my main themes, perhaps the main theme, pertains to the various ways in which post-­Concrete artists came to theorize the artwork as a dynamic of relationality, as a between site of potentiality and becoming, locating the crux of aesthetic production in the spectator’s subjective experience and active (and increasingly embodied) participation. The malleable field of subject–­object relations, as I have shown repeatedly, is structured by the immediate intentionality of the art object and the point of reference relative to which that intentionality is signified, a push and pull that in the context of the ambitious mid-­twentieth-­century Latin American art that has been my primary focus comes to question how the artwork arranges the spectator’s relation to meaning—­how it organizes and how it offers the spectator experiences and ways of thinking. The more aesthetically sophisticated these artworks became, the more they expanded and radicalized notions of subjectivity. What I have argued was achieved in the most ambitious of these artworks is a type of subjectivity that transcends any abstract subject–­object dichotomy. From this perspective, the artworks represent a utopian anticipation of a yet-­to-­be-­ fulfilled program of emancipated subjectivity: of individuals, as concrete subjects, as they attempt to insist on their authentic experience. And in this sense they celebrate difference in the multiplication of possibilities of subjectivity heretofore unimagined and unimaginable. I want to conclude, however, by touching on the terms of another reversal that begins to appear in my analysis of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American art but does not fully come into place until the period immediately following the one I have studied in this book. While the artists central to Abstraction in Reverse richly and provocatively explored the complexities of perception and subjective experience, none of them considered experience as a ground for knowledge on its own. Rather, their investigations centered the notion of experience on the human subject herself and remained dependent on the assumption that it is possible to recoup prior innate structures of meaning. These artists understood relationality in terms of the subjectivity of individuals as universally based. For instance, Oiticica, as I have just shown, grounded experience in the historical condition of Brazilianness and in the negotiation between cultural traditions and national borders, but for the most part (until at least the late 1960s) the fusions he put into place maintained the conventional notion of an instituting subject, actively creating meaning through a series of intentional acts, even if in a phenomenological relationship with the world. Subjective experience, for him, was inseparable from conscious intention, resistance, effort, or conflict, and this came into tension with the idea of the formal self-­identity of the artwork and the subject–­object relations this idea presupposes.1


The next generation of Latin American artists, however, a generation whose formative years took place in the context of increasingly harsh dictatorships, would develop a different concept of the subject al­ together: they would theorize the subject not as an instituting being but as an instituted entity, formed by regulatory regimes of power. This led to the develop­ment of a theory of spectatorship that does not rely on the singularity of the encounter between artwork and spectator. The spectator, as conceived in the work of artists such as Roberto Jacoby of the “Di Tella generation” in Argentina in the late 1960s and early 1970s and Cildo ­Meireles of the “AI-­5 generation” in Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s, is not an agent creating meaning through her subjective encounters with the world, but a figure whose subjectivity is largely constituted in and through factors outside her own actions.2 For these artists, the work of those upon whom this book has focused gives too much credit to aesthetic experience in itself. The history of this work is too subject-­ centered, that is, rooted in a philosophy of consciousness. By contrast, Jacoby, Meireles, and their peers in the late twentieth century would seek to provide a synthesis in which aesthetic experience is seen to be located between subjective experience and objective historical phenomena as embodied not only in art objects but also in a broad array of cultural practices, techniques, and institutions. From this perspective, history, as much as subjective experience, is both depersonalized and formed of complex relations and rules. This is a large and complicated extension of the subject–­object relationship. Now the problem of subjectivity ceases to be only a question of personal experience and becomes part of a larger sociopolitical concern for an individual’s agency in the world. Jacoby, Meireles, and others of their generation are for the most part highly attentive to differences between transcendental and empirical notions of the subject, between what might be called critical and anthropological impulses; thus they reverse both the direction of artistic production and the significance of spectatorship established by their immediate predecessors. Their art starts from already-­constituted circuits or systems and then goes on to expose retrospectively that which rendered the structures possible. Subjective experience, from this perspective, is a given whose conditions of possibility must be searched for elsewhere—­in the historical a priori. What is considered necessary, and what the work of these artists contributes, is an understanding of the peculiar sort of subject that both shapes and is shaped by the structures it employs. Thus the artists of the Di Tella and AI-­5 generations develop a conception of the spectator that is dramatically different from that realized in the work of, for instance, Le Parc and Clark in the 1960s. At the core of artworks whose reality is solely based on strategies of dispersion and circulation such as reports sent to the news media or messages that piggyback on circuits of national currency or soft-­drink bottles (fig. C.1) is a recognition of the notion that structures (whether discursive, bureaucratic, or technological)



Figure C.1 Cildo Meireles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-­Cola Project, 1970. © Cildo Meireles. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

precede the subject and that they dominate and manufacture subjectivity. All structures, all symbolic orders, all techniques, are seen to work in this way: Humans, originally, dumbly, so to speak, learn to perform a variety of practical deeds or rituals, and through those performances, and with their rules and prohibitions, they become subjects who in getting a sense of those deeds get a sense of their lives, of who and how they are. Mimetically repeating, performing, and reperforming deeds and rituals are not only the mechanisms through which structural practices are seen to achieve their authority, but also the operations through which humans acquire the kinds of subjectivities, authorized by the structures, that they possess. Yet if the art of Jacoby, Meireles, and their cohort flew in the face of the phenomenological and existential theories of the subject that everywhere saw only consciousness, freedom, and creativity (and thus appeared to be only a continuation of Cartesianism by other means), it did not present an excessively objectivist understanding of structure; it did not privilege the structure over the subject. Rather, these artists operated with the knowledge that structures, like regimes of power, can function only through ritualized performances, through repetition, and that the possibility of swerving or queering the mimetic performance therefore Conclusion

provides the subject with a space for emancipation and transformation. As the work of Jacoby and Meireles, reveals, along with the work of many others that follows it, structures may constrain agents, but subjects, by performing otherwise, can act in ways that could lead to the transformation of the structures themselves and in this manner open up an entirely new field of subjective experience, not to say an entirely new range of aesthetic possibilities. The ground for these transformations was set by the development of post-­Concrete art by Latin American artists in the mid-­t wentieth century, and in the end this may be their most important legacy.



Notes Introduction 1. I have

borrowed the term “internal coherence” from the art historian Alois Riegl, who in The Group Portraiture of Holland (1902), trans. Evelyn Kain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), gives this name to the typically Italian Renaissance type of composition that understands the world of a painting to be centered in a unifying event or an act of will resulting in a composition held together by relations of domination and subordination. Riegl juxtaposed this notion to “external coherence,” typified by a Dutch Baroque type of composition that makes the world of the painting imaginatively continuous with our own. I have drawn on Riegl’s idea of the different ways that pictorial compositions position the spectator to theorize my concept of the aesthetic field. 2. Hélio Oiticica, “Posição e programa” (1966), in Aspiro ao grande labirinto: Seleção de textos, ed. Luciano Figueiredo, Lygia Pape, Waly Salomão (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1986), 77, trans. in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Guy Brett et al., exh. cat. (Rotterdam: Witte de With, 1992), 100–­105, and reproduced in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 8. 3. Jacques Ranciére, The Emancipated Spectator, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2009), 1-­23; Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–­1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 194. 4. Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 195. 5. Ibid., 196. 6. See Giorgio Agamben, “What Is an Apparatus?,” in What Is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 1–­24. 7. See Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, ed. Randal Johnson (New York: Polity, 1993). 8. I should also stress the distinction between the relation of elements that constitute what I refer to as the aesthetic field and the expanded field of forms that art historian Rosalind Krauss singles out as constituting the postmodern break in “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” Rather than a break or rupture, the transformation that I theorize in the aesthetic field is a shift in emphasis from artistic producers to objects in space and to spectators in time. See Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979): 30–­44. 9. Ferreira Gullar, “Cor e estrutura cor,” Suplemento Dominical do Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), November 26, 1960, 3, trans. Stephen Berg as “Color and Color-­Structure,” October 152 (Spring 2015): 123.

10. See Jacques Derrida, “Différance,” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1982), 5. 11. Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” Artforum 5, no. 10 (June 1967): 12–­23. 12. Laura Mulvey, Death 24 x a Second (London: Reaktion, 2006), esp. 161–­80. 13. For Mulvey,


the actions, interactions, and button-­pushings (e.g., pause, replay, fast-­ forward) of the suddenly possessive spectator with a remote control in her hands offer ways of reordering and recomposing the filmic text that are unprecedented in the history of cinema. Of course, one could counter that the linear narratives of cinema are often compromised by promotions, trailers, and reviews, which “spoil” the suspense of the plot. Janice Radway has shown that readers of novels have long jumped around in the text according to their needs. See Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 199–­200. For a study of how recent digital media shift the logic of spectatorship to the database format of computers, see Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). 14. Some readers will initially find it strange that nearly half of the body of a book that focuses on the work of Latin American artists examines events that took place not in South America but in Paris. That strangeness becomes more understandable, however, when one takes into account the sheer number of Latin American artists working in the French capital in the mid-­t wentieth century. In the context of centers of ambitious art, Paris could in many ways be considered a Latin American city during the 1950s and 1960s, as many Latin American artists flocked there at the first opportunity and a good number of them stayed for an extended period. Though much work yet remains to be done, some of this history is beginning to be written. See, for instance, Isabel Plante, Argentinos de París: Arte y viajes culturales durante los años sesenta (Buenos Aires: edhasa, 2013). 15. Marcel Duchamp, “The Creative Act” (1957), in The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (New York: Da Capo, 1989), 138–­40. Here we can add the dance performances of Yvonne Rainer and others in her circle that, as Carrie Lambert-­Beatty has revealed, probed essential aspects of spectatorship in the age of television. See Carrie Lambert-­Beatty, Being Watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008). For an overview of the various shifts in the relationship between the artist, the artwork, and the spectator in the twentieth century, see Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012). 16. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “From Faktura to Factography” (1984), in Public Photographic Spaces: Exhibitions of Propaganda, from “Pressa” to “The Family of Man,” 1928–­55, ed. Jorge Ribalta (Barcelona: MACBA, 2009), 40. 17. “But what guarantees the inner connection of the constituent elements of a person? Only the unity of answerability. I have to answer with my own life for what I have experienced and understood in art, so that everything I have experienced and understood would not remain ineffectual in my life.” Mikhail Bakhtin, “Art and Answerability” (1919), in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, ed. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov, trans. V. Liapunov (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 1. 18. Ibid., 2. 19. Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-­Garde (orig. 1974; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 72. This, of course, is not to imply that Bürger advocates for the organic artwork. On the contrary, he sets out to theorize the rationale that led the historical avant-­garde to negate “the relationship between part and whole that ­characterizes the organic work of art” in favor of an art that “proclaims itself an artificial construction.” Ibid., 56, 72.

N o t e s t o P a g e s 3 –7

20. Theodor

W. Adorno, Introduction to the Sociology of Music, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Seabury Press, 1976), 46. 21. Gullar, “Color and Color-­Structure,” 123. 22. Jorge Luis Borges, “The Argentine Writer and Tradition” (1951), trans. Esther Allen, in Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Non-­fictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger (New York: Penguin, 2000), 423. My theorization of an “art world” follows Néstor García Canclini, who in Art beyond Itself: Anthropology for a Society without a Story Line (2010), trans. David Frye (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 4, describes the mid-­t wentieth-­century art world as a relatively autonomous space where “the definition, evaluation, and comprehension of art took place.” It also builds on the important work of literary scholar Pascale Casanova who in The World Republic of Letters (1999), trans. M. B. Debevoise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), uses historian Fernand Braudel’s theory of a “world-­economy” to formulate the notion of a global literary field that balances the irreducible singularity of literary worlds and their corresponding positions in a national and transnational literary system. For a thorough problematization of the tradition–­modernity distinction in the context of Latin America, see Néstor García Canclini, Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity (1990), trans. C. L. Chiappari and S. L. López (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995). 23. As Beatriz Sarlo has observed, in “The Argentine Writer and Tradition” Borges encourages writers “to cut, select and reorder foreign literatures without preconceptions, asserting the liberty of those who are marginal to make free use of all cultures.” Beatriz Sarlo, Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge (London: Verso, 1993), 5. 24. Numerous studies have revealed the extent to which the notion of an autonomous art invested in essentially antipolitical forms of academic aestheticism was advanced by US interests in the context of mid-­t wentieth-­century Latin American art. This idea was often pitted against the type of programmatic realism and the universal teleology of revolution promoted by the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War. As literary scholar Jean Franco writes, “The appeal to Latin Americans dangled by [US] front organizations, such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, was not only freedom but inclusion in ‘universal’ culture, although this disguised a not-­so-­subtle attack on national, ethnic, and local cultures, which were denigrated as aberrant, as merely provincial, or as idiosynchratic.” Jean Franco, The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America in the Cold War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 2. As I suggest in chapter 1, however, there is more to the tension that occurred in mid-­ twentieth-­century Latin America between the public commitment of artists and their art than conspiracy theory. To adequately address this tension and the artists’ growing disaffection from left-­wing cultural politics, it will be important to consider the increasing rigidity of Soviet-­inspired aesthetics. 25. The terms are Franco Moretti’s from “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review 1 (January/February 2000): 56. Moretti: “This is what one and unequal means: the destiny of a culture (usually a culture of the periphery) . . . is intersected and altered by another culture (from the core) that ‘completely ignores it.’” 26. Siskind employs this term to describe the relationship between Latin American literature and modernist or “world” literature. Mariano Siskind, Cosmopolitan Desires: Global Modernity and World Literature in Latin America (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014), 6. Siskind portrays this antagonism as “a strategic literary practice that forces its way into the realm of universality, denouncing both the ­hegemonic structures of European forms of exclusion and nationalistic patterns of self-­marginalization” (ibid.). 27. The difference between cosmopolitanism and transculturalism in the context of Latin American cultural practice has been debated at least since the publication of literary

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critic Ángel Rama’s Transculturación narrativa en América Latina (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1982). As Siskind explains, Rama understands cosmopolitanism as “an elite literary practice marked by the imitation of well-­established, metropolitan, experimental narrative practices, devoid of any political investment in the national-­popular materials, voices, and images that might ground it in progressive politics,” and transculturalism as a practice that seeks the “dialectical resolution of the contradiction between universality and particularity, between a modern universal desire to implode and overcome the narrative protocols of realism and regionalism and the use of local oral and popular traditions that constitute both their cultural content and their formal experimentation.” Siskind, Cosmopolitan Desires, 13. 28. Edward W. Said, “Traveling Theory,” in The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 226. 29. Ibid., 227. In “Traveling Theory Revisited,” Said goes even further to argue that in traveling and transplanting elsewhere, theory—­particularly Western theory traveling to the periphery, or semi-­periphery—­often becomes stronger and more radical, based on “an affiliation in the deepest and most interesting sense of the word.” Instead of being derivative or diluted, this theory can have “its fiery core . . . reignited” and invigorated. Edward W. Said, “Traveling Theory Reconsidered” (1994), in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 452. 30. I should add that I am well aware of the fact that in the past several decades complex approaches to gender, postcoloniality, racial and ethnic identifications, and queer theory have troubled the centrality of the subject as an object of study. However, it is not the dissolution or decentering of the subject into an ever-­widening series of differences but the questioning of how humans are formed as subjects, how humans are constructed discursively and ideologically across a range of different subject positions, that guides the present critique. The subject, accordingly, continues to function as an indispensable category, providing an understanding of what we are as humans and as social beings. Moreover, let me emphasize that while psychoanalysis has a privileged relation to the theory of the subject and that unconscious factors have paramount importance for a theory of spectatorship, it is not the split subject, divided within itself in its relation to the world, but a subject conceived as identical with itself that is central to much of the art that is the focus of this study. I am well aware of the paradox that this raises—­namely, that this art is critical of the transcendental ego and yet the subject it theorizes is one that is identical within itself and in its relation to the world. But in what follows I will show how it is only through such a paradox that one can understand how the increasingly open and participatory art that I focus on ultimately yields fissures and splits in the consciousness of the spectator. 31. Hal Foster, The First Pop Age (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 103. 32. Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” Critical Inquiry 8, no. 4 (Summer 1982): 781. 33. T. J. Clark, The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 185. For a study that explores the ways in which the models of subjectivity introduced by the recalibration of the aesthetic field in the mid-­t wentieth century were appropriated by “the new spirit of capitalism,” in which individual experience is increasingly channeled through an intense but “flexible” consumerist matrix, see Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (1999), trans. Gregory Elliot (London: Verso, 2007).

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Chapter One 1. Asociación

Arte Concreto-­Invención, “Manifiesto Invencionista,” Arte Concreto-­ Invención (Buenos Aires) 1 (August 1946): 8. Unless otherwise noted, all references to archival documents are based on my own research, and the translations are my own. 2. Tomás Maldonado, “Lo abstracto y lo concreto en arte moderno,” Arte Concreto-­ Invención 1 (August 1946): 7. 3. The literary historian Rachel Price has shown the extent to which the notion of the concrete, which she connects to “an interest in writing’s materiality,” reaches back into Latin American history—­as far back as the Cuban writer José Marti’s 1890s writings—­and spans early twentieth-­century manifestations such as the German movement of “new objectivity” (Neue Sachlichkeit). Rachel Price, The Object of the Atlantic: Concrete Aesthetics in Cuba, Brazil, and Spain, 1868–­1968 (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014), 12–­13. 4. For a history of the Cercle et Carré, see Marie-­Aline Prat, Peinture et avant-­garde au seuil des années trente (Paris: L’Age d’homme, 1984), 47–­55. 5. The show brought together fifty-­one artists. For an overview of this exhibition, see Gladys C. Fabre, “Cercle et Carré 1930,” in Arte abstracto, arte concreto: Cercle et Carré, Paris, 1930, exh. cat. (Valencia: IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez, 1990), 29–­38. Torres-­García cofounded the Cercle et Carré with Michel Seuphor. 6. Van Doesburg was the founding editor of the journal de Stijl from 1917 to 1931. Along with Van Doesburg, the journal’s founding editors were the painters Piet Mondrian, Georges Vantongerloo, Vilmos Huszár, and Bart van der Leck, and the architects J. J. P. Oud and Jan Wils. 7. Theo Van Doesburg, “Manifeste de l’art concret,” Art Concret (Paris) 1 (1930): 1–­4; republished as “Art Concret: The Basis of Concrete Painting” and as “Comments on the Basis of Concrete Painting,” in Joost Balijeu, Theo van Doesburg (New York: Macmillan, 1974), 180–­81 and 181–­82. It is generally believed that Van Doesburg wrote the manifesto, though the document is also signed by Otto-­Gustaf Carlsund, Jean Helion, Leon ­Tutundjian, and Marcel Wantz. “Comments on the Basis of Concrete Painting” begins as follows: “We speak of concrete and not abstract painting, because we have finished with the period of research and speculative experience” (181). 8. Van Doesburg, “Comments on the Basis of Concrete Painting,” 181. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid., 182. 12. Ibid., 181–­82. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. The founders of Abstraction-­Création were Theo Van Doesburg (until his death in March 1931), Georges Vantongerloo, Auguste Herbin, Jean Arp, Albert Gleizes, Jean Hélion, Frantisek Kupka, Leon Tutundjian, and Georges Valmier. On Abstraction-­ Création, see Gladys C. Fabre, Abstraction-­Création 1931–­1936, exh. cat. (Münster: Westfalisches Landesmuseum fur Kunst und Kulturgeschichte / Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1978). 16. Between 1931 and 1936, the group counted over one hundred members of many different nationalities. For a general overview of Abstraction-­Création, see Gladys Fabre, “Abstraction-­Création 1931–­1936,” in Arte abstracto, arte concreto, 89–­96. 17. These statutes were published on February 15, 1931. They are reproduced in ibid., 97–­104.

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18. The

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International Collection of Modern Art, established in 1931 in the Museum Szutuki in Lotz, Poland, is an example of this phenomenon. See Gladys Fabre, “La Colección de Arte Moderno en Lodz: Un testimonio de la colaboración entre artistas,” in Arte abstracto, arte concreto, 135–­42. 19. Wassily Kandinsky and Jean Arp also wrote tracts on “Concrete Art” following the publication of Van Doesburg’s. Both artists make the distinction between abstract and concrete art, with abstract art still retaining traces of reference to nature and manners of representing the natural, and concrete art being entirely “stripped of any conventional element whatsoever.” See Jean (Hans) Arp, “Concrete Art” (1944), in Manifesto: A Century of Isms, ed. Mary Ann Caws (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 525. Also see Wassily Kandinsky’s “L’art concret,” XXe Siècle 1, no. 1 (March 1938): 9–­12, translated as “Concrete Art” in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, vol. 2, 1922–­1943, ed. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo (Boston: G. K.Hall, 1982), 814–­17. 20. As Bill recalls in an interview with Margit Staber: “I arrived at these principles as a result of a suggestion contained in a manifesto by Theo Van Doesburg—­‘Art Concret,’ 1930—­which was not followed up after his death and which I later tried to put into a more precise form.” Max Bill, “Margit Staber Interviews Max Bill,” in Max Bill (Zurich: Marlborough Gallery, 1972), as cited in Eduard Hüttinger, Max Bill (Zurich: ABC Edition, 1978), 189–­90. 21. Angela Thomas Schmid, “Max Bill and Georges Vantongerloo,” in Max Bill—­Painter, Architect, Designer, exh. cat., ed. Thomas Buchsteiner and Otto Letze (Ostfildern-­Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2005), 32. 22. Max Bill, “Zeitprobleme in der Schweizer Malerei und Plastik,” in Hüttinger, Max Bill, 61. 23. Ibid. 24. Max Bill, Quinze variations sur un même theme (Paris: Éditions des chroniques du jour, 1938), reproduced in Hüttinger, Max Bill, 68. See also James N. Wood, ed., Max Bill, exh. cat. (Buffalo, NY: Albright-­Knox Art Gallery, 1974), 54. 25. Max Bill, “Fifteen Variations on a Single Theme,” in Hüttinger, Max Bill, 68. 26. Max Bill, “Die mathematische Denkweise in der Kunst unserer Zeit,” Werk 3 (1949), reproduced in Tomás Maldonado, Max Bill (Buenos Aires: Editorial Nueva Visión, 1955), 36–­38. 27. Max Bill (1960), quoted in Margit Staber, Max Bill (St. Gallen, Switzerland: Erker-­Verlag, 1971), 172, as cited in Marlene Lauter and Beate Reese, Konkrete Kunst in Europa nach 1945, exh. cat. (Würzburg, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2002), 279. 28. Although Bill refers several times to the similarities between mathematics and Concrete art, he does not conflate the two. Rather, he treats mathematical and artistic logic as analogous, close parallels that share a considerable amount of resemblance. In “The Mathematical Approach in Contemporary Art,” for instance, he writes that Concrete art does not copy but translates and communicates elementary forces “in a manner that renders them perceptible through the senses.” See Bill, in Maldonado, Max Bill, 38. For Bill, this makes art “a branch of philosophy, a medium used in our effort to describe existence,” rendering thought in such a way as to make it “directly perceptible.” Ibid. 29. As Bill puts it, “The more precise the line of thought, the more homogenous the basic concept, the more readily does it concord with the method of mathematical thought, the nearer do we approach the elemental order of things. Art becomes more universal by expressing itself directly, without circumlocutions, and being as directly apprehended.” Ibid. 30. Misplaced ideas: in Argentina and Uruguay the Brazilian literary and cultural critic Roberto Schwartz’s powerful metaphor for the misfit between Western ideas and

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theories and Brazilian reality works at least as well as in the original. See Roberto Schwartz, Misplaced Ideas: Essays on Brazilian Culture (London: Verso, 1992). Yet it is important to recall that Bill worked in a context very different from that of the Argentinian and Uruguayan artists in the 1940s, and therefore to call the latter’s work a simple misreading of Bill is to pay insufficient attention to history and to situation. 31. According to Torres-­García, “Intuition should be the hand’s guide when tracing the structure of an object.” Torres-­García, as cited by Jorge López Anaya, in Ritos de fin de siglo: Arte argentino y la vanguardia internacional (Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2003), 83. For an account of the career of Torres-­García, see Cecilia Buzio de Torres and Mari Carmen Ramírez, eds., El Taller Torres-­García: The School of the South and Its Legacy, exh. cat. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992). 32. As the historian Laura Randall writes, the fact that Argentina “was the only American nation in which Axis agents operated ‘with impunity’” did not hinder its exports of beef and the materials essential to operate beryllium and tungsten mines to the United States, as well as the mass output of meat supplies to Britain. See Laura Randall, An Economic History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 136. 33. See Rodolfo Puiggrós, El peronismo: Sus causas (Buenos Aires: Editorial Jorge Alvarez, 1969), 23–­27. 34. In order to cultivate the support of labor, Perón was charged with developing alliances with groups such as the Confederación General del Trabajo de la República Argentina (CGT). For a history of the rise of Peronism, see Hugo Gambini, Historia del peronismo: El poder total (Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1999). 35. As Daniel K. Lewis writes in The History of Argentina (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001), 97: “The first signal of the shift came during a railroad workers’ strike at the end of 1943. Perón intervened and settled the strike by rewarding the key Unión Ferroviaria (Railway Union) with major concessions: its members received a pay raise and changes in work rules in exchange for ending their walkout. In 1944, unions in other industries launched or threatened additional strikes. In each case, Perón arbitrated a settlement that rewarded the unions. Within months, unions recognized their opportunity. In meetings, in publications, and through public demonstrations, the unions cheered Perón and his actions.” 36. Ibid., 98–­99. 37. The government set minimum wages, limited the length of the workday, restricted employers’ rights over the dismissal of employees, and mandated workplace standards in key industries. It dictated new benefits: pension plans, vacations, medical services, limitations on Sunday work hours, and housing programs. Trade unions, sanctioned by the government to represent workers in distinct industries and economic sectors, gained new freedoms and powers. Ibid., 100. 38. Andrea Giunta, Avant-­Garde, Internationalism, and Politics: Argentine Art in the Sixties (2004), trans. Peter Kahn (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 27. 39. Declaration of the artists in the catalogue for the Independent Salon (September 17–­30, 1945). As cited by Giunta, Avant-­Garde, Internationalism, and Politics, 27. 40. Ibid., 28. Also see Andrea Giunta, “Nacionales y populares: Los salones del peronismo,” in Tras los pasos de la norma: Salones Nacionales de Bellas Artes (1911–­1989), ed. Miguel Angel Muñoz et al. (Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Jilguero, 1999), 152–­86; and the essays in Norman Briski et. al., La cultura popular del peronismo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Cimarron, 1973), especially Eduardo Romano, “Apuntes sobre cultura popular y peronismo,” 9–­58. 41. Antonio Berni, “El Salón Independiente,” Antinazi, September 27, 1945, 7, as cited in Giunta, “Nacionales y populares,” 28. No t e s t o Page s 2 2 – 2 4

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42. Giunta,

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“Nacionales y populares,” 33. For a thorough consideration of the cultural and artistic milieu in which these artists circulated, see Cristina Rossi, “Mirando al futuro: Maldonado entre las voces emergentes,” in Tomás Maldonado: Un moderno en acción; Ensayos sobre su obra, ed. Mario H. Gradowczyk (Buenos Aires: Eduntreff, 2008), 79–­102. 43. Tómas Maldonado, “Opinión,” Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, November 1945, flyer, reproduced in Laura Escot, Tomás Maldonado: Itinerario de un intellectual técnico (Buenos Aires: Patricia Rizzo, 2007), 40, cited by Giunta, “Nacionales y populares,” 33. 44. Perón promised to rid the country of its traditional oligarchy, to liberalize its political institutions, and to aggressively pursue policies aimed at giving an economic and political voice to the working class. The number of unionized workers greatly expanded during the term of his government, and the strength of the Communist Party, which he had helped to legalize in 1945 (it had been illegal since the mid 1920s), grew considerably. See Robert J. Alexander, Communism in Latin America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1957), 170–­72. 45. See Carlos Mangone and Jorge A. Warley, Universidad y peronismo (1946–­1955) (Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Politica Argentina, 1984), 27. 46. Universities and public schools fell under tight restrictions. Professors and administrators identified as political enemies lost their jobs. Opposition parties in the Congress, already limited by their minority status, faced censure if they voiced protests against state actions. Judges, including those on the Supreme Court, were impeached and replaced with loyalists. Newspapers and reviews that challenged Perón were closed. Ibid., 104. Also see Adriana Puiggrós and Jorge Luis Bernetti, eds., Peronismo: Cultura política y educación (1945–­1955) (Buenos Aires: Galerna, 1993). 47. Oscar Ivanissevich, “Inauguróse ayer el XXXIX Salón de Artes Plásticas,” La Nación, September 22, 1949, 4. Maria Amalia García in El arte abstracto: Intercambios culturales entre Argentina y Brasil (Buenos Aires : Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2011), 100, argues that while official statements like the one by Ivanissevich reveal a strong antipathy to modern art, the Perón government did not have a coherent policy as regards art, and its aesthetic opinions were characterized more by eclecticism than by homogeneity. See also Cristina Rossi, “El clave polémica: Discusiones por la abstracción en los tiempos del perónismo,” Separata (Universidad de Rosario) 4, no.11 (November 2006): 35–­54. 48. The reference of the title Arturo remains unclear. Some have suggested that it is an homage to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, while Gyula Kosice proposes that it refers to Arcturus (Arturo in Spanish), the brilliant star in the night sky. For an overview of the ambiguity of the choice of the title Arturo, see Derek Harris, “Arturo and the Literary Avant-­Garde,” in The Place of Arturo in the Argentinian Avant-­Garde, ed. Derek Harris and Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro (Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen, 1994), 3–­4. See García, Arte abstracto, 25–­36, for the most thorough study of Arturo to date. 49. Editorial, untitled, Arturo: Revista de Artes Abstractas (Buenos Aires), 1 (1944): n.p. Abstraction in the Río de la Plata region is now generally understood to track back to a 1924 exhibition of the work of Emilio Pettoruti held at the Witcomb Gallery in Buenos Aires. Pettoruti exhibited a series of abstract paintings and drawings that scandalized some of the public, though scholars have noted that the controversy was more a matter of incomprehension than disdain, since there was not yet a language with which to discuss abstract art in Argentina. See Patricia M. Artundo, “Otros papeles de trabajo: Pettoruti y el arte abstracto,” in Pettorruti y el arte abstracto: 1914–­1949, exh. cat. (Buenos Aires: Malba—­Fundacion Constantini, 2011), 12. Earlier studies had located the beginning of abstraction in the Río de la Plata with the first exhibition of the abstract paintings of Juan Del Prete in 1933. See Mario H. Gradowczyk and Nelly

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Perazzo, “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1933–­ 1953,” in Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1933–­1953, exh. cat. (New York: Americas Society, 2001), 17–­20. Rhod Rothfuss cites Pettoruti in “El marco: Un problema de plástica actual” in the first issue of Arturo, and Tomás Maldonado visited Del Prete upon the publication of Arturo in 1944 to personally hand him a copy of the journal. Del Prete, together with Yente (to whom he was married), exhibited along with the artists of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención in 1946 (and again in 1949). But it was the Uruguayan modernist Torres-­García that had the greatest impact on the young Concrete artists from the Río de la Plata region. Torres-­García’s two journals—­Círculo y Cuadrado (Montevideo), 1936–­43, and Removedor (Montevideo), 1945–­51—­were widely known and read in artistic circles, and his Universalismo constructivo had a significant reception in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. Rothfuss had been in regular contact with Torres-­García in the early 1940s, and Arden Quin and Maldonado also visited him in these years. The younger artists persuaded Torres-­García to contribute an essay to Arturo. 50. Maldonado briefly studied printmaking with Antonio Berni in the early 1940s. Kandinsky had recently published representations of his woodcuts with his essay “Mes gravures sur les bois,” XXe Siècle 1, no. 3 (March 1938): 31, reproduced in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, ed. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo, vol. 2, 1922–­1943 (New York: G. K. Hall, 1982), 817–­18. That just a couple of months earlier Kandinsky had published his manifesto “L’art concret” in the same journal surely contributed to the decision to use an illustration that called to mind the work of this artist on the cover of a journal that sought to introduce Concrete art in South America. As Kandinsky writes in “Mes gravures sur les bois,” “In . . . woodcuts and poems . . . one discovers the steps of my development from the ‘figurative’ to the ‘abstract’ (‘concrete’ according to my own terminology—­which is more accurate and more expressive—­in my opinion at least” (818). 51. These included the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro. Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro observes that “the influence of Huidobro’s poetic style can be seen in all the poems in Arturo.” See Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, “The Argentine Avant-­Garde, 1944–­1950” (PhD diss., University of Essex, 1996), 67. Huidobro was the founder of the movement of creacionismo in Latin America, which produced and advocated for syntactically open poetry. See Vicente Huidobro, “El creacionismo,” in Los vanguardismos en la America Latina, ed. Oscar Collazos (Barcelona: Ediciones Península, 1977), 125–­32. Also see Alejandro G. Crispiani, “Frutos de la invención,” in Tomás Maldonado, ed. Gradowczyk, 49–­55. 52. Arturo: Revista de Artes Abstractas (Buenos Aires) 1 (1944): n.p. Italics mine. The text was initially published in Apex (Montevideo) 2 (February 1943): 11–­17. 53. It is not “the thing” that is most important, writes Torres-­García, but “the structure on which [that thing] is based.” “The house, the sun, the tree exist as elements before us like bricks that make up a wall. We are more interested in the wall that we have made, the overall construction, than the individual things and events that used to concern us.” Joaquín Torres-­García, “Con respecto a una futura creación literaria,” Arturo 1 (1944): n.p. Torres-­García also published two very long poems in Arturo: “Divertimento” and “Divertimento II” (Amusement and Amusement II). 54. According to Torres-­García, “Intuition should be the hand’s guide when tracing the structure of an object.” Joaquín Torres-­García, as cited by Jorge López Anaya, in Ritos de fin de siglo: Arte argentino y la vanguardia internacional (Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2003), 83. For an account of the career of Torres-­García, see Buzio de Torres and Ramírez, eds., Taller Torres-­García. 55. As Gradowczyk and Perazzo explain in “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata,” 47, Torres-­García was seen by the generation of young artists in the early 1940s “as an No t e s t o Page 2 6


