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Constructing modernity

Radical Uruguayan artist Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874–1949) epitomised individuality in the arts. A key figure in Latin American modernism, his influence nonetheless extended much further than the continent of his birth. A number of North American artists, including Louise Bourgeois and Barnett Newman, felt his idiosyncratic influence.

The artist was born in Montevideo. He left for Barcelona aged 17, where he trained as an artist. In the Catalan capital, he became active in the local artistic movement known as Noucentisme, or “Nineteen-hundreds Style.” The artists and intellectuals that worked within this movement were reacting against what they considered the aesthetic excesses of Modernisme.

Noucentista art was characterized by a return to order. Its artists set out to embody the timeless values of the Mediterranean through their art, as well as revive the classical past. In the decorative arts, the values of Noucentisme were seen in an emphasis on traditional hand-craftsmanship.

As one of the leading members of Noucentisme, Torres-Garcia became a well-known painter during his years in Barcelona. His first major commission was for a series of monumental frescoes for a room in Barcelona’s historic Palau de la Generalitat, in the Ciutat Vella, or Old City. In the frescoes, Garcia featured industrial scenes alongside pastoral, Arcadian scenes of Mediterranean life. They are considered one of the most important manifestations of Catalan Noucentisme.

In one of the last frescoes of the set, Torres-Garcia incited some controversy. In Lo Temporal no es mes que simbol (The temporal is no more than symbol), a faun plays music to a crowd. This seemingly inoffensive scene was harshly criticised at the time by conservative artists and intellectuals for its depiction of a classical figure in a modern style. A scandal ensued, and the political leader of Catalonia, Enric Prat de la Riba, died. In the aftermath of the scandal, Torres-Garcia was dismissed from the commission.

To continue reading this article, please subscribe to the November/December issue of The Kurios. 

Photo: Joaquín Torres García. (Uruguayan, 1874? 1949). Construcción con formas curvas (Construction with curved forms). 1931. Oil and nails on wood. 191/2×161/8×1/2?(49.5x41x1.3cm).The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously, 2012. © Sucesión Joaquín Torres-García, Montevideo 2015. Photo credit: Thomas Griesel.

 

Defining a nation

Olya Ivanova photographed some of Russia’s most traditional people for her evocative Village Day II series of photographs. She travelled to the small and remote Vologda region in Northern Russia to carry out the project. The photographer, born in Moscow in 1981, is interested in articulating Russia’s modern-day cultural identity, especially in the country’s remote towns and villages.

Village Day takes place every year in August. Villages all over the country take part, inviting musicians, staging performances and drinking into the night. It is more than just a celebration of Russia’s traditional villages however; it brings together rural life, Soviet rituals and modern pop music, according to Ivanova.

“My research is between photography and visual anthropology. I photograph people at village festivals to articulate Russia’s national identity and understand who we are as a nation. Village festivals are a great time to communicate with people, to find entire families ready to be photographed,” she said.

Ivanova received a BA degree in literature in 1998, before graduating from Moscow’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 2014. She now lives and works in Moscow.

The photographer is featured in the November/December issue of The Kurios, available here.

Photo: From the Village Day II series. Courtesy of Olya Ivanova.

Eggcentricity

The Argentine artist Federico Manuel Peralta Ramos (1939 – 1992) and his famous egg sculpture are examined in a new exhibition at the MALBA, La Era Metabolica (The Metabolic Era). The sculpture, known as Nosotros afuera (Us Outside) and originally made in 1965, has been specially reconstructed for the show.

Peralta Ramos was one of the country’s most eccentric artists. At the vanguard of modern art in Buenos Aires in the 1970s, he has been linked to the Dadaism art movement and is also considered a pioneer of conceptual art in Argentina. He made himself the subject of many of his works.

One of six siblings born in the Argentine coastal city of Mar del Plata, Peralta Ramos would study at the Instituto Di Tella with Marta Minujin, another key figure in Argentine 20th Century art. She would go on to become a pioneer of conceptual and performance art in Argentina, becoming one of the country’s most subversive artists.

Several other Peralta Ramos works are featured in the show including the 1981 work Mi vida es mi mejor obra de arte (My Life is My Best Work of Art) and Mandarina cósmica (Cosmic Tangerine) from the mid-1960s. The work of a number of other artists is also on display, including Petra Cortright, Marcelo Galindo and Eduardo Navarro.

La Era Metabolica is on at the MALBA, Buenos Aires, until 15th February 2015.

Santiago nights: Leonora Vicuña’s lyrical work

Chilean photographer Leonora Vicuña (b.1952) creates timeless, lyrical images that capture nightlife in her native Santiago as well as in Paris and Barcelona. Her photos immortalize these nocturnal scenes, giving us a rich array of bohemian characters, including musicians, waiters, transvestites and vagabonds.

During the dictatorship of General Pinochet in the 1970s and ‘80s, Vicuña spent some years living and working in France. She was one of the founders of the AFI, the first association of professional independent photographers in Chile, which fought for the restoration of democracy in the 1980s.

Vicuña, who is also a Professor of Photography in Santiago, has been employing colour pigments and pencils on the surface of her silver gelatin prints since the late 1970s to bring her images of popular culture to life. In this way, she is able to add a personal touch to the images and recall the atmosphere of the original scene.

