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MoMA Goes to Chile

During the last week of September, members of the C-MAP Latin America group traveled to Chile. This trip was part of a research focus on that country which, over the past year, has brought a number of artists, scholars, critics and curators to MoMA–all this in an effort to better understand the complexities of the Chilean artistic production. The group left New York with big questions and great expectations. After almost 10 days of long hours and hectic schedules, the group's expectations were exceeded, some questions were answered and even more arose. Here is a collection of brief texts by MoMA's travelers that document their personal experiences with the local scene. Thoughts that will, without a doubt, be part of their role as both researchers and curators.

Author

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Giampaolo Bianconi

Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Perfomance Museum of Modern Art Giampaolo Bianconi is a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Media and Performance Art, where he has worked on exhibitions and performances including Transmissions:... Read more »
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Jerónimo Duarte Riascos

Jerónimo was the C-MAP (Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives) Fellow for Latin America at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He is a PhD candidate in Spanish... Read more »
David frankel

David Frankel

Editorial Director, Publications The Museum of Modern Art David Frankel is Editorial Director in the Department of Publications at The Museum of Modern Art. He is also a contributing editor for Artforum magazine where he was a... Read more »
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Milan Hughston

Chief of Library The Museum of Modern Art Before assuming his duties as Chief of Library and Museum Archives at The Museum of Modern Art in September 1999, Milan R. Hughston was a librarian at the Amon Carter... Read more »
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Sarah Meister

Curator, Photography The Museum of Modern Art Sarah Meister became a Curator at The Museum of Modern Art in 2009, having joined the Department of Photography in 1997. Her recent exhibitions include From Bauhaus to... Read more »
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Luis Pérez-Oramas

Luis Pérez-Oramas is the Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art for the Department of Drawings and Prints. He received his PhD in Art History from the Ecole des... Read more »
Wendy woon

Wendy Woon

Edward John Noble Foundation Deputy Director for Education The Museum of Modern Art Wendy Woon is the Edward John Noble Foundation Deputy Director for Education at The Museum of Modern Art. She has over 27 years of award-winning experience in museum... Read more »
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MoMA Goes to Chile MAP

MoMA goes to Chile

MoMA Goes to Chile

During the last week of September, members of the C-MAP Latin America group traveled to Chile. This trip was part of a research focus on that country which, over the past year, has brought a number of artists, scholars, critics and curators to MoMA–all this in an effort to better understand the complexities of the Chilean artistic production. The group left New York with big questions and great expectations. After almost 10 days of long hours and hectic schedules, the group's expectations were exceeded, some questions were answered and even more arose. Here is a collection of brief texts by MoMA's travelers that document their personal experiences with the local scene. Thoughts that will, without a doubt, be part of their role as both researchers and curators.

Show More

During the last week of September, members of the C-MAP Latin America group traveled to Chile. This trip was part of a research focus on that country which, over the past year, has brought a number of artists, scholars, critics and curators to MoMA–all this in an effort to better understand the complexities of the Chilean artistic production. The group left New York with big questions and great expectations. After almost 10 days of long hours and hectic schedules, the group's expectations were exceeded, some questions were answered and even more arose. Here is a collection of brief texts by MoMA's travelers that document their personal experiences with the local scene. Thoughts that will, without a doubt, be part of their role as both researchers and curators.

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Blog posts from the travelers

Art Aspiring to the Condition of Literature

In 2007 Argentine thinker Reinaldo Laddaga published Espectáculos de realidad, an excursion into some of the particularities of contemporary Latin American literature. There he states that often literature aspires to the condition of contemporary art, which is a solid statement (albeit a general one) when one looks at the examples discussed in the book (Mario Bellatin, João Gilberto Noll, César Aira, Washington Cucurto . . .).

Looking at Chilean artistic production of the last fifty-plus years (in the way that MoMA’s C-MAP Latin America research group did over most of 2015) demands an addendum to Laddaga’s statement. Though a large part of Latin American literature indeed aspires to the condition of contemporary art, I want to say that...

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Art Aspiring to the Condition of Literature

In 2007 Argentine thinker Reinaldo Laddaga published Espectáculos de realidad, an excursion into some of the particularities of contemporary Latin American literature. There he states that often literature aspires to the condition of contemporary art, which is a solid statement (albeit a general one) when one looks at the examples discussed in the book (Mario Bellatin, João Gilberto Noll, César Aira, Washington Cucurto . . .).