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artist who never sold out, who stood by his principles and continued battling for them in South America.” 56. Historians have traced the idea back to the Uruguayan artist. See, for instance, Alejandro Crispiani, “Las raíces latinoamericanas del invencionismo,” in Objetos para transformar el mundo: Trayectorias del arte concreto-­invención, Argentina y Chile, 1940–­ 1970 (Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 2011), 43. 57. Ibid. Torres-­García made these comments in his lecture “De la invención en la pintura,” which would subsequently be published in Universalismo constructivo (Buenos Aires, 1944). 58. As Torres-­García writes in an early text, “To invent is not to create. The etymologuy of this great word tells us that to invent is to find. To create is something else.” Joaquín Torres-­García, “Naturaleza y arte” (1918), in Las vanguardias latinoamericanas: Textos programáticos y críticos, ed. J. Schwartz (Madrid: Cátedra, 1991), as cited in Crispiani, Objetos para transformar el mundo, 44. 59. Arturo 1 (1944), n.p. Caps in original. 60. Since the contents of Circulo y Cuadrado were primarily Uruguayan, the links the journal established with the historical avant-­garde were more symbolic through the title than anything else. 61. Joaquín Torres-­García, Manifesto 2: Constructivo 100% (Montevideo, 1938), reproduced in translation in Buzio de Torres and Ramírez, eds., Taller Torres-­García, 67. 62. Ibid., 68. The Asociación de Arte Constructivo was founded in 1935 and operated in Montevideo until 1939, when it was converted into a study institution. 63. Joaquín Torres-­García, Metafísica de la prehistoria indoamericana (Montevideo: Asociación de Arte Constructivo, 1939), reprinted in translation in Buzio de Torres and Ramírez, eds., Taller Torres-­García, 70. 64. Torres-­García, Metafísica de la prehistoria indoamericana, 46, as cited in Juan Fló, “Torres-­García in (and from) Montevideo,” in Buzio de Torres and Ramírez, eds., Taller Torres-­García, 36. 65. Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro observes that “the influence of Huidobro’s poetic style can be seen in all the poems in Arturo.” See Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 67. Also see Vicente Huidobro, “El creacionismo,” in Vanguardismos en la America Latina, ed. Collazos, 125–­32, and Crispiani, “Frutos de la invención,” 49–­55. 66. Agnès de Maistre, Arden Quin (Provence-­Alpes-­Côte d’Azur, France,1996), 12. This claim is repeated in Shelley Goodman, Carmelo Arden Quin: When Art Jumped Out of Its Cage (Dallas: Madi, 2004), 45–­47. Note that to date the literature on Arden Quin is not as reliable as one would wish, since it is exceedingly dependent on the artist’s own recollection of past events. The exact dates of some of the meetings and artworks remain in question. I owe this insight and many others in this chapter to conversations with Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro. 67. Goodman, Carmelo Arden Quin, 47. 68. Torres-­García’s meticulously detailed diaries indicate that Rothfuss first visited the studio on March 17, 1943. I thank Cecilia de Torres for sharing with me her transcription of the original diaries stored in the Joaquín Torres-­García Archive, Montevideo, Uruguay. 69. According to Cecilia de Torres, Rothfuss’s Plástica en madera makes “a direct reference to the wood sculptures that Torres-­García had installed in his Montevideo garden with titles taken from the Amerindian deities Pachamama and Inti.” Cecilia de Torres, “From Man in the Street to Universal Man: The Human Figure in Torres-­García’s Maderas,” in Joaquín Torres-­García: Constructing Abstraction with Wood, ed. Ramírez, 91n19. 70. Maldonado accompanied Rothfuss to Torres-­García’s studio on March 17, 1944. Once again, I thank Cecilia de Torres for sharing with me her transcription of the original No t e s t o Page s 2 7 – 2 8

diaries stored in Joaquín Torres-­García Archive, Montevideo. Alejandro Crispiani, “Las raíces latinoamericanas del invencionismo,” 43, claims that Maldonado had visited the Torres-­García studio as early as 1941. There is no mention of these visits in Torres-­García’s diaries. 71. As Maldonado recalls, “In January (or February) of 1943, I traveled to Montevideo to visit the Uruguayan artist Torres-­García. . . . On that occasion Torres-­García gave me books, pamphlets and manifestos that pertained to what he referred to as ‘Constructive Universalism.’ . . . I have to confess that I found his figurative work (for example, his drawings after the great artists of the past) of considerable interest.” Tomás Maldonado, interview by Giacinto De Pietrantonio, in Arte abstracto argentino, exh. cat., ed. Marcelo Pacheco and Enrico Crispolti (Buenos Aires: Fundación Proa, 2002), 63. 72. Carmelo Arden Quin, untitled essay, Arturo 1 (1944). “The material conditions of society condition the ideological superstructure. Art, an ideological superstructure, is born in and develops on the economic movements of society. For a proper interpretation of art, in its historical function, a dialectical order must be established.” 73. Ibid. 74. Ibid. 75. Edgar Bayley, untitled essay, Arturo 1 (1944). Bayley also included three poems in the journal: “Estreno escurre,” “Primer poema en cion,” and “Segundo Poema en cion,” all dated 1944. 76. The extroverted and self-­promoting Huidobro had spread avant-­garde ideas in Chile upon his return from Paris, where he had spent much of the 1910s. The conspicuous absence of Jorge Luis Borges can be partly explained by the then well-­known fact that Borges not only was anti-­Bolshevik but also rejected the Dadaists (with whom he was familiar due to his stay in Switzerland during World War I) as being too deliberately scandalous. Added to this, Borges was dismissive of Huidobro’s pastiches of Apollinaire and belittled the Chilean’s boasting prose. Beatriz Sarlo, Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge (London: Verso, 1993), 122–­24. 77. Rhod Rothfuss, “El marco: Un problema de plástica actual,” Arturo 1 (1944). This important text has been widely reproduced. For an English translation, see Rhod Rothfuss, “The Frame: A Problem of Contemporary Art,” in Inverted Utopias: Avant-­Garde Art in Latin America, exh. cat., ed. Mari Carmen Ramírez and Héctor Olea (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts / New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 490–­91. 78. There are a number of antecedents to the irregular frame, from Giorgio de Chirico’s trapezoidal Serenity of the Scholar and the triangular Enigma and Fatality (both from 1914), to the new object types that characterize Jean Arp’s Portrait of Tristan Tzara, or Forest, both of 1917, to László Péri’s irregular reliefs of the early 1920s and Torres-­ García’s Planos de color (Color planes) of 1929, which will also be a departure point for artists in this context. See Gradowczyk and Perazzo, “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata,” 52. 79. Van Doesburg, “Manifeste de l’art concret.”. 80. But not for the De Stijl artists, many of who, as Nancy J. Troy explains in The De Stijl Environment (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983), 3, explored “the painted abstract environment, in which pure color, free of all figurative associations, was merged with modern architecture to form an encompassing, total work of art.” See also Steven A. Mansbach, Visions of Totality: Lászlo Moholy-­Nagy, Theo Van Doesburg, and El Lissitzky (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1980). 81. Many of the Argentine Concrete artists produced paintings with irregular frames in the following several years. Some, such as Arden Quin, continued to do so well into the twenty-­first century. The concept of the broken frame also applied to sculpture by liberating it from its function as a closed volume. For example, Claudio Girola’s No t e s t o Page s 2 8 – 3 1



freestanding angular cast aluminum Concrete Sculpture (1945) is open in the center to reveal and incorporate the space behind it. Likewise, Enio Iommi’s sculptures of 1945–­48, such as Direcciones opuestas (1945), a composition with painted black, red, and white steel rods and illustrated on page 9 of the first issue of Arte Concreto-­Invención, asserts the autonomous value of form, giving up volume as a solid, compact body in order to reinforce a sense of construction, transparencies, and intersections of planes. Artworks such as Direcciones opuestas consist of an open structure that strives to interpenetrate and unify form with space. Other concrete sculptors used acrylic, iron, wood, and aluminum for constructions that defined, rather than occupied, space. See Romualdo Brughetti, “La escultura entre la abstracción, el concretismo y la figuración,” in Historia general del arte en la Argentina, ed. Nelly Arrieta de Blaquier (Buenos Aires: Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2003), 9:257–­66. 82. Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, “Rhod (Carlos María) Rothfuss, Sin título (Arlequín) [Untitled (Harlequin)], 1944,” in The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the ­Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, exh. cat. (Austin, TX: Blanton Museum of Art and Funcación Cisneros, 2007), 96, notes that the painting was until recently untitled and acquired the name Arlequín around the time it entered into the Colleción Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. He also suggests that the painting is probably a work in progress. 83. Ibid., 94. 84. Ibid. 85. Stern had gone into exile with her husband, Horacio Coppola, whom she had met in Walter Peterhans’s class in the Bauhaus Dessau. See García, Arte abstracto, 38. 86. The exhibition at the home of the doctor Pichón-­Rivière, Art Concret Invention chez Pichón-­Rivière, took place on October 8, 1945, and lasted only one day. Participants included Ardén Quin, Esteban Eitler, Gyula Kosice, Ramón Melgar, Juan Carlos Paz, Rhod Rothfuss, and Waldo Wellington. For a detailed discussion of this show, see Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 107–­11. The exhibition at the home of the photographer Greta Stern opened on December 2, 1945. Here the group exhibited under the name Movimiento Arte Concreto-­Invención. The participants were listed as follows: in painting, Rothfuss, Elizabeth Steiner, and Raymundo Rasas Pet; in sculpture, Kosice and Rothfuss; in drawing Ardén Quin, Alexandre Havas, Rothfuss, and Steiner; in architecture and urbanism Rodardo Humbert; in literature Arden Quin, Edgar Bayley, Diedones Costés, Sylvan-­Joffre, Kosice, and Waldo Wellington; in music, Rodolfo Arizaga, Ruth Crawford, Esteban Eitler, Karel Haber, Paul Hindemith, and Karl Weiner; in dance Renate Schottelius. See Goodman, Carmelo Arden Quin, 106. García, in Arte abstracto, 38, observes that, according to Kosice, Stern made her extensive library available to the young artists and that another exile, the Swiss Clément Moreau, translated many of the texts for the artists. See also Gyula Kosice in Conversation with Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro (New York: Funcación Cisneros, 2012), 44, and Jorge López Anaya, “Gyula Kosice, la memoria y el proyecto: Fragmentos de una entrevista,” in Kosice: Obras 1944–­1990 (Buenos Aires: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1991), 10. 87. Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 21, challenges Martin Blaszko’s claim that only paintings by Arden Quin were on display in this exhibition, observing that paintings and sculptures by various artists are visible in documentary photographs of the opening. 88. The invitation brochure announces: “Concrete Elementary Theory, Purposes, Music, Painting, Sculpture and Poems. Ramón Melgar, Juan C. Paz, Rhod Rothfuss, Esteban Eitler, Gyula Kosice, Waldo Wellington and Arden Quin.” 89. Carmelo Arden Quin, “El móvil,” as reproduced in Yve-­Alain Bois et al., Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection (CamNo t e s t o Page s 3 2 – 3 5

bridge, MA: Harvard University Art Museums, 2001), 142. Although this text has now been republished on numerous occasions, the exact relation between it and the notes from which Arden Quin read at the opening of the show at the apartment of Pinchón-­ Rivière remains in question. 90. Ibid., 144. 91. Ibid., 143. 92. The thin brass elements Kosice employed to make this sculpture were originally designed to reinforce handbags. Kosice’s family ran a leather workshop in Buenos Aires that specialized in wallets, purses, and the like. See Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, “Gyula Kosice, Escultura móvil articulada (Mobile Articulated Sculpture), 1948,” in Geometry of Hope, 108. 93. Gyula Kosice, in Gyula Kosice in Conversation with Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, 44, 94. For a consideration of the compositions of Esteban Eitler, see Gilbert Chase, “Creative Trends in Latin American Music-­I,” Tempo 48 (Summer 1958): 28–­34. For a subtle account of the work of Juan Carlos Paz, see Michelle Tabor, “Juan Carlos Paz: A Latin American Supporter of the International Avant-­Garde,” Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamerica 9, no. 2 (Autumn–­Winter 1988): 207–­32. See also David H. Sargent, “The Twelve-­Tone Row Technique of Juan Carlos Paz,” Anuario Interamericano de Investigacion Musical 11 (1975): 82–­105. 95. Eitler’s catalogue lists a guitar “Piece in the twelve-­tone” (“Pieza en los doce tonos”) in 1943, “Two Preludes” (“Dos Preludios”) in 1945, and “Dodecafónico A” (1948). He is known to have performed “Dodecafónico A” with a jazz band in 1948 at the Richmond tea room in Buenos Aires and organized concerts at the Bop Club Argentino and the old Teatro del Pueblo, both in Buenos Aires, in the late 1940s. Paz describes the principal characteristic of Eitler’s music as “a fluid and robust abundance, expressed through an innate sense of counterpoint and melodic rhythmic development, and a continuous and rich variety in the combinations of instruments, especially wind instruments, used.” See Juan Carlos Paz, as cited by Néstor Guestrin, in “Apuntes musicales,” LAMúsiCa 6, no. 2 (February 2004): 27. 96. Carmelo Arden Quin, “The Madí Manifesto” (1946), transcript of the text read to the public at the inaugural event for the launch of the Madí movement at the Van Riel Art Gallery sponsored by the French Institute for Higher Studies, Buenos Aires, on August 3, 1946, as reproduced in Goodman, Carmelo Arden Quin, 381. This version of the Madí Manifesto was first published in 1983. Kosice published an unsigned Madi Manifesto in Madí Nemsor No. 0 (1947), which has many similarities to Arden Quin’s manifesto. This unsigned manifesto has subsequently been attributed to Kosice. In the latter manifesto, the passage on music just cited reads as follows: “Madí music, recording of sounds in the golden section.” Gyula Kosice, “Manifiesto Madi,” reproduced in Rafael Cippolini, ed., Manifiestos argentinos: Políticas de lo visual 1900–­2000, ed. Rafael Cippolini (Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2003), 220. 97. See Luigi Russolo‘s manifesto, “The Art of Noises: Futurist Manifesto” (1913), reproduced in Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources, ed. Daniel Albright (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 177–­83. 98. Arden Quin, “Móvil,” 143. Contrary to Arden Quin’s account, Kosice has maintained that the split in the Arte Concreto-­Invención “was not a breakup of a conceptual character. Maldonado [and his associates] . . . all just moved away from the original core of the group. Meanwhile, Rothfuss, Arden Quin, and I began to work out the building of what would later be called Madí. It is important to point out our reasons for our not keeping the same name after the split. We thought that to do so would be a flagrant contradiction in terms. If we were going to work under the rubric of ‘Invention,’ then we could not say that we were also devoted to ‘Concrete Art’ since the No t e s t o Page s 3 5 – 3 9

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former by nature excludes the latter. We were not involved in Concrete Art, but rather in the Invention of totally new objects.” Gyula Kosice, “The Founding of Madí” (1979), reprinted in Readings in Latin American Modern Art, ed. Patrick Frank (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 145. 99. “Aclaración,” Boletín de la Asociación Arte Concreto-­Invención 2 (December 1946)” 2. This text and several others by the Asociación are reproduced in translation in Nelly Perazzo, El arte concreto en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Gaglianone, 1983), 175–­201. Unfortunately, the translations are not all that they could be, and I have tended to make my own. Maldonado recruited Prati, Bayley, and a number of his peers from his days at the Escuela Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes (1938–­41) to form a group. These included Claudio Girola, Alfredo Hlito, and Alberto Molenberg. They, together with Enio Iommi and Jorge Souza, came to form the first manifestation of the Asociación Arte Concreto-­Invención. According to Iommi, one day soon after the publication of Arturo he, Girola, and Hlito ran into Maldonado in Buenos Aires: “We started to talk and quickly realized that we were doing something similar: abstract art.” Enio Iommi, as quoted in Jorge López Anaya, Ritos de fin de siglo: Arte argentino y vanguardia internacional (Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2003), 79–­80. Soon thereafter, numerous others joined the formation, including Antonio Caraduje, Simón Contreras, Manuel Espinosa, Rafael Lozza, Raul Lozza, Rembrandt Van Dyck Lozza, Juan Melé, Primaldo Mónaco, Oscar Nuñez, Gregorio Vardánega, and Virgilio Villalba. 100. The name, Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, made an obvious reference to the artists’ group centered around Torres-­García that between 1935 and 1939 called itself the Asociación de Arte Constructivo. In opting to identify with Concrete rather than Constructive art, the young artists at once distanced their work from Torres-­García’s notion of constructivism and signaled the importance of invention for their movement. 101. “Artistas adhieren al comunismo,” Orientación, órgano central del partido comunista, September 19, 1945, reproduced in Escot, Tomás Maldonado, 38. 102. Edgar Bayley, “Sobre arte concreto,” Orientación, órgano central del partido comunista, February 20, 1946, reproduced in Manifiestos argentinos, ed. Cippolini, 195–­98. 103. Many other statements made by the young Concrete artists during these years expressed their Marxist sympathies. Most of these artists were also members of the Communist Party at the time. See Alejandro Crispiani, “Una definición plastica del marxismo,” in Objetos para transformar el mundo, 83–­140. According to Iommi, as cited by López Anaya, Ritos de fin de siglo, 86, almost all the members of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención were affiliated with the Party. The foremost scholar on the career of Arden Quin writes, “While members of the Association of Art Concreto-­ Invención were followers of the Communist Party, Arden Quin, Kosice, and Rothfuss made numerous statements and exhibitions. In September, they printed two leaflets under the name of ‘B-­Avior.’ Arden Quin and his companions did not want to cede any political ground to Maldonado’s group.” See Agnés de Maistre, Carmelo Arden Quin (Nice, France: Demaistre, 1996), 22. Kosice, for his part, was much more detached from the Marxist leanings of his peers. As he recalls in a retrospective essay on the founding of Madí: “We were a group of people who could be broadly defined as leftists, but only ideologically and not in the sense of being militants. We had all embraced Marx with enthusiasm and without preconditions, but we were not at that moment searching for a theory. We believed in totally free expression in the political and social realm, in a world where all forms of exploitation of man by man had been eliminated. Naturally, this position gave us a somewhat tendentious character which I cannot completely deny, but it never really went beyond that.” Kosice, “The Founding of Madí,” in Readings in Latin American Modern Art, ed. Frank, 145. No t e s t o Page s 3 9 – 4 0

104. Bayley, “Sobre arte concreto,” 195. 105. Ibid. 106. Paul

de Man, Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 83. Later in the same text, De Man writes: “The language of the poets therefore in no way partakes of mimesis, reflection, or even perception, in the sense which would allow a link between sense experience and understanding, between perception and apperception. . . . Looking at the world just as one sees it [wie man ihn sieht] is an absolute, radical formalism that entertains no notion of reference or semiosis” (128). 107. Ibid., 56. 108. Bayley, “Sobre arte concreto,” 196. 109. Ibid. 110. This is de Man’s working definition of ideology in his study The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 11: “What we call ideology is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism.” 111. Maldonado articulated a similar point of view in his response to a survey conducted by the Buenos Aires magazine Contrapunto in April 1945. When asked to comment on the direction of painting, he replied: “I think that painting will evolve toward the concrete, in a dialectical response to abstraction. Abstract art has culminated in a real, material sense, that is to say it has become Concrete art. In this new stage of its development, abstraction will utterly divorce itself from idealism in favor of an objective aesthetic, that is, to an aesthetic based on invention, and not in copying or in abstraction.” Tomás Maldonado, “Respuesta: Adónde va la pintura?,” Contrapunto (Buenos Aires) 1, no. 3 (April 3, 1945): 10. Thus Maldonado completely rejects idealist aesthetics and the metaphysical pretensions of much abstract art. But by summoning an “objective aesthetic . . . based on invention”—­that is to say an aesthetic based on the assumption that it is not possible to step out of the figural into the literal—­he dialectically considers the figural as literal and in turn material. It is in this way that he can maintain that Concrete art, as a self-­sufficient, anti-­idealist aesthetic, does not abstract but presents objective realities in real space and time and is a realist art par excellence: “Representation sacrifices what is tangible on behalf of what is illusory. Therefore, to make representational art the realistic art par excellence has been a mistake of idealists. The true realist does not seek to reflect but to invent. Beauty will be concrete or else it will not be.” Ibid. 112. Thus, for instance, the “Inventionist Manifesto” will state: “Representational art has always been abstract.” “Manifiesto invencionista,” Arte Concreto-­Invención 1 (1946): 8. Likewise, Maldonado in “The Abstract and Concrete in Modern Art” will write about “the abstract mechanism of every representation.” Tomás Maldonado, “Lo abstracto y lo concreto en arte moderno,” Arte Concreto-­Invención 1 (1946): 7. 113. As Maldonado remarks in “Actualidad y porvenir del arte concreto”: “What is certain, however, is that the creation of content is not possible without form.” Tomás Maldonado, “Actualidad y porvenir del arte concreto,” Nueva vision (Buenos Aires) 1 (December 1951): 6. And later in the same essay: “The artist shapes the matter of his art . . . with his ideas. And these ideas are not solely ‘artistic’” (7). 114. García, Arte abstracto, 58. The show featured work by Maldonado, Enio Iommi, Claudio Girola, Alfredo Hlito, and Lidy Prati. 115. Edgar Bayley et al., “Manifiesto invencionista,” Arte Concreto-­Invención 1 (1946): 8, is dated March 1946 and signed by all of the members of the Asociación: Edgar Bayley, Antonio Caraduje, Simón Contreras, Manuel Espinosa, Claudio Girola, Alfredo Hlito, Enio Iommi, Lozza and his brothers Rafael and Rembrandt, Tomás Maldonado,

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­ lberto Molenberg, Primaldo Mónaco, Oscar Núñez, Lidy Prati, and Jorge Sousa. A García, Arte abstracto, 58, observes that although the manifesto was subsequently attributed to Maldonado, largely due to comments he later published as “Respuesta: Adónde va la pintura?” in the journal Contrapunto, its passages share a lot with the writings of Bayley, especially “La batalla por la invención,” Arte Concreto-­Invención 2 (1945): n.p. 116. See review of this show by V. de L.T., “Modernos y pasatistas,” El Mundo (Buenos Aires), April 6, 1946. The review is generally negative. Although the author indicates a basic awareness of Concrete art and of the young artists’ attempt to relate a critique of illusionism to a critique of social conventions, he describes the artists as puerile. There was, he maintained, a poverty of civic life in Argentina at the moment, but much more than this type of work would be required to fill that void. Other reviews of this show appeared in La Prensa (Buenos Aires) on March 18 (“1° Muestra de la Asociación, Arte Concreto-­Invención, Salón Peuser,” 14) and March 23 (“Exposicion Arte Concreto”) and in La Nación (Buenos Aires) on March 20 (“Arte Concreto,” 4). The art critic at La Nación observes that the artists, dismissing centuries of painterly tradition, produce instead superficial planes that rely not on modeling but on juxtaposing color planes. But the critic seems aware of the importance of the actual moment of spectatorship for the new art, remarking that “with initiatives such as these it is prudent to leave behind all previous conceptions of painting in order to experience the manifestation in its current display.” 117. Bayley et al., “Manifiesto invencionista,” 8. This collectivist aesthetic will deprivilege reception and render all viewers equal in terms of access to the work. A collective art, the manifesto states, is consistent with “the new communion that is taking place throughout the world.” 118. This painting is partially visible immediately behind Maldonado in a documentary photograph of this exhibition reproduced in Escot, Tomás Maldonado, 43. 119. Bayley, et al., “Manifiesto invencionista,” 8. 120. Ibid. 121. Maldonado, “Lo abstracto y lo concreto en arte moderno,” 5–­7. The fact that Maldonado in this essay completely ignored Torres-­García’s detailed analysis of the difference between the abstract and the concrete in his book Universalismo constructivo speaks volumes of his confidence, even arrogance, during these these years. 122. Ibid., 7. 123. See, for example, Juan N. Melé, La vanguardia del 40: Memorias de un artista concreto (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Cinco, 1999), 77. 124. Molenberg’s Función blanca and a composition by Raúl Lozza were presented by Maldonado as examples of the coplanal and illustrated in this first issue of Arte Concreto-­Invención. Maldonado’s text was also illustrated with a photograph of one of his freestanding sculptures. Elsewhere in the journal, paintings by Lidy Prati and Alfredo Hlito that feature forms that do not overlap but remain physically distinct are presented as immediate precursors of the new painting. 125. De Man, Aesthetic Ideology, 83. 126. The term material event comes from Tom Cohen et al., Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2001). 127. Bayley et al., “Manifiesto invencionista,” 8. Importantly, the sentence also invokes Pablo Picasso’s statement “I do not seek, I find.” Picasso’s statement has been widely cited. See, for instance, Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. A. Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), 7. I am grateful to James Meyer for reminding me of this reference.

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128. To put this another way: here the distinction is made between an encounter with the

material object in its cognitive mode and an encounter with the material object as it “frees itself of its constraints and discovers within itself a power no longer dependent on the restriction of cognition.” De Man, Aesthetic Ideology, 79. At this point too, several internal contradictions became evident, for there is a real sense in which the standpoint of these artists continued to support a fundamental idealism by presupposing an identity between truth and experience. 129. Raul Lozza, “Hacia una música invencionista,” Arte Concreto-­Invención 1 (1946): 3. 130. Ibid. 131. Ibid. 132. “Nuestra militancia,” Arte Concreto-­Invención 1 (1946): 2. Gradowczyk and Perazzo, “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata,” 42, state that the editorial was penned by Maldonado. 133. “Nuestra militancia,” 2. 134. Ibid. 135. Ibid. 136. Ibid. 137. “Los amigos del pueblo,” Arte Concreto Invención 1 (1946), 2. 138. The socialist realist artists that the editorialists have in mind are the members of the local Taller de Arte Mural group (Antonio Berni, Lino Enea Spilimbergo, Juan Carlos Castagnino, Demetrio Urruchúa, and Manuel Colmeiro), as much as the neohumanistic painting of Raquel Forner. At the time, all of these artists were garnering the attention and support of the Communist Party. The comments made in the editorials are harsh. As the Concretists put it in “Los amigos del pueblo”: “We find it difficult to consider as friends those who are immersed in a rigid aesthetic, deaf to spiritual projects for social and technical progress, and who lack a sufficiently audacious imagination to accept, in the near future, the popular expansion of a new art form. Deep down they distrust the people and consider them incapable of all mental enterprises.” For a thorough consideration of the spectrum of left-­wing artistic tendencies in the mid-­to-­late 1940s, see Giunta, Avant-­Garde, Internationalism, and Politics, 25–­54. 139. Simón Contreras, “Sobre las artes aplicadas a la necesidad revolucionaria y el arte de la invención concreta,” Arte Concreto Invención 1 (1946): 4; and Tomás Maldonado, “Los artistas concretos, el ‘realismo’ y la realidad,” Arte Concreto Invención 1 (1946): 10. Simón Contreras was the pseudonym of the poet Carlos Araoz de Madrid. 140. Alfredo Hlito, “Notas para una estética materialista,” Arte Concreto Invención 1 (1946): 12. 141. Ibid. 142. Ibid. 143. Ibid. 144. Ibid. 145. The distinction between presentation and representation is explicitly made in the “Inventionist Manifesto,” which speaks of “a presentation art versus an art of representation.” Bayley et al., “Manifiesto invencionista,” Arte Concreto Invención 1 (1946): 8. As Bayley writes in “Opinión,” Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, flyer, November 1945, reproduced in Escot, Tomás Maldonado, 40: “The goal of Concrete art is to invent concrete objects that participate in everyday life, and that cooperate in the task of establishing direct relationships with the things we wish to modify.” 146. The show at the at the Center of High School Graduate Teachers, introduced on the poster that advertised the show as the “third” exhibition of the work of the Asociación, was preceded by a show held at the Pacífico Gallery in Buenos Aires in July 1946. The

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broadside for the event at the Center of High School Graduate Teachers lists the artists included (the same as those who had exhibited at the Galeria Peuser) and comes complete with a “nota explicativa”: “The Concrete artists . . . advocate for an aesthetics according to which the work of art acquires an unquestionable reality. The artwork is a real subject of knowledge or direct experience for man, not a system of tricks rooted in his fear. In this way, the new artists transform each work of art into an active, revolutionary manifestation, directed to adapt the field of human sensitivity to exercise new powers.” See “Nota explicativa,” included on the placard “Centro de Profesores Diplomados de Enseñanza Secundaria,” September 5, 1946, reproduced in Perazzo, Arte concreto en la Argentina, 75. The show at the Sociedad Argentina de Artistas Plásticos opened on October 11, 1946, and the group’s fourth exhibition was held at the Ateneo Popular de La Boca in Buenos Aires between October 18 and 25, 1946. For a list of participants in each show, see reproductions of the invitations in Escot, Tomás Maldonado, 42, 48, 49. 147. Sometimes various materials were used to manufacture the sculpture, adding a rich array of textures and colors to the structures. The sculpture of Iommi and Girola extended thin rods in various directions to develop dynamic objects with strong diagonal accents or swirling curves. The rods were often presented in their primary state, but sometimes they were painted to produce polychrome sculptures. 148. Guido Castillo, “Torres-­García y el arte moderno,” Removedor 2, no. 14 (August–­ September–­October 1946): 1. 149. Joaquín Torres-­García, “Nuestro problema de arte en América,” Removedor 2, no. 14 (August–­September–­October 1946): 6. 150. Ibid., 5, 6. 151. This seems to have led to some of his problems with not only the members of the European Constructivist avant-­garde with whom he was affiliated in the late 1920s and 1930s, but also with members of the Escuela Taller de Artes Plásticas attending his lectures in Montevideo soon after his return in 1934. See Buzio de Torres, “School of the South,” in Torres and Ramírez, eds., Taller Torres-García, 10. 152. In the early 1940s Maldonado had distributed a manifesto written with a small group of art students from the Buenos Aires Escuela de Bellas Artes denouncing “all the ‘avant-­garde’ painters of the previous generation for having betrayed their early ideals, for having now complacently accepted academic professorships, for having strangled, in sum, the illusions of young people who had faith in them.” See Jorge Brito, Claudio Girola, Tomás Maldonado, and Alfredo Hlito, “Manifiesto de Quatro Jovenes” (1942), reproduced in Escot, Tomás Maldonado, 28. Now, just a few years later, the cofounder of Cercle et Carré was already the (implicit) target of these young artists’ anxiety of influence. 153. Tómas Maldonado, “Torres-­García contra el arte moderno,” Arte Concreto-­Invención 2 (1946), as reprinted in Arte abstracto argentino, 175. 154. Sarandy Cabrera, “Originalidad e invención,” Removedor 2, no. 14 (August–­September–­ October 1946): 8. Scholars have often noted that Torres-­García made it a point to emphasize that he had little to do with the editorial decisions of Removedor. See Fló, “Torres-­García in (and from) Montevideo,” 38. Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro has observed the degree to which the artists of the AACI (he mentions Maldonado, Prati, and Alfredo Hlito in particular) misread the paintings of Mondrian as “flat and pure,” with no evidence of brushstroke, because their knowledge of those paintings was exclusively based on reproductions in books and magazines. See Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, “Invention and Reinvention: The Transatlantic Dialogue in Geometric Abstraction,” in Cold America: Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934–­1973), exh. cat. (Madrid: Fundación Juan March, 2011), 74. No t e s t o Page s 5 6 – 5 7

155. Cabrera, “Originalidad e invención,” 8. 156. Ibid. Sarandy Cabrera, in “En defensa de la pintura, de un artista y del arte moderno:

Con motivo de un articulo aparecido en la revista—­Arte Concreto Invención—­B.A.,” ­ emovedor 16 (January–­February 1947): 5, again takes up the issue of the irregular R frame, this time implying that it is the result of immature artists: “The irregular frame . . . is, as its name makes clear, something irregular.” 157. Cabrera, “Originalidad e invención,” 8. 158. Maldonado, “Torres-­García contra el arte moderno,” 174. 159. Ibid., 175, 176. 160. Ibid., 176. 161. Ibid., 175. Maldonado would later recall this event as follows: “In 1946, Torres-­García published an article stating that the nonfigurative neoplasticist art typically made in the ‘cold’ northern climates was inappropriate to the ‘warm’ peoples of Latin America. My answer . . . was unprecedentedly violent. It was impassioned and, in retrospect, humanely unjust. But these were heady days, full of youthful vehemence and firm convictions.” Maldonado, interview by Pietrantonio, 63. 162. As the final sentence of his essay declares: “The battle of authentic modern art is, no doubt, the battle for invention.” Maldonado, “Torres-­García contra el arte moderno,” 176. 163. Alfredo Hlito, “El tema del espacio en la pictura actual,” Nueva visión (Buenos Aires) 8 (1955): 11. 164. Ibid. 165. On the formation and development of Perceptism, see Crispiani, Objetos para transformer el mundo, 141–­76; Pedrazzo, Arte concreto en la Argentina, 109–­20; and Pérez-­ Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 261–­75. 166. Cualimetría, a neologism formulated to fuse quality (calidad) and geometry, was used to signify the relationship between quantity (the size of the painted surface) and the quality of the form-­color in an attempt to intensify the light value of color as plane. 167. As Pérez-­Barreiro shows in “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 256–­78, Lozza offers a glimpse of how this form of site specificity would work in an illustration published in the first issue of his new journal Perceptismo. There the planes of the coplanal intersect with the other elements in the room, including the furniture and curtain. This completely obliterates the distinction between the figural (illusionism) and the literal (materiality), as well as that between the artwork and everything in the space around it, and effectively reconfigures the spectator’s relationship with both art and the world. The spectator is mobilized into a noncontemplative role. 168. In this manner, Perceptism conforms to Mondrian’s idea of the integration of the arts. As Mondrian writes: “By the unification of architecture, sculpture, and painting, a new plastic reality will be created. Painting and sculpture will not manifest themselves as separate objects, nor as ‘mural art’ which destroys architecture itself, nor as ‘applied’ art, but being purely constructive will aid the creation of a surrounding not merely utilitarian and rational but also pure and complete in its beauty.” See Mondrian, “Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art” (1936), in The New Art—­the New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, ed. and trans. Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James (Boston: G. K.Hall, 1986), 299–­300. 169. As Gradowczyk and Perazzo explain in “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata,” 44: “The Perceptistas developed three essential principles, based on the association’s Concrete tenets: first, the replacement of the three-­dimensional background with the concept of field (architectural wall); second, the mathematical assessment of the interaction between flat color fields, geometric forms, and their dimensions, which Lozza called cualimetría; and third, the establishment of an articulation of forms strictly governed by a referential system independent from the form that contains it.”

