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Growing Seeds of Thought: 10 Days in Colombia

Throughout 2016, the C-MAP Latin America Group focused on the study and research of Colombian modern and contemporary artistic practices. The group held more than twenty meetings where scholars, artists, and curators were invited to present their work and talk about the historical, political, and social conditions that have shaped modern and contemporary art scene in Colombia. In November, more than fifteen members of the MoMA staff (curators, researchers, archivists, editors, librarians) visited Colombia for ten days, making stops in Medellín, Cali, Pereira, and Bogotá. During this trip we met with more than forty artists and visited twenty seven institutions (eight museums, ten independent spaces, nine galleries), four private collections, and two estates.

These numbers were way too high, and we had such little time. Yet the trip offered a glimpse of a robust artistic history and a vibrant contemporary art scene in the cities of Colombia. It was also the beginning, our first steps toward planting a seed of curiosity at MoMA and building what we hope will be the long-lasting relationships. Since our return, that seed has not stopped growing.

Listed below are blog entries by the chosen members of the group, reflecting on their experiences.

In the following months, post will publish short interviews conducted with the scholars, artists, and curators who visited MoMA in 2016 to help us with our research. You can access them here.

Author

Screen shot 2015 11 30 at 6.40.17 pm

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 »
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Growing Seeds of Thought: 10 Days in Colombia MAP

Growing Seeds of Thought: 10 Days in Colombia

Throughout 2016, the C-MAP Latin America Group focused on the study and research of Colombian modern and contemporary artistic practices. The group held more than twenty meetings where scholars, artists, and curators were invited to present their work and talk about the historical, political, and social conditions that have shaped modern and contemporary art scene in Colombia. In November, more than fifteen members of the MoMA staff (curators, researchers, archivists, editors, librarians) visited Colombia for ten days, making stops in Medellín, Cali, Pereira, and Bogotá. During this trip we met with more than forty artists and visited twenty seven institutions (eight museums, ten independent spaces, nine galleries), four private collections, and two estates.

These numbers were way too high, and we had such little time. Yet the trip offered a glimpse of a robust artistic history and a vibrant contemporary art scene in the cities of Colombia. It was also the beginning, our first steps toward planting a seed of curiosity at MoMA and building what we hope will be the long-lasting...

Show More

Throughout 2016, the C-MAP Latin America Group focused on the study and research of Colombian modern and contemporary artistic practices. The group held more than twenty meetings where scholars, artists, and curators were invited to present their work and talk about the historical, political, and social conditions that have shaped modern and contemporary art scene in Colombia. In November, more than fifteen members of the MoMA staff (curators, researchers, archivists, editors, librarians) visited Colombia for ten days, making stops in Medellín, Cali, Pereira, and Bogotá. During this trip we met with more than forty artists and visited twenty seven institutions (eight museums, ten independent spaces, nine galleries), four private collections, and two estates.

These numbers were way too high, and we had such little time. Yet the trip offered a glimpse of a robust artistic history and a vibrant contemporary art scene in the cities of Colombia. It was also the beginning, our first steps toward planting a seed of curiosity at MoMA and building what we hope will be the long-lasting relationships. Since our return, that seed has not stopped growing.

Listed below are blog entries by the chosen members of the group, reflecting on their experiences.

In the following months, post will publish short interviews conducted with the scholars, artists, and curators who visited MoMA in 2016 to help us with our research. You can access them here.

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Blog posts from the travelers

Lugar a Dudas

Lugar a Dudas, which translates as “room for doubts,” is an artist-founded, artist-run, nonprofit, alternative art space in Cali, Colombia. It’s a gallery, which includes a street-facing public-art exhibition space; an artist residency program; and a cinema club that screens films almost daily to help promote many independent films made in Cali. It hosts talks and workshops as well as programs for school groups, produces publications, and publishes prints. In short, the organization runs an impressive range of programs to engage audiences locally and internationally.

Photographer Oscar Muñoz, whose work is in MoMA’s collection, founded Lugar a Dudas in 2005 and continues to direct it. He was also a founder, in the 1970s, of Colombia...

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Lugar a Dudas

Lugar a Dudas, which translates as “room for doubts,” is an artist-founded, artist-run, nonprofit, alternative art space in Cali, Colombia. It’s a gallery, which includes a street-facing public-art exhibition space; an artist residency program; and a cinema club that screens films almost daily to help promote many independent films made in Cali. It hosts talks and workshops as well as programs for school groups, produces publications, and publishes prints. In short, the organization runs an impressive range of programs to engage audiences locally and internationally.