Looking at Chilean artistic production of the last fifty-plus years (in the way that MoMA’s C-MAP Latin America research group did over most of 2015) demands an addendum to Laddaga’s statement. Though a large part of Latin American literature indeed aspires to the condition of contemporary art, I want to say that this is not the case in Chile. “Chile, país de poetas” (Chile, a country of poets) is not only a catchy, sometimes overused slogan, it is also a characteristic that permeates the artistic production of the country in drastic and wonderful ways.

One could start with figures as solid and complex as the artist/writer Juan Luis Martínez and think about the innovative engagement with writing and images he proposes in La nueva novela and that is present in his visual works, some of which are (happily) part of MoMA’s collection. Nicanor Parra also comes to mind—not only for his Quebrantahuesos (1952), a public-intervention-collage-poem hybrid, but also with his Antipoesía.

C-MAP’s Chilean focus allowed us to better understand Parra and Martínez, and to appreciate the slippery boundaries between Chilean poetry and visual arts—a phenomenon that survived (and was perhaps accentuated by) the years of dictatorship as illustrated by some of the Colectivo de Acciones de Arte’s – CADA interventions, and one that still remains prominent in contemporary art practices. Three cases come to mind from the preparation for and trip to Chile:

1) Pedro Lemebel’s last performance Abecedario.

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Pedro Lemebel, Abecedario. Installation view. Arder, exhibition at Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago, 2015. Photo: Galeria D21.

Better known as a writer, Lemebel was also a performer, visual artist, and member of the collective Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis. His last piece was a performance conducted across the street from a cemetery in Santiago, where he “wrote” the alphabet in explosive powder and then proceeded to light it.

2) Francisca Benítez’s video-poem Décimas Telúricas.

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Francisca Benítez, Décimas Telúricas, 2010. Video still. Photo: http://franciscabenitez.org/

Based in New York City but with a strong relationship to Chile, Benítez has been working with sign language over the past year. Her works merge the performativity of the deaf-mute language with video and poetry, which is often, like in Décimas Telúricas, written by her.

3) Catalina Bauer’s Primeras Palabras.

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Catalina Bauer, Primeras Palabras, 2014. Video still. Photo: http://www.catalinabauer.com/

A collaboration with dancer Amelia Ibanez, this work explores the acquisition of language while simultaneously creating a new alphabet made out of movement and poses.

Maybe these three examples are not exactly cases of art aspiring to literature, but in all of them (as in many of the works we studied and witnessed during our trip) “Chile, país de poetas” resounds. Perhaps by flirting with literature and poetry, these pieces stress the arbitrariness of a language that still communicates even when the arbitrary linguistic codes are not always shared—which, I think, is not a minor statement in a “país de poetas,” scarred by the divisions of a twenty-plus-year dictatorship.

Architecture as a Living Act

Since 2011, when I was invited to visit Ciudad Abierta (Open City), near Valparaíso, traveling to Chile has meant a return to Ritoque. I was in charge of the curatorial direction of the 2012 São Paulo Biennial when I first visited, my intention being to invite the cultural community living and working there to build a pavilion within Oscar Niemeyer’s biennial pavilion. I have to say that this project was beautifully accomplished, and its realization remains one of the most moving and compelling moments in my career and a life-changing experience.

When we planned our C-MAP trip to Chile, I insisted upon visiting Ritoque with my colleagues from MoMA. I am glad that we had the privilege to enter Open City, where our generous friends from...

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Architecture as a Living Act

Since 2011, when I was invited to visit Ciudad Abierta (Open City), near Valparaíso, traveling to Chile has meant a return to Ritoque. I was in charge of the curatorial direction of the 2012 São Paulo Biennial when I first visited, my intention being to invite the cultural community living and working there to build a pavilion within Oscar Niemeyer’s biennial pavilion. I have to say that this project was beautifully accomplished, and its realization remains one of the most moving and compelling moments in my career and a life-changing experience.

When we planned our C-MAP trip to Chile, I insisted upon visiting Ritoque with my colleagues from MoMA. I am glad that we had the privilege to enter Open City, where our generous friends from the Corporación Cultural Amereida hosted us.