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170. One


was reproduced in a volume devoted to the October Revolution, accompanying an article by Rodolfo Ghioldi, “La Unión Soviética, lider de la paz,” Orientación: Órgano Central del Partido Comunista, November 6, 1946, and another in a special issue devoted to the 29th anniversary of the Argentine Communist Party, accompanying an article by Juan José Real, “Tres problemas de la vida partidaria,” Orientación, January 8, 1947. See Ana Longoni and Daniela Lucena, “De cómo el ‘júbilo creador’ se trastocó en ‘desfachatez,’” Politicas de la memoria: Anuario de investigación e información del CeDinCI, Centro de Documentación e Investigación de la Cultura de Izquierdas, Summer 2003–­4, 120. 171. Tomás Maldonado, “La Falange contra Picasso,” Orientación (Buenos Aires), August 7, 1946, as cited in ibid. 172. Ibid. Italics in original. 173. Tomás Maldonado, “Sobre humanismo,” Boletín de la Asociación Arte Concreto Invención 2 (December 1946), 6. 174. The article in Pravda was written by the Russian painter Aleksandr Gerasimov. See Gerasimov, “The Russian Painters and the School of Paris,” Pravda, August 11, 1947, as cited in Gertje R. Utley, Picasso: The Communist Years (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 136. For the rebuttal, see Tomás Maldonado, “Picasso, Matisse y la libertad de expresión,” Orientación, August 11, 1947, 7. 175. Ibid. 176. The quote is from Vladimir Kemenov, “Aspects of Two Cultures,” VOKS Bulletin (Moscow), 1947, 20–­36, reprinted in Art in Theory 1900–­2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (London: Blackwell, 2002), 657. Harrison and Wood note that the VOKS Bulletin was published by the All-­Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, of which Kemenov was chairman. 177. Ibid. 178. As Utley writes in Picasso: The Communist Years, 136: “In September 1947, at a secret meeting near Wroclaw in Poland, Zhdanov had officially re-­imposed Socialist Realism as the tool for artists’ participation in the ‘struggle.’” 179. Andrei Zhdanov, as quoted in Utley, Picasso: The Communist Years, 136. 180. Julio Notta, untitled commentary, Orientación, September 29, 1948, as cited in Longoni and Lucena, “De cómo el ‘júbilo creador’ se trastocó,” 126–­27. Notta would go on to be one of the leaders of the Partido Comunista Argentino (PCA). For an overview of the PCA during these years, see Aníbal Jáuregui, “El perónismo en los debates del Partido Comunista Argentino: 1945–­1953,” A contra corriente: Una revista de historia social y literature de América Latina 9, no. 3 (Spring 2012): 22–­40. The exhibition Salón de Nuevas Realidades: Arte Abstracto-­Concreto-­No Figurativo was held at the Galería Van Riel in Buenos Aires September 12–­25, 1948. Its twenty-­six artists included Arden Quin, Espinosa, Girola, Hlito, Iommi, Maldonado, Melé, Molenberg, Prati, Rothfuss, Souza, Vardánega, and Villalba. 181. See Cayetano Córdoba Iturburu, “Arte no figurativo,” Clarín (Buenos Aires), September 19, 1948, as cited in Perazzo, Arte abstracto en la Argentina, 124, and Notta, untitled commentary, Orientación, September 29, 1948, as cited in Longoni and Lucena, “De cómo el ‘júbilo creador’ se trastocó,” 127. The critic Damián Bayón, in “Arte abstracto-­ concreto-­no figurativo,” Ver y estimar (Buenos Aires) 6 (September 1948): 60–­62, complains about a general lack of self-­criticism in this exhibition and laments the absence of “many spatial elements that remain to be explored, many materials and textures. Let’s hope that they evolve toward that ideal goal.” 182. Notta, untitled commentary, as cited in Longoni and Lucena, “De cómo el ‘júbilo creador’ se trastocó,” 127. 183. Ibid. In the “Manifiesto invencionista,” 8, the artists write: “Concrete artists are not beyond any fight. We are in every fight. And we are in the front line.” No t e s t o Page s 6 3 – 6 5

184. Longoni and Lucena, “De cómo el ‘júbilo creador’ se trastocó,” 126. 185. Theodor

W. Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music (1948), cited in Martin Jay, Adorno (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 54. 186. Maldonado, “Actualidad y porvenir del arte concreto,”8. Chapter Two 1. Jesús Soto, in Signals (London) 1, no. 10 (November–­December 1965): 4. 2. Jean Clay, “Soto,” Signals (London) 1, no. 10 (November–­December 1965): 9. 3. The introduction to the first issue of the journal De Stijl was penned by Van Doesburg

and dated June 16, 1917. The founding members included Van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, Vilmos Huszar, J. J. P. Oud, and Anthony Kok. 4. The first section of Piet Mondrian’s “De Nieuwe Beelding in de schilderkunst” was published in De Stijl (Leiden) 1, no. 1 (October 1917). Sections of the essay then appeared in eleven subsequent numbers of the journal, with the last published in December 1918. The essay is reprinted in its entirety as “The New Plastic in Painting” in The New Art—­The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, ed. Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James (Boston: G. K.Hall, 1986), 27–­74. 5. Mondrian’s relationship with Van Doesburg took a turn for the worse in the mid-­1920s, when the latter began to fuse the principles of De Stijl with three-­dimensional colored “architectural sculpture.” Mondrian also strongly rejected Van Doesburg’s dynamic “counter-­compositions” of 1924, in which the pattern of right-­angled lines and surfaces was not placed parallel to the edges of the picture area but turned through an oblique angle of 45 degrees. Although he never denied that black lines on a gray or white surface produce an illusion of space, or that different depths are suggested in a picture by the use of the three primary colors, Mondrian was rigid in his belief in the two-­dimensionality of painting. 6. Alejandro Otero, “Las estructuras cinéticas de Jesus Soto,” El Nacional (Caracas), July 9, 1957, 16, reproduced in Inverted Utopias: Avant-­Garde Art in Latin America, exh. cat., ed. Mari Carmen Ramírez and Héctor Olea (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts / New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 506. Soto’s show in Caracas (May 29–­June 5, 1957) received a considerable amount of press coverage. As an editorial written by Angel Ignacio Ríos, “Guayanes Universal,” published in El Bolivarense (Ciudad Bolívar), July 20, 1957, reports: “Soto’s return to Venezuela after residing in Paris for seven years is being celebrated with great enthusiasm in Caracas.” In Jesús Soto archive, Paris. 7. Otero, “Estructuras cinéticas de Jesús Soto,” 506. 8. Ibid., 507. 9. Otero Silva’s critique of abstract art and artists took place in a series of articles published in eight parts in the Caracas daily newspaper El Nacional in March and April 1957. The polemic between the cousins is collected and reproduced in Alejandro Otero Rodríguez and Miguel Otero Silva, Polémica sobre arte abstracto (Caracas: Letras Venezolanas, 1957). Excerpts from some of these articles and letters are reproduced in translation in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries: Critical Dialogues in Venezuelan Art, 1912–­1974, ed. Ariel Jiménez (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008), 202–­11. I have altered the translations where necessary. The debate between Otero Silva and Otero is generally cited in the literature as the third of a set of well-­known debates between critics and supporters of abstract art in late 1940s and 1950s Caracas. The first took place in 1949 following the exhibition in at the Caracas Museo de Bellas Artes of a series of postcubist works that Otero began to produce in 1947 known as Las cafeteras (The Coffee Pots), and the second coincided with another exhibition of abstract art, this time at the Galería Cuatro Muros, and was fought in the pages of El Nacional.

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10. Miguel Otero Silva, “Aparición y desarollo del abstracionismo,” El Nacional (Caracas),


March 30, 1957, 16, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 205. 11. Miguel Otero Silva, “Orientaciones de la nueva pintura,” El Nacional (Caracas), April 6, 1957, 16, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 210. 12. Ibid. 13. Several watershed moments are often cited in the history of abstract art in Venezuela, and though their impact is difficult to verify, the very fact that they are so frequently mentioned necessitates that they be taken into account. The first is the departure of the artist Alejandro Otero for Paris in 1945, the second is the opening of the Taller Libre de Arte in 1948, and the third is the exhibition of Otero’s Cafeteras at the Caracas Museo de Bellas Artes in 1949. Although the Cafeteras retain figurative traces, they are often referred to as the first abstract paintings by a Venezuelan artist, and as the heated public debate that they produced indicates, their exhibition in Caracas was highly controversial. 14. For a general overview of the history of the Taller Libre de Arte, see Lía Caraballo T., “Taller Libre de Arte: 1948–­1952,” in Taller Libre de Arte, exh. cat. (Caracas: Museo Jacobo Borges, 1997), 4–­16. For a thorough account of Gómez Sicre’s tenure at the Pan American Union, see Claire F. Fox, Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). Gómez Sicre’s role in the context of the Cold War is complicated. Alfred H. Barr, whom he met while studying at Columbia University in the 1940s, mentored him. His position as an arts administrator at the Pan American Union for over three decades “obliged him to think about relations among culture, economics, politics, and foreign policy in such a way that his work highlighted the fundamental contradiction of hemispheric solidarity under conditions of gross inequality” (Fox, Making Art Panamerican, 34). Yet as Alejandro Anreus states, his politics were at times “sinister,” and his agenda was “very much a part of the ‘freedom versus communism’ discourse of the time.’” See Alejandro Anreus, “José Gómez Sicre and the ‘Idea’ of Latin American Art,” Art Journal 64, no. 4 (Winter 2005): 84. 15. The exact reasons for the expulsions remain unclear. My hypothesis is indebted to a conversation with the art historian and curator Luis Pérez-­Oramas on February 6, 2014. The legacy of the Barraca de Mari-­Pérez was debated in the fifth issue of Los Disidentes. See Peran Emriny, Luis Guevarra, and Narciso Debourg, “Alreadedor de la historia de ‘Los Disidentes,’” Los Disidentes (Paris), no. 5 (September 1950): 14–­16. This text, initially published in El Nacional on August 3, 1950, is a response to the article “Historia de una mítica disidencia,” signed by Barraca de Mari-­Pérez and published in Ultimas noticias (Caracas), July 9, 1950. 16. For a good account of the artistic context in Caracas in the late 1940s and 1950s, see Marguerite Mayhall, “Modernist but Not Exceptional: The Debate over Modern Art and National Identity in 1950s Venezuela,” Latin American Perspectives 32, no. 2 (March 2005): 124–­46. See also Bélgica Rodríguez, La pintura abstracta en Venezuela, 1945–­1965 (Caracas: Maraven, 1980), and Bélgica Rodríguez, “Arte geométrico—­arte constructivo: Venezuela 1945/1965,” in Arte constructivo venezolano 1945–­1965: Génesis y desarrollo, exh. cat. (Caracas: Galería de Arte Nacional, 1980), 6–­21. 17. For a history of the development of democracy in Venezuela, see Fernando Coronil, The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). 18. The Gallegos Acción Democrática government cultivated the support of the working class and peasantry. Workers were allowed to organize; labor unions developed across

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the country. Acción Democrática sought to make the party the spearhead of every union. The aim was to build up a large, disciplined body of supporters that would thwart any attempt to put the leaders out of power. Huge mass meetings were held to familiarize voters with the government’s program. Workers were urged to parade periodically through the streets, advertising their allegiance to the Acción Democrática and its aims. William D. Marsland and Amy L. Marsland, Venezuela through Its History (New York: Crowell, 1954), 257. For a good social and political history of Venezuela during these years, see Judith Ewell, Venezuela: A Century of Change (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984), 94–­107. See also Manuel Alfredo Rodríguez, Tres décadas caraqueñas, 1935–­1966 (Caracas: Editorial Fuentes, 2004), and Miguel Tinker Salas, The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 205–­18. 19. The Venezuelan Ministry of Education organized the exhibition in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Gómez Sicre was given the task of curating the show. For an overview of the exhibition, see Fox, Making Art Panamerican, 111–­12. According to Fox, “President Gallegos was so pleased with the result that he extended his personal thanks to [Nelson] Rockefeller, Alfred H. Barr., Jr., and René d’Harancourt” (112). 20. As Rodriguez, Pintura abstracta en Venezuela, 1945–­1965, 19, writes: “It is at the Taller Libre de Arte where serious discussion will begin on abstract art.” 21. Diehl, who was French cultural attaché and professor at la Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, gave Los Disidentes their name. Diehl, speaking of the first trips to Paris by the young artists whose work he followed in Venezuela while a teacher at the Escuela, remarked: “What transpired with Los Disidentes is that upon arriving in Paris they immediately discovered abstract art, of which they became complete fanatics.” Gastón Diehl, as cited in Caraballo, Taller Libre de Arte, 54. 22. Alejo Carpentier, “América ante la jóven literatura europea” (1931), in La novela latino­ americana en vísperas de un nuevo siglo y otras ensayos (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1981), 56–­57. 23. Los Disidentes included Alejandro Otero, Pascual Navarro, Mateo Manaure, Luis ­Guevara Moreno, Carlos González Bogen, Narciso Debourg, Perán Erminy, Rubén Núñez, Dora Hersen, Aimée Battistini, and the young philosophy student J. R. Guillent Pérez. 24. As noted in the chronology of the Taller Libre de Arte: Caraballo, Taller Libre de Arte, 48–­50. 25. For a critique of this exhibition, see Marta Traba, “Venezuela: Cómo se forma una plástica hegemónica,” Re-­vista Medellín (Medellín), 1978, reproduced in Marta Traba (Bogotá: Museo de Arte Bogotá, 1984), 216–­19. 26. Bernardo Chataing, Exposición de Pintores Jóvenes, exh. cat. (Caracas: Taller Libre de Arte, 1948). The exhibition ran October 3–­7, 1948. 27. Alfredo Hlito, Juan Melé, Lidy Prati, Juan del Prete, Jorge Souza, and Nélida de Souza, “Cuadros abstractos 1948,” exh. cat. (Caracas: Taller Libre de Arte, 1948), as reproduced in Caraballo, Taller Libre de Arte, 50. One of the few reviews of this exhibition picked up on the inventionist dimension of the show and manifesto: “The originality of the paintings is what was commented on most by the audience.” See Anonymous, “Últimas noticias,” El Nacional (Caracas), October 25, 1948, as reproduced in Juan N. Melé, La vanguardia del 40: Memorias de un artista concreto (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Cinco, 1999), 250. 28. These artists include Otero, Luis Guevara Moreno, Aliro Oramas, Rubén Núñez, and Jesús Soto. According to Rodriguez, La pintura abstracta en Venezuela 1945–­1965, 20: “The first thing that each of the Venezuelan artists did upon arriving in Europe was to

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go to see the paintings of the artists that they had heard about in conversations and at the Taller. Mondrian is one of the artists that comes to profoundly interest a good number of the Venezuelan artists.” 29. Jesús Soto, “Dialogue: J-­R Soto and Guy Brett,” Signals (London) 1, no. 10 (November–­ December 1965), 13. 30. For a thorough history of Venezuela during the dictatorships of Chaubaud and Pérez Jiménez, see Ewell, Venezuela, 107–­21. See also Simón Sáez Mérida, La dictadura ­Perezjimenista: Cara y cruz (Caracas: Almargen, 2005), and Carlos Alarcio Gómez, Marcos Pérez Jiménez: El último dictador (Caracas: El Nacional, 2007), 67–­129. 31. For more on the construction boom of the 1950s, which included radical renovation of the major cities, see Damián Bayón, “La arquitectura moderna en Venezuela,” in Arte moderno en América Latina (Madrid: Taurus Ediciones, 1985), 54–­64. 32. Marta Traba, “Finale: Allegro con fuoco—­cinéticos y experimentadores,” in Mirar en Caracas (Caracas: Monte Ávila, 1974), 125, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 279. 33. For a useful account of the work of Dewasne, who was affiliated with the French Communist Party and saw his abstractions as contributing to the cause of the working class, see Francis Frascina, “The Politics of Representation,” in Modernism in Dispute: Art since the Forties, by Paul Wood et al. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 133–­34. 34. For a history of the Galerie Denise René, see Jean-­Jacques Aillagon, ed., Denise René, l’intrépide: Une galerie dans l’aventure de l’art abstrait. 1944–­1978, exh. cat. (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2001). 35. For an informative discussion of the development of geometric abstraction in mid-­ twentieth-­century Paris, see Serge Guilbaut, “Squares and Stains: The Impossible Mix in Cold-­War Paris,” in The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, exh. cat. (Austin, TX: Blanton Museum of Art and Fundación Cisneros, 2007), 69. 36. See Michel Seuphor, L’art abstrait, ses origins, ses premiers maîtres (Paris: Maeghtt, 1949), 183. 37. Jean Dewasne, Vasarely (Paris: Presses litteraires de France, 1952). 38. As Vasarely recalls in Victor Vasarely, Vasarely, trans. I. Mark Paris (New York: Alpine, 1979), 73: “Oddly enough, it was in my two-­dimensional graphic studies . . . that optical kinetics finally made a vigorous and decisive appearance.” Vasarely worked for various advertising agencies in Paris in the 1930s and established his own firm in 1943. For a discussion of Vasarely’s training at the Mühely Academy in Budapest in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as his practice of graphic design in Paris in the 1930s and 1940s, see Robert C. Morgan, Vasarely (New York: Braziller, 2004), 18–­26. Inge Aicher-­Scholl, Otl Aicher, and Max Bill founded the Ulm Hochschule für Gestaltung in 1953; the latter served as the school’s first rector. In 1954 Tomás Maldonado was recruited by Bill to take over from Albers and others the important role of teaching the foundation courses at the school. By that time, however, Maldonado had stopped painting altogether. He went on to become rector of the school a decade later. For a thorough assessment of the history of the Ulm Hochschule für Gestaltung, see René Spitz, HfF Ulm, the View behind the Foreground: The Political Hisotry of the Ulm School of Design 1953–­1968 (Stuttgart: Axel Menges, 2002). 39. The Galerie Denise René’s opening exhibition in 1944 featured Vasarely’s work. For an overview of the Galerie Denise René, see Jean-­Paul Ameline, “Denise René: Histoire d’une galerie,” and Véronique Wiesinger, “Mouvements et marches de l’abstraction: De la Libération de Paris à la ‘Documenta II’ de Cassel (1944–­1959),” both in Denise

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René, l’intrépide: Yne galerie dans l’aventure de l’art abstrait. 1944–­1978, exh. cat. (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2001), 13–­41, 43–­63. 40. Alejandro Otero, untitled, Los Disidentes 1 (March 1950): 3. 41. The exhibition De Manet à nuestros días traveled to the Venezuela-­France Institute in 1950. For a discussion of this important exhibition, see Rodríguez, “Arte geométrico—­ arte constructivo,” 9. 42. Guillent Pérez, the resident art critic and philosopher of Los Disidentes, subsequently recalled the vibrant exchange of ideas between the Venezuelan artists in Paris: “The talks among the young Latin Americans were frequent. Sometimes the discussions became heated and bordered on dispute. On more than one occasion we were surprised to find ourselves engrossed in arguments about what we understood by Latin America, what we thought Europe signified, and why the whole world mattered.” J. R. Guillent Pérez, “Los Disidentes,” in Pintura abstracta en Venezuela 1945–­1965, by Rodríguez, 265. 43. J. R. Guillent Pérez, “Bolivar, nosotros y hoy,” Los Disidentes 1 (March 1950): 15, 16, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 173, 174. 44. Ibid. 45. J. R. Guillent Pérez, “Lo latinoamericano y lo occidental II,” Los Disidentes 3 (May 1950): 13, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 175. 46. Jorge Luis Borges, “The Argentine Writer and Tradition” (1951), trans. Esther Allen, in Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Non-­fictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger (New York: Penguin, 2000), 423. The similarity between the two arguments is striking, though I have been unable to find any point of contact or form of mediation between the two writers. 47. Ibid., 176. 48. Such a rejection of the habitual reality imposed by the colonial powers is also a negation of the notion of historical development that postcolonial theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty has usefully identified as “a stagist theory of history.” According to Chakrabarty, “Within this thought, it could always be said with reason that some people were less modern than others, and that the former needed a period of preparation and waiting before they could be recognized as full participants in . . . modernity. But this was precisely the argument of the colonizer—­the ‘not yet’ to which the colonized nationalist opposed his or her ‘now.’” See Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 9. 49. Editorial, Los Disidentes, 5 (September 1950), 1, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 178. 50. Guillent Pérez, “Los Disidentes,” 265. 51. Guillent Pérez, “Lo latinoamericano y lo occidental II,” 15, reproduced in Alfredo ­Boulton and His Contemporaries, 176. 52. Pascual Navarro, “Los Disidentes y sus críticos,” Los Disidentes, 5 (September 1950), 10. 53. See J. R. Guillent Pérez, “Los Disidentes de 1948,” Revista Nacional de Cultura (Caracas), September–­October 1965, 13–­16. 54. Editorial, Los Disidentes 5 (September 1950): 2, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 178. 55. Salas, Enduring Legacy, 218–­19. 56. Alejandro Otero, “Del arte abstracto,” Los Disidentes 4 (June 1950): 12. 57. Alejandro Otero, “Réplica a Miguel Otero Silva III,” El Nacional (Caracas), April 11, 1957, 16, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 221. 58. Guillent Pérez, “Lo latinoamericano y lo occidental II,” 16, reproduced in Alfredo ­Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 177.

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59. Editorial, Los Disidentes 2 (April 1950): 1. Los Disidentes were also highly critical of the

personal touch and individualist sensibility of existential painting and sculpture. the publication of Los Disidentes had an enormous impact in Venezuela. As Otero recalls in retrospect: “We were determined to make a confrontational publication, something different to protest what was happening in Venezuela. We decided to do it ourselves. . . . We wrote against everything, against the vices and things happening in Venezuela, and we defended the right of young people to intellectual development. The five issues of the journal were published in France and sent to Venezuela, where they were distributed for free. . . . When the magazine arrived in Venezuela, the reaction was incredible. We were told that we were scoundrels because we denounced even those who defended us and were disrespectful of our own tradition. We answered that the tradition was worthless and that we should be more in synch with our time.” Otero, from an interview in Arte en Colombia (Bogotá), 1977, as cited in Caraballo, Taller Libre de Arte, 55. 61. As the art historian Ariel Jiménez explains in “The Challenge of the Times,” in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 158: “In Concretism, they saw correspondences with their own mission: a commitment to breaking with the past, a decisive move toward a future charged with hope—­an order yet to come that would encompass all the realms of Venezuela’s burgeoning urban life.” Jiménez’s view strongly echoes Marta Traba’s perspective about the safeness of this art articulated in print in the 1970s. For instance, Traba writes in “Finale: Allegro con Fuoco—­Cinéticos y Experimentadores,” in Mirar en Caracas (Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 1974), 125: “I consider the Venezuelan Kinetic art trend to function as a kind of official art that has been very convenient for the ruling classes and economic powers since it caters so much to their ideology and elitism.” For English translation see Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 279. 62. Miguel Otero Silva, “Sobre el mundo interior de los abstraccionistas,” El Nacional (Caracas), April 2, 1957, 12, reproduced in Polémica sobre arte abstracto, 47, and Miguel Otero Silva, “Ubicación social del abstraccionismo,” El Nacional (Caracas), April 1, 1957, 12, and in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 207, 206. 63. Miguel Otero Silva, “Orientaciones de la nueva pintura,” El Nacional (Caracas), April 6, 1957, 16, reproduced in Polémica sobre arte abstracto, 61, and in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 209. 64. Otero Silva, “Ubicación social del abstraccionismo,” 12, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 42 and 206. 65. Ibid. 66. Otero Silva, “Orientaciones de la nueva pintura,” 16, reproduced in Polémica sobre arte abstracto, 61, and in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 211. 67. Alejandro Otero, “Las estructuras cinéticas de Jesús Soto,” El Nacional (Caracas), July 9, 1057, 16. 68. The Le mouvement exhibition was curated by Pontus Hultén and held in the Denise René Gallery in Paris April 6–­30, 1955. 69. Pontus Hultén, “Mouvement-­temps, ou Les quatre dimensions de la plastique cinétique,” Le Mouvement, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Denise René, 1955), n.p. 70. Ibid. 71. Ibid. 72. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (1911), trans. Arthur Mitchell (Mineola, FL: Dover, 1998), 308. The discussion of motion extends over pages 297–­314. 73. Pontus Hultén, “Petit memento des arts cinétiques,” in Le mouvement, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Denise René, 1955), n.p. 60. Indeed,


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74. Naum

Gabo followed Kinetic Sculpture with a text, “The Realist Manifesto,” 1920, coauthored with his brother Antoine Pevsner. The manifesto maintaines that mass and volume are not the only means of sculptural expression—­space and time, too, are fundamental to art. It seeks to correct “the thousand-­year-­old delusion in art that held the static rhythms as the only elements of the plastic and pictorial arts. We affirm in these arts a new element the kinetic rhythms as the basic forms of our perception of real time.” Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, “The Realistic Manifesto,” in Manifesto: A Century of Isms, ed. Mary Ann Caws (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 400. 75. Roger Bordier, “L’oeuvre transformable,” in Le mouvement, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Denise René, 1955), n.p. 76. Ibid. 77. Vasarely had studied at the Mühely, the center of Bauhaus studies in Hungary, from 1929 to 1930, before he moved to Paris. His “Notes pour un manifeste,” in Le mouvement, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Denise René, 1955), came to be known as the “Yellow Manifesto” because of the color of the paper on which it was printed. 78. László Moholy-­Nagy, Von Material zu Arkitektur (1929), reproduced in The New Vision (New York: W. W. Norton, 1938). 79. László Moholy-­Nagy and Alfréd Kemény, “Dynamisch-­konstructives Kraftsystem / Dynamic-­Constructive System of Forces,” Der Sturm (Berlin) 12 (1922): 186, reproduced in Moholy-­Nagy, ed. Krisztina Passuth (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1985), 290. 80. László Moholy-­Nagy, Vision in Motion (Chicago: Theobald, 1947). 81. Vasarely, “Notes pour un manifeste.” 82. Ibid. Elsewhere Vasarely describes pure composition, attained by “a few members of our generation,” as “a plastic unity on a square or rectangular plane surface comprised of geometrically-­inspired shapes in colors and contrasts. These shapes obey the laws of the plane and the four parallels that constitute the limiting boundaries of that plane. Every particle of this balanced color-­form surface is of the same plastic quality. That is, everything in it is either positive or negative color-­form. It goes without saying that superimposing constituent elements is now out of the question. If the same color is repeated, it will be sometimes negative, sometimes positive. The materials of the traditional painting have been banished. All that survives is natural texture of the medium, a certain density of colored matter. Colors are powerful, few in number, and rigorously flat, matte (luminous), or bright (deep). On such a plane surface, a spatial phenomenon may appear one moment and vanish the next. As a result the surface is constantly shifting” (1954). Victor Vasarely, Vasarely (New York: Alpine Fine Arts, 1978), 13. 83. Vasarely, “Notes pour un manifeste.” 84. Ibid. 85. Vasarely, announcing the rise of a new era, writes: “The age of plastic projections on flat and recessed surfaces, in daylight or in darkness, has begun.” Ibid. 86. Victor Vasarely, as cited in Stephen Bann, Experimental Painting: Construction, Abstraction, Destruction, Reduction (New York: Universe Books, 1970), 37. 87. Vasarely on several occasions called for abstract art to surpass the canvas format, to push out from its limitations, and to move into three dimensions. Speaking of this goal in a discussion with Dewasne in 1951, he declares: “Easel painting is not outmoded in the negative sense of the word. But there is a transition from the individual to the collective which in our age is appearing in a genuinely new guise because of the evolution of technology. I believe that the plastic arts are ripe for a vast synthesis of painting, sculpture, architecture, and urban planning . . . the new techniques and

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their marriage are opening limitless horizons to us.” Victor Vasarely, as cited in Gastón Diehl, Vasarely (New York: Crown, 1979), 33. 88. For a good account of Max Bill’s architecture and design practice, see the essays in Jan Hoet, Max Bill: Ohne Anfang, Ohne Ende, exh. cat. (Zürich: Herford, 2008). Also see Tomás Maldonado, Max Bill (Buenos Aires: Editorial Nueva Visión, 1955). 89. For a useful exploration of Gabo’s trajectory, see Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder, Constructing Modernity: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000). 90. For a persuasive account of how much Gabo’s appropriation of the title constructivism distorted the history of Russian art in the postwar period, see Benjamin H. D. ­Buchloh, “Cold War Constructivism,” in Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal 1945–­1964, ed. Serge Guilbaut (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 85– ­110. 91. Naum Gabo, in “An Exchange of Letters between Naum Gabo and Herbert Read,” ­Horizon (London) 53 (July 1944): 61. 92. In the 1954 statement, reproduced in Vasarely, 13, the artist remarks: “The celebrated transition from representational to non-­representational art is only one of the stages in the profound transformation taking place in the plastic arts. The term ‘abstract’ in painting refers not to an established fact, but to an irresistible trend toward plastic creation different from the kind we already know. I am of the opinion that we can no longer come to a halt now that the ‘transition’ has been made and that the abstract movement will inexorably pass through the following phases (I make four of them, five if we count the ‘transition’): 1) the plastic unit becomes unidentifiable (that is, non-­representational); 2) exterior vision is transformed into interior vision (early abstract phase); 3) abandonment of the conventional workmanship of painting—­touch, glazes, materials, and other elements—­for pure color, pure composition; 4) abandonment of all inherited techniques—­canvases, pigments, brushes—­and the advent of new materials; 5) abandonment of the two dimensional plane surface as an end in itself, thus opening up the supradimensions of space-­movement-­time (urban and architectonic functions, tele-­cinematic projection, expansion through the Museum Without Walls).” 93. Artworks by several members of Los Disidentes, including Mateo Manaure, Pascual Navarro, Carlos González Bogen, Alejandro Otero, and Oswaldo Vigas, were subsequently also included. See A. Granados Valdes, Guia: Obras de arte de la Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1974). 94. Carlos Raúl Villanueva, as cited in “Hacer, construer, realizer el país: Tarea inmediata de los venezolanos,” El Nacional (Caracas), October 4, 1962: “I did not make work for López Contreras, Medina, or Pérez Jiménez, but for the service and use of the public of Venezuela.” 95. Marina Gasparini, “Villanueva’s University City: The Works of a Work,” in Obras de arte de la Ciudad Universidad de Caracas (Caracas: Editorial Binev, 1991), 17. 96. Jesús Soto, in “Ever Soto: Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist,” in Jesús Rafael Soto: Vision en movimiento, exh. cat. (Mexico City: Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo; Buenos Aires: Proa Fundación, 2006), 37: “In 1953, [Villanueva] invited me to do a project for the Caracas University campus. The project was unsuccessful for political reasons, so I decided to abandon it.” Soto is more tactful in his letter of February 22, 1953, to Villanueva (in Carlos Raúl Villanueva Archives, Caracas, Soto file #23), citing aesthetic differences between what he refers to as his “Madí-­influenced art” and that of the architect’s university project. Here I presume that Soto conflates the art of Madí and that of the artists associated with the AACI in the 1940s.

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97. Vasarely describes the three structures as “architectonic movements” in a 1958 state-

ment reproduced in Vasarely, 9. 98. For Vasarely’s concept of kineticism in art, see his “Notes pour un manifeste.” 99. The

building on which Sophia is placed is in fact an air-­conditioning tower, and immediately below Vasarely’s three-­part mural are three vents of equal proportion to the murals above. The multiple layers of parallel stripes that feature in Vasarely’s mural panels echo the horizontal grills of the vents immediately below them. 100. Alejandro Otero, “Alejandro Otero Rodríguez polemiza con Mario Briceño Iragorry: A propósito de arte abstracto, de carrillones y campanas,” El Nacional (Caracas), May 7, 1952, as cited in Caraballo, Taller Libre de Arte, 59. 101. Miguel Otero Silva, “El regreso a lo funcional y a lo decorativo,” in Polémica sobre arte abstracto (Caracas: Colección Letras Venezolanas, 1957), 51, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 209. 102. Ibid. 103. Miguel Otero Silva, “Aparición y desarrollo del abstraccionismo,” in Polémica sobre arte abstracto (Caracas: Colección Letras Venezolanas, 1957), 40, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 205. 104. Otero Silva, “Regreso a lo funcional y a lo decorativo,” 51 (Polémica), 208 (Alfredo ­Boulton). 105. Alejandro Otero, in a letter to the Venezuelan art critic Alfredo Boulton, Paris, September 17, 1951 (cited in Otero, Soto, Cruz-­Diez: Tres maestros del abstraccionismo en Venezuela y su proyección internacional, exh. cat. [Caracas: Galería de Arte Nacional, 1994]), 147, writes: “I went to Holland just to see Mondrian. . . . I have no idea what may come from this experience, but in any case I have lived it and for my life this counts among those experiences that can give a deep and valuable stimulus.” 106. Alejandro Otero, “Réplica a Miguel Otero Silva II,” El Nacional (Caracas), April 10, 1957, 16, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 215. 107. Ibid. 108. Ibid., 78, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 216. 109. Alejandro Otero, letter to Alfredo Boulton, October 5, 1951, reproduced in Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Art Museums; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 150. 110. Alejandro Otero, “Réplica a Miguel Otero Silva I,” El Nacional (Caracas), April 10, 1957, 16, reproduced in Alfredo Boulton and His Contemporaries, ed. Jiménez, 212. 111. José Francisco Sucre, “El caso de Los Disidentes,” 1950, as cited in Rodríguez, La pintura abstracta en Venezuela, 17: “The central purpose in any reconsideration of values should rest in the possibility that the authentic culture of Venezuela might arise from that reconsideration. The position of the group of painters that has come together under the name Los Disidentes does not correspond to this requirement. . . . The work of almost all of these painters is characterized by a flight from the world of Venezuelan culture. . . . Nearly all of these artists line up before abstraction, and, perhaps, before any other ‘ism’ that is the latest fashion.” 112. Soto’s exhibition at the Taller Libre de Arte took place between May 29 and June 5, 1949. The exhibition brochure indicates that fourteen paintings and five drawings were on display. In Jesús Soto Archives, Paris, file “Bibliographie expositions personnelles,” EP1949-­1. 113. As the critic Perán Erminy recalled in 1968 about the Venezuelan art context of the the late 1940s and early 1950s, “Abstraction could not materialize in our environment because it was not known, or it was barely known, . . . for the most part it was beyond

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our comprehension. Proof of this is that at the Taller Libre de Arte we spoke about abstract art in a tone that ranged from confusion to derision or surprise.” Perán ­Erminy, “La pintura en Venezuela: Las nuevas corrientes,” cited in Pintura abstracta en Venezuela 1945–­1965, ed. Rodríguez, 20. 114. Battistini claims to have been friends with Soto’s family, and even that the young Soto saw some of her paintings at her home in Ciudad Bolívar. See “Aimée Battistini,” in 12 pintores y criticos de arte, ed. Angel Ramos Giugni (Caracas: Concejo Municipal de Distrito Federal, 1976), 118. 115. Battistini recalls that while Soto arrived in Paris just as Los Disidentes group was breaking up, he functioned as a kind of catalyst for a return to painting: “When [Soto] arrived [in Paris], we were suffering from a long break from work. Alejandro Otero was in the type of deep reflective state, torn between figuration and abstraction, that didn’t allow him to work. Soto set to work immediately, and his example provided the stimulus for us to get going again.” Ibid., 120. 116. As he recalls in a 1974 interview with Claude-­Louis Renard, “Excerpts from an Interview with Soto,” in Soto: A Retrospective Exhibition (New York: Solomon Guggenheim Museum, 1974), 13: “The spirit of Bauhaus art attracted me particularly. . . . With some difficulty I also discovered the work of Albers, since there were so few to be seen in Paris. But I found out as much about him as I could, and finally saw his paintings thanks to Denise René who decided to put on a loan exhibition.” 117. Ibid. 118. Jesús Soto, as cited by Jean Clay in “Soto,” Signals (London) 1, no. 10 (November–­ December 1965): 7. 119. Ibid., 9. 120. For a penetrating mediation of the development of Mondrian’s painting, see Yve-­Alain Bois, “The Iconoclast,” in Piet Mondrian 1872–­1944 (New York: Little, Brown, 1995), 313–­72. 121. The quote is from Robert Welsh, who, speaking of another, related work, observes that the flicker is most effective “if one focuses upon a single line crossing, in which instance the spots of the surrounding intersections appear and disappear in a lively tempo of kinetic activity.” See Robert Welsh, “The Place of Composition 12 with Small Blue Square in the Art of Piet Mondrian,” Bulletin of the National Gallery of Canada 29 (1977). Also see Yve-­Alain Bois, “Piet Mondrian, New York City,” in Painting as Model (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1990), 176. I owe these references and knowledge of other details of Mondrian’s paintings to a conversation with art historian Nancy J. Troy in San Francisco on May 16, 2013. 122. Jesús Soto, from an interview with Sergio Antillano, El Nacional (Caracas), 1961, as translated and reproduced in “Dialogue: J-­R Soto & Guy Brett,” 13. Soto recalls: “I started out with the desire to make the work of Mondrian move. Mondrian’s last three works, the boogie-­woogie paintings made in New York, affected me deeply; it seemed to me that he had made a sudden leap in the direction of a purely dynamic painting, realized through optical means. It seemed to me that he was about to make the image move optically, and it was this process that filled my mind when I started making works in 1951.” Elsewhere in the dialogue with Brett in Signals Soto observes: “My aim is, by still using two dimensional means, to give the illusion of mobility. . . . Sculpture recently liberated itself so that its elements might move in space: but in my work it’s the surface that is moving” (ibid.). 123. Soto knew that he was on the verge of a breakthrough with his work. Immediately upon returning from Holland, he writes with enthusiasm to José M. Garcia (July 7, 1951): “I think that I am very close to arriving at something interesting.” In Jesús Soto archives, Paris, E-­20. No t e s t o Page s 9 4 – 9 7