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Schedule-of-events blackboard behind Hábito, a silicone sculpture by Nicolás González, which is waiting to be presented in La Vitrina, a street-facing space in the front courtyard at Lugar a Dudas, Cali, Colombia

Photographer Oscar Muñoz, whose work is in MoMA’s collection, founded Lugar a Dudas in 2005 and continues to direct it. He was also a founder, in the 1970s, of Colombia’s first independent art space, Ciudad Solar, which eventually disbanded as Cali was engulfed in violence in the 1980s. He explained that he started Lugar a Dudas to address an imbalance in Cali’s art network, which, he reports, currently has six art schools but only a few art galleries and therefore extremely limited opportunities for artists to work and exhibit. At the same time addressing a national imbalance, Muñoz was eager to help decentralize the Colombian art world, since most art institutions and organizations exist in Bogotá.

Everyone working at Lugar a Dudas is an artist. Muñoz’s partner, Sally Mizrachi, is a designer and coordinates the center’s programs. Víctor Albarracín is an art critic and founder of his own art collective, located in Bogotá, who has been in residence at Lugar a Dudas for almost a year. Iván Tovar, who is in charge of residency programs, works as a curator and artist (we saw Antiespacio, one of his hutlike sculptures made of rejected bricks from a local factory, at the 44th Salón Nacional de Artistas in Pereira). Breyner Huertas, the center’s website designer and communications manager, publishes miniature artist books under the pseudonym Hermes Acosta and received an honorable mention at the 2016 ArtBo fair for his photography.

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Clockwise from lower left: Milan Hughston, Oscar Muñoz, Karen Grimson, Juan Guillermo Tamayo, Yasmil Raymond, Víctor Albarracín, Thomas Lax, Iván Tovar, and Giampaolo Bianconi in the courtyard garden at Lugar a Dudas, an artist-run exhibition space and residency program in Cali, Colombia

The documentation center is at the heart of the organization and its largest gathering space. Juan Guillermo Tamayo, who is in charge of the center, hosts students and researchers in a library that is open-shelf and open to the public. He runs the genius Fotocopioteca, where essays from art theory, recommended by artists and others, are translated into Spanish, often for the first time, and made available as hard copies, downloads from a drive in the wall, and also on the organization’s website. I fell in love with the documentation center’s current exhibition of typeset posters (in the style of the much-lamented Carteles Horche), which use rebus-style clues to guide you to text contained in publications on the documentation center shelves, a colorful addition by Martin La Roche, a Chilean artist based in the Netherlands.

Residencies in a large house around the corner from the main space cost approximately 2,500,000 Colombian pesos or 850 US dollars for two months and offer artists and/or curators a private room with a work table as well as access to the common roof garden and even a small swimming pool.

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Posters by Martin La Roche (Chilean, born 1988) in an exhibition of library guide posters in the documentation center, Lugar a Dudas, Cali, Colombia

A Multilayered and Rare Opportunity

This report will never be complete nor does it pretend to be entirely accurate. But whatever is captured in the next sentences was written to give words to a multilayered and rare opportunity to visit Colombia during an exceptional historical moment of a potentially feasible peace agreement. There is no manual that tells curators the appropriate method of engagement on a research trip to a country that has recently experienced a civil war. It has been estimated that in Colombia, in the past fifty years, more than two hundred thousand people have died and five million people have been displaced from their homes. (It is hard to imagine what it must be like to visit artists in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, or Syria but we can try.) In Colombia,...

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A Multilayered and Rare Opportunity

This report will never be complete nor does it pretend to be entirely accurate. But whatever is captured in the next sentences was written to give words to a multilayered and rare opportunity to visit Colombia during an exceptional historical moment of a potentially feasible peace agreement. There is no manual that tells curators the appropriate method of engagement on a research trip to a country that has recently experienced a civil war. It has been estimated that in Colombia, in the past fifty years, more than two hundred thousand people have died and five million people have been displaced from their homes. (It is hard to imagine what it must be like to visit artists in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, or Syria but we can try.) In Colombia, the evidence of the past decades of warfare and devastation is not physically evident in its cities, but the overall silence and the empty sidewalks and squares are indicative of a trauma that is not easily “solved” with signatures. At the center of the normality we experienced during our visit was the stunning realization that artists are not speaking openly about the current political situation, or addressing the social indignation that has altered their culture. Once you realize what this omission might mean, you understand that the process of peace and reconciliation in Colombia has yet to begin.

