"From Painting to Objecthood: A Southern Story"

How, in Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela did painting radically begin to self-destruct in the 1950s, completing the process by the 1960s? How and why did this process of self-destruction stem from a self-conscious effort to hunt back the medium to painting, specifically in the form of geometric abstraction? During the 1950s and 60s, a wave of self-consciously avant-garde movements embraced abstraction (especially in the form of international constructivism) in Caracas, São Paulo, and Buenos Aires in a way that at face value embraced Greenberg’s understanding of a pure painting medium. But, this wave of manifestos decrying figurative painting and embracing the "concrete" really served to destabilize the painting medium itself. Artists like Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark abandoned geometrically abstract painting by the early 1960s and began to make interactive objects that, while maintaining some of the principles of geometrically abstract painting, were meant to be worn or manipulated by the viewer. In Caracas, artists moved from geometrically abstract painting to embrace kinetic and op art.

I propose to use Media Theory to capture a broad view of the crisis of painting as an artistic medium in these Latin American urban centers. My goal is not to present a counter story to that in North America. It is obvious that these artists were responding to media in ways not entirely dissimilar to the minimalists (although, their work looks very different from the minimalists’). I will argue that looking at work from this slice of history (and geography) through the lens of media theory will show that in contexts were adaptation of media is uneven—at turns delayed and accelerated, widespread and isolated—the transformation of an artistic medium like painting occurs through contact with a social sphere explicitly outside of the art world. The destabilization of the medium itself—the proverbial end of painting—can only be enacted in a sphere in which media circulate more organically. Thus, the radical destabilization of painting came hand in hand with the transformation of the museum gallery. I will probably concentrate on isolated examples, such as Oiticica’s Parangoles to formulate my argument. In my analysis, I will rely heavily on the Greenberg/Fried versus McLuhan dialectic we have established in class. I will try to get at the problem of Iconoclasm, the difference between presentation versus representation, and the issue of media’s impact on viewer subjectivity.

Bibliography ( Media Theory):

Bois, Yve-Alain. Painting as Model. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994.

Greenberg, Clement, "Towards a Newer Laocoon," and "Avant Garde and Kitsch,"

Fried, Michael, "Art and Objecthood,"

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media.

Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory

____________. Iconology

Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, "Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry,"

Merleau-Ponty, Jacques.

Williams, Raymond, "From Medium to Social Practice,"

Bibliography ( Art History):

The Experimental Exercise of Freedom: Lygia Clark, Gego, Mathias Goeritz, Hélio Oiticica, Mira Schendel. Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1999.

Geometric Abstraction: Latin American art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros collection. Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 2001. Essays by Yve-Alain Bois, et al.

Hélio Oiticica. Rotterdam and Minneapolis: With de Witte and the Walker Art Center, 1994.

Arte Madí Texts.


Argentina: Arte Madí

Brazil: Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape

Venezuela: Jesús Soto, Cruz-Diez, Alejandro Otero, Gego