124. Jesús Soto, in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, ed. Ariel Jiménez (New York:

Fundación Cisneros, 2011), 38. an account of the extent to which Sartre embodied the philosophical, literary, critical and political cache of Paris in the postwar years, see Anna Boschetti, Sartre et “Les Temps Modernes”: Une enterprise intellectuelle (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1985). 126. Jean-­Paul Sartre, from Existentialism Is a Humanism (1945), trans. Philip Mairet (London: Methuen, 1948), reproduced in Jean-­Paul Sartre, Basic Writings, ed. Stephen Priest (New York: Routledge, 2001), 32. 127. Soto, as cited by Clay in “Soto,” 9. Emphasis in original. 128. Hans Vogt, “Flight into System,” in Neue Musik seit 1945 (Stuttgart, 1972), as cited in Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance, trans. M. Robertson (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), 513. 129. Soto, in “Ever Soto: Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist,” 43: “Back then, I had a chance to meet Pierre Boulez shortly after he had created a space called Domaine Musical. [In 1954 Boulez organized a series of concerts under the name Domaine Musical with the intention of creating a platform for new music.] I can’t recall how often the concerts were, but I went to every one. Boulez talked about Schoenberg, the composers from the Vienna School, and they played pieces that had been produced there. I became very interested in that music, and wanted to know more, so I looked into it.” Elsewhere, Soto recollects: “Pierre Boulez awakened my interest in new musical structures. . . . We had a good relationship.” Soto, in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 49. 130. Soto recalls in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 49: “I discovered the new musical structures, the twelve-­tone system, and the serial experiments through a book by René Leibowitz. He had been a disciple of Anton Webern and wrote a book on the twlve-­tone system that I read and studied religiously, trying to understand the new musical systems and looking for a strategy to translate them to the visual arts.” Soto had met Leibowitz, a renowned scholar of Schoenberg and a direct descendant of the Vienna school, at the home of Venezuelan collector Inocente Palacios (ibid.). Webern began linking dynamics and tone color to the primary row system developed by Schoenberg, making the row not only of notes but of other aspects of music as well. Composers such as Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, and Milton Babbitt would take this as the starting point for serialism after the Second World War. 131. This was an extension of the principle of the twelve-­tone technique by subjecting all the parameters of the music to a series of twelve: not just twelve tones but twelve dynamic intensities, twelve rhythmic possibilities, and so on. For a good overview of Boulez’s trajectory, see Jonathan Goldman, The Musical Language of Pierrre Boulez: Writings and Compositions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). See also Jean Vermeil, Conversations with Boulez—­Thoughts on Conducting (Portland, OR: Amadeus, 2003). 132. Pierre Boulez, Notes on an Apprenticeship, trans. H. Weinstock (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), 151. 133. Boulez’s compositional logic links “rhythmic structures to serial structures by common organizations, which will also include other characteristics of sound: intensity, mode of attack, timbre. Then to enlarge that morphology into a coalescent rhetoric” (ibid.). 134. This was in turn a systematic radicalization of what Theodor W. Adorno in Philosophy of Modern Music, trans. A. G. Mitchell and W. V. Blomster (New York: Continuum, 1994), claims distinguishes the “revolutionary” or “progressive” Schoenberg from the “reactionary” or “restorative” Stravinsky. However, the other side of Adorno’s ­apparently 125. For

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paradoxical definition was entirely ignored: that the only rational objectivity that was still conceivable for the modern work of art was possible, in any significant sense, only as a product of subjectivity. Boulez too maintained that the new music he pioneered was in fact both meaningful and immanently social—­more than merely a self-­referential musical phenomenon. Indeed, he assigns profound significance to musical forms. 135. Boulez, Notes of an Apprenticeship, 172, 181. 136. As Soto recollects in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 48–­49: “When I understood serial music, I found a fabulous world where sound was not used as a function of taste; the assemblage of sound values was perfectly codified. Every musical value was a number, and using parameters whose measures did not correspond to the traditional ones, a totally different music could be produced. Following this example, I decided to codify pictorial elements, to conceive of aesthetic material analytically.” 137. Soto, in “Dialogue: J-­R Soto & Guy Brett,” 13. 138. Soto, in “Ever Soto: Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist,” 42. 139. Soto, in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 55. As he recalled in Claude-­Louis Renard, “Excerpts from an Interview with Soto,” in Soto, 15: “I was greatly impressed to discover that by using series, one could construct a new world. So, around 1953, to resolve my own set of problems, I tried to codify basic colors in order to establish a serial system. . . . These serial works quickly led me to a new phase—­the vibrating forms which became the goal of my subsequent experiments.” 140. Soto, in Renard, “Excerpts from an Interview with Soto,” 12. 141. As Soto recalls in “Ever Soto: Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist,” 43: “I realized that the notion of depersonalization also lay at the core of this revolution. Instead of playing on the emotions and summoning up the mystic notion of ‘inspiration,’ they sought structures that could produce events of an entirely different nature.” 142. Guy Brett, introduction to Soto (New York: Marlborough Gerson Gallery, 1969), n.p., as cited in Aleca Le Blanc, “Jesús Rafael Soto, Double Transparency, 1956,” in The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, exh. cat. (Austin, TX: Blanton Museum of Art and Funcación Cisneros, 2007), 151. 143. Soto, in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 509. 144. Soto, in Renard, “Excerpts from an Interview with Soto,” 14. 145. Soto, in “Ever Soto: Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist,” 43: “It occurred to me that if they had been able to entirely restructure music while preserving the same writing system using twelve tones, you should be able to do something similar in painting. And that’s how I got the idea of reducing the system of chromatic expression to an absolute minimum—­in other words, from among the myriad possible tones and nuances, preserving only those colors that are clearly defined: the three primary colors, the three secondary colors, plus black and white. Then I created my own series of eight colors and worked on a system I called ‘permutation.’” 146. Soto, in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 52. 147. Soto, in “Dialogue: J-­R Soto & Guy Brett,” 13. 148. Soto, in “Ever Soto: Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist,” 42. 149. Soto came to believe that his visual art “should exist in time the same way that music does.” “Ever Soto: Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist,” 44. 150. Pierre Boulez, Boulez on Music Today (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 83–­98. 151. As Boulez put it, “the continuum” is certainly not the transition “‘effected’ from one point in space to another (successive or instantaneous). The continuum is manifested by the possibility of partitioning space. . . . The dialectic between continuity and discontinuity thus involves the concept of partition; I would go so far as to say that No t e s t o Page s 9 9 – 1 0 8

continuum is this possibility, for it contains both the continuous and the discontinuous.” Ibid., 85. 152. Ibid., 64. 153. According to Boulez, striated space can be further subcategorized into fixed and variable, straight and curved, focalized and nonfocalized, regular and irregular, and so on, and these categories furthermore can intermingle with each other to various degrees. Ibid. 154. Ibid., 87. 155. A similar perceptual ambiguity exists between smooth and striated time. Although striated time is “pulsed” (grounded in a “referential system” that is a “function of chronometric time of greater or lesser delimitation, breadth or variability”) its manifest sound can be interpreted as smooth time (Boulez, Boulez on Music Today, 88). And although smooth time is “amorphous” (without either “partition” or “module”), its actual sound can be taken for striated time (88, 93). For example, “a static distribution in striated time will tend to give the impression of smooth time, whereas a differentiated and directed distribution in smooth time, especially when based on adjacent values, may easily be focused with the usual results of striated time” (92–­93). Again, the technique of music’s production ultimately defines the difference between smooth and striated time: “in smooth time, time is filled without counting; in striated time, time is filled by counting” (94). It is smooth time that paradoxically opens to the heterogeneity of limitless connection and thus mutation. 156. As Moholy-­Nagy argues in Vision in Motion (1947), a book that Soto read with great interest, vision in motion means “seeing while moving”: “This development of the visual arts from fixed perspective to ‘vision in motion’ is vision in relationships. The fixed viewpoint, the isolated handling of problems as a norm, is rejected and replaced by a flexible approach, by seeing matters in a constantly changing moving field of mutual relationships . . . based on the universal principle of relationships” (114). 157. Boulez, Boulez on Music Today, 87. 158. Moholy-­Nagy superimposed planes in many of his compositions over the years, often juxtaposing opaque and translucent areas with the aid of new materials such as “transparent and translucent plates” that make color appear to “float almost without material effect in front of the plane to which it is in fact applied.” László Moholy-­Nagy, Painting, Photography, Film, trans. J. Seligman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969), 25, as cited in Hal Foster, “The Bauhaus Idea in America,” in Albers and Moholy-­Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, exh. cat., ed. Ahim Borchardt-­Hume (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 174n11; emphasis in original. 159. Boulez, Boulez on Music Today, 27–­28. Boulez continues: “Independently of any dimension, intervals are developed among themselves in a context whose coherence is assured by complementary chromatic principles” (28). 160. Soto claims in Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez that he recognized right away that he had made a remarkable discovery with Metamorphosis: “Superposing a plot of dots over a plot of small squares, I discovered a phenomenon that left me floating on air for almost a week: when I superimposed the plots, luminous nuclei appeared, rotating and moving whenever I shifted position in front of them. . . . I called it Metamorphosis because those luminous and immaterial dots had emerged from the superimposition of two similar elements” (60). 161. Margaret Livingstone, Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing (New York: Harry Abrams, 2002), 138. 162. Umberto Eco, The Open Work (1962), trans. A. Cancogni (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 262. Eco is in fact here citing an unidentified review of Soto’s kinetic structures written by the German poet Claus Bremer. No t e s t o Page s 1 0 8 – 1 1 4

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163. Soto

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would refer to his new work as “visual art.” As he states in a 1956 interview with ­Rafael Delgado: “I think that what we are making, and, most of all, what the generations that will follow us will make, will not be able to be properly referred to as ‘painting,’ but rather ‘visual art’ [arte visual]: we have to keep in mind, in order to realize our work, the contribution of cinema, television, photography, and the new materials produced by industry.” Jesús Soto, in Rafael Delgado, “De la pintura al arte visual, o La trayectoria de Jesús Soto,” El Nacional (Caracas), May 8, 1956, in Jesús Soto Archives, Paris, P-­5. 164. Soto defines optical art as works “in which the picture could be embraced in one glance without the intervention of movement,” and kinetic art as works “in which movement and time-­duration are directly experienced, becoming a fundamental, constitutive dimension in the work.” Quoted in Clay, “Soto,” 8. 165. According to Jean Clay, Spiral Relief resolves two fundamental problems: “(1) the problem of movement,” insofar as time will now “take its place among the plastic dimensions, since the work can only be viewed in a duration and requires the movement of the spectator; and (2) the problem of the destruction of form, the dissolution of matter, since the very movement of the spectator gives birth to the ceaseless metamorphoses of volumes inscribed by the artist.” Ibid. 166. The effect varies with the structures. Concentric circles of specific dimensions, when placed on straight lines, produce shadowy rings; straight lines at a slight angle produce waves or curves; a straight line placed diagonally across parallel straight lines will appear to be broken up into segments. When the two superimposed sections are separated by a space and one walks in front of them, the shadowy rings expand, merge, disapper, reappear; the curves and waves move across the structure, upwards and downwards; and the broken line disintegrates still further, is re-­formed, or even disappears altogether if it falls along one of the background lines. The effect is purely physiological and involuntary. The spectator must react in a predictable manner to the optical phenomenon. 167. As Linda Henderson has shown, the definition of the fourth dimension as time (and not higher spaces) is largely a product of the twentieth century, following on Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1908). See Linda Dalrymple Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-­Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 9. 168. Clay, “Soto,” 7. 169. Jean Clay, “J-­R. Soto: Creating Imaginary Space,” Studio International (London) 171, no. 873 (January 1966): 5. 170. Gilbert Simondon, “The Genesis of the Individual” (1964), in Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (New York: Zone Books, 1992), 297–­319. Simondon’s theory of individuation considers individuals as dynamic co-­constructions dependent on different ways of being, rhythms, and gestures. For Simondon, the environments in which individuals act are not so much contexts as sets of dissonances that effect subjective being. See Gilbert Simondon, L’individu et sa genèse physico-­biologique (l’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information) (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1964). Chapter Three 1. GRAV,

“Assez de mystifications II,” pamphlet (October 1963), reproduced in Julio Le Parc, ed. Jean-­Louis Pradel (Milan: Severgnini, 1995), 275. 2. Julio Le Parc, “Guérilla culturelle,” Robho (Paris) 3 (Spring 1968): n.p. 3. Editors, “Aclaración,” Boletín de Arte Concreto-­‘Invención’ (Buenos Aires) 2 (December

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1946): 2, as cited and translated by Gabriel Pérez-­Barreiro, “The Argentine Avant-­Garde, 1944–­1950” (PhD diss., University of Essex, 1996), 177–­78. While this is the second issue of the group’s journal, the name changed slightly, now identified as a “boletín.” 4. The origins of the term Madí are highly contested. Some have suggested that it is a conjunction of the first two syllables of each word of the phrase materialismo dialéctico; others that it is an acronym of “Movimiento de Arte de Invención.” For details of this debate and the legal wrangles that it produced, see Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 185–­88. 5. “Movimiento Madí, Buenos Aires, Junio 1946” (leaflet). Copies of many of these handbills are located in the archives of Raul Naon in Buenos Aires. Some are also reproduced in Mario H. Gradowczyk and Nelly Perazzo, “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1933–­1953,” in Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1933–­1953, exh. cat. (New York: Americas Society, 2001), 43, and also in Robho 3 (Spring 1968). 6. For a thorough study of this show, its brochure and accompanying events, see Pérez-­ Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 191–­200. For a general overview of the emergence of Madí and its first exhibitions, see Jorge B. Ribera, Madí y la vanguardia argentina (Buenos Aires: Paidos, 1976), 14–­45. Note, however, that Ribera’s interpretation, while informative about details, is very much from the slant of Kosice and therefore has to be read with some caution. 7. “Madí,” in 1a Exposition, exhibition brochure (August 3, 1946), n.p., as reproduced in Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde, 1944–­1950,” plate 52c. 8. Ibid., plate 52d. 9. “Movimiento Madí, Buenos Aires, June 1946” (leaflet), reproduced in Gradowczyk and Perazzo, “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata,” 43. 10. Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 199. Pérez-­Barreiro further observes that the photographs indicate the paintings were hung in two rows, with coplanals on the top and broken-­frame paintings on the bottom. 11. Ibid., 192. 12. According to Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” this statement “is the clearest declaration so far of the ‘foundational’ ambition of Madí. It is also the first mention of the creation of a Madí myth” (92). 13. The “Madí Manifesto” was published in Spanish and French in the magazine Arte Madí Universal no. 0 (February–­March 1947), edited by Kosice (as with the following seven numbers) and signed “From the School’s manifesto.” The version I will consider is reproduced as Gyula Kosice, “Manifiesto Madi,” in Manifiestos argentinos: Políticas de lo visual 1900–­2000, ed. Rafael Cippolini (Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2003), 220–­22. The authorship of the “Madí Manifesto” is still in question, with both Arden Quin and Kosice claiming sole authorship. What is more certain, since it is stated quite clearly in the brochure that accompanied the French Research Institute exhibition, is that Arden Quin read “The Introduction to the Manifesto” on the first day of the show. For the controversy surrounding the original document, see Pérez-­Barreiro, “Argentine Avant-­Garde,” 287–­97, and Gradowczyk and Perazzo, “Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata,” 42–­44. The latter argue that “the manifesto should be considered a collective text by the three declared leaders of the movement, Arden Quin, Kosice, and Rothfuss,” and point out that on the back cover of the 1946 Van Riel exhibition catalogue, these three artists are identified as the leaders of Madí (66n96). 14. “Manifiesto Madí,” as reproduced in Manifiestos argentinos, ed. Cippolini, 220. Nine categories of Madí art—­Madí painting, sculpture, architecture, drawing, poetry, music, drama, fiction, and dance—­are then listed with corresponding definitions. In all cases, the dynamic is emphasized. “Madí painting,” for instance, is identified as

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featuring a “broken and irregular frame” and “articulate planes, with linear, rotary, or translation movement.” “Madí sculpture” is also described as mobile—­“Madic sculpture, three-­dimensional, no color. Total forms and solids with background, with articulation, rotation and translation, etcetera”—­and so is “Madí architecture,” which features shiftable rooms and forms (ibid.). All traces of artistic expression and representation, let alone of conventional academic technique, are conspicuously absent from the Madí program. 15. More specifically, industrialization is said to have led to the supersession of figurative realism by the pictorial abstraction of cubism and surrealism. The latter, however, are described as “essentially romantic, expressive.” Although the Madí praise abstraction for having “met the ideological needs of the time” and made “inestimable contributions to the solution of the problems posed to today’s culture,” they now characterize it as historically anachronistic. Ibid., 220–­21. 16. Ibid., 221. The descriptions of the various techniques do not amount to a coherent aesthetic, let alone to a rigorous theoretical consistency, as was the case with the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención. But theoretical or aesthetic aims do not seem to be the primary objective of the associated artists. Rather, the aim of the manifesto is to proclaim the formation of a group, the Madí, which could then be broadly publicized. 17. Ibid., 222. 18. Ibid., 221–­22. 19. Pérez-­Barreiro, “The Argentine Avant-­Garde, 1944–­1950,” 210. 20. Ibid., 211. 21. “The Madis,” Time (New York) 48, no. 25 (December 16, 1946): 40. 22. Ibid. 23. Lucio Fontana, “Manifiesto Blanco” (Buenos Aires), brochure, reproduced in Manifiestos argentinos, ed. Cippolini, 188–­94. The manifesto was drawn up by Fontana’s students Bernardo Arias, Horacio Cazeneuve, and Marcos Fridman and was signed by several others. 24. As Jorge Roccamonte, a student at the Academy and one of the signatories of the manifesto, recalls: “When Fontana came to my studio on the terrace to sign the Manifiesto blanco, which he had in his hand, I didn’t think twice about it. For me, an 18-­or 19-­year-­old, it was like finding an ordered, extended and improved version of all the discussions I had taken part in with Fontana and all my other friends.” Transcript of a conversation between Jorge A. Roccamonte and Enrico Crispolti, 1973, published as “On Fontana and the Manifiesto blanco in Buenos Aires,” in Lucio Fontana, ed. Enrico Crispolti and Rosella Siligato (Milan: Electa, 1998), 104. Roccamonte continues: “One day Lucio told me to go to a meeting. We went to the outskirts, to a large studio, and there we found the young artists of the Madí Group. They showed Lucio their works, small sculptures, compositions in wood that turned into furniture by means of special devices. . . . [This Madí Group] carried out research of a neo-­constructivist type, and came from a previous group that was called Concrete Art and Invention, led by Maldonado . . . , a very intelligent and knowledgeable man. Many dissidents from the group joined us” (105). 25. Tomás Maldonado, Vanguardia y racionalidad (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1977), 31. 26. Fontana, “Manifiesto Blanco,” 188. 27. Ibid., 193–­94: “Material, color, and sound in motion are phenomena whose simultaneous occurrence constitutes the new art.” 28. Ibid., 193. 29. Following his relocation to Italy in 1947, Fontana would take full credit for the ideas articulated in the “White Manifesto.” He also published two “spatial” manifestos in No t e s t o Page s 1 2 3 – 1 2 5

late 1947 and early 1948, both titled “Spaziali” (Spatials). See Annette Samec-­Luciani, “The Spatial Movement (1946–­1952),” in Lucio Fontana, 1899–­1968, exh. cat. (Barcelona: Fundació Caixa de Pensions, 1988), 93–­99. 30. Lucio Fontana, “Technical Manifesto,” presented at the First International Congress of Proportion at the IC Triennale, Milan, 1947, reproduced in Ark: Journal of the Royal College of Art (London) 1 (January 1959): 6. Interestingly, whereas by the second decade of the twentieth century the fourth dimension was interpreted simply as time, Fontana continued to advocate for the idealist, transcendent qualities of a fourth dimension of space well into the mid-­t wentieth century. This can largely be attributed to the artist’s admiration for what Linda Henderson describes as the futurist fusion of the spatial fourth dimension with notions of temporality and intuitive consciousness. See Henderson, The Fourth Dimension, 110–­16. 31. As Jorge Roccamonte recalls in Lucio Fontana (Milan: Electa, 1998), 106: “The manifesto had to be followed up with something that would put our ideas and aims into practice. So we decided to organize a collective exhibition, to come into the open, as a group. We agreed to meet at six in the afternoon, and began to paint walls. In Rúa Florida, on the corner with Rúa Cordova, we had chosen a demolished house, a baldío, as we say in Spanish. It was a very large area. We painted the walls, attached colorful pieces of cloth: with drums full of paint and tar we managed to soil and mark the walls. We also hung up a few sculptures by their feet. We managed to illuminate the whole area, I don’t know how, so passersby stopped and looked at us as if we were mad. It was fun, but it didn’t last long. Because the police turned up and moved us on.” 32. Le Parc claims to have refused Fontana’s request to sign the “White Manifesto.” See Julio Le Parc, “Le Manifeste blanc,” in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 253. 33. Luis Alberto Romero, A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century, trans. James P. Brennan (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2002), 114–­19. 34. Andrea Giunta, Avant-­Garde, Internationalism, and Politics: Argentine Art in the Sixties (2004), trans. Peter Kahn (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 48. Giunta reveals that abstract art proliferated in Argentina in the mid-­1950s, as is evident not only in publications such as Romero Brest’s ¿Qué es el arte abstracto? (1953) and Aldo Pellegrini Artistas abstractos de la Argentina (1955) but also by the formation of groups such as the Asociación Arte Nuevo by Aldo Pellegrini and Arden Quin in 1955 and the Agrupación Arte No Figurativo a bit later. 35. Romero, History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century, 131–­32. 36. For a good account of the travails of the museum, which remained closed until June 1957, when it reopened with Romero Brest as director, see Giunta, Avant-­Garde, Internationalism, and Politics, 65. 37. Sobrino is Spanish, though he relocated to Argentina in the late 1940s and studied in Buenos Aires in the 1950s. García Rossi and Hugo Demarco are Argentinian. 38. This would soon lead to the repudiation of the methods of Concrete artists whose compositions were arrived at by means of a choice of shapes laid out freely over the canvas. For the young Argentinian artists, the difference between the universal languages of lyrical abstraction and geometric abstraction came to seem artificial, since in both cases painterly production was a matter of laying out shapes and colors over an area in keeping with a definite artistic criterion. The only nuance was that the former made use of stains or smears while the latter preferred geometric shapes. 39. Questions that would soon lead to new forms of spectatorial participation. Much of this information is derived from my extensive interviews with Julio Le Parc, October 15–­19, 2011. The transcript is archived at the Institute for Studies in Latin American Art (ISLAA) in New York. No t e s t o Page s 1 2 6 – 1 2 8

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40. As Serge Guilbaut has shown, by this time Paris was being challenged by the growing

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power of the New York art world. But for Latin Americans at least, Paris remained the capital of the arts well into the 1960s. See Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985). 41. For a useful overview of the French government’s embrace of technological modernity during these years, see Larry Busbea, Topologies: The Urban Utopia in France, 1960–­1970 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007). 42. Victor Vasarely, as quoted by Stephen Bann, “Unity and Diversity in Kinetic Art,” in Kinetic Art : Four Essays by Stephen Bann, Reg Gadney, Frank Popper and Philip Steadman (New York : Motion Books, 1966), 61. 43. François Molnár and François Morellet, “Pour un art abstrait progressif,” offprint within the framework of the exhibition nove tendencije 2, Galerija suvremene umjetnosti, Zagreb, 1963, n.p., translated as “For a Progressive Abstract Art” and reproduced in A Little-­Known Story about a Movement, a Magazine, and the Computer’s Arrival in Art: New Tendencies and Bit International, 1961–­1973, ed. Margit Rosen (Karlsruhe, Germany: ZKM / Center for Art and Media; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), 138. 44. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980), trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 69–­ 70: “The plane of consistency knows nothing of differences in level, orders of magnitude, or distances. . . . It knows nothing of the distinction between contents and expressions, or that between forms and formed substances; these things exist only by means of and in relation to the strata.” 45. Visual perception almost automatically activates knowledge about visible reality. The relation between the concepts of the visible and of vision is perception. 46. “Perception,” Molnár writes, “is influenced by knowledge, which is itself determined by society. The essential part of the process of visual perception takes place after the eye registers an image, through a system of processing information that is more cerebral than optical.” Yet “this does not mean that perception involves thought. Rather, perception is immediate.” See Molnár and Morellet, “For a Progressive Abstract Art,” 138. 47. Soto had met Morellet through the Galerie Denise René. See Valerie Hillings, “Experimental Artists’ Groups in Europe, 1951–­1968: Abstraction, Interaction, and Internationalism” (PhD diss., New York University, 2002), 316–­17. 48. Joël Stein, interview by Tobias Hoffmann and Rasmus Kleine, in Die Neuen Tendenzen—­ Eine europäische Künstlerbewegung 1961–­1973, exh. cat., ed. Emilia Müller (Heidelberg: Edition Braus, 2006), 312–­13. 49. See “Acte de foundation,” pamphlet (July 1960), in Julio Le Parc archives, Cachon, France. Copies of the writings by Le Parc, the Centre de recherche d’art visuel, and the Groupe de recherche d’art visuel (henceforth GRAV) cited in this chapter are located in the Julio Le Parc archives. Many are also reproduced in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, or Stratégies de participation: G.R.A.V.–­Groupe de recherche d’art visuel, exh. cat., ed. Yves Aupetitallot (Grenoble, France: Le Magasin–­Centre d’art contemporain, 1998). 50. There are obvious parallels between the name of the group and the name of the studio established in 1951 by the Concrete musicians Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry at the Radiodiffusion television Françoise (French Radio-­Television), called Groupe de recherche de musique concréte, in order to pursue musical research in a laboratorylike setting. The Groupe de recherche de musique concréte hosted many modern musicians in the 1950s, including Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen. As Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner explain in Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (New York: Continuum, 2004), 5, Schaeffer called his new music musique concréte to contrast it to traditional musique abstraite, which passed through the detours of notation, instru-

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mentation, and performance. In 1957 the name of the studio was changed to Groupe de recherches musicales. 51. As the artists wrote a few months later in CRAV, “Essai d’appréciation de nos recherches,” pamphlet (1960), in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 63: “We are now interested in visual phenomena, toward which our conceptions and our practical research are converging. We want to remove the word art, and all it currently signifies, from our vocabulary and our activity.” 52. Abraham Moles, Information Theory and Esthetic Perception, trans. Joel E. Cohen (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1966). Interview with Vera Molnár, Paris, May 15, 2012. 53. Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (orig. 1949; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998). 54. Moles, Information Theory and Esthetic Perception, 167. 55. Ibid., 162. 56. Using the term information, Moles picks up on the mathematical theory of communication that was articulated by Shannon in the late 1940s. This theory does not address the meaning, reference, relevance, reliability, usefulness, or interpretation of information exchanged. Its only concern is with the level of detail and frequency in the un­interrupted data that constitute it. As Weaver remarks about Shannon’s theory in “Some Recent Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Communication,” in Mathematical Theory of Communication, 12: “The mathematical theory of communication deals with the carriers of information, symbols and signals, not with information itself.” The concern is with mere data that constitute but are not yet semantic information. “The ‘meaning’ of a message is generally irrelevant,” Shannon proposes, since there are many possible messages. “What is significant is the difficulty in transmitting the message from one point to another.” See Claude Shannon, “Communication Theory—­Exposition of Fundamentals,” in Claude E. Shannon: Collected Papers, ed. Claude Elwood Shannon and D. D. Wyner (New York: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 1993), 173. For Shannon, “the fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point” (“Mathematical Theory of Communication,” 5). The echoes with Concrete art are striking, especially in the concern with communicating a proposition in its most exact form. But unlike Concrete artists, Shannon indicates his awareness of the multiple factors that corrupt a message before it sets to its recipient—­what he will call “noise.” 57. Moles, Information Theory and Esthetic Perception, 57. 58. Ibid., 60. 59. François Molnár in “Interview de Vera Molnár et de François Molnár par Sigurd Rompza, Paris, 1992,” Kunst Konkret: Zeitschrift für Kunst, Architektur und Gestaltung 1 (1995): 24: “The semantic field of research is a very broad world. . . . The sense that artists give to this term is completely different from the meaning which scientists give it. Even within science, the word takes different meanings in different disciplines. . . . In 1960, I wrote an article on this problem in collaboration with François Morellet. I remember the difficulties we had in CRAV coming to an agreement on this issue. . . . But we all deplored the gap between modern art and the public.” 60. The statement is quoted by François Molnár in “Lettre de demission,” November 30, 1960, in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 60, announcing his resignation from CRAV. 61. Ibid. 62. Molnár had proposed merely a few weeks earlier that the artists, if they felt that it was absolutely necessary to exhibit, should at least include alongside the displayed No t e s t o Page s 1 3 1– 1 3 3


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work “a demonstration or an explanatory program showing the method used.” François Molnár, meeting notes, November 11, 1960, by Vera Molnár, cited in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 59. 63. Molnár, “Lettre de demission,” November 30, 1960, in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 60–­61. 64. For an account of these events, see Stein, interview, 312. Soon after the departure of the Molnárs, Moyano was deported back to Argentina. García Miranda left the group in early 1961 to devote more time to musical research, and Demarco did the same to focus on an independent art career. 65. CRAV, “Essai d’appréciation de nos recherches,” pamphlet (1960), in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 63. 66. Ibid. 67. This notion, usually called “technological determinism,” is fairly common in the literature. While there are many examples in the past two centuries, a classic is Robert L. Heilbroner, “Do Machines Make History?,” Technology and Culture 8, no. 3 (June 1967): 335–­45. See also Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. G. Winthrop-­Young and M. Wutz (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), and more recently Merrit Roe Smith, ed., Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004). 68. CRAV, “Essai d’appréciation de nos recherches,” 63. 69. Victor Vasarely, as quoted by Bann in “Unity and Diversity in Kinetic Art,” 61. 70. GRAV, “Assez de mystifications,” pamphlet, September 1961, in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 267. 71. In this respect Le Parc’s new work was closer to László Moholy-­Nagy’s Light Prop for an Electric Stage, with its projected lights and shadows in perpetual movement. 72. Bewogen Beweging was organized by Pontus Hultén, William Sandberg, Jean Tinguely, and Daniel Spoerri and held at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm from March 3 to April 17, 1961. 73. GRAV, “Propositions sur le movement,” pamphlet (1961), in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 266–­67. 74. For an exploration of GRAV’s use of instability, see Arnauld Pierre, “De l’instabilité: Perception visuelle/corporelle de l’espace dans l’environnement cinétique,” Les ­Cahiers du musée national d’art moderne 78 (Winter 2001–­2002): 40–­69. 75. GRAV, “Transformer l’actuelle situation de l’art plastique,” pamphlet (1961), in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 74. 76. Julio Le Parc writes in “A propos de art-­spectacle, spectateur actif, instabilitéet programmation dans l’art visual,” pamphlet (September 1961), in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 270: “The notion of instability in visual art is the response to the instability of reality. We are trying to give it concrete form in realizations that transcribe it into its fundamental characteristics.” 77. GRAV, “Propositions sur le movement,” 267. 78. [Joost Baljeu], “Public Letter to the ‘Group de Recherche d’Art Visuel,’ Paris,” editorial, Structure: Magazine on Synthesist Art (Amterdam) 4, no. 2 (1962): 50. 79. Julio Le Parc, “A propos de art-­spectacle,” 270. 80. Ibid. 81. Morellet, too, began to address the possibility that the eye acts as an intermediary for cultural meanings and to consider in more depth the role of the spectator. Visual perception, he remarks in an essay cowritten with Molnár, “is influenced by knowledge, which is itself determined by society.” Molnár and Morellet, “For a Progressive Abstract Art,” 138.

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82. Ibid. 83. Ibid. 84. Ibid. 85. Ibid. 86. As Le

Parc remarks in “A propos de art-­spectacle,” 269: “By frankly admitting the reversal of the traditional situation of the passive spectator, we bypass the idea of spectacle and arrive at the notion of activated or active participation. This concern touches on the very conception of the work, its realization and actualization in relation to the spectator.” 87. The Situationist International was quick to critique Le Parc’s mobilization of the term spectacle. They at once mocked Le Parc’s suggestion that it is possible for the passive spectator to evolve into a “stimulated spectator,” or even an “interpreter-­spectator,” and accuse Le Parc of “using a few para-­Situationist formulas.” See “L’avant-­garde de la presence,” Internationale situationniste (Paris) 8 (January 1963): 16–­17. For an interesting discussion that proposes that GRAV’s model of “spectacle” resonates with that articulated by the sociologist Edgar Morin in L’esprit du temps (Paris: Grasset, 1962), which saw “a potentially liberating potential in [the spectacle’s] inclusionary logic,” see Larry Busbea, “Kineticism-­Spectacle-­Environment,” October 144 (Spring 2013): 94–­95. Busbea’s thesis would seem to be supported by the situationist claim in “Avant-­garde de la presence,” 16, that “some technicians would like to reform the spectacle.” 88. Julio Le Parc, “Proposition pour un lieu d’activation” (Proposition for a place of activation), pamphlet (July 1963), in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 114. 89. Ibid., 115. 90. GRAV designated the ten central chambers of the labyrinth as “playrooms.” These rooms tended to feature objects, smaller than those elsewhere in the labyrinth, that the visitor was invited to manipulate. García Rossi’s Ouevre à manipuler par le spectateur (Work to be Manipulated by the Spectator, 1963), perforated cylinders assembled horizontally onto a rod that cuts through the central drum, was featured in two of the rooms. The spectator was encouraged to rotate each cylinder by turning a circular handle on the right. As the cylinder moved, a light installed inside the drum poured through the many small holes and darted throughout the space. Stein’s Composition lumière/miroirs manipulables (Light Composition / Manipulated Mirrors, 1962) consisted of an ensemble of mirrors whose pivot the spectator was solicited to adjust, reflecting in turn the light of the room onto the walls. Sobrino’s large modular sculpture Élements modulaires à manipuler or tranformation instabile (Modular Elements to Be ­Manipulated, 1963), made of thirty-­t wo tinted yet transparent Plexiglas panels, beckoned the spectator to rearrange the modules in various ways. Each panel was a different color, of which there were four. The color of each new ensemble changed according to the arrangement of the colored forms and their interrelationship with those surrounding it. The dramatic play of transparency and reflection resulted in an optical dazzle that produced the illusion of movement and thus destabilized the visual field. 91. GRAV, “Assez de mystifications II,” pamphlet (October 1963), in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 275. 92. Ibid. 93. Pierre Faucheux, “A la 3ème Biennale de Paris: Le cri d’un art vital,” Arts (Paris) 931 (October 12, 1963): 1. 94. GRAV, “Assez de mystifications II,” 275. 95. Ibid. 96. Ibid.