The photos are a nostalgic, personal interpretation of everyday activities – playing cards, dancing, having a drink at a tapas bar – that take place in public spaces. They are masterly versions of family photo album snapshots, with the energy, dynamism and spontaneity of the original scenario intact.

As well as photography, Vicuña has experimented with poetry, animation and cinema. She is a member of the artist collective known as Grupo 8. The daughter of two writers, she studied social sciences in the University of Sorbonne in Paris, then photography at the Escuela de Foto Arte de Chile in Santiago.

Vicuña’s work has been exhibited internationally since 1980 and is included in public and private collections around the world. She has been the recipient of various awards and grants including the Fondart Grant from the Republic of Chile, twice in 2001 and 2006, and The Altazor Award of the National Arts, Chile, in 2010.

Vicuña is profiled in the November/December 2015 issue of The Kurios. Get your digital issue here.

Radical leanings

Cultural production in Eastern Europe and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s shared certain characteristics, namely radical experimentation and a dissemination of ideas. There was also a marked scepticism towards authority, including artistic authorities and hierarchies. As such, there was an emphasis on creative production outside of the market. The parallels between cultural production in these geographically distant regions are explored in a new exhibition at New York’s MoMA.

At that time, anti-art magazines circulated and radical artists operated in underground collectives that were outside of the cultural mainstream. There was a proliferation in process-directed exercises, games, gatherings, walks, alternative music, and concrete poetry. Anti-art groups sprung up, like Gorgona in Yugoslavia, Aktual in Czechoslovakia, and El techo della ballena (The Roof of the Whale) in Venezuela.

A community of avant-garde artists operating in Argentina in that period is explored in some depth. The artists Oscar Bony, David Lamelas, Lea Lublin and Marta Minujín – who were all associated with the influential Instituto Torcuato Di Tella – confronted mass media communication. These politically-engaged artists emerged from a period of repression under the regime of General Juan Carlos Onganía.

Post-1968, a year which saw student uprisings across Europe, a new generation of politically-engaged artists emerged in both regions, where the emphasis now switched to video art and performance. Croatia’s Sanja Iveković, Cuba’s Ana Mendieta and Serbia’s Marina Abramović are among the artists from this period to feature in the exhibition. In the 1970s, artists turned more to displaying their work in public spaces, as seen in the work of Bosnia’s Braco Dimitrijević, whose work Casual Passersby I Met At consisted of oversized photographic portraits of anonymous people that he displayed on billboards around the city of Zagreb.

Photo: Oscar Bony. La Familia Obrera (The Working Class Family). 1968. Gelatin silver print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Latin American and Caribbean Fund.

September/October new issue of The Kurios hits your screens

The September/October issue of The Kurios is out now, with lots of beautiful photos and fascinating content. Here are our highlights…

Soviet sensuality: Nikolai Bakharev’s intimate photos of holidaymakers

One man’s daring: Polesello’s experiment with Latin American art

Colourful days down under: sublime hand-coloured photos from 70s Australia 

A city in transition: Horacio Coppola captured Buenos Aires in its heyday 

Forgotten corners of Azerbaijan: Aida Mahmudova’s nostalgic paintings

Lest we forget: a century of West African portrait photography

The new issue is available to read as an app for your phone and iPad, or as desktop edition. Get your copy here.

A vibrant city in motion: Horacio Coppola’s Buenos Aires

Argentine Modernism is under the spotlight in a new retrospective at New York’s MoMa focusing on the works of Horacio Coppola and Grete Stern. Coppola, an Argentine of Italian descent, and Stern, a German Jew, met at the Bauhaus, the experimental German art school, in the 1930s.

With the rise of the Nazi regime and the subsequent closure of the Bauhaus, they moved to Buenos Aires in 1936, via London, where they got married. With the knowledge and training they had received in Germany, they soon established themselves as pioneers of Modernism in Argentina, combining a sharp eye for abstraction and design with local themes and subject matters.

One obvious approach to examining their work has been to consider the axis of influence between Germany and Argentina. However, another interesting and novel comparison is between Buenos Aires and Paris, as the Argentine capital has often been considered ‘the Paris of South America’. In a post-colonial context, such a claim is deceptive. It implies that Buenos Aires is simply an imitation of the Parisian capital, with its leafy boulevards and café culture, and that it lacks its own character.

This claim can be challenged through an in-depth analysis of Horacio Coppola’s street photography, which is celebrated as the first modern portrait of the Argentine capital. By comparing it to Eugène Atget’s photographic portrayal of Paris, we can reveal and start to appreciate the particularities of Coppola’s art, as well as the specific character of the porteño experience itself.

Eugène Atget’s project had no artistic pretensions of its own. His shots of Paris were intended as archival and support material for artists. Whilst other photographers of the late 19th Century also photographed Paris, Atget was the first to capture the French capital by portraying its insignificant streets, the less important details of the city’s architecture and its invisible inhabitants such as rag-pickers.

It was not until after the photographer’s death that the Surrealists discovered and appropriated his work precisely because his approach created uncanny and nostalgic illustrations of an everyday existence that had long since disappeared. Carry on reading about the photographer, and see more images of his work, in the latest issue of The Kurios.

Words by Emilie Janvrin

Photo: Horacio Coppola. Calle Florida. 1936. Gelatin silver print, 5 11/16 x 7 5/16?(14.5 x 18.5 cm). Collection Léticia and Stanislas Poniatowski © 2015 Estate of Horacio Coppola