This was more than a conventional “art visit” as Open City requires a different sort of understanding. A project that began in the early 1950s and was the life’s work of the sculptor Claudio Girola, the poet Godofredo Iommi, and the architect and theoretician Alberto Cruz, among others—with origins in the phalènes and other poetic gatherings of the Santa Hermandad de la Orquídea (The Holy Brotherhood of the Orchid), a poetry collective made up of Iommi and a handful of Brazilian poets (Gerardo Mello Mourão and Abdias do Nascimento, among others) in the late 1940s—Open City embraces, through the constant exercise of freedom, “the act of living.”

Linked since the late 1960s with the Architecture School of the Catholic University in Valparaíso, Open City has also been a laboratory for architecture as a poetic act, that is, for life as architecture (of bodies, deserts, dunes, words, journeys). The most daring and advanced new Chilean architecture has roots in its intellectual grounds—and some time on its material, earthy ground.

As is true of all major foundations, Open City was subject to a double act of inception and therefore, to a double temporality in its establishment. By 1967 Iommi, Cruz, Girola, Vial Armstrong, and others were engaged in the university reform that led to a scission within the architecture faculty in Santiago, providing the momentum and opportunity to establish a new approach to teaching and form of thinking at the Pontificial Catholic University in Valparaíso.

Rather than a science, a technique, or a discipline, architecture was seen as a living act by the founders of what came to be known as Amereida—an act that is related to two fundamental constituents: the human voice as poetry (as Alberto Cruz writes: “The art of architecture, in order to become such art, must listen to the poetic word”) and human transhumance, that is, the experience of passage, travel, journey as drift, as dérive, as travesía. It took a second generation of young interlocutors to come up with a radical response to these thoughts and teachings, which was to start building Open City on a piece of land rejected by the agrarian reform.

Among the various foundational voices (and texts) for Open City, the central one is a long poem that Iommi began to write in the 1960s, titled “Amereida.” This title, which today is seen to embody the philosophy of Open City, is a conflation of “America” and “Eneida” (Aeneid), the title of Virgil’s famous epic poem. It signals the will to understand South America as a continental body that has to literally be “gone through,” journeyed through, stressing its absence of cities as well as its massive interior—a desertic body, or an ocean of lands.

Since then, Open City has been an endless laboratory of hope and of alternate forms of living, where a community of men and women live with their families, acknowledging the possibility of transcending the cultural constraints of “property,” accepting the rules of a communal life in which decisions are made by consensus, and engaging in a lively linking of life and art, thought and life, experience and contemplation. Giorgio Agamben has stressed modernity as a period in which a spiritual schism has condemned us to “perform” experiences without owning them, leading to various forms of alienation—some “perform” experiences without possessing them, whereas others “possess” experiences without performing them.

Open City was created in order to respond to this modern alienation. As such, it might be the last living utopia in the Western Hemisphere: a utopia that is neither imposed nor promoted through messianism. Maybe the only analogue contemporary experience is Fernand Deligny’s Radeau, a community of autistic people in which a revolutionary concept of images and actions was developed through silent, minimal acts. One can say that Open City is a utopia accomplished: a place, a new topos, whose effects resonate alongside silence and modesty, through community and hospitality, a utopia of small gestures, endlessly realized as habitation, cohabitation, and poetry. At a time when architecture as social commitment is being recognized as a mainstream practice, as shown by the recent nomination of the London-based collective Assemble for the Turner Prize, Open City/Amereida is also, maybe, a true model—a model for the endless, and always failing, pursuit of truth.

A Case of Experimental Pedagogy

The recent C-MAP trip to Chile underscored the complexities at the intersections of art, politics, pedagogy, and public life. Nowhere can the debate about broader democracy, the arts, and free expression be more apparent than in this country, with its recent political history of repression, torture, death, and exile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The trip provided a unique opportunity to visit museums dedicated to making this history visible, including the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende. Under Pinochet, many artists, writers, and poets lived in exile yet continued to raise protest from their positions outside of Chile. However, there were others who remained, and I...

