In early December, I traveled to Buenos Aires, where I always encounter wonderful art and exhibitions, ranging from early Modernist to Contemporary, some of which I will note briefly here. Time and again in Buenos Aires, I have seen work by Latin American artists little known to me who were shortly thereafter the subjects of major museum and gallery exhibitions in the U.S. and elsewhere. I will therefore point out work by artists–a number of women in particular–whose art caught my eye.
At MALBA, Museum de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, where I always begin my trip, the permanent collection galleries featured abstract work of the late 1950s by the Brazilian artists Lygia Clark, who had a retrospective at New York’s MoMA in 2014, and Lygia Pape, whose first major retrospective in the U.S. will open at the Met Breuer on March 21, 2017. A striking work of the ’60s and another of the ’70s by yet another artist who worked in Sao Paolo, Mira Schendel, in which letters and linguistic elements meet abstraction, were also on view (Schendel, who began to be represented by Hauser + Wirth in 2014, had a retrospective at the Tate Modern in the same year). Perhaps yet to be discovered are the Argentine Lidy Prati, a pioneer of abstraction in the 1940s, the Uruguayan Maria Freire, and the Brazilian practitioner of a feminist brand of Pop in the 1960s, Wanda Pimentel. Pimentel, who was included in the Walker Art Center’s 2015 exhibition International Pop, is the only one of the artists mentioned who is still living. Why (a big question) has widespread recognition come to these women artists only after their deaths?
This was also the case with one of my favorite artists, Grete Stern, whose work I “discovered” at MALBA some years ago. A German-born photographer who taught at the Dessau Bauhaus, Stern fled from the Nazis to Buenos Aires with her husband, Horacio Coppola, in the mid-1930s (she died there in 1999). In 2015, MoMA mounted the first major exhibition of her and Coppola’s work. An assortment of images from Stern’s extended series of surreal, proto-feminist photomontages, Suenos (Dreams) of the early 1950s, always seem to be on display in the MALBA galleries. Wanting more, I visited the Jorge Mara-La Ruche Gallery on Parana Street, which handles her work.
While the exhibition of drawings by gallery artists, The Lines of the Hand, on view at Jorge Mara-La Ruche featured some handsome pieces, it was the work on paper by the Czech artist and illustrator Kveta Pacovska that had me enthralled. Pacovska is known as an illustrator of children’s books, which are brilliantly charming and combine bright colors, fanciful drawing, collage and both scrawled and block-printed texts. These books, which are at once free-spirited and oddly profound, have won myriad awards. Both in Pacovska’s children’s book illustrations and in her independent drawings, it is the acute sense to design–the sensitivity to line, color, form, edge, texture and placement–coupled with a seeming casualness that are the winning combination. There is a quality of life to Pacovska’s work that reminds me of that found in the work of my favorite poet, the Polish, recently deceased Wislawa Szymborska. Pacovska, however, is 88 and very much alive.
Meditations on life, death and much more were found in the glorious Kazimir Malevich retrospective that was on view (through December 2016) at Fondacion Proa, a private art center in La Boca, a colorful section of Buenos Aires. The work in the exhibition, which was curated by Eugenia Petrova, all came from the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, and it was a knock-out. This was the first Malevich retrospective to be held in Latin American; the last major presentation of Malevich’s work in the United States was in 1990 (the Tate Modern presented a major exhibition in 2014). Organized chronologically and with every major period in his art being represented, the Proa show also included costumes Malevich designed for the 1913 opera Victory Over the Sun, Suprematist ceramics and architectural models (arkitektons), documentary material as well as his death mask and a casting of his right hand.
Picasso’s hand was clearly in evidence in the first retrospective in Argentina dedicated to the master’s drawings, which is being presented at the Museo de Arte Moderno in San Telmo (it continues through February 28th). It consists of 74 works created between 1897 and 1972, which the artist saved for himself and which now belong to the Picasso Museum, Paris. Among the pleasures of viewing the gorgeous work in this exhibition was the fact that it could truly be seen, as the galleries were nearly empty.
Also on view at the Museo de Arte Moderno is an exhibition devoted to the intriguing, labor intensive cut-outs, collages and paper sculptures by the Buenos Aires-based Hernan Soriano. The artist, who is in his late 30s, engages in an extended series of interventions with old photographs and lithographs that he meticulously and surgically manipulates to create new forms.
Finally, there is a show drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, The Paradox in the Center: Rhythms of matter in the Argentine art of the ’60s, which focuses on artists who dealt with the canvas as a physical, material object. Much of the work evokes that seen in Paul Schimmel’s exhibition, Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, which was presented at MOCA, Los Angeles, in 2012. Of the 30-some-odd artists in the exhibition, those most familiar to North American viewers are probably Lucio Fontana and Liliana Porter, although many deserve (and one day may well be) better known. One of the works that has stayed with me for reasons that it is absurd, wildly erotic and something of an ingenious hybrid is Emilio Renart’s Bio-cosmos N.1, c. 1961. While not female, Renart is yet another Latin American artist who is no longer living (he died in 1991). Perhaps his time is now?