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97. The first New Tendencies exhibition had taken place in 1961 and was loosely organized

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without an overarching artistic program. It was spearheaded in 1960 by the Brazilian artist Almir Mavignier, who when passing through Zagreb that year developed, along with a few locals in the Croatian city, the idea of an exhibition that would represent the impact of Concrete art on contemporary artistic practice. The exhibition brought together a cosmopolitan array of artists, all of who were forging beyond the legacy of Concrete art. Matko Mestrovic, a Zagreb-­based art critic who helped Mavignier organize the exhibition, articulates the aims of the New Tendencies in the first catalogue. The new work, he argues, is for the most part “designed to operate upon the psycho-­physical mechanisms of perception and not upon the psychological or cultural background of the spectator. It does not invite the spectator to passive contemplation or consideration, but instead calls on him or her to take an active part in its enactment.” That execution, Mestrovic continues, is a matter of constant variation—­alternately a result of the spectator’s own movements or of the continual movement and change of the mechanism. “A complex visual-­kinetic process develops in response to the activity of the spectator.” Matko Mestrovic, as quoted by Frank Popper in Origins and Development of Kinetic Art, trans. Stephen Bann (New York: Graphic Society, 1968), 102. For a good overview of the first exhibitions, see Jenko Denegri, “The Conditions and Circumstances That Preceded the Mounting of the First Two New Tendencies Exhibitions in Zagreb 1961–­1963,” in Little-­Known Story, 19–­27. 98. Among those in attendance were Soto and a number of other Latin Americans, including Carlos Cruz-­Diez, García Miranda, Hugo Demarco, Luis Tomasello, Marta Boto, and Gregorio Vardanega. Also in attendance were artists from Italy, Yugoslavia, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Minutes of the meetings are in the Julio Le Parc Archive, Cachon. The archive also contains a copy of Nouvelle Tendance—­Recherche Continuelle, Bulletin 1 (August 1963), which lists all the active members of the large group, as well as the rationale for the excommunication of artists (such as Cruz-­Diez, Boto, and García Miranda). 99. For useful histories of the New Tendencies, see Susann Scholl, “The New Tendencies—­ The Development of A European Art Movement,” in Emilia Müller, ed., Die Neuen Tendenzen: Eine europäische Künstlerbewegung 1961–­1973, exh. cat., ed. Emilia Müller (Heidelberg: Edition Braus, 2006), 277–­85, and Hillings, “Experimental Artists’ Groups in Europe, 1951–­1968,” 478–­576. 100. Michel Faré, introduction to Propositions visuelles du movement international Nouvelle Tendance, exh. cat (Paris: Musée des arts décoratifs / Palais du Louvre, 1964), n.p. Karl Gerstner too, in his contribution to the catalogue, outlines the various goals that link the large group of artists in a way that echoes the stated concerns of GRAV. The objective of the artists participating in the exhibition is to make the spectator “a partner,” he writes. The art of the New Tendency “is based on reciprocity, . . . does not aspire to perfection, . . . [and] is not definitive.” It depends on the active participation of the viewer. It is “an art of the everyday, of a sort that some of us would characterize as socialist.” Ibid. 101. The accompanying drawing, Plan du Labyrinthe, reproduced in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 276, notes that the labyrinth was realized by Le Parc, Stein, and Morellet. 102. One of the first pieces the visitor encounters upon entering the passageway of the second labyrinth is Morellet’s Reflets dans l’eau déformés par le spectateur (Reflections in Water Distorted by the Viewer, 1964). This is essentially a replica of the artist’s 16 Squares (1953), a painting featuring three vertical and three horizontal lines, though now the lines painted on the earlier work appear in white neon tubes installed on the ceiling. The chamber is painted flat black. Electric lights switch on and off repeatedly

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to produce simple patterns as aftereffects that overlap on the retina of the spectator. Morellet installed an 8.5-­foot basin containing black liquid on the floor immediately below the lights, as well as a lever that, when pulled by the visitor, set the liquid in motion, distorting the reflection of the right-­angled grid on the surface of the dark water. 103. GRAV exhibited a third labyrinth at the Contemporaries gallery in New York in early 1965. As it had done in the previous two instances, the group drafted an elaborate plan of the New York labyrinth, carefully directing the visitor through the complex space. The highly destabilizing objects featured in the labyrinth led the critic of Artnews to complain about the “considerable difficulty” in isolating “individual works for consideration” in this exhibition. See M.B., “Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel at the Contemporaries,” Artnews (New York) 64, no. 2 (April 1965): 19. For a topographical sketch of the labyrinth, see GRAV, “Labyrinthe New York, 1965,” in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 279. 104. Simon Sadler, The Situationist City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), 115. 105. “Die Welt als Labyrinth,” Internationale Situationniste (Paris) 4 (June 1960): 6. 106. Ibid. 107. Ibid., 6–­7. 108. “The very fact of utilizing a museum brings with it a particular pressure,” the group acknowledges, “and the west face of the Amsterdam labyrinth was a wall specially constructed in the guise of an entrance to breach this: that hole in the wall [would serve] . . . as a guarantee of nonsubmission to the logic of the museum.” Ibid., 7. 109. GRAV, “Assez de mystifications II,” 275. Caps in original. 110. Umberto Eco, The Open Work (1962), trans. A. Cancogni (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 44–­104. Elsewhere in the same book, Eco writes: “The possibilities that the work’s openness makes available always work within a given field of relations. As in the Einsteinian universe, in the ‘work in movement’ we may well deny that there is a single prescribed point of view. But this does not mean complete chaos in its internal relations. What it does imply is an organizing rule which governs those relations. Therefore, to sum up, we can say that the ‘work in movement’ is the possibility of numerous different personal interventions, but it is not an amorphous invitation to indiscriminate participation” (19). 111. Julio Le Parc, “N.E.A.N.T.,” pamphlet (April 1964), in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 277–­78, and “Position vis-­à-­vis de la Nouvelle Tendance,” pamphlet (1964), in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 277. 112. Le Parc, “N.E.A.N.T.,” 277. 113. Ibid. 114. Ibid. 115. John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 221. Johan Huizinga’s theorization of the ludic, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1938), was an important source for GRAV at this juncture, as was Roger Caillois’s Man, Play and Games (1959), which like Huizinga’s book posits the ludic as the essence of civilization. Of primary interest for GRAV was the manner in which Caillois and Huizinga give priority to the ludic over productive practices in the development of subjectivity. 116. As the artists put it in a pamphlet they handed out to passersby, “The city streets are crisscrossed by a network of habits and deeds that are repeated day in, day out. We think that all of these routine gestures taken as a whole can induce total passivity.” GRAV, “Une journée dans la rue,” pamphlet (April 1966), in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 172.

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117. The

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sites included Châtelet, Champs-­Elysées, Opéra, Odéon, Jardin des Tuileries, Montparnasse, Boulevard St Germain, and Boulevard St. Michel. The artists distributed a chart for Une journée dans la rue that features thumbnail sketches of the artworks to be found in each location. 118. GRAV, “Un journée dans la rue,” 172. 119. For a reproduction of the questionnaire, see ibid. The questionnaire poses seven queries concerning “the relationship between art and the general public.” The questions probe the extent of the respondent’s interest in modern art, in avant-­garde art exhibitions, and in Un journée dans la rue. GRAV had employed questionnaires on several earlier occasions. Some of these are reproduced in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 89–­92. 120. See Bertolt Brecht, “Appendices to the Short Organum,” in Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, trans. J. Willet (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), 276. 121. GRAV, “Venice Biennale, 1966,” in Le Parc: XXXIII Biennale de Venise, 1966, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Denise René, 1965), 22, reproduced in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 185. According to Le Parc in an interview with Hans-­Michael Herzog (Paris, March 17, 2005), in Le Parc Lumière: Kinetic Works by Julio Le Parc (Zurich: Daros-­ Latinamerica, 2005), 20, “There was a huge polemic [at the Venice Biennale in 1966]. Some tried to neutralize the very strong pressure from the North Americans for a North American to win that Biennale and thereby smash Paris as a center of art and all Europe. They had a candidate, who was the Pop artist [Roy] Lichtenstein, the favorite of all the periodicals. They were already celebrating their victory before the jury had delivered its verdict. . . . Someone wanted to neutralize the North American presence. And well, with all those factors playing a role, at some moment they happened to decide on my work. It wasn’t something that was going to change my way of life.” 122. GRAV, “Venice Biennale, 1966,” in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 185. 123. Editors, interview with Julio Le Parc, Robho (Paris) 1 (June 1967): n.p., in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 296–­97. 124. Julio Le Parc, interview, in ibid. 125. Ibid., 297. 126. Argentina’s art world changed remarkably in the 1960s, with many more exhibitions and activities. Many cultural events centered on the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires. However, there does not seem to have been a parallel growth in terms of an art public. The conservative cultural extablishment was still the primary source of patronage, and its values dominated the programs of the country’s art galleries. 127. GRAV, “Multiples recherches,” in Le Parc, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Deniese René, 1966), 6, reproduced as “Multiples” in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 288–­89. 128. GRAV, “Recherche d’art visuel,” Melpomène / L’actualité de la grande masse de l’École nationale supérieure des beaux-­arts 16 (December 1964), reproduced in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 149. 129. GRAV, “Multiples,” 288. 130. For a thorough overview of Le Parc’s investment in multiples, see Isabel Plante, “La multiplicación (y rebelión) de los objetos: Julio Le Parc y la consagración europea del arte cinético,” in La abstracción en la Argentina: Siglos XX y XXI, ed. Marina Baron Supervielle (Buenos Aires: Fundación Espigas, 2010), 17–­74. 131. Several sketches of the Parcours à volume variable are reproduced in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 197. 132. See GRAV, “Parcours à volume variable,” in Art cinétique à Paris / Lumière et movement (Paris: Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1967), 64, reproduced in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 198–­99.

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133. François

Morellet, “Les sources lumineuses directes dans l’art,” in Kunst Licht Kunst, exh. cat. (Eindhoven, Netherlands: Van Abbemuseum, 1966), 121, reproduced in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 188. 134. GRAV, “Parcours à volume variable,” in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 198. 135. As GRAV puts it in ibid., 198–­99: “We try to set up with the onlooker an active, conscious relationship that has been thought out.” 136. In a series of lectures and publications in the 1960s beginning with La proclamation de la Commune (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre maintained that rediscovery of the festival that had been wiped out by capitalist culture would fundamentally change social relationships, first in the city and then in the entire society, in a progressive manner that both transcended and enriched everyday life. For Lefebvre, art, as much as ludic and uninhibited performances, could play an important role in that rediscovery. See Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World (1968), trans. Sacha Rabinovich (New York: Harper, 1971), 36–­38. For an account of the reception of Lefebvre’s notion of the festival, as well as an accusation that the sociologist had stolen the idea from the Situationist International, see “L’historien Lefebvre,” Internationale situationniste (Paris) 10 (March 1966): 73–­75. 137. Le Parc, interview, in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 298. 138. Ibid. 139. Ibid., 299. 140. Ibid., 298. 141. Julio Le Parc, “Guérilla culturelle,” Robho (Paris) 3 (Spring 1968): n.p., reproduced in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 298. 142. Le Parc writes: “The point is to make people aware that work produced in the name of culture or art is solely addressed to an elite. The system through which this production comes into contact with people is the same as the one that undergirds the system of domination.” Ibid., 299. 143. Ibid., 300. 144. Ibid. 145. Le Parc had responded to a request by the workers who had occupied the Renault-­ Flins factory. For an account of this occupation, see Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman, Génération: Les années de rêve (Paris: Seuil, 1987), 562. 146. Raymond Marcellin, minister of the interior, cited in Kristin Ross, May ’68 and Its Afterlives (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 61. 147. See Jean Clay, “Politics and Art,” Studio International (London) 176, no. 903 (September 1968): 63. 148. On May 31, 1968, Charles De Gaulle appointed Marcellin interior minister of France, replacing Christian Fouchet. See Ross, May ’68 and Its Afterlives, 60–­61. For a report on the targeted arrest of foreigners in May and June 1968, see Otto Hahn, “Julio Le Parc, l’indésirable du pont de Saint-­Cloud,” L’Express (1968), and Christiane Duparc, “Des ‘indésirables,’” Le Nouvel Observateur (June 12, 1968), both reproduced in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 305. 149. Many of these letters can be found in the Julio Le Parc Archives, Cachan, France. 150. Julio Le Parc, “Démystifier l’art,” Opus International 8 (October 1968): 47, reproduced in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 309–­11. 151. Ibid., 309. 152. Ibid. 153. Ibid., 47–­48. Jean Dubuffet, “Asphyxiating Culture” (1968), in Asphyxiating Culture and Other Writings, trans. C. Volk (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1988), 7–­94. 154. Le Parc, “Démystifier l’art,” in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 310.

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155. Joël Stein, “Dissolution du GRAV,” Leonardo 2, no. 3 (July 1969): 295–­96. 156. Julio Le Parc, “A propos de la dissolution du Groupe,” pamphlet (December 1968), in

Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 306. 157. François Morellet, Mais comment taire mes commentaires (Paris: ENSBA, 1999), 37. The

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texts by Stein, Morellet, Le Parc, and Sobrino are reproduced in Stratégies de participation, ed. Aupetitallot, 248–­52. 158. Jean Clay, “Some Aspects of Bourgeois Art,” Studio International (London) 179, no. 923 (June 1970): 268. 159. Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-­Garde (1974), trans. M. Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984). 160. Groupe de recherche d’art visuel, “Acte de Dissolution,” pamphlet (November 1968), in Julio Le Parc, ed. Pradel, 306. 161. Ibid. 162. While Le Parc was in Latin America in 1967, his work was featured in retrospectives at the Instituto Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the General Electric in Montevideo, Uruguay; the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas; and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Asunción, Paraguay; as well as at that year’s IX Bienal de São Paulo in São Paulo, Brazil. In “Guérilla culturelle,” 298, Le Parc recalls the great impact the conversations that he took part in during the four months of 1967 spent in a number of South American cities, and, in November of that year, at the Symposium of American Intellectuals and Artists at Puerto Azul, Venezuela, had on his “position.” 163. Oscar Masotta, “Tres argentinos en Nueva York,” in Oscar Masotta et al., Happenings (Buenos Aires: Editorial Jorge Álvarez, 1967), 105; republished in English as “Three Argentines in New York,” trans. Brian Holmes, in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-­Garde, ed. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2004), 187. 164. Ibid., 188. 165. Ibid. Translation slightly modified. 166. “Le Parc Returns Triumphant,” Buenos Aires Herald, August 9, 1967; S.G., “El año pasado ganó la Bienal de Venicia. Se fue de nuestro país en 1958, cuando para poder dedicarse al arte trabajaba en la municipalidad. Ahora retorna con todos los honores,” Gente, August 30, 1967; “Entre la estética y el parque de diversiones,”Asi, August 12, 1967; ­Córdova Iturburu, “La estética de Le Parc,” El Mundo, August 13, 1967; A.G., “Le Parc de diversions,” Primera Plana, August 1, 1967, 52–­54. 167. For an excellent overview of the work and trajectory of Oscar Masotta, see Ana Longoni, “Oscar Masotta: Vanguardia y revolución en los sesenta,” in Oscar Masotta. Revolución en el Arte: Pop-­art, happenings y arte de los medios en la década del sesenta, ed. Ana Longoni (Barcelona: Edhasa, 2004), 9–­105. Masotta also wrote several essays on Lacan during this time. See, for instance, Oscar Masotta, “Jacques Lacan, o El inconsciente en los fundamentos de la filosofía,” in Conciencia y Estructura (Buenos Aires: Jorge Álvarez, 1968), 69–­93. 168. Daniel R. Quiles, “What Was Oscar Masotta? Response to Derbyshire,” Radical Philosophy 164 (November/December 2010): 60. 169. Ibid. 170. León Ferrari, “El arte de los significados,” originally published as part of the Primer Encuentro Nacional de Arte de Vanguardia, Rosario, Argentina, 1968; translated by M. Feitlowitz as “The Art of Meanings,” in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s, ed. Katzenstein, 314. 171. Ibid. 172. Oscar Masotta, “Después del Pop: Nosotros desmaterializamos” (1967), in Conciencia y estructura (Buenos Aires: Editorial Jorge Álvarez, 1969), 222; translated by E. Brockbank

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as “After Pop, We Dematerialize,” in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s, ed. Katzenstein, 211. Chapter Four 1. Hélio

Oiticica, letter to Lygia Clark, November 8, 1968, in Lygia Clark-­Hélio Oiticica, cartas 1964–­1974, ed. Luciano Figueiredo (Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ, 1998), 73. 2. Lygia Clark, letter to Hélio Oiticica, November 14, 1968, in Lygia Clark-­Hélio Oiticica, cartas 1964–­1974, ed. Figueiredo, 84, reproduced in Lygia Clark, exh. cat., ed. Manuel J. Borja-­Villel (Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tapies, 1997), 235. 3. See Maria Amalia García, El arte abstracto: Intercambios culturales entre Argentina y Brasil (Buenos Aires : Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2011), 85–­112. Rachel Price’s volume The Object of the Atlantic: Concrete Aesthetics in Cuba, Brazil, and Spain, 1868–­1968 (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014), explores how the aesthetic of concrete poetics “emerged, evolved, and dissolved into a post-­concrete era” (6). Price’s study provocatively asks, “What were the pressures that shaped a turn to objects? And what connects an interest in material culture with an aesthetics of objects and objectivity?” (7). Price further tracks the rich dialogue between Brazil’s poetic and plastic concretisms in the 1950s and 1960s. See in particular 164–­98. 4. Carlos Drummond de Andrade, “Invencionismo,” Correio da Manhã (Rio de Janeiro), December, 1, 1946, sec. 2, p. 1, as cited by García in Arte abstracto, 71–­73. 5. Ibid., 72, 6. Ibid., 72–­73. García (79–­81) also notes that Raul Lozza’s open letter to the antimodernist critic Monteiro Lobato, “Carta abierta a Monteiro Lobato,” was published in Joaquim (Curitiba) 14 (October 1947): 3. This missive was initially published in the Boletín de la Asociación Arte Concreto-­Invención (Buenos Aires) 2 (December 1946): 5. 7. See Joaquim (Curitiba) 9 (March 1947): 11–­12. 8. As cited, with reproduction, in García, Arte abstracto, 75–­76. 9. Pedro R. Erber, Breaching the Frame: The Rise of Contemporary Art in Brazil and Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015), 29. 10. García, Ibid., 89. 11. Cordeiro, who was born in Rome in 1925 of an Italian mother and a Brazilian father, was registered at the Brazilian embassy as a Brazilian citizen. See Héctor Olea, “Biographies of Artists and Artistic Movements,” in Inverted Utopias: Avant-­Garde Art in Latin America, exh. cat., ed. Mari Carmen Ramirez and Héctor Olea (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2004), 562. While Cordeiro was not included in the 19 pintores exhibition, the show was the occasion at which he met Socilotto and Charoux. García, Arte abstracto, 89. 12. Waldemar Cordeiro, “Abstracionismo,” Artes plásticas (São Paulo) 1, no. 1 (January–­ February 1949): 3; Waldemar Cordeiro, “Ainda o abstracionismo,” Revista dos novíssimos (São Paulo) 1, no. 1 (January–­February 1949): 27–­28; Lothar Charoux, ­“Abstracionismo,” Revista dos novíssimos 1, no. 1 (January–­February 1949): 29. Cited in García, Arte ­abstracto, 89–­90. The translation of “ainda o abstracionismo” as “yet more abstractionism” is adopted from Héctor Olea, “Waldemar Cordeiro: From Visible Ideas to the Invisible Work,” in Building on a Construct: The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, ed. Héctor Olea and Mari ­Carmen Ramirez (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; Houston: Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2009), 136. 13. Cordeiro, “Ainda o abstracionismo,” 28. 14. Ibid.

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15. “Abstracionismo já foi superado’ declara Cândido Portinari,” Artes Plásticas 3 (January–­

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February 1949): 1, 6, as cited in García, Arte abstracto, 90. Another important site for this debate was the journal Fundamentos: Revista de cultura moderna (São Paulo), as well as the publication Inaugurado . . . O novo edifício da Sul América Terrestres Marítimos e Acidentes (Rio de Janeiro: Sul Americana, 1949). See Adele Nelson, “The Monumental and the Ephemeral: The São Paulo Bienal and the Emergence of Abstraction in Brazil, 1946–­1954” (PhD diss., New York University, 2012), 88–­95. Nelson also notes the imporatance of newspapers and public talks in the pro-­and anti-­abstraction debates. 16. The words, by Marxist critic Fernando Pedreira, are quoted by Erber, Breaching the Frame, 29. The original citation is as follows: Fernando Pedreira, “A bienal e seus defensores,” Fundamentos 22 (September 1951): 13. 17. See Aracy Amaral, Arte para que? A preocupação social na arte brasileira, 1930–­1970 (São Paulo: Livraria Nobel, 1987). 18. For a helpful discussion of the various social and economic options open to the Brazilian government in the late 1940s, see Thomas Skidmore, Politics in Brazil 1930–­1964: An Experiment in Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 71–­73. 19. García, Arte abstracto, 95. For a useful assessment of the writings of Pedrosa, see Otília Beatriz Arantes, Mário Pedrosa: Itinerário crítico (São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2004), and Erber, Breaching the Frame, 34–­50. With the exception of Pedrosa, abstract art had few defenders among the literati in late 1940s Brazil. Pedrosa’s decision to shift his support from a politically engaged socialist realist project to Concrete art has its foundations in his extensive engagement with Gestalt psychology, with its underlying mechanist and scientificist hypotheses and its belief in the notion of pure, autonomous visuality. Pedrosa’s 1949 dissertation, “Da natureza afetiva da forma na obra de arte” (On the affective nature of form in the work of art), explores the possibilities of finding in the theories of Gestalt psychology a conceptual framework for revolutionary aesthetics. Mário Pedrosa, “Da natureza afetiva da forma na obra de arte,” reproduced in Mário Pedrosa: Forma e percepção estética, ed. Otilia Arantes (São Paulo: EDUSP, 1996), 107–­77. Sergio B. Martins, Constructing an Avant-­Garde: Art in Brazil (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 24, suggests that the figuration–­abstraction polemic in late 1940s Brazil was actually a figuration–­Pedrosa or figuration–­Gestalt debate. Pedrosa was a strong advocate of Gestalt theory and deeply involved in the painting workshop of a Rio de Janeiro psychiatric hospital. It was in this context, according to Martins, that much of Pedrosa’s doctoral thesis on Gestalt was conceived. 20. The relationship between the development of Brazilian Concrete art and the promising national developmentalism characteristic of the era of President Juscelino ­Kubitschek has been often maintained. See, for instance, Michael Asbury, “The Bienal de São Paulo: Between Nationalism and Internationals,” in Espaço aberto / espaço fechado: Sites for sculpture in Modern Brazil, exh. cat., ed. Penelope Curtis and Stephen Feeke (Leeds, UK: Henry Moore Institute, 2006), 72–­83. The art historian Aracy Amaral, in “Fluctuations and Boderlines between Art and Reality: The Case of Brazil (1920–­ 1960), “ in Voces de ultramar: Arte en América Latina y Canarias, 1910–­1960 (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, 1992), 240–­41, comments on the important roles played by several individuals in the creation of a vibrant modern culture in Brazil during these years: The post-­war period brought with it . . . rapid industrialization plus a new interest in culture produced mainly by the presence of two patrons who were basic to the history of Brazilian art: Assis Chateubriand and Francisco Matazzo Sobrinho. The former . . . created the Museum of Art in São Paulo in 1947 with its valuable collection built up in only a few years, with the help of Pietro Maria Bardi and within the possibilities furnished by a Europe impoverished by the

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war. The latter founded the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo in 1948 with the assistance of Nelson Rockefeller of the MoMA in New York. In Rio de Janeiro, in the same year, Brazil’s Museum of Modern Art was established. Until then, the city had only the National Museum of Fine Arts, which held a vast collection of academic art of the nineteenth century and early times. The new entity was fashioned by Niomar Muniz Sodré and led to the creation of a minimum network, which allowed exhibitions to circulate around the country. For the first time Brazilian artists came in contact with exhibitions of work by international or even contemporary Brazilian artists that were far removed from the academicism that had been exhibited every year up until then in the salons of both cities. 21. See Léon

Degand, “Do figurativismo ao abstracionismo,” in Inaugurado . . . O novo edifício da Sul América Terrestres Marítimos e Acidentes (Rio de Janeiro: Sul Americana, 1949), 17–­29. For the adventures of Degand, see Serge Guilbaut, “Ménage à Trois: Paris, New York, São Paulo, and the Love of Modern Art,” in Internationalizing the History of American Art, ed. Barbara S. Groseclose and Jochen Wierich (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2009), 159–­78. 22. For a thorough account of this biennial and its reception, see Adele Nelson, “Monumental and Ephemeral: The Early Sáo Paulo Bienais,” in Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s–­50s, exh. cat., ed. Mary Kate O’Hare (Newark, NJ: Newark Museum, 2010), 128–­33. 23. See Fundamentos (São Paulo) 23 (December 1951). Also see Lisbeth Gonçalves, As bienais e a abstração: A década de 50, exh. cat. (São Paulo: Museu Lasar Segall, 1978), n.p.; Francisco Alambert and Polyana Canhête, As Bienais de São Paulo: Da era do Museu à era dos curadores (1951–­2001) (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2004); and Nelson, “The Monumental and the Ephemeral,” 136–­37. 24. For an exploration of the range of political perspectives from which criticism of this biennial was delivered, see García, in Arte abstracto, 104–­5. 25. The jury included Lourival Gomes Machado from Brazil, Sérgio Millet from Brazil, Jacques Lassaigne from France, René d’Harnoncourt from the United States, Wolfgang Pfeiffer from Germany, Romero Brest from Argentina, and others. 26. García, Arte abstracto, 109. 27. Bill’s work also had a significant reception in Argentina during this time, as evidenced by Tomás Maldonado’s four-­language monograph Max Bill (Buenos Aires: Editorial Nueva Visión, 1955). 28. Rejane Cintrão and Ana Paula Nascimento, Grupo Ruptura (São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2002), 68. 29. Grupo Ruptura, “Manifesto Ruptura,” flyer, São Paulo, 1952. For a facsimile of the document, see Olea and Ramirez, eds., Building on a Construct, 74; translation in Yve-­ Alain Bois et al., Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Art Museums, 2001), 152. The signatories of the Manifesto Ruptura included Lothar Charoux, Waldemar Cordeiro, Geraldo de Barros, Kazmer Féjer, Leopold Haar, Luiz Sacilotto, and Anatol Wladyslaw, but Cordeiro probably wrote the text. See Cintrão and Nascimento, Grupo Ruptura, 67, and Olea, “Waldemar Cordeiro,” 135–­36. 30. For the dialogue between Brazil’s poetic and plastic Concretisms, see Price, Object of the Atlantic, 164–­98. 31. Cordeiro et al., “Manifesto Ruptura,” in Geometric Abstraction, 152. 32. Ibid. 33. For a methodical study of Ruptura and Brazilian Concretism more generally, see Ronaldo Brito, Neoconcretismo: Vértice e ruptura do projeto construtivo Brasileiro (orig. 1975; Rio de Janeiro: Casac Naify, 1999). Brito’s analysis should be considered while

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keeping in mind that it is very much developed from a perspective sympathetic to Neoconcretism. As he writes: “This is the reality of Neoconcretism: it was at once the peak of the constructivist consciousness in Brazil . . . and the agent of its crisis” (9). And later: “My thesis is that Neoconcretism represented at once the epitome of the constructive consciousness in Brazil and its obliteration” (55). 34. The critic Ferreira Gullar emphasizes that “not all São Paulo concrete artists were in agreement with Waldemar Cordeiro’s theses. Just as one should not confuse Fiaminghi with Sacilotto, or Nogueira Lima with Cordeiro, one should definitely not ignore the particular paths taken by Lothar Charoux and Willys de Castro.” See Ferreira Gullar, “From Construction to Deconstruction,” in Cold America: Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934–­1973), exh. cat (Madrid: Fundación Juan March, 2011), 50. 35. Cordeiro started to publish his views in local journals such as Artes Plásticas and Revista de Novíssimos, and in 1949 he began to write a column on art for the arts and culture section of the daily Folha da Manhã. The overall aesthetic impulse of these writings was to advocate for a synthesis of the plastic arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture. But his articles commented on many aspects of contemporary art, and he promoted the work of his peers whenever he had a chance. As he writes in ­Waldemar Cordeiro, “O problema da expressão plástica: Relação entre escultura, pintura e arquitetura—­A propósito de um artigo do Sr. Sérgio Milliet,” Folha da Manhã (São Paulo), February 17, 1950, 8, cited by García, Arte abstracto, 154: “Sculpture, painting, and architecture are scholarly divisions of what is indivisible: plastic art is always painting, sculpture, and architecture.” 36. Cordeiro writes: “Like Gramsci, we are of the belief that culture came into existence historically when the thought of ‘common’ folk came together with that of artists and intellectuals.” Waldemar Cordeiro, “O objeto,” Arquitetura e Decoração (São Paulo) 20 (December 1956–­January 1957), reproduced in Projeto construtivo brasileiro na arte, 1950–­1962, ed. Aracy Amaral (Rio de Janeiro: Museu de Arte Moderna; São Paulo: ­Pinacoteca de Estado, 1977), 75. For an account of the relation between Cordeiro and Gramsci, see Paulo Herkenhoff, “Corpo, arte e filosofia no Brasil,” in Sentidos na/da arte contemporânea (Vila Velha, Brazil: Museu Vale do Rio Doce, 2007), 228–­31. 37. See García, Arte abstracto, 154–­56. 38. At around the time of the first São Paulo Biennial, Cordeiro complained that even though the state had spent a great deal of money on its modern museums, local contemporary artists had received no awards or purchases of significance. See Waldemar Cordeiro, “Balanço geral da vida official das artes plásticas em 1950,” Folha da Manhã (São Paulo), January 14, 1951, 4, as cited in García, Arte abstracto, 155–­56. 39. This was in contrast to the artists of the Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención, who were more interested in developing a generative investigation, revealing the processes of thought, and of encouraging the continuation of that thought beyond plastic form. 40. For a general overview of the Grupo Frente, see Frederico Morais, “grupo ­f ren te—­ a primera turnma,” in Grupo Frente / 1954–­1956, I Exposição nacional de arte abstrata / 1953, ed. Frederico Morais and Edmundo Jorge (Rio de Janeiro: Galeria de Arte do BANERJ, 1984), n.p. 41. As critic Edmundo Jorge argues in a “warning to the uninitiated” published on the first page of the pamphlet accompanying the group’s show at the Brazil–­United States Institute, recognizing that the justification for figurative painting had died in 1939 with the invention of photography, the young artists in this show have developed an abstract painting as “balanced” and “pure” as that of Mondrian. Edmundo Jorge, ­“Advertência aos leigos,” in I Exposição nacional de arte abstrata (Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Brasil–­Estados Unidos, 1954), n.p.

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42. See Aracy

Amaral, “Abstract Constructivist Trends,” in Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1993), 91–­92. For a thorough account of the tension between the two groups of artists, see Brito, Neoconcretismo. Also see Valerie Hillings, “Concrete Territory: Geometric Art, Group Formation, and Self-­ Definition,” in Beyond Geometry: Experiements in Form, 1940s–­70s, ed. Lynn ­Zelevansky (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 56–­57. 43. The I Exposição nacional de arte concreta was broadly reviewed in the press. The exhibition featured work by, among others, Hélio Oiticica, Luiz Sacilotto, Alfredo Volpi, Lygia Clark, Waldemar Cordeiro, Ivan Serpa, Lothar Charoux, Lygia Pape, Franz Weissmann, Augusto and Haroldo Campos, Décio Pignatari, and Ferreira Gullar. For a general overview of Concrete and abstract art exhibitions in Brazil in the 1950s, see Fernando Cocchiarale and Anna Bella Geiger, eds., “Cronologia,” in Abstracionismo, geométrico e informal: A vanguarda brasileira nos anos cinqüenta (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, Temas e Debates 5, 1987), 36–­41. Gullar’s account of the tension that accompanied this exhibition is articulated in Ferreira Gullar, “Da arte concreta à arte neoconcreta,” Jornal do Brasil, July 18, 1959, reproduced in Neoconcrete Experience, exh. cat., ed. Michael Asbury, Caroline Menezes, and Laura Barbi (London: Gallery 32, 2009), n.p. 44. Ferreira Gullar, in Ferreira Gullar in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, ed. Ariel Jiménez (New York: Fundación Cisneros, 2012), 34–­35, recalls that the there was no specific mandate for the exhibition. The organizers simply invited all the artists that worked in the Concrete mode in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to participate. Each invited artist was asked to send artworks they believed were relevant to an exhibition focusing on recent developments in Concrete art in Brazil. 45. For a detailed study of this exhibition, see Lorenzo Mammi, ed., Concreta ’56: A raiz da forma (São Paulo: Museu de Arte Moderna, 2006). 46. Gullar, Ferreira Gullar in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 36. Translation altered. 47. This point of view differs in important respects from that of Brito, Neoconcretismo, who maintains that the Frente group emerged in direct opposition to the Ruptura group: “[Frente] already represented a nucleus of opposition” (12). Later in the same text Brito adds: “Put schematically, Concretism was the dogmantic phase, while Neoconcretism was the phase of rupture. Concretism was the phase in which Neoconcretism was implemented, while Neoconcretism the phase in which the local context responded dynamically to Concretism’s adapation” (55). 48. Mário Pedrosa, “Paulistas e cariocas” (February 19, 1957), reproduced in Projeto construtivo brasileiro na arte, ed. Amaral,137. 49. Ibid. 50. Waldemar Cordeiro, “O objeto,” in Projeto construtivo brasileiro na arte, ed. Amaral, 75. 51. Ibid. 52. Waldemar Cordeiro, “Teoria e práctica do concretismo carioca,” Arquitetura e Decoração (São Paulo) 22 (March–­April, 1957): n.p., reproduced in Projeto construtivo brasileiro na arte, ed. Amaral, 134–­35. 53. In June 1956, Tomás Maldonado, who had then become (along with Bill, Otl Aicher, Hans Gugelot, and Vordemberge Gildewart) one of the five members or rectors of the Ulm Hochschule für Gestaltung, was invited to Rio de Janeiro by Niomar Moniz Sodré Bittencourt, director of the Museu de Arte Moderna, to establish a parallel school (the Escola Técnica de Criaçáo de MAM) in Brazil. The school was inaugurated in 1958. See Laura Escot, Tomás Maldonado: Itinerario de un intellectual técnico (Buenos Aires: Patricia Rizzo, 2007), 127. 54. Ferreira Gullar, “Concretos de São Paulo no MAM do Rio,” Jornal do Brasil, July 16, 1960, reproduced in Projeto construtivo brasileiro na arte, ed. Amaral, 140.

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55. Ibid. 56. Ibid. 57. Pedrosa, “Paulistas e cariocas,” in Projeto construtivo brasileiro na arte, ed. Amaral, 138. 58. Lygia

Clark discusses the origins of the concept of the organic line in “Entrevistas: Lygia Clark,” in Abstracionismo geométrico e informal, ed. Cocchiarale and Geiger, 145. Clark explains how she arrived at the organic line in an important 1959 text:

All of my research, which I consider to be the primary formulation of a vocabulary in order 282

to express a new space, began in 1954 by the observation of a line which appeared between a collage and a “passe-­partout,” when the color was the same, and disappeared when there were two contrasting colors. . . . I then began to explore this line, making paintings (still then using canvas and frame) in which the concern was that of bursting the nucleus of the painting (canvas) bringing its color into the frame. The very thickness of the frame now began to enter also as a plastic element (in certain points it was painted in relation to the formal composition of the painting itself). . . . In 1956, I found the relationship between this line (which was not graphical) and the lines of joining doors and frames, windows and materials that made up a floor, etc. I started calling it the ‘organic line,’ as it was real, it existed in itself, organizing space. It was a space line, a fact which I would only come to understand later on. (“Lygia Clark e o espaço concreto expressional,” ed. Edelweiss Sarmento, Jornal do Brasil [Rio de Janeiro], July 2, 1959, 3, as reproduced in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 83.) 59. For generative discussions of Clark’s organic line, see Ricardo Basbaum, “Within the

Organic Line and After,” in Art after Conceptual Art, ed. Alexander Alberro and Sabeth Buchman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 86–­99, and Erber, Breaching the Frame, 98–­103. 60. As Erber productively argues, “With the ‘discovery’ of the organic line and the ‘breach’ of the canvas frame, [Clark’s] trajectory comes to dwell in a liminal space between the inside and the outside of the work, between art and non-­art, and between art and theory” (Erber, Breaching the Frame, 102). However, I would suggest that more than a “liminal space,” the organic line increasingly tilts the balance of the aesthetic field in the direction of the spectator. 61. For a thorough consideration of Clark’s experiments with the physical plane of the composition, see Luciano Figueiredo, ed., Lygia Clark e Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1986). 62. See Ferreira Gullar, “Lygia Clark—­uma experiência radical” (1958), in Lygia Clark (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1980), 7–­12. (Henceforth Lygia Clark 1980). 63. Ibid., 8. 64. Lygia Clark, “Lygia Clark e o espaço concreto expressional” (1959), reproduced in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 84–­85. 65. Lygia Clark, “A morte do plano” (1960), reproduced in Lygia Clark 1980, 13, and in translation in October 69 (Summer 1994): 96. 66. For a careful examination of Clark’s and Oiticica’s relationship, see Beatriz Scigliano Carneiro, Relâmpagos com claror: Lygia Clark e Hélio Oiticica, vida como arte (São Paulo: Imaginário, 2004). 67. Who initially proposed the exhibition remains unclear. Furthermore, not all of the artists who would become affiliated with Neoconcretism were from Rio de Janeiro. The painters Willys de Castro and Hércules Barsotti, for instance, were from São Paulo. 68. The show at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro ran from March 19 to April 19, 1959. It featured the work of seven visual artists and poets: Lygia Clark, Amílcar de Castro, Franz Weissmann, Lygia Pape, Reynaldo Jardim, Theon Spanúdis, and Ferreira Gullar.