The road from the airport to Medellín is a telling metaphor for the strong will of the city. The mountainous terrain is demanding and requires maneuvering, but eventually through patience and determination, we made our way along narrow and curvy roads into the valley. There is a palpable ambition in Medellín that is manifest in the recent urban renewal: the development of an efficient cable-car network and pristine subway systems. Our tour of Medellín was led by two visionary architects: Ricardo Vásquez and Emerson Marín. Among the many highlights was our visit to one of the UVA (Unidades de Vida Articulada) projects, a citywide endeavor that, in the spirit of Brazil’s phenomenal SESC (Serviço Social do Comércio) projects, takes water towers and turns them into community centers. The focus of this mission is socio-educational and recreational, and people seem to value it. We experienced another example of Medellín’s imaginative edge at Casa Tres Patios, a nonprofit organization where artists partner with educators to invent creative new methods for teaching children and young adults. Its founder is the American artist Tony Evanko. There is a heart beating in this space, a sense of urgency that was visible in the faces of the couple dozen of people we saw there rehearsing their lesson plans and teaching techniques. We also had the opportunity to meet the team at MAMM (Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín), and to hear firsthand about the radical work of painter Débora Arango, which had been curated by Emiliano Valdés.

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The C-MAP Latin America group and architects Emerson Marín and Ricardo Vásquez at one of Medellín's UVAs. Photo: Alexa Halaby

Not to be forgotten amid all the experiences in Medellín was Erika Diettes’s exhibition at the Museo de Antioquia, a solemn investigation into the trauma of the war. Her impeccable installation is unsettling and visceral, but equally courageous and necessary for those who have seen death and destruction. The rich history of the Museo of Antioquia precedes the tenure of its chief curator Nydia Gutiérrez. Opened in 1881, the museum is the second oldest in Colombia, and it houses an important collection of modern art as well as wonderful murals by Pedro Nel Gómez, who was inspired by the Mexican muralists. Gutiérrez was a gracious and generous host and guided us through the exhibitions. In one of the galleries, we came across an extraordinary series of watercolors by a self-taught artist by the name of Abel Rodriguez, a member of the Nonuya people, from the Caqueta River region. The selection was from his series Chagra, and it depicts both luscious rain forests and areas devastated by deforestation. The tour of the museum ended with an interesting display of some of the works included in the 1968, 1970, and 1972 Coltejer Art Biennials. It was gratifying to come across an exceptional painting by the Argentine artist Sarah Grilo (MoMA recently acquired a Grilo canvas from 1965) and a mesmerizing metal sculpture by Édgar Negret, in his signature red paint. We got to see more terrific examples of Negret’s floor works in Cali and Bogotá. MoMA owns an early sculpture from 1954 titled Sign for an Aquarium (Model) but nothing from the pinnacle of his career.

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Group members visit the collection of the Museo de Antioquia. Photo: Jerónimo Duarte-Riascos

For decades, my imaginary of Colombia has been shaped by the lucid narratives penned by Gabriel García Márquez and Héctor Abad Faciolince, and this trip didn’t diminish the veracity of their accounts. As always, works of art have that unsettling ability to tip emotive charge into extreme discomfort. We began our stay in Cali with a visit to the studio and home of Rosemberg Sandoval. Sandoval is an internationally acclaimed performance artist and his work is included in MoMA’s collection. I can imagine that experiencing his actions would be infinitely more powerful than seeing black-and-white documentation of them—or related props and artifacts. However, the pictures of his 1985 action on the statue of Simón Bolívar across from the Palace of Justice (on the eve of the rebels’ attack) were charged with defiance and desperation. The hour-long visit to Sandoval’s home reeled with dignity, vigilance, and a peculiar inventiveness. His work is unapologetic, visceral, and consciously “badly” made, qualities that I admire and a position that seems to be undervalued by the younger generation of artists we encountered throughout our trip, who are so eagerly concerned with quality and craftsmanship. Later, in Bogotá, we saw some of Sandoval’s objects made from scraps of glass, and even his tabletop pieces, intended for domestic settings, have an edge and a certain monstrosity that rubs against notions of taste and civility.