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A Case of Experimental Pedagogy

The recent C-MAP trip to Chile underscored the complexities at the intersections of art, politics, pedagogy, and public life. Nowhere can the debate about broader democracy, the arts, and free expression be more apparent than in this country, with its recent political history of repression, torture, death, and exile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The trip provided a unique opportunity to visit museums dedicated to making this history visible, including the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende. Under Pinochet, many artists, writers, and poets lived in exile yet continued to raise protest from their positions outside of Chile. However, there were others who remained, and I was interested in the different ways this group survived and continued their creative art practices under such repression.

As an art educator, I am interested in experimental pedagogy and how it can be fostered by constructed environments. What I was most looking forward to was the visit to La Ciudad Abierta (Open City) in Ritoque, located along the coast near Valparaiso. The city and its structures were built on a piece of land, divided by a highway, with beaches, dunes, and wetlands; a diversity of flora and fauna; and grassy meadows, pines, and eucalyptus trees, which grow on the high ground above the highway. La Ciudad Abierta was founded in 1970 as a utopian community of architects, sculptors, poets, painters, philosophers, and designers. It survived the Pinochet dictatorship and continues to exist today, still home to some of its original “citizens.” Those who live in the Open City are members of the Amereida Corporation; there are no individual owners and all constructions and contributions are considered donations to the corporation. Today the city offers the School of Architecture of the Catholic University of Valparaiso, the initial source of Open City’s origins, a partnership arrangement wherein students have opportunities to actively participate in the city’s life, work, and studies, sharing in the construction of new structures and experimentation with materials.

Remote and isolated, the city is comprised of a range of structures—some are spare and spread-out buildings for community events such as concerts, meeting/studio rooms, and “entry quarters,” and others are uniquely designed homes, outdoor gathering “agora” spaces, outdoor sports spaces, sculpture gardens, and even a cemetery. Experimentation with materials, in particular concrete, is evident throughout the city and its structures, as is the use of recycled or natural materials. Modern forms are combined in a unique and often quirky aesthetic that integrates into the natural environment.

Open city1
MoMA group visiting Ciudad Abierta, 2015. Photo: Wendy Woon.

Rooted in European utopianism transported to Chile, in combination with political concerns of Chileans in the 1950s and ’60s (who were focused on small communities living in nature), the Open City also reflects the Jesuit communitarianism of the Latin American Catholic left. When architect Alberto Cruz Covarrubias joined the School of Architecture of the Catholic University of Valparaiso, his goal was to reimagine the pedagogical model. Rather than maintain a hierarchy, he “opened up” his professorship and invited practitioners and researchers to share in it—including in its salary. Argentine poet Godofredo Iommi was one of those who participated in this innovative teaching model. Iommi took his students on a journey from southern Chile to Bolivia to understand not only the landscape but also how people lived within it. Although the group was stopped from completing this immersive learning trip, Iommi was inspired to write Amereida (1967), a long and philosophical poem that became the foundation of the utopian community’s underlying principles. An opportunity arose, when President Eduardo Frei Montalva passed reform that allowed larger farms to be used for public interest in Chile, and those who followed Amereida collectively bought the land for the Open City.

Open city2
Amereida sign at the entrance of Ciudad Abierta, 2015. Photo: Wendy Woon.

An experiment in radical communal living, architecture, and education, the city was initially an extension of the curriculum of the School of Architecture of the Catholic University of Valparaiso, breaking down hierarchies between faculty and students. Designs were and continue to be collectively authored. Experimentation with materials and use of recycled and local materials are integrated into a process that includes both planning and improvisation. This pedagogical model continues today and is realized in the more than twenty unconventional structures integrated across the natural landscape.

The community is somewhat secluded, and not accessible to many visitors, but we were fortunate to have Jaime Reyes, an Open City community member, poet, and professor give us an extended tour of the buildings and constructions. Jaime generously provided insights into how the city and citizens function collectively. Even the tribe of dogs that runs freely on the property belongs to everyone—and not to one particular family.

I was intrigued by the range of public and private spaces, which seem to evolve out of the landscape. Experimentation with form and materials, especially concrete, is demonstrated throughout the property. We were informed that though a family might inhabit a home, they are not its property owners. As needs change, for example, as children grow up and move away, a citizen may be moved to a smaller home so that an expanding family may move in. The ethos is that citizens pool their resources and own everything collectively. Of course, this system presents challenges when someone chooses to permanently leave the city.