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69. The Neoconcretist group included Lygia Clark, Amílcar de Castro, Franz Weissmann,

Reynaldo Jardim, Theon Spanúdis, Lygia Pape, Hélio Oiticica, Aluísio Carvao, Willys de Castro, and Hércules Barsotti. The latter four became affiliated with the group a few months after the rest. Pedrosa was in Japan at the time. Gullar’s explicit critique in the “Neoconcrete Manifesto” of the limitations of Gestalt theory, with which Pedrosa was strongly associated, has to be seen as an (implicit) attempt to move beyond Pedrosa’s ideas. Note that the manifesto was signed by all of the artists. However, by all accounts it was written by Gullar, and therefore I cite it as such. 70. Ferreira Gullar, Ferreira Gullar in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, ed. Jiménez, 37–­39. 71. See Aracy Amaral, “Abstract Constructivist Trends,” in Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century, ed. Waldo Rasmussen et al. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1993), 92. 72. Ferreira Gullar, “Manifesto neoconcreto,” Suplemento Dominical do Jornal do Brasil (henceforth SDJB; Rio de Janeiro), March 22, 1959, reproduced in Readings in Latin American Modern Art, ed. Patrick Frank (New York: Yale University Press, 2004), 172–­75. The manifesto was also printed in the exhibition catalogue for the first Neoconcrete exhibition of March and April 1959 at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro. 73. Ibid., 172. 74. Ibid., 174. 75. Ibid., 173. Translation altered. 76. Ibid., 175. Emphasis in the original. 77. The “Neoconcrete Manifesto” also praises Malevich. His attempt to produce paintings that could “transcend the rational and the sensory” and realize a purely abstract and visual form of communication in present time is identified as a crucial precedent to Neoconcrete art. Gullar notes that even though the Russian artist paid dearly for his decision to discuss his paintings in terms of transcendentality and of “pure,” immanent “sensibility,” his art remains among the most relevant in the twentieth century (173). 78. Ferreira Gullar, “Teoria do não-­objeto,” SDJB, December 19–­20, 1959, translated and reproduced in Cosmopolitan Modernisms, ed. Kobena Mercer (London: INIVA; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 170–­73. The text served as a second Neoconcrete manifesto and was written to accompany the 2a Exposição neoconcreta held at the Ministério da Educação in Rio de Janeiro in November-­December 1960. Thirteen artists participated in this show: Aloísio Carvão, Amílcar de Castro, Cláudio Melo e Souza, Décio Vieira, Ferreira Gullar, Franz Weissmann, Hélio Oiticica, Hercules Barsotti, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Osmar Dillon, Reynaldo Jardim, Roberto Pontual, and Willys de Castro. 79. Ibid., 170. 80. As Gullar observed in “Diálogo sôbre o não-­objeto,” Jornal do Brasil, March 26, 1960, reproduced in Neoconcrete Experience, ed. Asbury, Menezes, and Barbi : “The non-­ object is not a representation but a presentation. . . . [It] represents nothing, it simply presents itself” (n.p.). 81. Gullar, in “Teoria do não-­objeto,” 170: “Before the viewer/reader the non-­object presents itself as incomplete, though possessed of and offering the means of its completion.” 82. Ibid., 171. 83. Gullar in ibid., 171: “With the elimination of the represented object, the canvas—­as material presence—­becomes the new object of painting.” 84. Ibid., 172. 85. Ibid., 173. Italics mine.

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86. Ibid.

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Malevich is clearly of crucial importance for Gullar’s theorization of the non-­ object, as the neologism is directly derived from the Russian artist’s Non-­objective painting. 87. Ibid. 88. Gullar, ibid., 170: “The non-­object . . . leaves no trace. It is a pure appearance.” 89. Ferreira Gullar, interview with Glória Ferreira and Luíza Interlenghi, in Lygia Clark e Hélio Oiticica, ed. Figueiredo, 60, as cited by Michael Asbury, “Hélio Couldn’t Dance,” in Fios soltos: A arte de Hélio Oiticica, ed. Paula Braga (São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2008), 57. Gullar repeated this claim in a 2012 interview: “I proposed that we should organize an exhibition that would open at 5 p.m. and close at 6 p.m. Each object would have a bomb underneath it and at 6 p.m. we would tell the audience that they should leave the room, and at that moment the bombs would explode, thus ending the show. We didn’t do that, obviously, but the very fact that I had imagined the possibility demonstrated . . . the vision I had of those avant-­garde experiments. In the end I wound up distancing myself from everything—­from my artist friends, and from art itself.” See Ferreira Gullar in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, 85–­86. See also the interview with Gullar in “Ferreira Gullar,” in Abstracionismo geométrico e informal: A vanguarda brasileira nos anos 50, ed. Fernando Cochiaralle and Anna Bella Geiger (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1987), 97. 90. The final Neoconcrete exhibition, Exposição neoconcreta, took place in São Paulo in April–­May 1961. 91. The Centre for Popular Culture (CPC), which was established in 1961 and was associated with the Marxist National Students’ Union, attempted to raise political consciousness in the popular sphere through the presentation of theatrical plays, particularly in the favelas. In 1962 Gullar became the CPC’s second president in Rio de Janeiro, and in 1964 he joined the Brazilian Communist Party. For a good overview of the CPC and of Gullar’s politicization within it, see Martins, Constructing an Avant-­ Garde, 96–­99. 92. For a study that focuses on the mediation of Gullar’s anti-­elitism on Oiticica’s art production, see Carlos Zilio, “Da antropofagia à tropicália,” in O nacional e o popular na cultura brasileira, ed. Jean Claude Bernardet (São Paulo: Editora Brasilense, 1982). For Oiticica’s shock at Gullar’s defection, see Michael Asbury, “This Other Eden: Hélio Oiticica and Subterranean London,” in Oiticica in London, ed. Guy Brett and Luciano Figueiredo (London: Tate Publishing, 2007), 35. 93. Martins, Constructing an Avant-­Garde, 63. 94. Oswald de Andrade, “Manifesto antropófago,” Revista de Antropofagia (São Paulo), May 1928, reproduced in Leslie Bary, “‘Cannibalist Manifesto’ by Oswald de Andrade,” Latin American Literary Review 19, no. 38 (July–­December 1991): 38–­47. For a critical analysis of anthropophagy, see Francis Barker et al., eds., Cannnibalism and the Colonial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), and in particular Sérgio Luiz Prado Bellei’s “Brazilian Anthropophagy Revisited,” 89–­109. I owe this reference and a greater sense of the complexities of anthropophagy in twentieth-­century Brazil to a conversation with the art historian Dawn Ades in Mexico City on January 22, 2005. It is likely that Andrade’s manifesto was (at least partially) written in response to Francis Picabia’s Dada Manifeste cannibal (Cannibal manifesto) of 1919. 95. George Yúdice, in “Rethinking the Theory of the Avant-­Garde from the Periphery,” singles out cannibalization and the selective consumption of metropolitan products and creative mixes of local breeds as a line that traverses twentieth-­century thought in Latin America (from Brazilian antropofagia, to José María Arguedas’s transculturación, to ulterior reconceptualizations by Néstor García Canclini). And he adds that “for this

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intertextual, intercultural cannibalism to be socially effective, it had to emerge as a national perspective.” George Yúdice, “Rethinking the Theory of the Avant-­Garde from the Periphery,” in Modernism and Its Margins: Reinscribing Cultural Modernity from Spain and Latin America, ed. Anthony L. Geist and Jose B. Monleón (New York: Garland, 1999), 68. 96. Haroldo de Campos, “De la raison anthropofae,” Lettre Internationale 20 (Spring 1989), as cited in Guy Brett, “Lygia Clark: In Search of the Body,” Art in America 82, no. 7 (July 1994): 59. 97. Suely Rolnik, “The Geopolitics of Pimping,” eipcp.net (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies), November 2006, at http://eipcp.net/transversal/1106/rolnik/en (accessed June 12, 2013), n.p. 98. Lygia Clark subsequently adopted this practice, producing artworks such as Antropofágia and Baba antropofágia, both in 1973. For an overview of the reactivation of the cultural tradition of anthropophagy in the 1960s, see Rolnik, ibid. According to ­Rolnik, some of the characteristics of this tradition are “the absence of an absolute and stable identification with any particular repertory and the non-­existence of any blind obedience to established rules, generating a plasticity in the contours of subjectivity (instead of identies); and opening to the incorporation of new universes, accompanied by a freedom of hybridization (instead of a truth-­value assigned to a particular repertory); and agility of experimentation and improvisation to create territories and their respective cartographies (instead of fixed territories authorized by stable and predetermined languages).” 99. Not only the modernist art of Clark and Oiticica but also the writings of Torquato Neto, the theater of José Celso Martinez Correa, and the cinema of Glauber Rocha and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade sought to develop the notion of anthropophagy. 100. For a provocative discussion of Clark’s relationship to the work of Mondrian, see Sylvie Coëllier, Lygia Clark (L’enveloppe): Le fin de la modernité et le désir du contact (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2003), 52–­67. 101. For a suggestive interpretation of Clark’s exploration of the space of the plan, see Maria Alice Milliet, Lygia Clark: Obra-­trajeto (São Paulo: USP, 1992), 39–­62. 102. For a thorough consideration of Oiticica’s reflections on color, see Mari Carmen Ramirez, ed., Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color, exh. cat. (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2007), especially 129–­335. Also see Suzana Vaz’s interesting discussion of Oiticica’s use of color in “ho/me: Hélio Oiticica and Mircéa Eliade,” in Fios soltos, ed. Braga, 93–­107. 103. For a general overview of the Metaesquemas, see Hélio Oiticica, “Metaesquemas 57/58” (1972), reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 147. Also see Hélio Oiticica, Grupo Frente e Metaesquemas, exh. cat. (São Paulo: Galeria São Paulo, 1989), and Irene Small, “Pigment Pur and the Corpo da Côr: Post-­painterly Practice and Transmodernity,” ­October 152 (Spring 2015): 82–­102. 104. Oiticica, “Metaesquemas 57/58,” 147. 105. Eduardo Costa, “Hélio Oiticica: The Street in a Bottle,” Flash Art International 27, no. 174 (January/February 1974): 75. 106. For accounts of the importance of the color white in Oiticica’s art practice, see Gonzalo Aguilar, “In the White Fores: The Veiled Dialogue between Hélio Oiticica and Augusto and Haroldo de Campos,” in Fios soltos, ed. Braga, 250–­57; and Sergio Martins, “White on White on White: Oiticica/Malevich/Nietzsche,” Object 11 (2009): 65–­85. 107. Hélio Oiticica, “Color, Time, and Structure” (1960), reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 206. 108. Hélio Oiticica, “Testimonial, April 1962,” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 260.

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109. Ferreira Gullar, “Diversificação da experiência neoconcreta,” SDJB, December 3–­4, 1960,

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as cited in Mari Carmen Ramirez, “The Embodiment of Color—­‘From the Inside Out,’” in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 50. 110. Gullar, in ibid.: “Ultimately, it is the spectator who is afforded a synthetic image of the total structure as he/she walks around the work.” 111. Maurice Merleau-­Ponty, The Structure of Behavior (1942), trans. Alden Fischer (Boston: Beacon, 1963), and Phenomenology of Perception (1945), trans. Donald A. Landes (New York: Routledge, 2012). For Merleau-­Ponty, the primordial relation of a human being to her world consists not of that of a subject to an object but in her embodied action within the world. Rather than cognition, it is the incarnate body in relation to its environs that is the main subject of human activity. 112. See Wynne H. Phelan, “To Bestow a Sense of Light: Hélio Oiticica’s Experimental Process,” in Helio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 86, 88–­89, 91. 113. In Phenomenology of Perception, vi–­xiv, Merleau-­Ponty explains that phenomenology aims to provide an account of space as it is lived by humans. To clarify, he turns to Martin Heidegger’s concept of “being-­in-­the-­world” (in-­der-­welt-­sein), which the German philosopher used to characterize the human way of being and to overcome the traditional view of intentionality as being between a subject and an object. See Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927), trans. Joan Stambaugh et al. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996). 114. Piet Mondrian, “Purely Abstract Art” (1926), in The New Art—­The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, ed. Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James (Boston: G. K.Hall, 1986), 200, 199. 115. Ibid., 200. 116. Hélio Oiticica, “Aspiro ao grande labirinto,” in his Aspiro ao grande labirinto (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1986), 26–­27, in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Guy Brett, Catherine David, Chris Dercon, Luciano Figueiredo, and Lygia Pape (Rotterdam: Witte de With; Minneapolis: Center for Contemporary Art and Walker Art Center, 1994), 42. 117. Hélio Oiticica, “Cor, tempo e estrutura,” Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), November 26, 1960, reprinted in Aspiro ao grande labirinto. I have translated this difficult passage with the help of Stephen A. Berg’s translation in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 206. 118. Illustrations of some of these objects accompanied Gullar’s “Diálogo sôbre o não-­ objeto.” 119. Gullar, “Manifesto Neoconcreto,” 174. According to Lygia Clark, in “Bichos” (1960), reproduced in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 121: “Each Bicho is an organic entity which is totally revealed within its inner time of expression. . . . In the relationship established between you and the Bicho there is no passiveness, neither yours nor its. There is a type of body-­to-­body relationship between two living entities. . . . The conjugation of your gesture with the immediate response by the Bicho creates a new relationship and this is only possible due to the movements which it knows how to make. The Bicho has a life of its own.” Thus the spectator, in the act of handling the hinged metal plates, comes to know the disposition of the Bicho over time. 120. Mário Pedrosa, “Significação de Lygia Clark,” Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), October 23, 1960, reproduced as “The Significance of Lygia Clark” in Signals 1, no. 7 (April–­May 1965) 9. 121. Paulo Herkenhoff, “Lygia Clark,” in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 43. 122. Clark, “Bichos,” 121. 123. Marcel Mauss, “Techniques of the Body” (1935), in Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (New York: Zone Books, 1992), 456–­77. According to Mauss, the disciplinary and normalizing techniques of the body that play such a vital role in how

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the body is used are in fact social manifestations that are performed by humans in different ways from society to society but all without much thought. 124. Clark, “Bichos,” 121. 125. Lygia Clark, “Caminhando” (1965), reproduced in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 151. 126. Lygia Clark, “A propósito da magia do objeto” (1965), reproduced in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 152. 127. Ferreira Gullar, “Lygia Clark’s Trajectory,” in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 66–­67. 128. Clark, “A propósito da magia do objeto,” 153. 129. Ibid. 130. Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (New York: Autonomedia, 2013), 97. 131. Ibid., 98. 132. Lygia Clark, “Objeto relacional” (1980), reproduced in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 319–­27. 133. Mikhail Bakhtin, “Supplement: The Problem of Content, Material, and Form in Verbal Art” (ca. 1920), in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, ed. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov, trans. V. Liapunov (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 274. 134. Merleau-­Ponty employed the term chiasm as an ontological motif for explaining how and why it is that there is no lived distinction between the act of perceiving and the thing perceived. See Maurice Merleau-­Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alfonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969), especially 137–­39. Guy Brett, “Six: Cells,” in Lygia Clark, ed. Borja-­Villel, 26, quotes Clark in a private correspondence comparing the Diálogo de mãos to a “hinge.” Clark and Oiticica maintained a close relationship from the early 1960s until the latter’s death. While in exile, the two artists regularly exchanged letters. See Luciano Figueiredo, ed., Lygia Clark–­ Hélio Oiticica, cartas, 1964–­1974 (Rio de Janeiro: Editora da UFRJ, 1998). For a personal account of the relationship between the two artists, see Lygia Clark, “A quebra do Quando: Entrevista de Lygia Clark a Luciano Figueiredo e Matinas Suzuki Jr.,” in Folha de São Paulo, March 2, 1986. 135. Brett, “Six: Cells,” 22. 136. For an analysis of the processes of subjectivation in Clark’s work, see Suely Rolnik, “D’une cure pour temps dénués de poésie,” in Lygia Clark de l’oeuvre à l’événement, exh. cat. (Nantes, France: Musée des beaux-­arts de Nantes, 2005), 13–­26. 137. My overview of the relations between politics and culture in 1960s Brazil is developed very much under the shadow of Roberto Schwartz’s assessment of these dynamics in his important “Culture and Politics in Brazil, 1964–­1969” (1969–­70), in Misplaced Ideas: Essays on Brazilian Culture (London: Verso, 1992), 126–­59. Schwartz: “To everyone’s surprise, the cultural presence of the left [following the 1964 military coup] was not suppressed during this period. . . . The works produced by the left dominate the cultural scene, and in certain areas their quality is outstanding. Despite the existence of a right-­wing dictatorship, the cultural hegemony of the left is virtually complete. . . . In other words, at the very altars of bourgeois culture, it is the left which dictates the tone” (127). 138. Ibid., 126–­59. 139. Ibid., 127. 140. Schwarz, ibid., 137, proposes that the Brazilian variant of Pop art developed in the mid-­1960s by artists such as Oiticica operated in the midst of the tension between the asinine residual nationalism of the traditional bourgeoisie, the simplistic nationalism of modernization advanced by the right-­wing dictatorship, and the oppositional

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culture of the Left that had come to dominate high culture in the country. Over and above their differences, all of these movements sought “to find their goal by eliminating anything that was not indigenous. The residue would be the essence of Brazil” (4). This prompted some artists to expand the possibilities of the art object by appealing to a larger number of spectators and democratizing the art object’s reach through spectatorial participation. 141. Luciano Figueiredo, “‘the world is the museum,’”in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 105–­25, argues that the Bolides in particular mark the critical transition from construction to appropriation in the production of Oiticica’s work. 142. Hélio Oiticica, “Aparecimento do suprasensorial na arte brasileria,” GAM (Rio de ­Janeiro) 13 (1968), reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 130. 143. Oiticica in a 1969 text, “Eden,” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 12, describes the experiments with mechanical motion or natural motion of the Kinetic and Op artists as “simple” problems “related to ‘stimulus-­reaction’ feelings, conditioned ‘a priori.’” 144. The original context of Pedrosa’s phrase remains unclear. Sérgio Bruno Martins in ­“Formas do afecto: Um filme sobre Mário Pedrosa, directed by Nina Galanternik (Gala Filmes, 2010),” Vibrant: Virtual Brazilian Anthropology (Brasilia) 9, no. 2 (July/December 2012): 561, argues that Pedrosa first coined the phrase in reference to the work of the artist Antonio Manuel. Yet it has become common in the discussion of Oiticica’s and Clark’s work. Oiticica often uses it. For example, the artist writes in “Aparecimento do suprasensorial na arte brasileria,” in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 130: “Art is no longer an instrument of intellectual domination, can no longer be used as something ‘supreme,’ unattainable, as pleasure for the whisky-­drinking bourgeois or the speculative intellectual . . . The search for the suprasensorial, for man’s life-­experiences, is the ‘discovery of the will,’ through the ‘experimental exercise of liberty’ (Pedrosa), but the individual to which it opens itself.” That process, however, also incorporated elements of time and space, and especially the cultural, social, architectural and environmental space of 1960s Brazil. 145. Hélio Oiticica, “Bólides,” October 29, 1963, reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 66. 146. Hélio Oiticica, untitled text, in Kynaston McShine, Information, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970), 103. 147. In 1968, Pedrosa described the Penetrables as “labyrinths of color, where the spectator was invited to stand on color, smell color, live color,” as cited by Asbury, in “This Other Eden,” in Oiticica in London, 35. 148. Hélio Oiticica, “October 5, 1960,” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Ramirez, 202. 149. Oiticica was one of the primary organizers of this important exhibition featuring a diverse array of forty-­seven artists. For Oiticica’s conception of Tropicália, see “Perguntas e respostas para Mário Barata,” May 15, 1967, in Oiticica, Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 99–­101. 150. Oiticica’s Tropicália installation came to name the Tropicalist movement of the late 1960s, which in the music of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and others fused popular Brazilian music such as samba with rock and roll. Tropicalism also included experiments in theater, cinema, and poetry and channeled the productions of a counter­ culture in the midst of an increasingly brutal political repression. The movement rapidly became so widespread that by 1968, in the essay “Tropicália,” Oiticica felt the need to respond to what was becoming of his notion: “Those who speak of ‘tropicalism’ just pick up the image for consumption, ultra superficially, but the existential life-­experience escapes them, because they do not have it. Their culture is still uni-

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versalist, desperately in search of folklore, or, most of the time, not even that. . . . As can be seen, the myth of ‘tropicality’ is much more than parrots and banana trees: it is the consciousness of not being conditioned by established structures, hence highly revolutionary in its entirety. Any conformity, be it intellectual, social, or existential, is contrary to its principal idea.” Hélio Oiticica, “March 4, 1968,” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 125. 151. Hélio Oiticica, “Esquema geral da Nova Objetividade” (1967), in Nova objetividade brasileira, exh. cat. (Rio de Janeiro: Museu de Arte Moderna, 1967), reproduced as “General Outline of the New Objectivity” in Helio Oiticica, 110–­120. For a very good overview of the conditions of the Brazilian avant-­garde around the time of the New Objectivity exhibition, see Celso Favaretto, “Tropicália: The Explosion of the Obvious,” in Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture (1967–­1972), ed. Carlos Basualdo (São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2005), 81–­96. 152. Oiticica, “Esquema geral da nova objetividade,” in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 111. 153. Ibid. 154. Ibid., 113. 155. Ibid., 114. 156. Ibid., 116. 157. Ibid., 116. 158. Ibid., 117–­18: “Today, the phenomenon of the avant-­garde in Brazil is no longer the concern of a group coming from an isolated elite, but a far-­reaching cultural issue, of great amplitude, tending towards collective solutions.” 159. Ibid., 118. 160. Ibid., 119. 161. Ibid., 119, 118. 162. “In Brazil today,” Oiticica concludes, “in order to have an active cultural position that counts, one must be against, viscerally against, everything that could be, in sum, cultural, political, ethical, and social conformity.” If there is one phrase that synthesizes and sums up the elements of the new Brazilian avant-­garde it is “from adversity we live” (ibid., 119). Sergio Bruno Martins, “Hélio Oiticica: Mapping the Constructive,” Third Text 105, no. 24 (July 2010) 415, observes that the Tropicália installation is experienced by the visitor as “an accumulation, . . . as if the spectator has no time to make sense of each element, as new ones pile up before that can be done. . . . The disconnectedness of accumulation comes before one can make any sense of thematic coherence, and is further enhanced in the vertiginous dive into the Imagetical labyrinth . . . urging a rhythmic pace against the possibility of assimilation.” 163. The poems have recently been collected and published in Roberta Camila Salgado, Tropicália: Poemas 1965–­1967 (Rio de Janeiro: azougue editorial, 2015), 4–­11. 164. Hélio Oiticica, untitled, from Hélio Oiticica, exh. cat. (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 1969), reproduced in Oiticica in London, ed. Brett, 115. 165. As Oiticica describes this complex environment in the exhibition catalogue: “Tropicália is the very first conscious, objective attempt to impose an obviously Brazilian image upon the current context of the avant-­garde context and national art manifestations in general.” Hélio Oiticica, “March 4, 1968,” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 124. 166. Guy Brett, commenting on Tropicália in the catalogue for the 1969 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition that featured Oiticica’s piece, touches on the manner in which the television at the center of the installation obliterates all notions of folklorization: “The hidden level of Tropicália is the process of penetrating it, the web of sensory images which produce an intensely intimate confrontation, especially perhaps with

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the inner­most image of all, in pitch darkness, the universal switched-­on TV set. The typical turns into actual in this mythical space.” See Guy Brett in Hélio Oiticica, exh. cat., ed. Brett, n.p., reproduced in Oititica in London, ed. Brett, 125–­26. 167. Hélio Oiticica, “March 4, 1968,” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 124–­25. 168. Hélio Oiticica, “Brazil Diarrhea” (1970), reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 18. For an interesting account that sees this scatological notion as characteristic of Oiticica’s updating the anthropophagic operation, see Sergio Martins, “Hélio Oiticica: Mapping the Constructive,” 416–­17, and more recently Martins, Constructing an Avant-­ Garde, 69. 169. This dimension of Tropicália is accentuated only if we take into account Martins’s claim that the installation itself recalls a construction site (Martins, Constructing an Avant-­Garde, 71). Martins goes on to argue that Tropicália was “a site-­specific work” that addressed the fact that the main building of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro had been under construction for over a decade (72). 170. Hélio Oiticica, untitled, from Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett, reproduced in Oiticica in London, ed. Brett, 115. 171. Hélio Oiticica, “March 4, 1968,” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 125. 172. Hélio Oiticica, Correio da Manhã, October 24, 1968, reproduced as “The Plot of the Earth That Trembles: The Avant-­Garde Meaning of the Bahian Group,” in Tropicália, 246. 173. Ibid., 245. 174. For an overview of the Parangolé, see Hélio Oiticica, “Bases fundamentais para a definição do ‘Parangolé’” (November 1964), reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 85–­88. Parangolé has several meanings, from casual greetings to spontaneous actions, ramshackle shelter, and dance attire. For an account of the various senses of the term “parangolé,” see Waly Salomão, Hélio Oiticica: Qual é o parangolé e outros escritos (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Rocco, 2003), 28. 175. The exact meaning of parangolé remains highly debabted. I have opted for Waly ­Salomáo’s interpretation, articulated in Hélio Oiticica: Qual é o parangolé?, 37–­38. With the Parangolé, Oiticica writes in “Anotações sobre o parangolé,” reproduced in Helio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 93, “the spectator, whom I now call ‘participator,’” becomes the “structural nucleus of the work, the existential unfolding of this incorporeal space.” 176. For the provocative suggestion that these “human sized ‘containers’” reconceptualize the order of the earlier Núcleos “through the use of a flexible rather than rigid support” to stress the “mutability and potentiality” of sexual difference, see Irene Small, “Morphology in the Studio: Hélio Oiticica at the Museu Nacional,” Getty Research Journal 1 (2009): 114, 112. 177. Hélio Oiticica, untitled, from Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett, reproduced in Oiticica in London, ed. Brett, 112. 178. Ibid. 179. Oiticica was well aware of the Parangolé within the logic of his work’s development. His “Bases fundamentais para a definição do ‘parangolé,’” reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 85, begins as follows: “The discovery of what I call Parangolé marks a crucial point and defines a specific position in the theoretical development of my entire experience of color-­structure in space, principally in reference to a new definition of what would be, in this same experience, the ‘plastic object,’ or rather, the work.” 180. Mário Pedrosa, “Arte ambiental, arte pós-­moderna, Hélio Oiticica,” Correio de Manhã (Rio de Janeiro), June 26, 1966, in Oiticica, Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 12. The parangolé draw on a preexistent ritual with its own large community and respond to the then-­

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recent transformation in Rio de Janeiro’s popular carnival parade. As Paulo Herkenhoff has recently explained in an essay focusing on the 1950s and ’60s art of Lygia Pape, “In 1959, the Acadêmicos do Salgueiro samba association took the first step on a path that led to Rio de Janeiro’s carnival becoming ‘street opera.’ . . . Salgueiro president Nelson de Andrade accepted suggestions from Dirceu and Marie Louise Nery. However, the turning point was when he asked designer Fernando Pamplona to organize the 1960 parade around Afro-­Brazilian themes. . . . These developments led to new and resonant color/music/dance relationships.” Paulo Herkenhoff, “Lygia Pape: The Art of Passage,” in Lygia Pape Magnetized Space, exh. cat. (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 2011), 37, 56n78. 181. Luciano Figueiredo, “Recollection,” in Oiticica in London, ed. Brett, 24. 182. Hélio Oiticica, “Apocalipópotese” (August 18, 1968), in Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 128–­30, as cited in Guy Brett, “Hélio Oiticica: Reverie and Revolt,” Art in America (New York) 77, no. 1 (January 1989): 132. For an indictment of Oiticica’s mastery of the samba, see Asbury, “Hélio Couldn’t Dance,” in Fios soltos, ed. Braga, 52–­65. 183. Mário Pedrosa, “Arte ambiental, arte pós-­moderna, Hélio Oiticica,” in Oiticica, Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 9. 184. Hélio Oiticica, “Anotações sobre o parangolé,” in Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 70, reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, Brett et al., 93. 185. Hélio Oiticica, “Eden,” in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 12. 186. Ibid. 187. Fittingly, Opinião had taken its name from a production put on by the playwright Augusto Boal at the Teatro de Arena in São Paulo. Boal’s theater employed the strategies of distantiation developed by Brecht to produce dramas that encompassed not just what was going on onstage but also the interaction between what was going on onstage and the audience. See Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, trans. Charles A. McBride et al. (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1985). 188. Martins, Constructing an Avant-­Garde, 73. 189. Ibid. 190. Hélio Oiticica, “Bases fundamentais para a definição do ‘parangolé,’” in Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 65, reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 85. 191. Hélio Oiticica, “Crelazer,” in Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 116, reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 137. 192. Oiticica, “March 4, 1968,” in Aspiro ao grande labirinto, 106, reproduced in Hélio Oiticica, ed. Brett et al., 124. 193. Ibid. 194. As Small, “Morphology in the Studio,” 116, and more recently Martins, “Hélio Oiticica,” 419, have emphasized, Oiticica theorized that those who witnessed others dancing to samba while donning the capes were also participants in the Parangolé. Conclusion 1. Here it

should be emphasized that Lygia Clark in the 1970s and 1980s will adopt the framework of psychoanalysis and begin to theorize a destructuration of the conscious (i.e., self-­conscious) subject in favor of a subject fissured and split by articulation with the other of the unconscious and his or her own body. In turn, questions of identification, pleasure, and the desire of the subject come to be foregrounded. But by this time she had mostly moved away from the practice of art and into the realm of psychotherapy and alternative methods of healing the psyche. For an informative overview of Clark’s trajectory during these years, see Sylvie Coëllier, Lygia Clark

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2 92

(l’enveloppe): La fin de la modernité et le désir du contact (Paris: Harmattan, 2003). Also see Nívia Bittencourt, A vassoura da bruxa: Lygia Clark na arte da lou-­cura (Rio de Janeiro: Novamente Editora, 2002). 2. The Di Tella generation has come to define those artists who exhibited within the context of the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires in the mid-­ to late 1960s. The central theorist of the group was Oscar Masotta, and the visual artists included Jacoby, David Lamelas, and many others. For a helpful discussion of this context, see Ana ­Longoni and Mariano Mestman, “After Pop, We Dematerialize: Oscar ­Masotta, Happenings, and Media Art at the Beginnings of Conceptualism,” in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-­Garde, ed. Inés Katzenstein (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2004), 156–­72. The “AI-­5 generation” has come to denominate Brazilian artists working in the context of the Ato Institucional #5 (Fifth Institutional Act) established by the military government of General Costa e Silva on December 13, 1968, which closed the National Congress, suspended habeas corpus for crimes deemed subversive, and authorized censorship of the arts. This group of artists was varied. The figures most often cited as “paradigmatic” of this generation were Artur Barrio, Antonio Manuel, and Meireles. For a thorough consideration of these artists and the context in which they worked, see Claudia Calirman, Brazilian Art under Dictator­ship: Antonio Manuel, Artur Barrio, and Cildo Meireles (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), and Elena Shtromberg, Art Systems: Brazil and the 1970s (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016).