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Rosemberg Sandoval. Mapa de Calí (Map of Cali). 1983. Adhesive bandages on diazotype. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Rosemberg Sandoval. Objeto de Ofensiva - Dibujo múltiple de solidaridad (Offensive Object - Multiple drawing of solidarity). 1984/1985. Photocopy, pencil, and hair on printed paper. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

In contrast to Medellín’s determination, Cali is a combination of warmth, sensibility, and modesty. The city might lack infrastructure, but it seems to enjoy a fearless sense of lucidity as the institutions and studios we visited reflect a particular self-awareness and extraordinary command of the basic conditions necessary to display art and generate forceful aesthetics. We learned about the hugely impressive synthesis of theory and practice happening at the artist-run space Lugar a Dudas (founded by the artist Oscar Muñoz and graphic designer Sally Mizrachi) and shared a relaxing lunch alongside the team of artists and writers running its ambitious residency, library, lecture, and film programs. Another interesting phenomenon seems to be germinating at the Museo la Tertulia under the leadership of its chief curator Alejandro Martín Maldonado. It was at this museum that we had the chance to see two exceptional exhibitions, one on the work of Beatriz González, and another on the year 1971, when Cali hosted the Pan American Games. All the works on view were from their collection, among them Antonio Caro’s important installation Aquí no cabe el arte (Art does not fit here) from 1972. (Later, in Bogotá, we had the opportunity to briefly meet Antonio Caro. His early work is difficult to find, but he is an artist that we should consider for MoMA’s collection.) The team at Museo la Tertulia allowed us to use their facilities to meet with the daughters of photographer Fernell Franco, and to organize a viewing of groups of works only available for museum collections. Seeing Fernell’s photographs was among the highlights of the trip for several of us. Fernell’s work recently entered the collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Tate, but it is still not represented in MoMA’s collection. Although Fernell was a self-taught artist, he is considered one of the leading figures in photography in Colombia; having had an extensive career as a photojournalist, he exhibited his large-scale series throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

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The group learning about the history of Lugar a dudas, an independent artist-run space in Cali. Photo: Jerónimo Duarte-Riascos
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Group members viewing Fernell Franco's photographs during a visit to his Estate in Cali. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

From Cali, we headed to Pereira to see the 44th edition of the Salón Nacional de Artistas. The exhibition was not short on ambition or diversity. Though there are too many examples to mention here, artworks by Barış Doğrusöz (printmaking), Rabih Mroué (video), Ming Wong (video), Wilson Díaz (painting), Ethel Gilmour (sculpture), and Tatyana Zambrano y Roberto Ochoa (sculpture) were among the most memorable. It was unclear if the exhibition was well received by the artistic communities in the neighboring cities of Cali and Medellín, but we sure felt its effort to approach a wide range of forms and aesthetics without being pretentious. The director Rosa Ángel and guest curators staged an impressive synthesis of practices and nationalities. This exhibition was the only instance we experienced in which artworks by national and international artists had been brought together.

Bogotá was our last stop. The revival of the artistic scene there seems to be driven by the opening of a number of commercial galleries and the establishment of the art fair ARTBO in 2004, a program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Bogotá. We were lucky enough to learn about a range of alternative spaces run by artists and architects throughout the city, and we listened to individual presentations by a handful of artists whom professor Lucas Ospina graciously gathered together for us at the Universidad de los Andes. It is indisputable that the work that José Roca and his team are doing at FLORA ars+natura has been pivotal to this rebirth, and we were fortunate to meet several of the artists participating in their residency program (and to experience the delicious food prepared by one of his daughters). However, the unforgettable moments still took place in the privacy of individual studios. A charming Nicolás Paris allowed us into his home-studio and shared insights into his investigations of geometry, nature, and pedagogy. His ongoing project centers on an emancipatory pedagogy that encourages students to self-initiate the “lessons” through games and other techniques that stimulate exploration. It was particularly interesting to see how Paris has integrated his studio practice into his life, expanding the team to include other artists and architects, teachers, and researchers; together, they seem to be reinventing the nature of collaboration and authorship.

Similarly, another inspiring conversation took place during our visit to the home-studio of architect Simón Hosie Samper. He spoke to us about his multidisciplinary practice and his experience building La casa del Pueblo (community library) in Guanacas Cauca. Samper’s research and collaboration with the indigenous people of Cauca brought a totally new dimension to social architecture. His project seems to have generated a critical discourse not only in the field of architecture but also among artists through his interrogation of the place of native cultures within Colombian society. And last but not least was the visit to the home-studio shared by Gabriel Sierra and Delcy Morelos. It took twelve years for Sierra and Morelos to build this sanctuary for their work and life, and it is definitely worth it. Due to the unexpectedness of our visit, the artists were not fully prepared but managed to show us fragments of their most recent projects. In February, Sierra will be mounting a solo exhibition at the Secession in Vienna, on the back of his acclaimed project at Kunsthaus Zürich and The Renaissance Society in Chicago.