The city includes design classrooms and studios, and some housing and outdoor athletic fields for students as they continue to work with faculty to build structures and experiment with materials. Spaces for group meetings include a concert hall where a weekly communal meal is served.

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Communal gathering, Ciudad Abierta, 2015. Photo: Wendy Woon.

During our visit, the citizens and some of the founding members arranged a communal lunch outdoors. A daughter of one of the founders shared with me some of her experience of growing up in the Open City. She continues to reside there, but her brother opted to move out. Her story left an impression on me, and I wondered how her experiences differ from those who were part of the first and second generations living there. It is difficult to gather whether the idealism has worked in practice.

Open city14
Cemetery (detail), Ciudad Abierta, 2015. Photo: Wendy Woon.

When we arrived at the Open City cemetery, we were reminded that a city needs to meet the needs of its citizens from birth until death. The cemetery was constructed in the early decades, after two of the children in the community died, one by drowning and the other in a fire. Since then, it has been expanded to include plots for many of the founders and their family members.

It is interesting to consider how, as a social and pedagogical experiment, the design of structures in the landscape supports the community’s collective values, according to which they live their lives together.

Throughout the city, the importance of poetry is apparent. Exploring language through poetry is a means by which citizens develop the creative research that informs the design process of the city’s structures. Phalènes, essentially poetic acts, games, celebratory garments, readings, or performances continue to be enacted by community members as a way to link architecture and poetry, generate ideas, and add unexpected qualities to the spaces. After initially acquiring the land, community members enacted a phalène in 1971. More interested in “changing life,” rather than in a heroic role for modern architecture to “change the world,” the first citizens and students of the Open City used poetry as a foundation in their aim to realize a built environment not motivated by adding to an historical and aesthetic canon, and this practice continues today.

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Poetry inscription, Ciudad Abierta, 2015. Photo: Wendy Woon.

There is no master plan for La Ciudad Abierta; it is a city that continues to evolve. Experimentation with form and materials, and a connectedness and transparency in relationship to the landscape are central to this evolution. It is clearly not a “commune,” but rather, a professional and pedagogical, socially engaged, participatory learning environment. Given that the city as an experiment in pedagogy has survived a repressive dictatorship, most likely because of the nonpolitical agenda and Catholic University association, it demonstrates one of the modes of resistance and creative survival that we investigated while in Chile. I admire the creativity, and persistent commitment to a collective vision. I think that for students this must be a wonderful and memorable method of embodied learning about design, innovative approach to architecture, and living.

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Ciudad Abierta, 2015. Photo: Wendy Woon.

An Overall Impression of the Art World

The highlight of the Chile trip for me was less any single experience than an overall impression of the art world there: I was struck by how often our conversations turned to issues of social engagement and conscience, informed, I think, by both the relatively recent past and a long-term sense of art’s public accountability. Whether at the Taller Bloc, a Santiago studio-cum-school run as an artists’ cooperative, or at the Ciudad Abierta (Open city) outside Valparaíso, we saw artists operating collectively and either implicitly or explicitly concerned not only with producing individual artworks but with developing ways in which artists could live. A subtext of this kind of ambition, it seemed to me, was the country’s experience of...

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An Overall Impression of the Art World

The highlight of the Chile trip for me was less any single experience than an overall impression of the art world there: I was struck by how often our conversations turned to issues of social engagement and conscience, informed, I think, by both the relatively recent past and a long-term sense of art’s public accountability. Whether at the Taller Bloc, a Santiago studio-cum-school run as an artists’ cooperative, or at the Ciudad Abierta (Open city) outside Valparaíso, we saw artists operating collectively and either implicitly or explicitly concerned not only with producing individual artworks but with developing ways in which artists could live. A subtext of this kind of ambition, it seemed to me, was the country’s experience of dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, from 1973 to 1990. During that brutal period the usual codes of civil society were suspended; many artists left the country, while others who stayed carried out their subversive pursuit with extreme caution.

