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Volume 64 / Humanities

ART: SPANISH AMERICA: 19th and 20th Centuries


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

LATIN AMERICA'S CULTURAL SPECTRUM is becoming more and more complex every day, from every angle. Issues ingrained in unresolved discussions of cultural identity clash alongside other issues related to colonialism, originality, cultural dependency, multiculturalism, and 21st century globalism, to name a few; these conflicts add fuel to an already heightened debate, agitated by the unpleasant side of politics in several nations, resulting in outdated populism and anachronistic versions of leftist trends.

Only through research and analysis based on cultural memory and the legacy of creative people accumulated over so many centuries can these issues be evaluated in an effective and thought-provoking manner. Latin Americans face a tremendous challenge to attain this level of analysis since history, it appears, has failed to teach many lessons.

In this biennial review, great efforts toward the understanding of Latin America's colonial art are apparent; for instance, the Catálogo comentado del acervo del Museo Nacional de Arte (Nueva España, Mexico), identifies possible influences and models that New Spain's painters followed, including anonymous artists (item #bi2007003470#). An imaginative approach based on interdisciplinary interpretation of the same period is Colores en los Andes: hacer, saber y poder, published by the Museo Isaac Fernández Blanco in Buenos Aires (item #bi2007003468#). This volume is the result of a combined effort for an exhibition in which curators, chemists, historians, conservators, and restorers cooperated. The booklets published by Ecuador's Banco Central are always didactic and easy to digest, and La gracia barroca is no exception (item #bi2007003456#).

Despite the relative proximity to the present day, the civilizations of the 19th and 20th centuries experienced many of the same clashes discussed earlier in this essay. Apuntes histórico genealógicos de Francisco Fierro: Pancho Fierro is a commendable venture that attempts to shed light on the life of the singular Peruvian artist who recorded the customs and behaviors during a nebulous period in post-independence Peru (item #bi2007003475#). While in need of much more rigor and research, the illustrated catalog of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Asunción is a valuable undertaking that will help prevent the further dismemberment of the national collection (item #bi2007003458#). Propuestas y tendencias del arte boliviano a fines del milenio reflects the will to recover that "lost memory" of Bolivian art in the context of history, especially after the 1952 Revolution (item #bi2007003457#). Turning to Argentina, 100 años de plástica en Córdoba 1904–2004 is more ambitious, exemplifying the need to compare micro- with macrohistorical contexts, since the latter is integral in understanding the former (item #bi2007003452#).

While there are other interesting publications to consider in this biennial, the absence of Venezuelan publications is notable. In the past, art publications from Venezuela, particularly those produced by the Galería de Arte Nacional, exhibited depth and quality. There is, however, reason for optimism. The lack of memory that has consistently afflicted Latin America, and the apathy of the general public towards understanding the present despite its perennial anxiety and feelings of outrage about the past, may be taking a turn for the better in the preamble of our new century as higher-quality books are being produced.


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