Radical History Review 89 (2004) 13-24
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Aesthetic Moments of Latin Americanism
Néstor García Canclini
No en todas las historias el tiempo necesita la nostalgia. [Not in all stories does time need nostalgia.]
I can imagine an exploration of the past in which we are able to compare three ways in which arts are related to social time. In the 1960s, art worked as a herald of utopia, trying to include in the present a future that seemed feasible. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was a memory of the defeat—seeing to it that the future that could never be would continue to have a place in the present, albeit by evoking the dead and the losses, the exiles and the hopelessness. Since the 1990s, a large number of artists speak of the instant: instead of works that portray long-term possible or historic scenes from history or long-term possibilities, they put forward installations and performances to be seen right now.
By taking up the issue of aesthetic moments, I am not adopting the latter perspective. Inasmuch as I am suggesting a rethinking of "the Latin American" or "Latin Americanism" as it relates to three different situations of the last forty years, I am interested in trying to understand a medium-length duration of time. However, I am not able to find any conception of Latin American history, or of the ways in which the arts are situated in each moment, that allows one to conceive them as stages or periods, part of a larger evolutionary or involutionary logic. Certainly, there are other keys to understand what happened in the arts and what is now happening in the arts. Here I offer a reading of three moments that become less and less enigmatic to me when I explore their relationship with the present. [End Page 13]
What I attempt to understand is how art has participated in the development of three styles of Latin Americanism. I have chosen the 1960s as the first moment because at that time, the issue of what was Latin America was reformulated from the internationalizing projects and the vanguards that redesigned artistic and literary fields. "Foundational functions" had existed since the nineteenth century in literature, according to Doris Sommer, where readers learned to compare their countries to the others on the continent.1 During the first half of the twentieth century, Antonio Berni, Diego Rivera, and Joaquín Torres García, among many others, experimented with how to implement the formal elements of cubism, futurism, and abstraction to create a new iconic body of Latin American symbols. In Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and other countries, the renewal of cultural languages was associated with economic modernization or political battles, and with the growth of popular voices. However, only in the middle of the twentieth century were conditions created to allow an alliance between artistic innovation and the internationalization of culture. Industrialization and urban expansion created the basis for this step, which together with advances in high school and college education extended the audiences for arts and literature and made the populations' tastes more sophisticated. New means of communication increasingly and simultaneously connected the periphery societies with each other and with the metropolis.
Various utopias found institutions and other circuits to spread their message in those years. The vanguard artists and critics were sponsored by foundations like the Matarazzo in Brazil, which financed the Bienal in São Paulo, and by the Di Tella enterprise, which backed the Art Institute in Buenos Aires. Weekly journals sprang up promoting developmentalist imaginary and more cosmopolitan consumer habits. In Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela museums of modern art and networks of galleries were created and connected to the international market. On the one hand, various metropolitan organizations (the Pan-American Union, the Organization of American States, the International Council of MOMA [Museum of Modern Art], and assorted transnational corporations) supported modernizing programs and offered international awards, grants, and exhibitions, especially for those who experimented with alternatives to social realism...