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Model and image of "La Casa del Pueblo," a project by artists and architect Simón Hosie. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

Sierra’s work can come across as somber with a no-fuss formalism that seems to spring from a political exigency that favors the mundane over legibility. On Friday, our last day in the city, we did a rushed walk-through of the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, which included a thrilling display of their Neo-Concrete collection with exceptional works by Ary Brizzi (Argentine, born 1930), Rogelio Polesello (Argentine, 1939–2014), Yutaka Toyota (Japanese, born 1931), Julio Le Parc (Argentine, born 1928), Carlos Cruz Diez (Venezuelan, born 1923), and an unforgettable juxtaposition of an Édgar Negret sculpture from 1967 titled Edificio (Building) and Louise Nevelson’s Rain Garden Zag II from 1977.

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MoMA affiliates listen to a group of graduates from the Art Department at Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

Ten days in Colombia, 29 studio visits, eight museums, nine galleries, ten independent spaces, six private collections, and two delayed flights, left us physically unable to carry on but also offered plenty to ponder. In retrospect, the overall impression of this first visit can be summarized by one of Nicolás Paris’s proposals for art: “A classroom for error: the incorrect, options how to fail, possible ways to make mistakes.”

The Art of the Book

Our group’s visits to museums and artists’ studios confirmed how important artist’s books are to Colombia’s flourishing art-publishing history, both modern and contemporary. The rich tradition of drawing and the profusion of beautifully rendered sketchbooks quite naturally find their way into the production of artist’s books and editions.

Our C-MAP group was fortunate to be able to see work by three Colombian artists participating in the forthcoming project being published by MoMA’s Library Council. The Library Council is a group whose annual membership supports activities of the Library and Museum Archives. A special benefit is the semiannual publication of a limited-edition artist’s book that often brings together the work of an artist...

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The Art of the Book

Our group’s visits to museums and artists’ studios confirmed how important artist’s books are to Colombia’s flourishing art-publishing history, both modern and contemporary. The rich tradition of drawing and the profusion of beautifully rendered sketchbooks quite naturally find their way into the production of artist’s books and editions.

Our C-MAP group was fortunate to be able to see work by three Colombian artists participating in the forthcoming project being published by MoMA’s Library Council. The Library Council is a group whose annual membership supports activities of the Library and Museum Archives. A special benefit is the semiannual publication of a limited-edition artist’s book that often brings together the work of an artist and a writer.

In early 2017, the Library Council will publish The Valise, which includes work by seven Latin American artists inspired by the text of Argentinian writer César Aira. Aira’s text follows the dramatic journey of a nineteenth-century German artist through the mountains and pampas of Chile and Argentina. Three of the artists included in this collective project are from Colombia; and we made studio visits to two of them, Johanna Calle and Nicolás Paris, as well as saw an exhibition by Mateo López at Casas Riegner gallery.

We were lucky to be accompanied on these visits by the editor of the Library Council publications, May Castleberry, who was in Bogotá working with the artists on final details for the publication. Our studio visits with Calle and Paris allowed us to enter their worlds in an intimate and personal way, to closely observe their past work, and to see how their more recent work for The Valise has taken them on new journeys—in terms of traditional production and also new media and formats, all contained inside a Duchamp-inspired “valise” that reflects the themes of journey and travel.

Both Calle and Paris are known for their meticulous and detailed work, particularly in drawing, and each of them is well documented and represented in MoMA’s collection.

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Johanna Calle. Abecé. 2011. Drawing. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Nicolás Paris. Hurry Slowly 1-5 (Apresúrate Despacio 1-5). 2008. Series of five lithographs. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Calle’s contributions include a series called Morphine Landscapes, which incorporate intricately typed letters that frame the images, functioning as a kind of typed poem imagining the drug-addled German artist on his journey. Her second piece uses a series of anonymous photographs taken by a photographer in the 1940s that depict the Colombian Andes, again echoing the themes of travel and adventure.

Paris’s work incorporates architecture, objects (including a glass bulb with a local seed floating within it), and drawings. The body of work as a whole reflects the themes of travel, exploration, time, and teaching, all of which find their ways into most aspects of Paris’s art practice.

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Mateo López. Despacho. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

At Casas Riegner gallery in Bogotá, the group visited Mateo López’s latest solo exhibition, Ciudad Fantasma (Ghost City). This exhibition included examples of the intricate folded and printed pieces that López has created for his participation in The Valise. These comprise twenty-four letter press and woodcut prints that reflect the “geometry of the object” and interpret the artist’s recent trip through the Darién Gap, a wild area straddling the borders of Panama and Colombia that remains one of the least-traveled areas in the Western Hemisphere. In conclusion, it’s very appropriate that our CMAP “journey” through Colombia mirrored the focus of the forthcoming Library Council publication, incorporating discovery, collecting, and learning. All of these traditions are timeless.