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The group at the former prison and current cultural center, Parque Cultural de Valparaiso. Photo: Jerónimo Duarte-Riascos

The Pinochet regime ended twenty-five years ago but it came up again and again in our encounters in Chile, whether in glancing ways—through conversations about earlier work with artists such as Paz Errázuriz or Eugenio Dittborn, for example, survivors of the dictatorship—or in direct confrontations with that history. The most manifest case of the second kind was Santiago’s Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of memory and human rights), set in a large, purpose-designed building on a site a city block wide. The entrance to this austere, even-sided geometric mass is in a sunken plaza, asking the visitor to descend well below ground level to reach the door, in a metaphor of death reminding me of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. A more modest symbol, but in its way as powerful, was the Parque Cultural in Valparaíso, an old hillside fort that during the Pinochet years became a prison and worse but today has been converted into a cultural center and park where people play on the grass in the sun. What was surely our most ravishingly beautiful day was spent at the Ciudad Abierta, a large expanse of open countryside on the sea north of Valparaíso that a group of architect poets have developed as an experiment in both education and communal living, teaching students through the building of innovative houses and gathering places scattered through the parkland. But beauty comes in many forms, and I was just as impressed by the spirit of endurance we saw in grittier circumstances in Santiago and by Chilean artists’ sense of responsibility in dealing with the legacy of history.

More Than 150 Chilean titles added to MoMA's Library Collection!

The MoMA Library continues to aggressively collect printed material documenting modern and contemporary global art, either through gift or purchase. However, there is no substitute for being “on the ground” in a foreign country to ensure that relevant material is added to our 300,000-plus-volume library.

My participation in the recent C-MAP trip to Chile yielded great results. With the help of my colleagues, I was able to return with 150 or so titles that tell the story of modern and contemporary art in Chile. Although Chile enjoys a robust art publishing enterprise, of both historic and contemporary materials, distribution beyond its borders has been a challenge.
Virtually every stop on our week-long itinerary resulted in...

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More Than 150 Chilean titles added to MoMA's Library Collection!

The MoMA Library continues to aggressively collect printed material documenting modern and contemporary global art, either through gift or purchase. However, there is no substitute for being “on the ground” in a foreign country to ensure that relevant material is added to our 300,000-plus-volume library.

My participation in the recent C-MAP trip to Chile yielded great results. With the help of my colleagues, I was able to return with 150 or so titles that tell the story of modern and contemporary art in Chile. Although Chile enjoys a robust art publishing enterprise, of both historic and contemporary materials, distribution beyond its borders has been a challenge.
Virtually every stop on our week-long itinerary resulted in additions to the Library’s collection: catalogues from museums such as CeDoc Artes Visuales, leading galleries such as Patricia Ready and Die Ecke, artists’ collectives such as Galería Metropolitana, and artists, including Eugenio Dittborn and Paz Errázuriz. We also acquired rare historical works from writers such as Justo Pastor Mellado and the generous collectors Pedro Montes and Juan Yarur.

Most of the material generously given to the Library is not easily found in North American libraries. By adding these titles to our online catalogue, which is accessible throughout the world [http://arcade.nyarc.org/search~S8], MoMA is doing its best to promote modern and contemporary Chilean art.

Carlos Leppe: Singing in Plaster

Performance can be read in any text, glimpsed in any movement, and heard in any voice or caesura. This ubiquity can serve as camouflage: performance can hide in the most public spaces, where actions of grandiose inflection are lost among the rituals of daily life and the largesse of social patterns. An action, like an image, fades—though more quickly. Today, in the dispersive heyday of the digital age, performance might be charged with injecting presence into institutional spaces. Yet some works remind us of a time when the fugitiveness and marginality of performance formed an essential part of its realization—without constraining its ambitions.

The actions of Carlos Leppe most often occurred in galleries, for audiences made up of...

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Carlos Leppe: Singing in Plaster

Image
Sala de espera (detail). Carlos Leppe. 1980. Photo: Giampaolo Bianconi.

Performance can be read in any text, glimpsed in any movement, and heard in any voice or caesura. This ubiquity can serve as camouflage: performance can hide in the most public spaces, where actions of grandiose inflection are lost among the rituals of daily life and the largesse of social patterns. An action, like an image, fades—though more quickly. Today, in the dispersive heyday of the digital age, performance might be charged with injecting presence into institutional spaces. Yet some works remind us of a time when the fugitiveness and marginality of performance formed an essential part of its realization—without constraining its ambitions.

