Plastic Arts By Francisco Alambert 1

Plastic Arts By Francisco Alambert 1

The great Mexican historian Leopoldo Zea used to tell the following story. During an exhibition of pre-Columbian art in Mexico City, the Mexican poet Octavio Paz accompanied the French Minister of Culture, the writer André Malraux, who, moved and amazed by what he saw, said that “they”, the Europeans, had the Greek art, while “we”, Latin Americans, had “that”, the vital pre-colonial art. The poet would have then interrupted the minister, and would have answered something in these terms: “No. We have this and the Greeks.” At the crossroads of that history lies a good part of the problems regarding the cultural and artistic construction of Latin America, its identity, its problems of origin and the point of view of others on this whole issue.

Rather than being arrogant, Octavio Paz's supposed response makes clear the idea, only developed in the 20th century, that the Americas are an extension and creation of European capitalism in its various expansionist phases, and that they also represent the consolidation of that process. In the mirror of the Americas, the European world can see both its own face and its opposite, in the same way that Americans (from the north, center and south) also see in the Western or European world (which they also integrate). , now an image of your past, now a wish for the future; now an expanded identity, now an established difference.

Such a difference is verified because in the American continent the transplanted European culture – and naturally modified depending on that transplant and the new conditions in which it was integrated and built – joined other equally transported cultures. But it also destroyed and violated these other cultures as much as it could, such as the African one (through modern slavery, that other invention of European capitalism), especially strong in Brazil and Cuba, and the native ones, outstanding especially in the Andean countries and in Mexico.
As in everything else, the history of modern and contemporary art in Latin America is inseparable from the history of Europe, of which it is an active part and somewhat dependent. To such an extent that historian Dawn Ades can rightly state:

the purism of the Brazilian Tarsila do Amaral, the nativism and cubist gauchos of Rafael Barradas (1890-1929), the nationalism of the plein air landscapes of José María Velasco (1840-1912) or the strong intimate treatment of the unusual ceremonies of the African candombe by Pedro Figari (1861-1938) put the European public in front of a language that is both familiar and totally unknown.

However, the opposite can also be observed, since it is equally true that Jackson Pollock owes a lot to David Alfaro Siqueiros, Mark Rothko to Roberto Matta, Willem De Kooning to Wifredo Lam, and the work of Adolph Gottlieb cannot be understood independently of the by Joaquín Torres García (1874-1949). There is sometimes a merely geographical-cultural understanding of what Latin America means. Marta Traba conceived the cultural regions of the continent in an opposition (somewhat simplistic, in truth) between “open” and “closed” countries.