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Volume 58 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries

FÉLIX ANGEL, Curator, Cultural Center, Inter-American Development Bank

THE NUMBER OF ART PUBLICATIONS produced in Latin America and the Caribbean continues to increase, fortunately without any fundamental changes in the seriousness and quality of the publications. Works from countries such as Argentina and Mexico not only outnumber those from other countries in the region, but also offer readers a wider variety of essays, art criticism, and art history while providing clearer evidence of in-depth and detailed research. With the exception perhaps of Cuba, monographs are still a favorite format among art entrepreneurs, but most of them leave the reader with a suspicious feeling.

Advanced art historical research in Mexico and Argentina are well represented by two publications. The first is an outstanding and monumental work, México en el mundo de las colecciones de arte, an impressive set of seven volumes documenting Mexican art treasures in collections throughout the world (item #bi 97003945#). The book, which spans 3,000 years, provides a fine overview of Mexico's extraordinary cultural resources in all periods of its history. The second is a publication dedicated to the private art collection of Eduardo Constantini—consisting mostly of 20th-century art—which went on public view for the first time in 1996 in Buenos Aires (item #bi 97003949#).

Despite the predominance of Argentina and Mexico, art history research and publication in some countries, such as Uruguay, Colombia, and Venezuela, has continued to broaden significantly its scope. Their bibliographies contain topics not seriously considered before, such as Alvaro Medina's El arte colombiano de los años veinte y treinta (item #bi 98002045#), and Santiago Londoño's Historia de la pintura y el grabado en Antioquia (item #bi 98002090#). In addition, it is satisfactory to have found from smaller countries like Costa Rica, a book as unpretentious and well documented as Eugenio Zavaleta's Los inicios del arte abstracto en Costa Rica, 1958-1971 (item #bi 98002060#), and from Haiti, the similarly well-prepared 50 années de peinture en Haïti, v. I, 1930-1950 (item #bi 98002069#). Both are valuable examples of regional developments that need to be examined carefully in light of the great imbalances that exist among the countries of the Americas and their respective artistic transformations.

Collecting important works of art is still a prerogative of the wealthy, although money is not necessarily the only condition for amassing an important collection. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the state and the Church have traditionally collected cultural objects, including art, with a few notable exceptions in the corporate and private sector. Individual collectors are rare and, in some countries, virtually nonexistent. As with art publications, the important private collectors seem to spring from the same countries with healthy editing and printing industries. Institutional collecting of Latin American and Caribbean art outside the region is not as popular as one could wish.

An interesting publication related to collecting but dealing with another serious problem is Daniel Schávelzon's El expolio del arte en la Argentina, which addresses illegal trafficking, robbery, and vandalism of art works (item #bi 97003992#). Although most countries have official policies and have signed international agreements that have been effective primarily in the cases of precolumbian art, most Latin American and the Caribbean countries still lack efficient legislation and controls. As globalization advances and these countries are increasingly exposed to an inquisitive international scene, they will unavoidably be interacting in areas where they have little experience.

The visual arts continue to be one of the most dynamic areas of expression in a territory characterized by unparalleled cultural pluralism. Increasing, and sometimes unscrupulous, commercialism is an inevitable component of the entire phenomenon. For this reason, it is important to recognize the efforts that attempt to define and analyze the visual arts in the region, as well as to demand from the reader a higher capacity for understanding. Many of the books reviewed in this chapter will undoubtedly contribute to the achievement of these goals.

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