The actions of Carlos Leppe most often occurred in galleries, for audiences made up of friends and colleagues. Whatever charge of secrecy his actions might have had, they can never be said to have faded into the rhythm of daily life. Deftly using his own body as a medium, Leppe produced one of the most radical bodies of work in the Chilean Escena de Avanzada. The abject grandiosity of his actions was unique in the Chilean scene from which he emerged. His artworks are little discussed in the United States, and his unfortunate recent death is an undeniable loss in and beyond Chile. Below, I’ll attempt to offer a brief introduction to his practice, as gleaned from recent travel in Chile.

In 1982 Leppe was invited to take part in the Paris Bienniale. The performance he presented there—“Mambo numero ocho” de Perez Prado (“Mambo Number Eight” by Perez Prado)—was staged in a bathroom of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. It presents a matrix of the concerns that run through all of Leppe’s work. Dressed in a tuxedo, Leppe recited—in French—a text about his journey across the Andes. He then undressed, revealing the bra and panties he wore beneath his tuxedo. After shaving his body, he donned a headdress displaying the Chilean national colors (blue, white, and red). He danced to “Mambo Number Eight” until he fell to the floor of the bathroom, where he devoured a cake while singing the Chilean national anthem until he vomited. Then, on his hands and knees, he left the bathroom, calling for his mother until he reached a tape recorder, from which her voice sang the famous tango “El día que me quieras” (The day that you love me).

This performance belied Leppe’s own ambivalence about being a “Latin American artist” invited to perform in a world-capital biennial. His makeup, described as reminiscent of Carlos Gardel (an Argentine), his reference to the Cuban Perez Prado, and his singing of the Chilean national anthem created a pastiche of Latin American-ness for a European audience. How silly, even, to describe red, white, and blue as Chilean national colors given that their allegiance spreads across countless national imaginaries. His bra and panties indicate his position as a feminized object of a male, European, colonial spectator—all within a museum space from which art is excluded (the bathroom).

“Mambo numero ocho” de Perez Prado catalogues the themes that run throughout Leppe’s work: an ambivalent and antagonistic relationship with Chile, the flexibility of his own desire and gender, an affinity for the grotesque and marginal, an engagement with various media (here, the recorded voice of his mother, and elsewhere, photography and video), and the violent presence of his mother’s own needs and desires.

An earlier performance by Leppe, "Prueba de artista" (Artist’s Proof, 1978), took place in Santiago with the artist Marcelo Mellado, and crystallizes even more specifically the importance of desire in the artist’s work. With the word activo (active) stamped on his chest, Leppe embraced Mellado, leaving an imprint on Mellado’s chest. Formally, Leppe and Mellado reenacted the process of the work’s title, but their embrace and its resulting imprint impart a language of desire to the imperfect process of replication on display. A male body actively “reproducing” onto another, with flesh, ink, hair, and sweat—Leppe’s “artist’s proof” is the evidence of active desire as much as a translation of a traditional printing technique onto a bodily support.

"Prueba de artista" survives in a few black-and-white photographs, as do many of Leppe’s actions. But Leppe also performed for the camera, like in his well-known 1980 "Sala de espera" (Waiting Room), and arranged these performances into carefully arranged video installations. Consisting of numerous video monitors, long fluorescent light bulbs, a hospital bed, and sculpture of a monitor made of organic materials and containing a statue of the Virgin Mary, Sala de espera evokes the cold tension of a medical institution.

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Sala de espera. Carlos Leppe. 1980. Photo: Giampaolo Bianconi.

In this work three monitors display the artist wearing different forms of plaster on his body. Each video has either a blue, white, or red background. Harnessed in plaster, his lips painted bright red, and, in one video, his mouth held painfully open by a metal claws, Leppe sings from different operas. As he sings, saliva runs out of his mouth. An adjacent monitor shows Leppe’s mother recounting the pain that the artist’s birth and childhood caused her. Her evident bitterness about memories of her son, looped on video as a steady nightmare, contrasts with the excess of his own manicured singing. Trapped in plaster, Leppe’s voice rings out over his mother’s lament. Frozen in blue, white, and red, Leppe’s singing, claimed critic Nelly Richard, is an allegory of a repressive culture that, despite its best efforts, could not contain the artist. His mother’s psychic hold—at least as powerful as a political regime—emanates throughout the installation. In 1980 "Sala de espera" would have been as powerful in New York City, which was on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic, as it was in Santiago.