Discovering Feliza

In Colombia, probably the biggest revelation (among many) for me was the work of Feliza Bursztyn (1933–1982). Our group had the opportunity to visit her home and estate in Bogotá. The property includes a modest front garden and the tiny apartment that was her first home and studio, as well as three adjacent buildings purchased by her second husband, Pablo Leyva: a small house, another building where her library and archives are currently stored, and a much larger, garage-like studio. Leyva’s son, the artist Camilo Leyva, now uses that large space for his own work, and he also manages Bursztyn’s estate. Examples of Camilo Leyva’s sculptures mingled comfortably with those of Bursztyn, whose art has always been a touchstone for his own....

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Discovering Feliza

In Colombia, probably the biggest revelation (among many) for me was the work of Feliza Bursztyn (1933–1982). Our group had the opportunity to visit her home and estate in Bogotá. The property includes a modest front garden and the tiny apartment that was her first home and studio, as well as three adjacent buildings purchased by her second husband, Pablo Leyva: a small house, another building where her library and archives are currently stored, and a much larger, garage-like studio. Leyva’s son, the artist Camilo Leyva, now uses that large space for his own work, and he also manages Bursztyn’s estate. Examples of Camilo Leyva’s sculptures mingled comfortably with those of Bursztyn, whose art has always been a touchstone for his own. Bursztyn’s sculptures were resting unceremoniously here and there, the large ones occupying sections of the floor and the smaller ones placed on makeshift surfaces and tables, or inside crates or cardboard boxes.

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Visit to Camilo Leyva's studio and Feliza Bursztyn's Estate. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: C-MAP Latin America
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Visit to Camilo Leyva's studio and Feliza Bursztyn's Estate. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

What impressed me about Bursztyn’s work is its combination of visceral toughness, poetic sensitivity, and sly, irreverent humor. In 1961 she began using scrap metal, twisting, crushing, and welding it to create sculptures large and small. In 1967–68 she made her first kinetic artworks, a series of steel constructions that she called Las histéricas (The hysterics), by welding long, thin ribbons of metal into circular, springlike configurations; attached to motors, they vibrate noisily, even aggressively. There is a suggestion of playfulness in them, but also of confrontation, disruption, and violence.

In Colombia, Bursztyn is revered as a key artist of the postwar period, a pioneer whose sculpture broke new ground in the 1960s and helped pave the way for avant-garde practices in more recent decades. Her work is highlighted in the collections of museums such as the Museo Nacional de Colombia and the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, and can be found in galleries such as Alonso Garcés, all of which we had the good fortune to visit during our trip (although, regrettably, her major works were temporarily not on view at the museums). Despite this renown in her own country, Bursztyn is all but unknown in the United States. Hopefully this will change, not only because her work represents a high point in the history of Colombian art, but also because it can be seen as part of an artistic current that crested internationally in the 1960s. Bursztyn’s work is often compared to that of César (with whom she studied in Paris) and Jean Tinguely, but it may resonate even more potently with the work of a number of women artists—Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Alina Szapocznikow—who also found their own strong and slightly eccentric voices by creating disturbingly subversive and unorthodox sculptures during that same heady, transformative decade.

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Visit to Camilo Leyva's studio and Feliza Bursztyn's Estate. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: C-MAP Latin America
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Visit to Camilo Leyva's studio and Feliza Bursztyn's Estate. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: C-MAP Latin America
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Visit to Camilo Leyva's studio and Feliza Bursztyn's Estate. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

Colombia Coca-Cola

Early in the evening of our last night in Colombia we had the opportunity to meet with Antonio Caro, who for more than four decades has been a key protagonist in Colombian art circles. We met at La Oficina del Doctor, an intimate book-space nestled within Caro’s gallery, Casas Riegner, in Bogotá. This struck me as fitting, given that one of Caro’s most iconic works Colombia, painted in Coca-Cola’s distinct looping script, had become a leitmotif during our travels throughout Colombia. We first encountered a version in Medellín at the Museo de Antioquia (executed in 2007; Caro’s first version is dated 1977) and saw several others in public and private collections. My favorite was an embroidered apron hanging in Nicolás Paris’s studio—not...