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Index Abstraction-­Création, 19, 75, 235n15, 235n16; Abstraction-­Création (Paris), 19, 235n15 Academia Altamira (Buenos Aires), 124, 125, 126 Adorno, Theodor W., 7, 66, 233n20, 251n186, 261n134 aesthetic field, 2, 3, 5, 10, 38, 48, 49, 53, 70, 81, 82, 84, 98, 100, 116, 120, 139, 140, 141, 147, 152, 158, 171, 185, 188, 197, 201, 207, 208, 231n1, 231n8, 234n33, 282n60. See also field Agam, Yaacov, 81, 82, 84; Relief Transformable, 82–­84 agency (subjective), 2, 4, 78, 160, 190, 224, 227 agitprop (agitational propaganda), 164 AI-­5 generation, 227, 292 Albers, Josef, 19, 75, 94, 254n38, 260n116 algorithm, 99, 100, 128, 204 allegory, 42, 218 All-­Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (Moscow), 64 Andrade, Oswald de, 196, 284n94; “Manifesto Antropófago,” 196, 284n94 anthropophagy (antropofagia), 196, 214, 218, 219, 284n94, 284n95, 285n98, 285n99 anti-­art, 217 antifunctionalism, 156. See also functionalism antihumanism, 90, 105. See also ­humanism apparatus, 3, 42, 43, 115, 125, 126, 145, 231n6 Aramburu, Pedro Eugenio, 127

Arden Quin, Carmelo, 25, 26, 28, 29, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 41, 44, 46, 57, 121, 122, 123, 239n49, 240n66, 240n67, 241n72, 241n81, 242n86, 242n87, 242n88, 242–­ 43n89, 243n96, 243n98, 244n103, 250n180, 265n13, 267n34; “El móvil,” 34–­36, 39, 242–­43nn89–­91 Arp, Jean, 16, 87, 176, 235n15, 236n19, 241n78 Arriba! (Madrid), 63 Art Concret Invention chez Pichón-­Riviere, 34, 38, 39, 242n86 Art d’Aujourd’hui (Paris), 75, 176 Arte Concreto-­Invención, 34, 38, 39 Arte Concreto-­Invención (Buenos Aires), 46, 47, 50, 56, 235n1, 235n2, 242n81, 245n112, 245–­46n115, 246n124, 247nn129–­36, 248n153; “Los amigos del pueblo” (editorial), 52, 247n137, 247n138; “Nuestra militancia” (editorial), 51–­52, 247nn132–­36 Artes Plásticas (São Paulo), 174, 175, 277n12, 278n15, 280n35 art informel, 21, 22, 75, 194 Arturo: Revista de Artes Abstractas (Buenos Aires), 25–­34, 39, 59, 121, 123, 174, 238n48, 238–­39n49, 239n51, 239n52, 239n53, 240n59, 240n65, 241nn72–­74, 241n75, 241n77, 244n99; cover of Arturo, 26 (figure) Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención (AAIC), 34, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 49, 50, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 63, 64, 65, 73, 74, 80, 97, 100, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 126, 171, 173, 174, 175, 192, 193, 238n43, 238–­ 39n49, 244n100, 244n103, 247n145,


Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención (continued) 248n154, 258n96, 266n16; “Los amigos del pueblo,” 52, 65, 247n137, 247n138; “Manifiesto Invencionista,” 43, 44, 46, 49, 65, 125, 174, 245n112, 247n145; “Nuestra militancia,” 51–­52, 247nn132–­36 Ateneo Popular de La Boca, 55, 248n146 atonality, 38. See also dodecaphony; music avant-­garde, 6, 24, 25, 26, 27, 35, 52, 66, 75, 89, 126, 166, 168, 171, 188, 191, 193, 194, 195, 196, 210, 217, 223, 232n19, 235n4, 237n38, 237n39, 238n48, 239n51, 240n60, 240n65, 241n76, 241n77, 242n87, 242n86, 243n94, 247n138, 248n151, 248n152, 249n165, 249n167, 251n6, 265n3, 265n4, 265n6, 265n7, 265n10, 265n12, 265n13, 266n19, 267n34, 267n36, 271n87, 274n119, 276n159, 276n163, 277n11, 278n19, 284n89, 284n91, 284n93, 284–­85n95, 289n151, 289n158, 289n162, 289n165, 290n168, 290n169, 290n172, 291n188, 292n2; historical avant-­garde, 26, 27, 89, 188, 191, 193, 217, 232n19, 240n60; neo-­avant-­garde, 168 Babbitt, Milton, 261n130 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 6, 208, 232n17, 287n133. See also dialogism Baljeu, Joost, 143, 270n78 Barraca de Mari-­Pérez, 71, 252n15 Barros, Geraldo de, 177, 279n29 Barthes, Roland, 170 Battistini, Aimée, 94, 98, 253n23, 260n14, 260n15 Bauhaus, 19, 34, 84, 94, 183, 242n85, 257n87, 260n116, 263n158 Bayley, Edgar, 12, 25, 26, 30, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 48, 123, 165, 241n75, 242n86, 244n99, 244n102, 245n104, 245n108, 245–­46n115, 246n117, 246n119, 246n127, 247n145 Berio, Luciano, 261n130 Berni, Antonio, 23, 52, 237n41, 239n50, 247n138 Bewogen Beweging (exhibition), 140, 270n72 Bienal de São Paulo 1951 (exhibition), 176, 177, 278n20, 279n22, 280n38 Biennale de Paris 1956 (exhibition), 127–­28 Index

Biennale de Paris 1963 (exhibition), 147, 152 Bill, Max, 1, 9, 19, 20, 21, 22, 31, 75, 86, 87, 128, 132, 177, 179, 182, 183, 236n20, 236n21, 236n22, 236n24, 236n25, 236n26, 236n27, 236n28, 236n29, 237n30, 254n38, 258n88, 265n5, 279n27, 281n53; “Die mathematische Denkweise in der Kunst unserer Zeit,” 21, 236n26; Dreiteilige Einheit, 177, 178 (figure); Quinze variations sur un même theme, 19–­20, 20 (figure), 236nn24–­25 Bishop, Claire, 232n15 Blasko, Martin, 122 Boletín de la Asociación Arte Concreto-­ Invención (Buenos Aires), 56, 244n99, 250n173, 264n3, 277n6 Boltanski, Luc, 234n33 Bordier, Roger, 81, 82, 257n75 Borges, Jorge Luis, 7, 233n22, 233n23, 241n76, 252n14, 255n46 Boulez, Pierre, 98, 99, 100, 102, 108, 109, 110, 111, 129, 152, 261n129, 261n130, 261n131, 261n132, 261n133, 262n134, 262n135, 262n150, 262n151, 263n153, 263n155, 263n157, 263n159, 268n50 Boulton, Alfredo, 251n9, 252n10, 252n11, 254n32, 255n43, 255n45, 255n49, 255n51, 255n54, 255n57, 255n58, 256n61 Bourdieu, Pierre, 3, 231n7 Braque, Georges, 92 Brest, Romero, 124, 267n34, 267n36, 279n25 Brett, Guy, 102, 105, 209, 231n2, 254n29, 260n122, 262n137, 262n142, 262n147, 284n92, 285n96, 286n116, 287n134, 287n135, 288n142, 288n143, 288n144, 288n145, 289n150, 289n152, 289n164, 289n165, 289–­90n166, 290n167, 290n168, 290n170, 290n171, 290n174, 290n175, 290n177, 290n179, 291n181, 291n182, 291n184, 291n185, 291n190, 291n191, 291n192 Buchloh, Benjamin H. D., 6, 232n16, 258n90 Bürger, Peter, 7, 168, 232n19, 276n159 Bury, Pol, 81 Cabrera, Sarandy, 57, 248n154; “Originalidad e invención,” 57–­58, 248n154 Cage, John, 5 Caillois, Roger, 273n115 Calder, Alexander, 35, 81, 84, 87, 114, 137

Campos, Augusto de, 178, 182, 281n43, 285n106 Campos, Haroldo de, 178, 182, 186, 281n43, 285n96, 285n106 Canclini, Néstor García, 233n22, 284n95 Caracas Museo de Bellas Artes, 72, 251n9, 252n13 Carpentier, Alejo, 72, 253n22 Cartesianism. See Descartes, René ­(Cartesianism) Carvão, Aluíso, 181, 269n51, 269n59, 269n60, 270n65, 270n68, 282n69, 283n78 Casanova, Pascale, 233n22 Castillo, Guido, 56, 248n148 Castillo, Ramón S., 23 Centre de recherche d’art visuel (CRAV), 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 140, 268n49, 269n51, 269n59, 269n60, 270n65, 270n68 Centro de Profesores Diplomados de Enseñanza Secundaria (Buenos Aires), 54–­55, 248n146 Cercle et Carré, 16, 19, 26, 28, 75, 176, 235n4, 235n5, 248n152 Cézanne, Paul, 92 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, 255n48 Charoux, Lothar, 174, 178, 187, 277n11, 277n12, 279n29, 280n34, 281n43; ­“Abstracionismo,” 174, 277n12 Chastel, Roger, 177; Les amoureux au café, 177 Chataing, Bernardo, 73, 253n26 Chiapello, Ève, 234n33 Círculo de Bellas Artes (Caracas), 73 Círculo y Cuadrado (Montevideo), 27, 239n49, 240n60. See also Torres-­ Garcia, Joaquín Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, 76, 87, 88, 89, 92, 258n95; Aula Magna, 87; Plaza Cubierta, 87, 89. See also Villanueva, Carlos Raúl Clarín (Buenos Aires), 65, 250n181 Clark, Lygia, 11, 152, 174, 181, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 191, 194, 195, 196, 197, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211, 216, 227, 277n1, 277n2, 281n43, 282n58, 282n59, 282n60, 282n61, 282n62, 282n64, 282n65, 282n66, 282n68, 282n69, 283n78, 284n89, 285n96, 285n98, 285n99, 285n100, 285n101, 286n119, 286n120, 286n121, 286n122, 287n124, 287n125, 287n126, 287n127, 287n128, 287n129, 287n132, 287n134,

287n135, 287n136, 288n144, 291n1; “A morte do plano,” 187, 191, 282n65; “A Propósito da magia do objeto,” 206; Bichos, 203–­4, 204 (figure); Caminhando, 205, 205 (figure); Casulo, 187; Contra-­relevo, 187, (figure) 188; Diálogo de mãos, 208–­10, 209 (figure); Espaço modulado, 186; Máscaras abismo, 207–­8, 207 (figure); Máscaras sensoriais, 207; Nostalgia do corpo, 207; Pancubismo, 204; Planos em ­superfície modulada, 186, 186 (figure); Quebra da moldura, 184–­85; Relógio de sol, 204; Unidades, 197, 197 (figure) Clark, T. J., 13, 234n33 Clay, Jean, 67, 119, 168, 251n2, 260n118, 261n127, 264n164, 264n165, 264n168, 264n169, 276n158 collective: art, 44, 168, 217, 246n117; artistic, 23, 133, 162; artistic practice, 44, 140, 166, 178, 216, 265n13; exhibition, 23, 126, 130, 267n31; experience, 51, 89, 130, 147, 158, 164, 212, 257n87, 289n158; spectatorship, 6, 163, 164, 216, 224 Communist Party: Argentine, 13, 25, 40, 52, 56, 63, 64, 65, 238n44, 244n103, 247n138, 250n170; Brazilian, 177, 210, 284n91; French, 63, 254n33; Soviet, 63; Venezuelan, 71 Concrete art, 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 34, 35, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 58, 59, 60, 63, 64, 65, 66, 70, 71, 73, 75, 79, 80, 87, 90, 100, 103, 105, 121, 123, 124, 128, 129, 132, 140, 143, 169, 171, 173, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 189, 190, 191, 192, 194, 195, 196, 198, 202, 205, 216, 226, 235n3, 235nn7–­14, 236n19, 236n28, 239n49, 239n50, 241–­ 42n81, 242n88, 243–­44n98, 244n100, 244n103, 245n111, 245n112, 246n116, 246n121, 247n145, 248n146, 249n169, 250n183, 266n24, 267n38, 268n50, 269n56, 270n76, 272n97, 277n3, 278n19, 278n20, 280n34, 281n41, 281n43, 281n44; Art Concret (Paris), 15 (figure); “Concrete Art Manifesto” (Van Doesburg, et al.), 16; Neoconcrete art, 3, 190, 191, 192, 194, 195, 196, 201, 281n43, 283n69, 283n72, 283n77, 283nn78–­79, 283n80, 283–­84nn81–­85, 284n90; post-­Concrete art, 2, 5, 11, 12, 171, 211, 226, 229, 277n3. See also Index



Asociación de Arte Concreto-­ Invención (AAIC); materiality Concrete music, 50, 51, 268n50 Constructivism, 6, 22, 27, 29, 57, 58, 84, 87, 141, 188, 191, 203, 214, 216, 220, 239n49, 240n57, 240n61, 240n62, 240n63, 241n71, 244n100, 246n121, 248n151, 249n168, 252n16, 255n41, 257n79, 258n90, 266n24, 277n12, 279n22, 280n33, 281n42, 283n71, 289n162, 290n168 continuum, 108, 132, 141, 153, 262nn151–­52 Contreras, Simón, 46, 52, 244n99, 245n115, 247n139 coplanal, 46, 47, 48, 56, 59, 60, 61, 122, 246n124, 249n167, 265n10 Cordeiro, Waldemar, 9, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180, 182, 183, 277n11, 277nn12–­14, 279n29, 279nn31–­32, 280n34, 280n35, 280n36, 280n38, 281n43, 281nn50–­51, 281n52; “Abstracionismo,” 174, 277n12; “Ainda o abstractionismo,” 174, 277nn12–­14; Un­ titled, 181 (figure) Correio da Manhã (Rio de Janeiro), 173, 277nn4–­6, 290nn172–­73, 290–­91n180 cosmopolitanism, 8, 153, 162, 176, 196, 233n26, 233nn27–­28, 272n97, 283n78 Crispiani, Alejandro, 239n51, 240n56, 240n58, 240n65, 240–­41n70, 244n103, 249n165 Cruz-­Diez, Carlos, 72, 259n105, 272n98 cualimetría, 61, 249n166, 249n169 Cubism, 31, 41, 82, 92, 94, 97, 173, 191, 193, 194, 204, 251n9, 266n15 cultural imperialism, 175, 216 Dada, 6, 35, 241n76, 284n94 dance, 35, 38, 122, 123, 128, 129, 211, 220, 221, 223, 232n15, 242n86, 265n14, 284n89, 290n174, 291n180, 291n182 da Silva, Vieira, 25–­26 da Silva Costa, João José, 181 Debourg, Narciso, 72, 252n15, 253n23 defamiliarization, 156 Degand, Léon, 75, 176, 279n21 de Gaulle, Charles, 128, 275n178 Delaunay, Sonia, 176 Delgado Chaubaud, Carlos, 74 Del Prete, Juan, 73, 238n49, 253n27 de Man, Paul, 41, 42, 49, 76, 100, 245n106, 245n110, 246n125, 246n126, 247n128


Demarco, Hugo, 127, 130, 267n37, 270n64, 272n98 dematerialization, 100, 102, 105, 110, 113, 117, 118, 120, 276–­77n172, 292n2. See also immateriality; materiality; re­ materialization denaturalization, 155–­56, 159, 160 Derrida, Jacques, 4, 232n10 Descartes, René (Cartesianism), 190, 195, 228 De Stijl, 67, 68, 87, 188, 202, 235n6, 241n80, 251n3, 251n4, 251n5 De Stijl (Leiden), 67, 235n6, 251n3, 251n4 desublimation, 4, 6 Dewasne, Jean, 75, 254n33, 254n37, 257n87 dialectics, 18, 24, 25, 29, 31, 35, 43, 53, 54, 57, 70, 155, 195, 197, 203, 216, 234n27, 241n72, 245n111, 262n151. See also ­materiality: dialectical materialism dialogism, 6, 114, 158, 161, 195, 208, 216 Dias, Cícero, 176 Diehl, Gastón, 72, 76, 253n21, 258n87 Di Tella generation, 169, 170, 171, 227, 274n126, 276n162, 292n2 dodecaphony, 38. See also atonality; music Do figurativismo ao abstracionismo ­(exhibition), 176, 279n21 Drummond de Andrade, Carlos, 173, 174, 175, 277n4 Duarte, Eva María, 23 Dubuffet, Jean, 166; “Asphyxiating ­Culture,” 166, 275n153 Duchamp, Marcel, 5, 81, 82, 117, 212, 232n15; Bicycle Wheel, 82; Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics), 117; Rotary Glass Plates, 82. See also ready­made duration, 51, 85, 99, 100, 108, 115, 118, 119, 126, 140, 150, 183, 205, 264n164, 264n165. See also time dynamism, 37, 48, 55, 56, 68, 96, 101, 102, 103, 113, 114, 144, 184 Eco, Umberto, 114, 157, 263n162, 273n110; The Open Work, 157, 263n162, 273n110 École de Paris, 177 École des beaux-­arts (Paris), 166; Un­ titled affiche, 167 (figure) Eitler, Esteban, 35, 38, 39, 123, 242n86, 242n88, 243n94, 243n95 Engels, Friedrich, 15

Erber, Pedro R., 174, 277n9, 278n16, 278n19, 282n59, 282n60 Escola de Samba Estação Primeira da Mangueira (Rio de Janeiro), 220 Escuela de Artes Plásticas (Caracas), 71, 76, 78, 92, 253n21 Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires), 126, 127 espacialização, 191 Espinosa, Manuel, 40, 46, 244n99, 245n115, 250n180 event: artistic, 5, 24, 34, 65, 72, 73, 84, 122, 124, 125, 144, 152, 158, 159, 160, 161, 169, 176, 189, 194, 231n1, 239n53; Fluxus, 5, 152; material, 41, 49, 246n126; phenomenological, 197; temporal, 108, 140 existentialism, 97, 261n126 experience: aesthetic, 3, 4, 5, 13, 22, 27, 35, 38, 49, 51, 52, 53, 59, 60, 62, 65, 81, 82, 86, 92, 115, 140, 147, 150, 158, 159, 164, 169, 192, 197, 203, 205, 206, 210, 212, 227, 232n17, 246n116, 264n164, 289n162, 290n179; aleatory, 38, 157; collective, 51, 164; dialogic, 114; haptic, 150, 206, 207, 212, 213, 221; modern, 1, 28, 156, 157, 161, 168; optical, 141, 221; phenomenological, 35, 201; sensory, 38, 181, 209, 245n106; spatial, 153, 202; subjective, 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 22, 27, 35, 36, 42, 43, 49, 50, 53, 82, 98, 108, 118, 119, 120, 125, 126, 132, 133, 140, 144, 149, 150, 154, 155, 156, 158, 159, 160, 169, 181, 183, 188, 192, 195, 196, 197, 201, 202, 203, 206, 210, 213, 221, 224, 226, 227, 229, 234n33, 245n106, 247n128, 248n146, 259n105, 288n144, 288n150, 289n162; visual, 221 Exposição nacional de arte concreta, I (exhibition), 182, 260n40, 260n41, 281n43 Exposición de pintores jóvenes (exhibition), 72, 253n26 Exposición interamericana de pintura moderna (exhibition), 72 expression, 11, 18, 21, 22, 27, 29, 41, 46, 64, 68, 79, 81, 87, 94, 104, 122, 123, 174, 175, 182, 183, 190, 193, 194, 202, 212, 223, 244n103, 257n74, 262n145, 266n14, 268n44, 286n119; expressionism, 22, 27, 29, 38, 41, 74, 94, 173, 174, 190

Ferrari, León, 170, 276nn170–­71 festival, 161, 165, 220, 275n136 field: color, 61, 62, 213, 249n169; of cultural production, 3, 166, 231n8; expanded, 231n8; literary, 233n22; perceptual, 113; phenomenological, 144, 150, 191, 221, 229; relational, 226, 273, 263n155, 273n110; semantic, 269n59; spatial, 213; visual, 116, 132, 136, 141, 221, 226, 271n90. See also aesthetic field Figueiredo, Luciano, 220, 231n2, 277n1, 277n2, 282n61, 284n89, 284n92, 286n116, 287n134, 288n141, 291n181 figural, 22, 30, 40, 42, 46, 49, 50, 53, 98, 245n111, 249n167. See also metaphor Flexor, Samson, 176 Fluxus, 5, 152 Folha da Manhã (São Paulo), 180, 280n35, 280n38 Fontana, Lucio, 124, 125, 126, 266n23, 266n24, 266nn26–­28, 266n29, 267n30, 267n31; “Manifiesto Blanco,” 124, 125, 126, 266n23, 266n24, 266nn26–­28, 266–­ 67n29, 267n32; “Manifesto tecnico dello spazialismo,” 125 Foster, Hal, 9, 234n31, 263n158 Foucault, Michel, 3, 12, 231nn3–­5, 234n32 fourth dimension, 3, 74, 82, 118, 125, 264n167, 267n30 Fox, Claire F., 252n14 frame, of artwork, 28, 30, 31, 33, 44, 46, 47, 48, 59, 62, 71, 86, 103, 185, 193, 194, 203, 277n9, 278n16, 278n19, 282n58, 282nn59–­60; irregular, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 44, 45, 46, 47, 55, 56, 57, 59, 63, 122, 123, 174, 184, 185, 241n77, 241n78, 241n81, 249n156, 265n10, 266n14 Franco, Jean, 233n24 Frente, 181, 182, 183, 184, 280n40, 281n47, 285n103 Fried, Michael, 5, 232n11 fun, 159, 267n31; funhouse, 147, 153 functionalism, 90, 91, 180, 212. See also antifunctionalism Fundamentos: Revista de cultura moderna (São Paulo), 177 Futurism, 9, 35, 74, 82, 126, 128, 243n97, 267n30, 277n12, 278n15, 278n19, 279n24, 279n26, 280n35, 280nn37–­38

Faré, Michel, 152, 153, 272n100 Faucheux, Pierre, 152, 271n93

Gabo, Naum, 82, 86, 87, 137, 257n74, 258n89, 258n90, 258n91; Kinetic


2 97


Gabo, Naum (continued) ­Construction (Standing Wave), 82, 83 (figure) Galeria de Arte das Folhas (São Paulo), 187 Galeria Prestes Maia (São Paulo), 174 Galería Van Riel (Buenos Aires), 64, 122, 243n96, 250n180, 265n13 Galerie Denise René (Paris), 75, 76, 81, 117, 128, 129, 140, 161, 176, 254n34, 254n39, 256n68, 268n47. See also Mouvement, Le (exhibition) Gallegos, Rómulo, 71, 72, 74, 252n18, 253n19, García, María Amalia, 173, 174, 238n47, 238n48, 242n85, 242n86, 245n114, 246n115, 277n3, 277nn4–­6, 277n8, 277n10, 277n11 García Canclini, Néstor. See Canclini, Néstor García García Miranda, Francisco, 130, 270n64, 272n98 García Rossi, Horacio, 126, 127, 130, 161, 267n37, 271n90 Gasparini, Marina, 88, 258n95 Gestalt theory, 68, 129, 180, 278n19, 283n69 Girola, Claudio, 40, 63, 241n81, 244n99, 245n114, 245n115, 248n147, 248n152, 250n180 Giunta, Andrea, 23, 127, 237–­38nn38–­43, 247n138, 267n34, 267n36 Gómez, Juan Vicente, 72 Gómez Sicre, José, 71, 252n14, 253n19 Goulart, João, 210 Gradowczyk, Mario H., 238n42, 238n49, 239n51, 239n55, 241n78, 247n132, 249n169, 265n5, 265n9, 265n13 Gramsci, Antonio, 180, 280n36 Groupe de recherche d’art visuel (GRAV), 140, 141, 143, 147, 150, 152, 153, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 161, 162, 163, 164, 166, 168, 169, 171, 211, 217, 264n1, 268n49, 268–­69n50, 270n70, 270n73, 270n74, 270n75, 270n77, 271n87, 271n90, 271nn91–­92, 271nn94–­96, 272n100, 273n103, 273n109, 273n115, 273n116, 274n118, 274n119, 274n121, 274n122, 274n127, 274n128, 274n129, 274n132, 275n134, 275n135, 276n155, 276n160; “Acte de Dissolution,” 168–­ 69, 276nn160–­61; “Assez de mystifications!” 152; “Assez de mystifications! II,” 157, 273n109; L’instabilité (exhibiIndex

tion), 147–­51, 152; Labyrinthe I, 148 (figure), 149–­50; Labyrinthe II, 153, 154 (figure), 272n101, 272n102; “Multiples recherches,” 162–­63, 274n127; Parcours à volume variable, 163, 163 (figure), 274n131; “Parcours à volume variable,” 274n132, 275n134; “Recherche d’art visuel,” 162, 274n128; Une journée dans la rue, 158–­61, 159 (figure), 163. See also García Rossi, Horacio; Le Parc, Julio; Morellet, François; Sobrino, Francisco; Stein, Joël Groupe de recherches musicales, 269n50 Grupo Frente. See Frente Grupo Madí. See Madí Grupo Ruptura. See Ruptura Guillent Pérez, J. R., 76, 77, 79, 218, 253n23, 255n42, 255nn43–­44, 255nn46–­ 47, 255n50, 255n51, 255n53, 255n58 Gullar, Ferreira, 3, 12, 182, 183, 187, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 195, 201, 203, 206, 231n9, 233n21, 280n34, 281n43, 281n44, 281n46, 281n54, 282n62, 282n68, 283n69, 283n70, 283n72, 283n77, 283n78, 283n80, 283–­84nn81–­88, 284n89, 284n91, 284n92, 286nn109–­10, 286n118, 286n119, 287n127; “Lygia Clark—­ uma experiência radical,” 187, 282nn62–­63; “Neoconcrete Manifesto,” 190, 192, 283n69, 283n77, 283n78; “Teoria do não-­objeto,” 192, 193, 194, 203, 205, 208, 211, 213, 283n80, 283–­84nn81–­88 Happenings, 5, 152, 158, 160, 161, 276n163, 276n167, 292n2 hapticality, 150, 205, 206, 207, 216 Harvey, Stefano, 206, 287n130 Henderson, Linda, 264n167, 267n30 Herkenhoff, Paulo, 204, 280n36, 286n121, 291n180 Hlito, Alfredo, 40, 46, 53, 54, 59–­60, 63, 73, 244n99, 245n114, 245n115, 246n124, 247n140, 248n152, 248n154, 249n163, 250n180, 253n27; “Notas para una ­estética materialista,” 53–­54, 247nn140–­44 Hochschule für Gestaltung (Ulm), 75, 183, 254n38, 281n53 Huidobro, Vicente, 239n51, 247–­48n146 Huizinga, Johan, 273n115

Hultén, Pontus, 81, 82, 140, 256n68, 256nn69–­71, 256n73, 270n72 humanism, 9, 21, 56, 71, 80, 90, 91, 97, 98, 169, 170, 247n138, 250n173, 261n126. See also antihumanism idea-­wholeness, 68 identification, 40, 41, 42, 43, 79, 192, 223, 285n98, 291n1 identity, 1, 8, 9, 12, 105, 223, 225, 226; ­colonial, 76; cultural, 8, 196, 223; Latin American, 77; national, 7, 71, 72, 173, 216, 252n16; relational, 4; self, 225, 226 ideology, 28, 40, 41, 43, 49, 52, 54, 61, 65, 120, 158, 165, 168, 171, 245nn106–­7, 245n110, 246n125, 246n128, 256n61 illusion, 7, 18, 22, 30, 32, 39, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47, 49, 54, 58, 59, 60, 61, 78, 82, 85, 86, 96, 103, 110, 113, 115, 167, 196, 197, 246n116, 248n152, 249n167, 251n5, 260n122, 271n90; non-­, 22, 54; optical, 61, 86, 110, 113. See also figural immateriality, 102, 105, 110, 113, 117, 138, 205, 263n160. See also dematerialization; materiality imperialism, 6, 91; cultural, 175, 216 Impressionism, 193 Inca, 27 indeterminacy, 37, 45, 113, 142, 143, 144, 150, 157 information, 10, 96, 129, 131, 132, 134, 140, 142, 143, 144, 170, 171, 191, 192, 264n170, 268n46; false, 64; Information (exhibition), 212, 288n146; theory, 131, 132, 269n52, 269nn54–­55, 269nn56–­58. See also Moles, Abraham instability, 88, 121, 134, 139, 140, 141, 143, 153, 161, 174, 182, 203, 270n74, 270n76 Instituto Brasil–­Estados Unidos (Rio de Janeiro), 181, 280n41 Instituto Di Tella (Buenos Aires), 169, 170, 274n126, 276n162, 292n2 Instituto Francés de Estudios Superiores (Buenos Aires), 122, 265n13 interpretation, 4, 6, 10, 49, 50, 54, 135, 144, 162, 174, 182, 191, 192, 206, 241n72, 269n56; idealist, 27, 54; Marxist, 29, 50, 54. See also meaning; signification invention, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 34, 35, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59,

65, 66, 84, 122, 123, 125, 174, 198, 243nn98–­99, 244n100, 245n111, 245n112, 247n145, 248n154, 249n162, 253n27, 266n24. See also Asociación de Arte Concreto-­Invención (AAIC): “Manifiesto Invencionista” Iommi, Enio, 63, 242n81, 244n99, 244n103, 245n114, 245n115, 248n147, 250n180 Ivanissevich, Oscar, 25, 127, 238n47 Jacobsen, Robert, 81 Jacoby, Roberto, 170, 171, 227, 228, 229, 292n2 Joaquim (Curitiba), 174, 277n6, 277n7 Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), 190, 192, 231n9, 281n43, 281nn54–­56, 282n58, 283n72, 283n80, 286n117, 286n120 Kandinsky, Wassily, 19, 25, 26, 28, 33, 34, 176, 236n19, 239n50 Kemenov, Vladimir, 64, 250n176; “Aspects of Two Cultures,” 64, 250n176 kineticism, 12, 35, 36, 38, 46, 47, 70, 81, 82, 84, 86, 87, 88, 89, 96, 100, 103, 108, 110, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 120, 122, 123, 125, 126, 128, 132, 136, 138, 140, 141, 144, 145, 147, 149, 150, 153, 157, 158, 163, 205, 208, 221, 223, 254n38, 256n61, 257n74, 257n80, 258n92, 259n98, 260n121, 263n156, 263n162, 264n164, 264n165, 266nn27–­28, 268n42, 270n69, 270n71, 270n73, 270n77, 271n87, 271n90, 272n97, 273n102, 273n110, 274n121, 274n132, 286n119, 288n143; “architectonic movements,” 88, 259n97; illusion of movement, 46, 84, 85, 102, 113, 115, 117, 136, 271n90; Kinetic art, 12, 35, 36, 81, 82, 84, 86, 87, 117, 128, 140, 144, 153, 163, 205, 256n61, 264n164, 268n42, 270n69, 272n97; natural motion, 288n143; physical bodily movement, 114, 115, 122, 144, 145, 205, 221, 223, 272n97, 273n102; virtual movement, 82, 84, 102, 115, 117, 128, 136, 140. See also Mouvement, Le (exhibition) Kittler, Friedrich, 270n67 Kosice, Gyula, 25, 26, 30, 36, 37, 38, 39, 121, 122, 124, 205, 238n48, 242n86, 242n88, 243n92, 243n93, 243n96, 243–­ 44n98, 244n103, 265n6, 265n13; Escultura articulada, (figure) 36, 37, 243n92; Royi, (figure) 37, 38, 122, 124, 205 Kroller-­Müller Museum (Otterlo), 94 Index


30 0

labyrinth, 121, 146, 147, 149, 150, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 163, 164, 213, 217, 271n90, 272n101, 272n102, 273n103, 273n105, 273n108, 288n147, 289n162 Lacan, Jacques, 170, 246n127, 276n167 Lambert-­Beatty, Carrie, 232n15 Lefebvre, Henri, 275n136 Léger, Fernand, 87 Leibowitz, René, 98, 261n130 Lenin, Vladimir, 15, 65 Le Parc, Julio, 13, 121, 126, 127, 128, 130, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 146, 147, 150, 152, 153, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 173, 205, 227, 264n1, 264n2, 267n32, 267n39, 268n49, 270n70, 270n71, 270n73, 270n76, 270nn79–­80, 271n86, 271n87, 271nn88–­89, 271nn91–­92, 272n98, 272n101, 273n103, 273nn111–­14, 274n121, 274nn123–­25, 274n127, 274n130, 275nn137–­40, 275n141, 275nn142–­44, 275n145, 275n148, 275n149, 275nn150–­53, 275n154, 276n156, 276n157, 276nn160–­61, 276n162, 276n166; “A propos de art-­ spectacle, spectateur actif, instabilité et programmation dans l’art visuel,” 143, 144, 270n76, 270nn79–­80, 271n86, 276n156; Cadeaux surprises, 160; Cellule à pénétrer, 150, 151 (figure); Chaussures pour une marche “autre,” 160; Continuels-­lumière-­ cylindres, 153, 155 (figure); Continuels-­lumière series, 144–­45, 153; Dalles mobiles, 160; “Démystifier l’art,” 166, 275nn150–­54; “Guérilla culturelle,” 164–­65, 264n2, 275nn141–­44, 276n162; Lumière en vibration, 147–­49, 149 (figure); Lunettes pour une vision ‘autre’, 160; Mobile argent sur noir, 141; Mobile transparent, 139 (figure); “N.E.A.N.T.,” 157–­58, 273nn111–­14; “Position vis-­à-­vis de la Nouvelle Tendence,” 157–­58; “Proposition pour un lieu d’activation,” 146, 147, 271nn88–­89; “Propositions sur le movement,” 140, 270n73, 270n77; Saturation, 138 (figure); Séquences ambivalentes, 136, 136 (figure); Séquences progressives ambivalentes, 135, 136 (figure); Sieges sur resorts, 160


light, 18, 41, 62, 84, 89, 91, 96, 113, 125, 126, 128, 129, 134, 136, 138, 139, 144, 145, 147, 149, 150, 153, 155, 156, 158, 163, 164, 182, 184, 197, 198, 249n166, 257n85, 270n71, 271n90, 272n102–­3, 286n112 Lissitzky, El, 28, 88, 241n80 literality, 22, 30, 31, 41, 42, 46, 47, 49, 50, 53, 79, 100, 103, 186, 201, 245n111, 249n167; non-­, 40. See also materiality liveness, 150 Livingstone, Margaret, 113, 263n161 Lohse, Richard, 75 Lonardi, Eduardo, 127 Longoni, Ana, 250n170, 250n180, 250n181, 250n182, 251n184, 276n167, 292n2 Los Disidentes, 12, 72, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 91, 92, 94, 218–­19, 252n15, 253n21, 253n23, 255n40, 255n42, 255nn43–­44, 255n45, 255n49, 255nn50–­ 51, 255n52, 255n53, 255n54, 255n56, 256n59, 256n60, 258n93, 259n111, 260n115 Lozza, Raul, 46, 47, 50, 51, 60, 61, 62, 63, 174, 244n99, 245n115, 246n124, 247nn129–­31, 249n167, 249n169, 277n6; “Hacia una musica invencionista,” 50–­51; Invención, 61 (figure) Lucena, Daniela, 250n170, 250n180, 250n181, 250n182, 251n184 ludic, 125, 130, 157, 158, 159, 160, 165, 273n115, 275n136 Lumière et movement: Art cinétique à Paris (exhibition), 163 Madí, 12, 34, 38, 41, 56, 57, 58, 65, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 137, 240n66, 243n96, 243–­44n98, 244n103, 258n96, 265n4, 265n5, 265n6, 265n7, 265n9, 265n12, 265n13, 265–­66nn14–­18, 266nn21–­22, 266n24; “Manifiesto Madí,” 123, 243n96, 265n13, 265n14 Maldonado, Tomás, 9, 15, 24, 25, 28, 29, 34, 39, 40, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 53, 56, 57, 58, 59, 63, 64, 65, 66, 97, 123, 124, 125, 174, 235n2, 236n26, 236n28, 238n42, 238n43, 239n49, 239n50, 239n51, 240–­ 41n70, 240n71, 243n98, 244n99, 244n101, 244n103, 245n111, 245n112, 245n113, 245n114, 245–­46n115, 246n118, 246nn121–­22, 246n124, 247nn132–­36, 247n139, 247n145, 248n146, 248n152, 248n153, 248n154,

249nn158–­61, 249n162, 250nn171–­72, 250n173, 250nn174–­75, 250n180, 251n186, 254n38, 258n88, 266n24, 266n25, 279n27, 281n53; “Actualidad y porvenir del arte concreto,” 66, 245n113, 251n186; Invencíon, 29; ­Invención No.2, 29–­30; “Los artistas concretos, el ‘realismo’ y la realidad,” 53, 247n139; “Picasso, Matisse y la libertad de expresión,” 64, 250n174; Untitled, 44–­46, (figure) 45 Malevich, Kasimir, 28, 48, 62, 88, 110, 188, 193, 194, 197, 212, 283n77, 284n86, 285n106; Suprematist Composition: White on White, 48 (figure), 62, 110 Malraux, André, 128 Manaure, Mateo, 72, 76, 253n23, 258n93 “Manifiesto Blanco.” See Fontana, Lucio Marcellin, Raymond, 166, 275n146, 275n148 Martins, Sergio, 195, 221, 278n19, 284n91, 284n93, 285n106, 288n144, 289n162, 290n168, 290n169, 291nn188–­89, 291n194 Marx, Karl, 15; Marxism, 24, 29, 40, 43, 51, 52, 53, 54, 57, 65, 97, 129, 244n103, 278n16, 284n91 Masotta, Oscar, 169, 170, 171, 276n163, 276n167, 276nn168–­69, 276n172, 292n2 materiality: dialectical materialism, 15, 29, 53, 54, 57, 241n71, 265n4; material culture, 277n3; material elements, objects and techniques, 3, 16, 22, 28, 31, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 49, 53, 59, 65, 73, 82, 96, 98, 100, 101, 107, 109, 117, 118, 120, 122, 131, 138, 139, 164, 183, 186, 187, 193, 196, 205, 207, 211, 212, 217, 220, 221, 234n27, 247n128, 248n147, 257n82, 258n92, 262n136, 263n158, 264n163, 266n27; material environment, 67, 202; material events, 246n126; materialist aesthetics, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 30, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 53, 54, 59, 60, 61, 79, 100, 120, 125, 139, 171, 174, 188, 216, 245n111, 247n140; material plane, 198; material presence, 283n83; material signifier, 42; material space, 119; material support, 193; material time, 190; material world, 7, 40, 53, 131, 134, 137, 146, 159, 221; ontological materialism, 48, 120, 174, 190, 201; of writing, 235n3. See also

­ oncrete art; dematerialization; C ­literality; rematerialization mathematics, 18, 19, 20, 21, 44, 47, 58, 61, 70, 98, 99, 101, 103, 106, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 157, 180, 181, 190, 236n28, 236n29, 249n169, 269n53, 269n56 Mauss, Marcel, 205, 286–­87n123 Mavignier, Almir, 177, 272n97 meaning, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 22, 24, 41, 42, 43, 48, 49, 50, 53, 54, 59, 62, 63, 66, 90, 100, 105, 133, 142, 152, 156, 165, 190, 192, 193, 201, 205, 208, 223, 226, 227, 262n134, 269n56, 269n59, 270n81, 276n170, 290n172, 290n174; aesthetic, 53, 54; anecdotal, 40; emotional, 201; figural, 4, 22; innate or ­inherent, 12, 50; multiplicity of, 50; ontology of, 48; postponement of, 4; production of, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 48, 50, 53, 54, 59, 79, 152, 192, 193, 205, 208, 226, 227; transparency of, 30. See also interpretation; signification Medina Angarita, Isaías, 71, 87, 258n94 Meireles, Cildo, 227, 228, 229, 292n2; ­Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-­Cola Project, 228 (figure) Melé, Juan, 47, 55, 73, 244n99, 246n123, 250n180, 253n27 Merleau-­Ponty, Maurice, 201, 224, 286n111, 286n113, 287n134 metaphor, 12, 22, 40, 41, 42, 68, 82, 158, 185, 193, 194, 196, 204, 218, 236n30. See also figural Mimó Mena, José, 73 mobile, 114, 137; “El móvil,” 34–­35, 39; ­relief sculptures, 137, 138, 139, 141, 147, 149, 150, 153, 205; structures and elements, 35, 39, 82, 109, 122, 123, 137, 138, 139, 147, 149, 160 möbius strip, 204, 205, 208, 220 modernism, 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 33, 34, 58, 66, 68, 80, 81, 98, 99, 162, 173, 177, 184, 195, 225, 233n26, 239n49, 243n97, 252n16, 254n33, 258n90, 285n95, 285n99. See also music: modern Moholy-­Nagy, László, 19, 35, 84, 110, 241n80, 257n78, 257n79, 257n80, 263n156, 263n158, 270n71; Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Bühne, 84, 85 (figure), 270n71; The New Vision, 84, 257n78; Vision in Motion, 84, 257n80, 263n156 moiré effect, 118