Always questioning his body and its political, sexual, and familial inheritance, Leppe’s actions are as compelling as they are complex. Their unraveling leads viewers in countless directions, and their shadowy accessibility—black-and-white photographs, grainy videos, secondhand accounts—reminds us that the impermanence of these works must be respected as an artistic strategy and not merely a historical accident. Somehow the mixture of documentation, gossip, and criticism with which we receive Leppe’s actions today reveals the complications of their origins.

MoMA visits Chile

Highlights and Surprises

There are certain places you know you want to go when you visit Santiago: the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos was one of these for me (don’t miss Alfredo Jaar’s subterranean memorial). And there are certain artists you know you want to meet: Paz Errázuriz was at the top of my list, and we spent an incredible afternoon in her company. But the surprises are what you feel you ought to share, and here are a few of mine.

If you weren’t able to see the installation of Errázuriz’s work at the 2015 Venice Biennale (where Nelly Richard presented Errázuriz’s work alongside Lotty Rosenfeld’s), D21 Proyectos de Arte has organized an exhibition of her photographs, which will be on view through November 26, 2015. The gallery’s...

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Highlights and Surprises

There are certain places you know you want to go when you visit Santiago: the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos was one of these for me (don’t miss Alfredo Jaar’s subterranean memorial). And there are certain artists you know you want to meet: Paz Errázuriz was at the top of my list, and we spent an incredible afternoon in her company. But the surprises are what you feel you ought to share, and here are a few of mine.

If you weren’t able to see the installation of Errázuriz’s work at the 2015 Venice Biennale (where Nelly Richard presented Errázuriz’s work alongside Lotty Rosenfeld’s), D21 Proyectos de Arte has organized an exhibition of her photographs, which will be on view through November 26, 2015. The gallery’s program is filled with under-known achievements; we saw a Francisco Smythe exhibition there that was a knockout. Other galleries I’d recommend? Die Ecke Arte Contemporáneo and Galería Patricia Ready are as different as two galleries can be, but each represents great artists and both of their programs are focused and ambitious.

Samuel Salgado is the Director of the National Center of Historical Photography (CENFOTO) in Chile. He and his team care for, study, and promote public awareness of their extraordinary collection of more than a million (!) photographs made in Chile, from daguerreotypes to contemporary work (www.patrimoniofotografico.cl), and they serve as advisors to estates and collections looking to preserve their own holdings. As Salgado said when we met, one goal is to “convey the idea that photography comes from photographers,” and to “explore their individual visions.” John Szarkowski articulated a remarkably similar ambition when he began his career at MoMA in 1962.

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Visit to Cenfoto. From left to right: David Frankel, Samuel Salgado, and Sarah Meister. Photo: Jerónimo Duarte-Riascos.

Monserrat Rojas is similarly tireless in her efforts to discover and promote the achievements of contemporary artists who work with photography. Instead of simply describing what they do, she brought me to see exhibitions she had organized of work by Claudio Pérez at Centro Experimental Perrera Arte and Cristóbal Olivares at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC), introducing me not only to the art but also to the artists.

Visiting Taller Bloc was like entering an urban artistic utopia, a Ciudad Abierta of sorts, within the confines of a former bakery. Catalina Bauer, Rodrigo Canala, Rodrigo Galecio, Gerardo Pulido, and Tomás Rivas welcomed us warmly into their gallery/workshop/studio (www.tallerbloc.cl), and shared with us not only their own art, but also their unique pedagogical model, which has been designed to encourage experimentation, conversation, and practical training in the visual arts.

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Visit to artist run-space, studio, and alternative school, Taller Bloc.

So many people were generous with their time, their perspectives, and their art, and I regret not being able to name them all, but I would like to mention Malu Edwards, Benjamin Lira, Pedro Montes, Francisca Sutil, Adriana Valdés, and Juan Yarur for going out of their way to make us feel welcome and facilitate connections between MoMA and the art scene in Santiago.

Finally, in that most literary of cities, it seems fitting to end with a bookstore. Metales Pesados Libros is a stone’s throw from MAC and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and well worth the walk. Then, once you’ve picked up a new book, you can wander over to Emporio la Rosa and enjoy it with a scoop of the best sorbet I’ve ever tasted . . .

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MoMA Goes to Chile

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