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Colombia Coca-Cola

Early in the evening of our last night in Colombia we had the opportunity to meet with Antonio Caro, who for more than four decades has been a key protagonist in Colombian art circles. We met at La Oficina del Doctor, an intimate book-space nestled within Caro’s gallery, Casas Riegner, in Bogotá. This struck me as fitting, given that one of Caro’s most iconic works Colombia, painted in Coca-Cola’s distinct looping script, had become a leitmotif during our travels throughout Colombia. We first encountered a version in Medellín at the Museo de Antioquia (executed in 2007; Caro’s first version is dated 1977) and saw several others in public and private collections. My favorite was an embroidered apron hanging in Nicolás Paris’s studio—not only because we all so enjoyed that studio visit!

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Antonio Caro. Colombia Coca-Cola. Private collection. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: Sarah Meister
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Antonio Caro. Colombia Coca-Cola. Private collection. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: Sarah Meister
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Caro’s embroidered apron at Nicolás Paris’ studio. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: Sarah Meister

This work succinctly points to the complex network of relations between Caro’s native country and my own through this symbol of American capitalist enterprise, produced in a variety of formats and editions that irreverently mimic a marketing strategy. But no matter the scale or material, Caro imbues each version with subtle imperfections (a missing dot over the i or irregularity in the lettering), nodding to broader political and human conditions, perhaps, but certainly to the hand of an artist whom Luis Camnitzer has described admiringly as a “visual guerilla.”

As a photography curator, I can’t resist mentioning a select few of the most meaningful photographic encounters, wishing I had the time to write about each and every one of them. There were several artists working with photography whom we knew we wanted to see the minute our C-MAP group decided we would be visiting Colombia. We had acquired a few works from Miguel Ángel Rojas’s series Faenza in 2015 (see the acquisitions here), but it was a rare treat to be welcomed by the artist at his home in Bogotá and to have a leisurely opportunity to trace the broader trajectory of his career through the work installed there.

Rojas
Curators Thomas Lax and Starr Figura listen to artist Miguel Angel Rojas during the group’s visit to his studio in Bogotá. November 2016. Photo: Sarah Meister

Fernell Franco (1942–2006) was another artist whose work we have been following actively for years, and we enjoyed an afternoon in Cali with his two daughters, who have thoughtfully tended to his legacy.

Perhaps slightly less well-known, but equally significant is Jorge Ortiz, who had a few works included in Pablo Gómez Uribe’s unassumingly revolutionary exhibition This House Isn’t Worth Anything: What Is Really Worthless Is the Lot at Galería de La Oficina in Medellín. We were fortunate, on our last day, to have been in Bogotá for the opening of "Bernal, Ortiz y Cano: un cuerpo para el arte" at the Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño (thanks to Alexa Halaby for the tip, and for so much else). This was a great opportunity to develop a sense of Ortiz’s broader career, with work dating from 1978 to 2016 whose material presence is remarkably difficult to capture through reproduction.

Ortiz detail
Jorge Ortiz. Detail from the exhibition Bernal, Ortiz y Cano: un cuerpo para el arte. Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendano. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: Sarah Meister

Back in Medellín, also at La Oficina, we had a chance to speak with Jesús Abad Colorado about his work, also lesser known outside of Colombia, which compellingly presents activism and art in equal measure.

Colorado
Jesús Abad Colorado talking about his work. Galería de La Oficina. Medellín, November 2016. Photo: Sarah Meister

Though I can’t pick favorites, it is always a thrill to learn about work that one simply wouldn’t encounter in midtown Manhattan. The first of these discoveries was tucked into a small gallery at the Museo de Antioquia (not far from Caro’s Colombia): an impressive panorama by Jorge Obando (1894–1982) of thousands of people gathered for the inauguration of the Atanasio Girardot stadium in Medellín (1953).

And on our final day, at the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República in Bogotá, we came across the work of Luis B. Ramos (1899–1955), whose series El hombre y la tierra from the 1930s was represented with an assortment of modestly scaled vintage prints.

Ramos
Luis B. Ramos. El hombre y la tierra, Installation view. Museo de Arte del Banco de la República. Bogotá, November 2016. Photo: Sarah Meister

These were contemporaneous with many of the oil paintings hanging in the same gallery and spoke to a distinctly local, quotidian experience. It’s no surprise that the least familiar achievements are those that flourish outside the international art scene, but it does underscore the importance of traveling to see beyond established narratives.