30 1


Molenberg, Juan Alberto, 47, 48, 60, 125, 244n99, 246n115, 246n124, 250n180; Función Blanca, 47 (figure), 60, 125, 246n124 Moles, Abraham, 131, 132, 269n52, 269nn54–­58; Theorie de l’information esthétique, 131, 269n52, 269nn54–­58 Molnár, François, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 143, 268n43, 268n46, 269n59, 269n60, 269–­70n62, 270n63, 270n64, 270n81 Molnár, Vera, 129, 130, 134, 269n52, 269n59, 269–­70n62, 270n64 Mónaco, Primaldo, 46 Mondrian, Piet, 16, 26, 28, 33, 34, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 67, 68, 70, 74, 80, 90, 94, 96, 98, 103, 183, 188, 191, 193, 197, 202, 203, 235n6, 248n154, 249n168, 251n3, 251n4, 251n5, 254n28, 259n105, 260n120, 260n121, 260n122, 280n41, 285n100, 286n114; Broadway Boogie-­ Woogie, 96; Composition in Line (Black and White), 95 (figure); Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, 69 (figure); Homenagem a Mondrian, 212, 213; “Mondrian-­structure,” 198; New York City, 96; Victory Boogie-­Woogie, 96, 97 (figure) Monsanto, Antonio Edmundo, 71 Morellet, François, 129, 130, 164, 168, 268n43, 268n46, 268n47, 269n59, 270n81, 272n101, 272–­73n102, 275n133, 276n157 Moretti, Franco, 233n25 Moten, Fred, 206, 287n130 Mouvement, Le (exhibition), 81, 82, 84, 85, 86, 117 movement. See kineticism Moyano, Sergio, 130, 270n64 Mulvey, Laura, 5, 232n12, 232n13 Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris (Paris), 147, 163 Musée des arts décoratifs, Louvre (Paris), 152 Museo de Bellas Artes (Caracas), 72 Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires), 127 Museu de Arte de São Paulo (São Paulo), 175 Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (São Paulo), 175, 177 Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro), 175, 181, 281n53, 281–­82nn54–­56, 282n68, 283n72 Index

music, 16, 34, 35, 38, 39, 50, 51, 72, 75, 78, 98, 99, 100, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 114, 119, 122, 123, 129, 152, 173, 174, 213, 220, 221, 233n20, 242n86, 242n88, 243n94, 243n95, 243n96, 243n97, 247n129, 251n185, 261n129, 261n130, 261n131, 261–­62n134, 262n136, 262n145, 262n149, 262–­63nn150–­54, 263n155, 263n157, 263n159, 265n14, 268–­69n50, 270n64, 288n150, 291n180; Concrete, 50, 51, 268–­69n50; modern, 38, 50, 51, 98, 99, 100, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 114, 123, 152, 261n129, 261n130, 261n131, 261–­62n134, 262n136, 262n145, 262–­63nn150–­54, 263n155, 263n157, 263n159, 268–­69n50; samba, 220, 221, 288n150, 291n180, 291n182, 291n194. See also atonality; dodecaphony Mussolini, Benito, 23 myth, 4, 28, 40, 74, 78, 123, 134, 152, 165, 166, 167, 168, 171, 187, 196, 217, 218, 223, 265n12, 289n150, 290n166 Nacional, El (Caracas), 92, 251nn6–­8, 251n9, 252n15, 253n27, 255n57, 256n62, 256n63, 256n67, 258n94, 259n100, 259n106, 259n110, 260n122, 264n163 nationalism, 7, 8, 11, 15, 25, 52, 71, 91, 127, 128, 162, 173, 176, 177, 182, 184, 196, 210, 211, 214, 216, 217, 218, 220, 223, 225, 226, 233n22, 285n95; anti-­, 216, 233n24, 233n26, 234n27, 235n16, 252n16, 255n48, 278n20, 287n140, 289n16; denationalization, 128; inter-­, 11, 16, 19, 52, 65, 72, 75, 80, 91, 122, 123, 127, 146, 169, 170, 175, 176, 177, 226, 236n18, 267n30, 268n47, 278–­ 79n20; trans-­, 7, 75, 80, 91, 214, 216, 225, 233n22 natural: conditions, 125; form, 17, 31, 68, 94, 257n82; -­ism, 122, 179, 181, 192, 193; -­istic, 31, 33, 58; -­ization, 4, 12, 15, 41, 155–­56, 159, 160; meaning, 192; motion, 288n143; object, 43, 48, 53; sciences, 119; world, 16, 17, 18, 30, 43, 75, 77, 78, 87, 89, 94, 205, 212, 236n19, 245n110. See also denaturalization negation, 2, 17, 24, 30, 34, 42–­43, 44, 46, 51, 56, 60, 62, 78, 80, 85, 94, 100, 113, 121, 141, 169, 174, 182, 192, 194, 217, 232n19, 255n48; negative afterimage, 86; negative shapes, 47, 85, 257n82; negative space, 184

Nelson, Adele, 278n15, 279n22, 279n23 Neoconcrete art. See Concrete art Noigandres (São Paulo), 178 non-­object, 192, 193, 194, 203, 205, 208, 211, 213, 283–­84nn78–­88 Notta, Julio, 64, 65, 250n180, 250n181, 250nn182–­83 nouveau realism, 221 Nouvelle Tendance, 157, 272n98, 272n100, 273n111; New Tendencies, 152, 153, 268n43, 272n97, 272n99 Nova objetividade brasileira (exhibition), 213 Nueva Música, La (Buenos Aires), 38 Nuñez, Oscar, 47, 244n99, 246n115, 252n10, 252nn11–­12 objectivity, 31, 39, 40, 41, 42, 47, 48, 52, 57, 64, 80, 81, 96, 97, 99, 122, 131, 140, 169, 171, 180, 191, 210, 217, 220, 223, 227, 228, 245n111, 277n3; new objectivity (Brazilian), 213, 214, 216, 217, 289nn151–­62; new objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), 236n3; non-­objectivity, 19, 48, 284n86; objective knowledge, 192, 227; objective reality, 2, 41, 183; pre-­objectivity, 210 Oiticica, Hélio, 11, 152, 173, 188, 194–­203, 208, 210–­24, 226, 231n2, 277n1, 277n2, 281n43, 282n66, 283n69, 283n78, 284n89, 284n92, 285n99, 285n102, 285n103–­4, 285n105, 285n106, 285n107, 285n108, 286n112, 286n116, 286n117, 287n134, 287n140, 288n141, 288n142, 288n143, 288n144, 288n145, 288n146, 288n148, 288n149, 288–­ 89n150, 289n151, 289nn152–­62, 289n164, 289n165, 289–­90n166, 290n167, 290n168, 290n171, 290nn172–­73, 290n174, 290n175, 290n176, 290nn177–­78, 290n179, 290–­ 91n180, 291n182, 291n183, 291n184, 291nn185–­86, 291n190, 291n191, 291nn192–­93, 291n194; Area Bólides, 212; Bed Bólides, 212; Bilaterais, 199, (figure) 199; Bólide, 211, 212, 213; Bólide caixa 9, 212; Bólide saco 2, 212; Bólide vidro 05 “Homenagem a Mondrian”, 212, 213 (figure); Bólide vidro 10 “Homenagem a Malevich Gemini,” 212; “Esquema general da Nova Objetividade,” 214–­17; Invenções, 198–­99, 198 (figure); Metaesquemas, 197–­98; Ninhos, 212–­13, 214 (figure); Núcleo 6,

202 (figure); Núcleos, 201; Parangolé, 219–­24; Parangolé capa 04 “Clark”, 219 ­(figure); Parangolé capa 11 “I embody revolt”, 222 (figure); Penetrable PN3, 217–­18; Penetráveis, 213; Relevos espaciais, 199–­201, 200 (figure); Tropicália, 213–­16, 215 (figure) oligarchy, 16, 23, 24, 43, 80, 126, 127, 162, 176, 177, 238n44 ontology, 190, 195, 287n134; of art, 4; ­material, 48, 120, 174, 190, 201; of meaning, 48 Op art, 211, 288n143 openness (“open work”), 31, 38, 70, 81, 103, 132, 141, 157, 158, 161, 162, 190, 217, 263n162, 273n110. See also Eco, Umberto Opinião 65 (exhibition), 221 opticality. See visuality optico-­kinetic forms, 89, 141, 153; optico-­mental sense, 187. See also Op art Opus International (Paris), 166, 275nn150–­54 organic: closed forms, 108; interconnection of art object with surroundings, 62; line, 184, 185, 186, 282n58, 282n59, 282n60; unity, 155, 187; work of art, 7, 232n19 Organization of American States, 210 Orientación: Órgano Central del Partido Comunista (Buenos Aires), 40, 63, 64, 65, 244n101, 244n102, 250n170, 250n171, 250nn174–­75, 250n180, 250n181 Ossona, Paulina, 123 Otero, Alejandro, 68, 70, 76, 79, 81, 90, 91, 92, 251n6, 251nn7–­8, 251n9, 252n13, 253n23, 253n28, 255n40, 255n56, 255n57, 256n60, 256n67, 258n93, 259n100, 259n105, 259n106, 259n109, 259n110, 260n115 Otero Silva, Miguel, 68, 70, 71, 79, 80, 81, 90, 91, 251n9, 252n10, 252nn11–­12, 255n57, 256n62, 256n63, 256nn64–­65, 256n66, 259n101, 259n103, 259n104, 259nn106–­8, 259n110 Palais du Louvre, Pavillon de Marsan (Paris), 153, 157, 158, 272n100 Palatnik, Abraham, 177 Pan American Union, 71, 252n14 Pape, Lygia, 181, 281n43, 282n68, 283n69, 283n78, 286n116, 291n180 Index


30 4

participation, 3, 6, 13, 38, 81, 82, 84, 121, 130, 143, 144, 147, 150, 152, 156, 157, 159, 160, 163, 164, 168, 169, 173, 187, 193, 194, 195, 204, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 220, 221, 223, 224, 225, 226, 234n30, 250n178, 267n39, 271n86, 272n100, 273n110, 288n140, 290n175; collective, 216; “participator,” 290n175; participatory, 6, 211 Paz, Juan Carlos, 38, 123, 242n86, 242n88, 243n94, 243n95 Pedrosa, Mário, 175, 177, 182, 183, 184, 203, 211, 213, 220, 221, 278n19, 281n48, 282n57, 283n69, 286n120, 288n144, 288n147, 290n180, 291n183 Perazzo, Nelly, 238–­39n49, 239n55, 241n78, 244n99, 247n132, 249n169, 250n181, 265n5, 265n9, 265n13 perception, 4, 10, 27, 29, 38, 41, 42, 49, 50, 67, 86, 98, 110, 111, 115, 118, 129, 131, 132, 134, 135, 140, 141, 143, 144, 153, 154, 161, 169, 171, 180, 181, 182, 190, 195, 197, 200, 201, 208, 212, 226, 245n106, 257n74, 268n45, 268n46, 270n81, 272n97; aesthetic, 131; multidimensional, 200; olfactory, 212; of others, 4; phenomenological, 129, 140, 190, 197, 201, 226; spectator, 38, 41, 42, 115, 118, 143, 144, 169, 182, 190, 195; tactile, 212; of time, 257n74; visual, 67, 86, 110, 111, 115, 118, 132, 134, 135, 143, 268n45, 268n46, 270n81 perceptismo, 61, 62, 249n165, 249n167, 249n168 Pérez, Celso, 71 Pérez-­Barreiro, Gabriel, 32, 238n48, 239n51, 240n65, 240n66, 242n82, 242n86, 242n87, 242n92, 242n93, 248n154, 249n165, 249n167, 265n3, 265n4, 265n6, 265n7, 265n10, 265n12, 265n13, 266nn19–­20 Pérez Jiménez, Marcos, 74, 87, 88, 92, 254n30, 258n94 performance, 5, 6, 7, 31, 38, 159, 195, 205, 210, 220, 228; dance, 232n15; Happenings, 5; ludic, 275n136; musical, 38, 269n50; of spectator, 205, 207 performative, 31, 37, 41, 100, 108, 159, 195, 228 Perón, Juan-­Domingo, 23, 24, 25, 127, 237n34, 237nn35–­36, 238n44, 238n45; Peronism, 126, 127, 237n33, 237n40, 238n45, 238n46, 238n47, 250n180 Pettoruti, Emilio, 124, 238–­39n49 Index

Pevsner, Antoine, 16, 87, 137, 191, 257n74 phenomenality, 42, 54; cultural, 128, 161; historical, 49; optical, 115, 118, 119, 134, 263n160, 264n166; transitional, 4 phenomenology, 1, 13, 35, 157, 171, 191, 192, 197, 201, 203, 210, 211, 213, 220, 223, 224, 226, 228, 286n111, 286n113 physicality: of apparatus, 115; of architectural context, 31, 46, 157; astrophysics, 87; of cultural context, 147; of experience, 35, 183; of forms, 60, 86, 98, 187, 246n124; of materials, 117; metaphysics, 22, 28, 51, 53, 96, 133, 245n111; modern physics, 87, 131, 181, 191; of movement, 115, 122, 221, 223; nonmetaphysical aesthetic, 22; of painting, 30; of perception, 272n97; of sound, 51; of space, 125, 127; spectatorial, 35, 60, 115, 157, 158, 190, 221; of support, 116, 157, 194, 282n61; of world, 18, 53, 98 Picasso, Pablo, 63, 64, 92, 246n127, 250nn171–­72, 250n174 Pichón-­Rivière, Enrique, 34, 36, 38, 39, 242n86, 243n89 Pignatari, Décio, 178, 182, 281n43 Pillet, Edgar, 75 plane: celestial, 204; color, 18, 55, 60, 184, 185, 241n78, 246n116, 249n166; of consistency, 129, 268n44; death of the, 191; fixation, 113; geometric, 55, 184; material, 198; physiological, 108; picture, 4, 7, 31, 55, 60, 61, 87, 88, 94, 101, 103, 106, 108, 109, 110, 112, 114, 115, 116, 136, 175, 184, 185, 187, 188, 197, 198, 200, 216, 257n82, 258n92; plastic, 16, 18, 21, 33, 55, 56, 59, 62, 79, 85, 92, 94, 105, 110, 112, 113, 144, 175, 177, 184, 186, 191, 197, 199, 201, 246n116, 257n82, 263n158, 282n61; reality, 22, 25, 107, 198; spatial, 39, 46, 47, 56, 59, 60, 62, 73, 79, 85, 88, 92, 94, 105, 107, 110, 187, 197, 199, 242n81, 249n167, 263n158, 266n14; striated, 110; temporal, 187; visual, 32, 110, 113 Plante, Isabel, 232n14 play, 123, 147, 158, 159, 212, 216, 273n115; between substance and appearance, 138; of colors, 96; formal, 170; free, 81, 99; of light and movement, 158; music, 221; of participation, 216; playrooms, 162, 163, 164, 271n90; of power, 3; of signification, 4; theatrical,

284n91; of transparency and reflection, 271n90 Pop art, 221, 274n121, 276n167, 287n140 Portinari, Cândido, 175, 278n15 Prati, Lidy, 12, 34, 39, 46, 55, 63, 73, 105, 106, 107, 108, 244n99, 245n114, 246n115, 246n124, 248n154, 250n180, 253n27; Composición serial, 106–­7, 106 (figure); Concreto, 55 (figure) Pravda (Moscow), 63, 250n174 presence, 30, 38, 81, 82, 86, 123, 124, 190, 199, 283n83; co-­presence, 150 Price, Rachel, 235n3 process: of abstraction, 87; aesthetic, 94; analytical, 68; of apprehension, 141; of architecture, 91; art, 37, 59, 195; cognitive, 35, 280n39; compositional, 68, 102, 139, 157, 179, 181, 188; of configuration, 2; of conflict, 10; creative, 19, 21, 22, 29, 53, 54, 59, 68, 91, 101, 114, 131, 169, 180, 183, 190, 208, 214, 216; of cultural differentiation, 216; of defamiliarization, 156; of digestion, 218; dynamic, 6, 260n122, 272n97; of formation, 4, 116; of incorporation, 221; of “individuation,” 120, 208; information, 96, 143, 268n46; of institutionalization, 9; of interaction, 115; intuitive, 20, 101; of light, 138; logical, 21, 94; of modernization, 177; of national affirmation, 7; of negation, 43; perceptual, 141, 144, 152, 268n46; production, 21, 22, 53, 54, 94, 96, 105, 182, 191; of projection, 139; reception, 4, 6, 49, 51; of recollection, 139; relational, 12, 115, 132, 208; of representation, 9; of revealing, 171; sensorial, 288n144; serial, 100; stimulus-­reaction, 211; of subjectification, 3, 217, 287n136; temporal, 223; of transformation, 67; of transmission, 144; unconscious, 210; unmediated, 135; “wake up,” 221 psychoanalysis, 234n30, 246n127, 291n1 Quiles, Daniel, 170, 276n168 Radway, Janice, 232n13 Ramírez, Pedro, 23 Rancière, Jacques, 3, 231n3 Randall, Laura, 237n32 Rawson, Arturo, 23 Read, Herbert, 87, 258n91 readymade, 212 reference, 18, 39, 41, 42, 49, 53, 108, 122,

245n106, 245n110, 269n56; figurative, 101, 174; frame of, 28, 121, 223; -­free smooth space, 108; point, 44, 120, 226; pure, 22; of relations, 67; system of, 31 regionalism, 7, 8, 56, 80, 127, 173, 225, 234n27; peripheral regions, 8; subordinated regions, 15 relationality, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 22, 27, 30, 31, 33, 34, 38, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 51, 59, 60, 62, 67, 68, 76, 77, 81, 84, 87, 90, 94, 96, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 108, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118, 120, 122, 123, 125, 129, 131, 132, 135, 136, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 152, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 166, 169, 171, 180, 184, 187, 190, 192, 193, 195, 196, 197, 198, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 210, 211, 212, 216, 223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 231n1, 231n8, 232n15, 232n19, 233n26, 234n30, 247n145, 249n166, 249n167, 252n14, 263n156, 268n44, 268n45, 271n86, 271n90, 273n110, 274n119, 275n135, 275n136, 282n58, 286n111, 286n119, 287n137, 291n180 rematerialization, 120. See also materiality; virtual: reality Removedor (Montevideo), 56, 57, 239n49, 248n148, 248nn149–­50, 248n154, 248n156 René, Denise, 75, 162, 260n116. See also Galerie Denise René (Paris) Revista dos novíssimos (São Paulo), 174, 277nn12–­14, 280n35 Riegl, Alois, 231n1 Robho (Paris), 162, 164, 264n2, 265n5, 274nn123–­25, 275n141 Roccamonte, Jorge, 266n24, 267n31 Rodchenko, Aleksandr, 114, 137, 197; Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color, 197 Rolnik, Suely, 196, 285nn97–­98, 287n136 Romero, Luis Alberto, 126, 267n33, 267n34, 267n35 Rothfuss, Rhod, 25, 26, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34, 46, 122, 239n49, 240n68, 240n69, 240n70, 241n77, 242n82, 242n86, 242n88, 243n98, 244n103, 250n180, 266n13; “El marco: Un problema de plástica actual,” 30–­31, 33, 239n49, 241n77; Plástica en Madera, 28, 240n69; Untitled (Arlequín), 32–­33, 32 (figure) Index


Ruptura, 178, 179, 180, 181, 182, 279n28, 279n29, 279nn31–­32, 279n33, 281n47; “Manifesto Ruptura,” 178, 179 (figure), 279n29, 279nn31–­32 Russolo, Luigi, 16, 39, 243n97

30 6

Sacilotto, Luiz, 174, 178, 279n29, 280n34, 281n43 Sadler, Simon, 156, 273n104 Said, Edward, 9, 234n28, 234n29 Salgado, Roberta Camila, 217, 289n163 Salon de Mai (exhibition), 75, 111 Salón de Nuevas Realidades: Arte Abstracto-­Concreto-­No Figurativo (exhibition), 64–­65, 250n180 Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (Paris), 64, 75, 117, 176 Salón Independiente (Buenos Aires), 23, 237n41, 279n29 Salón Nacional (Buenos Aires), 23 Salón Peuser (Buenos Aires), 43, 246n116, 248n146 samba, 220, 221, 288n150, 291n180, 291n182, 291n194 Sardá, Enrique, 71 Sarlo, Beatriz, 233n23, 241n76 Sartre, Jean-­Paul, 97, 261n125; “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” 97, 261n126 Schoenberg, Arnold, 38, 51, 98, 261n129, 261n130, 261n134 Schöffer, Nicolas, 128, 205 Schottelius, Renate, 38, 242n86 Schwartz, Roberto, 210, 236–­37n30, 287n137 science, 18, 84, 86, 98, 119, 125, 128, 129, 131, 133, 137, 140, 153, 190, 191, 269n59 semiosis, 41, 245n106 seriality, 70, 97, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 110, 115, 130, 261n130, 261n133, 262n136, 262n139; “total serialism,” 99 Serpa, Ivan, 177, 181, 184, 281n43; Forma bi-­ritmada, 184 Servanes, Simone, 134 Seuphor, Michel, 16, 28, 75, 235n5, 254n36; L’art abstrait, ses origins, ses premiers maîtres, 75, 254n36 Shannon, Claude, 131, 269n53, 269n56 signification, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 41, 42, 48, 49, 50, 51, 60, 80, 90, 94, 123, 128, 135, 193, 194, 208, 211, 212, 216, 226, 227, 262n134, 269n51, 276n170, 286n120; ­artistic, 1, 2, 3; construction of, 48;


metaphorical, 22; metaphysical, 22; negation of, 60; play of, 4; universal significance, 75, 79. See also interpretation; meaning Simondon, Gilbert, 120, 264n170 Siskind, Mariano, 8, 233n26, 234n27 Situationist International, 156, 157, 271n87, 273n104, 275n136 Sobrino, Francisco, 127, 128, 130, 160, 168, 267n37, 271n90, 276n157; Élements modulaires á manipuler, 160 Sobrino, Geneviève, 133 socialism, 29, 40, 43, 53, 64, 121, 272n100. See also socialist realism socialist realism, 23, 24, 52, 63, 64, 247n138, 250n178, 278n19 Sociedad Argentina de Artistas Plásticos (Buenos Aires), 55, 248n146 Soto, Jesús Rafael, 13, 67, 68, 70, 72, 74, 81, 88, 92, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 129, 130, 137, 141, 171, 205, 211, 251n1, 251n2, 251n6, 251nn7–­8, 253–­54n28, 254n29, 256n67, 258n96, 259n105, 259n112, 260n114, 260n115, 260n116, 260nn118–­19, 260n122, 260n123, 261n124, 261n127, 261n129, 261n130, 262n136, 262n137, 262n138, 262n139, 262n140, 262n141, 262n143, 262n144, 262n145, 262n146, 262n147, 262n148, 262n149, 263n156, 263n160, 263n162, 264n163, 264n164, 264n168, 264n169, 268n47, 272n98; Cacharros, 92, 93 (figure); Cafetera series, 92; Composición dinámica, 92, 95 (figure); Déplacement d’un element lumineux, 110; Desplazamiento de un cuadrado transparente, 110, 111 (figure); El Puente, 92; Étude pour une série, 103, 104 (figure); The Little Yellow, 102; Metamorphosis, 111–­ 16, 112 (figure), 263n160; Optical Wall, 102; Paisaje de Maracaibo, 92, 93 (figure); Peinture sérielle, 103, 105, 107–­8, 107 (figure); Première vibration, 69 (figure); Répetition optique, 101; Répetition Progression, 102, 103; Rotation, 109–­10, 109 (figure); Sans titre (Progression), 101, 102 (figure); Spirale, 117–­18, 117 (figure); Untitled (Vibration), 118–­19, 119 (figure) Souza, Jorge, 46, 174, 244n99, 250n180, 253n27

space, 4, 7, 8, 22, 36, 37, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 56, 58, 59, 60, 62, 70, 71, 74, 78, 79, 81, 82, 88, 89, 90, 91, 103, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 122, 123, 125, 126, 129, 132, 136, 138, 139, 140, 141, 144, 145, 147, 149, 150, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 159, 160, 161, 163, 175, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 203, 207, 210, 212, 213, 218, 221, 225, 229, 231n8, 233n22, 242n81, 245n111, 249n167, 251n5, 257n74, 258n92, 260n122, 262n151, 263n153, 264n167, 267n30, 273n103, 282n58, 282n60, 285n101, 286n113, 288n144, 290n168, 290n175, 290n179; actual, 31, 32–­33, 37, 59, 71, 74, 82, 84, 87, 88, 89, 123, 124, 125, 126, 129, 132, 145, 149, 150, 154, 185, 186, 193, 194, 197, 212; artistic, 8, 140, 233n22; discursive, 225; experiential, 22, 60, 84, 118, 140, 145, 153, 154, 188, 192, 193, 197, 203, 213, 273n103; fourth dimensional, 74, 264n167, 267n30; geometrical, 7, 22, 44, 47, 60, 71, 94, 104, 111; haptic, 207; infinite, 126, 197; institutional, 7, 60, 62, 147; interpretive, 49; liminal, 282n60; metaphorical, 193, 194; modern, 15; movement in, 108, 114, 138, 150, 157, 260n122; musical, 108, 109, 110, 129, 262n151; national, 128, 225; planar, 39, 46, 47, 56, 59, 60, 62, 73, 79, 85, 88, 92, 94, 105, 107, 110, 187, 197, 199, 242n81, 249n167, 263n158, 266n14; “smooth,” 108, 109, 110, 129; social, 7, 89, 90, 91, 159, 161; “spatialization,” 4, 191, “striated,” 108, 109, 110, 129, 263n153; and time, 4, 8, 22, 62, 74, 79, 81, 82, 90, 108, 114, 115, 116, 119, 122, 124, 125, 126, 140, 141, 144, 149, 150, 153, 157, 187, 190, 200, 201, 202, 213, 245n111, 257n74, 258n92, 288n144; topological, 7, 129, 156; virtual, 4, 7, 31, 38, 46, 58, 82, 88, 94, 103, 108, 112, 115, 182, 193, 200, 201, 251n5 spazialismo. See Fontana, Lucio spectatorship: absorptive, 5; collective, 6; Concrete art, 1, 2, 179, 180, 182; embodied, 4, 116, 190, 192, 194, 197, 201, 205, 213, 226; haptic, 205, 206, 207, 220, 286n119; ideal, 50; interactive, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 30, 31, 32–­33, 35, 37, 38, 41, 42, 43, 46, 48, 49, 50, 51, 54, 59, 60, 62, 73, 81, 82, 84, 86, 103, 108, 113, 114,

115, 116, 120, 122, 132, 135, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 149, 150, 152, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 168, 173, 187, 190, 192, 193, 194, 196, 200, 201, 203, 204, 205, 208, 211, 212, 213, 216, 217, 221, 223, 224, 268n39, 271n86, 272n97, 272n100, 286n110, 288n140, 288n147; and meaning, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 48, 49, 50, 54, 62, 141–­42, 152, 192, 193, 205, 208, 226, 227; modernist, 2, 9, 204; modes of, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 62, 78, 81, 82, 88, 89, 96, 101, 104, 107, 113, 120, 121, 122, 127, 130, 134–­35, 136, 137, 138, 140, 141, 143, 169, 170, 173, 190, 191, 192, 197, 201, 203, 217, 232n15, 234n30, 249n167, 264n165, 268n39; possessive, 5, 205, 232n13, 271n90; “stimulated,” 271n87; theatrical, 5. See also aesthetic field; dialogism Stalin, Joseph, 15; Stalinism, 64, 65 Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), 94, 140, 156 Stein, Joël, 129, 130, 160, 168, 268n48, 270n64, 271n90, 272n101, 276n155, 276n157; Kaléidoscope, 160 Stern, Grete, 34, 38, 242n85, 242n86 steropsis, 113 Stockhausen, Karlheinz, 261n130, 268n50 structuralism, 10, 13, 22, 55, 81, 98, 103, 105, 114, 131, 170, 188, 202, 211, 217, 224, 225, 228 Structure: Magazine on Synthesist Art (Amsterdam), 143, 270n78 subject, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 29, 41, 42, 43, 49, 63, 78, 80, 81, 96, 98, 105, 108, 114, 115, 118, 119, 120, 125, 139, 147, 149, 150, 158, 166, 171, 182, 191, 192, 195, 196, 204, 207, 208, 209, 210, 221, 223, 224, 226, 227, 228, 229, 234n30, 286n113, 291n1; anti-­, 98; artistic, 96, 127, 164, 179, 190, 208; asubjectivity, 99; body-­, 201; centered, 3, 210, 291n1; colonial, 77, 78; contemplative, 9, 204; decentered, 208, 210; desubjectivity, 98, 179; ego-­centric, 204; emancipated subjectivity, 226; embodied, 192, 194, 286n111; expressive, 9, 182; flexible, 234n33; ideal, 224; instituted, 227; instituting, 12, 226; phenomenological, 208, 211; -­positions, 3, 5, 100, 154, 181; and power, 12, 234n32; spectatorial, 3,



30 8

subject (continued) 6, 7, 11, 31, 108, 114, 115, 140, 150, 169, 183, 187, 191, 192, 194, 204, 208, 212, 221, 226; split, 234n30; subjectification, 3, 120, 264n170, 287n136; subjection, 72; subjective agency, 4, 42, 70, 78; subjective experience, 10, 42, 119, 159, 183, 207, 208, 226, 227, 229; subjective perception, 171, 208; subjective reception, 191; subjective temporality, 108, 118, 119; subjective transformation, 223; subjectivity, 2, 6, 9, 10, 13, 21, 76, 77, 78, 96, 101, 105, 142, 154, 180, 183, 190, 191, 192, 195, 207, 210, 212, 224, 226, 227, 228, 234n33, 262n134, 273n115, 285n98; transcendental, 9, 192; universal, 190, 226 sublation, 7, 168 Sucre, José Francisco, 92, 259n111; “El caso de Los Disidentes,” 92 Surrealism, 6, 24, 27, 129, 173, 266n15 symbol, 28, 42, 46, 48, 79, 104, 131, 141, 180, 269n56; symbolic, 201, 217, 224, 226, 240n60; symbolic order, 228; symbolize, 122, 124 systems: art, 15, 56, 81, 133; color, 105; compositional, 62, 98, 99, 100, 101, 103, 105, 125, 128, 157, 261n130, 262n139, 262n145; cultural, 165, 166; of elements, 42; flight into, 98; of forces, 84; harmonious, 125; ideological, 168, 275n142; information, 143, 171, 268n46; life, 152, 157, 165; literary, 233n22; mathematical, 103; of meaning, 165; nervous, 135; nonrelational, 142; of perception, 110, 113; of permutation, 103; political, 74; of reference, 31, 249n169, 263n155; of relations, 3, 140; of representation, 165; resistant to, 120; resistant to, 120; of signs, 43, 79; social, 167; structural, 81, 82, 98, 99, 100, 227; of vision, 129 Tachism, 21, 22, 133 Taller Libre de Arte, 71, 72, 73, 74, 80, 92, 252n13, 252n14, 253n20, 253n24, 253n27, 254n28, 259n112, 260n113 Taller Torres-­García, 56. See also Removedor (Montevideo) Tarsila do Amaral, 196 Tatlin, Vladimir, 82, 187; Corner Counter-­ Relief, 187, 189 (figure)


Täuber-­Arp, Sophie, 16 techniques: art, 3, 57, 63, 72, 80, 87, 257n87, 258n92, 266n14, 266n16; body, 205, 286–­87n123; color, 212; cultural, 57, 181, 227; film, 5; media, 168; music, 38, 51, 99, 100, 102, 103, 261n131, 263n155; painting, 7, 56, 63; representation, 52; sculpture, 205; serial, 100, 102, 103, 261n131; subjectification, 228 technology, 5, 74, 75, 125, 128, 129, 130, 131, 134, 135, 153, 183, 196, 218, 227, 257n87, 268n41; digital, 5; remote control, 5; technological determinism, 270n67 time, 5, 6, 10, 35, 38, 51, 81, 98, 108, 114, 115, 118, 119, 124, 132, 136, 138, 140, 141, 144, 154, 157, 160, 183, 194, 200, 201, 213, 231n8, 262n149, 264n164, 264n165; ­atemporality, 39, 187; chronometric, 263; and fourth dimension, 118, 264n167, 267n30; material, 190; mechanical conception of, 108; and movement, 81, 82, 108, 126, 140, 258n92; planar, 187; present, 144, 223, 283n77; real, 144, 146, 257n74; smooth, 263n155; and space, 4, 6, 8, 22, 35, 62, 74, 79, 81, 82, 90, 108, 114, 115, 116, 119, 122, 124, 125, 126, 140, 141, 144, 149, 150, 153, 157, 187, 190, 200, 201, 202, 213, 223, 245n111, 257n74, 258n92, 288n144; striated, 263n155; subjective, 13, 108, 203, 286n119; timelessness, 79, 80, 139, 218. See also duration Time (New York), 124, 266nn21–­22 Tinguely, Jean, 81, 82, 205, 270n72 topography, 70, 157 topology, 7, 46, 129, 132, 133, 144, 150, 156, 157, 177, 204 Torres, Augusto, 26 Torres-­García, Joaquín, 16, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 39, 49, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 70, 124, 235n5, 237n30, 237n31, 239n49, 239n53, 239n54, 239n55, 240n57, 240n58, 240n61, 240n63, 240n64, 240n68, 240n69, 240–­41n70, 241n71, 241n78, 244n100, 246n121, 248n149, 248n154, 249nn158–­61; Manifesto 2: Constructivo 100%, 27, 240nn61–­62; Pachamama, 28, 240n69; Padre Inti, 28, 240n69. See also Circulo y Cuadrado (Montevideo)

Traba, Marta, 74, 253n25, 254n32, 256n61 tropes, 41, 42, 43, 46, 54, 99, 196 Tropicália, 196; Tropicália, 213, 216, 217, 218, 288n149, 288n150, 289n162, 289n163, 289n165, 289n166, 290n169 twelve-­tone technique. See atonality; dodecaphony; music União Cultural Brasil–­Estados Unidos (São Paulo), 174, 182 Van Doesburg, Theo, 1, 9, 16, 17, 18, 19, 67, 197, 235n6, 235n7, 235nn8–­14, 235n15, 236n19, 241n79, 251n3, 251n5; “Comments on the Basis of Concrete Painting,” 16–­19, 235nn7–­14 Vantongerloo, Georges, 16, 19, 28, 128, 176, 235n6, 235n15 Vasarely, Victor, 75, 76, 81, 82, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 105, 115, 128, 129, 130, 133, 134, 254n37, 254n38, 254n39, 257n77, 257nn81–­85, 257n86, 257–­58n87, 258n92, 259n97, 259n98, 259n99, 268n42, 270n69; Eridan II, 85, 86 ­(figure); Homage to Malevich, 88, 88 (figure); “Notes for a Manifesto,” 84, 86; Positive-­Negative, 89 (figure); ­Sophia, 89; Tlinko II, 115, 116 (figure); Vega II, 115

Venice Biennale 1966 (exhibition), 161, 168, 274nn121–­22 Verón, Eliseo, 170 Vieira, Décio, 181, 283n78 Villanueva, Carlos Raúl, 87, 88, 90, 91, 92, 258n94, 258n95, 258n96 virtual: effects, 128; motion, 82, 84, 102, 115, 117, 128, 136, 140; reality, 62, 120; sequence, 108; space, 4, 7, 31, 38, 62, 82, 193, 200, 201; time, 140; volume, 82 visuality, 135, 177, 180, 199; autonomous, 278 VOKS Bulletin (Moscow), 64, 250n176 Weaver, Warren, 269n53, 269n56 Webern, Anton, 51, 261n130 Weissmann, Franz, 187, 281n43, 282n68, 283n69, 283n78 Werbin, Matilde, 50, 51 wholeness, 7, 33, 42, 70, 141, 195. See also idea-­wholeness Wiener, Norbert, 131 Yvaral (Jean-­Pierre Vasarely), 130, 140, 161 Zeitprobleme in der Schweizer Malerei und Plastik (exhibition), 19 Zhdanov, Andrei, 64, 250n178, 250n179


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