The Coltejer Art Collection

In the galvanizing month of May 1968, when the world at large was awakening to the news of mass protests and student revolts in Paris, the city of Medellín was welcoming historical events of similarly stimulating effects: the 1st Ibero-American Painting Biennial opened at the University of Antioquia, sponsored by the Colombian textile company Coltejer and featuring works by more than eighty artists from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The year marked the firm’s sixtieth anniversary, and inaugurated Medellín’s reputation as a focal point for the exhibition of contemporary art produced in the Americas. The Coltejer Art Biennials, as they were later known, had...

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The Coltejer Art Collection

In the galvanizing month of May 1968, when the world at large was awakening to the news of mass protests and student revolts in Paris, the city of Medellín was welcoming historical events of similarly stimulating effects: the 1st Ibero-American Painting Biennial opened at the University of Antioquia, sponsored by the Colombian textile company Coltejer and featuring works by more than eighty artists from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The year marked the firm’s sixtieth anniversary, and inaugurated Medellín’s reputation as a focal point for the exhibition of contemporary art produced in the Americas. The Coltejer Art Biennials, as they were later known, had subsequent editions in 1970 and 1972, taking place at the University Museum and in Coltejer’s new building, respectively. This trilogy of events was perceived as a momentous call for modernization of the city’s art scene, and its reception proved formative for the institutionalization of the arts in Medellín.

Coltejer image 1
Installation view of Rogelio Polesello’s Alunizaje in front of José María Yturralde’s Estructura I at Casa del Encuentro, Museo de Antioquia, Medellín

Under Coltejer’s sponsorship, the biennials were structured as awarding contests in which prized and distinguished works would be acquired into the firm’s emerging art collection. The exhibition 68, 70, 72. Bienales de Arte Coltejer, a permanent display at the Museo de Antioquia’s Casa del Encuentro, presents a chronological survey of a selection from the Coltejer Collection alongside other contemporary works from the Museum’s collection.

Coltejer image 2
Installation view of Juan Castles Pórtico at Casa del Encuentro, Museo de Antioquia, Medellín

A special room within this exhibition is devoted to Luis Caballero’s untitled polyptych (also known as The Chamber of Love), recipient of the Great Prize at the 1968 biennial. Consecrated as the great painter of the new generations by critic Marta Traba,1 the twenty-four-year-old Caballero had conceived earlier that year of an eighteen-panel work to be installed at the National Library in Medellín in March.2 While he only submitted thirteen panels to the biennial, the remaining five panels were acquired by Coltejer more than thirty years later, and the reunited work is now displayed in its entirety once again.

Coltejer image 3
Installation view of Luis Caballero’s Untitled (La cámara del amor) at Casa del Encuentro, Museo de Antioquia, Medellín

This 258-square-foot painting was conceived as a multi-part structure that folds outward into space, in the shape of a cross, creating an environment in which the viewer is immersed. While the 1st Coltejer Biennial was restricted to pictorial practices, the recognition awarded to Luis Caballero’s environmental painting installation signaled the multidisciplinary opening that followed in subsequent editions of the biennial, which dropped the medium specificity from the title, and were presented, simply, as the 2nd and 3rd Coltejer Art Biennials. In this sense, Caballero’s chamber can be thought of as the announcement of a coming trend, which would contemplate immersive installations and value viewer participation. According to juror Alexandre Cirici Pellicer, the 1968 event also signaled the advent of art’s integration into life, the abolition of artistic categories, and an authentic liberation toward collective awareness.3

Coltejer image 4
Lea Lublin in her environment Penetración/Expulsión at the 2nd Coltejer Art Biennial, 1970

Facing economic struggles, Coltejer disassociated from the biennials’ sponsorship after the 1972 edition. Although short-lived, the Coltejer Art Biennials had transformative repercussions in Medellín’s art scene, the first of which was the creation of the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (MAMM), in 1978.4 The revolutionary potential of the exhibitions had already been perceived by their immediate organizers: in his inaugural speech for the 1968 show, Coltejer’s chairman Rodrigo Uribe Echavarría professed, anticipating the exhibition’s reverberation, that “its significance, on an international level, would be so vast, that its consequences are lost to us in the perspective of time.”5 Indeed, the 4th Medellín Art Biennial (1981), and its accompanying and highly celebrated Colloquium on Non-Objectual Art, as well as the Medellín International Art Festival (1997) and the quadrennial Medellin International Art Encounter (MDE; 2007, 2011, 2015), all aimed to rekindle the dialogical possibilities inaugurated in 1968.6 The Coltejer Art Biennials were landmark achievements and defining moments for the aesthetic sensibility of audiences in Medellín. Echoes from this decade still resonate in the works installed in Museo de Antioquia’s long-term display, where the conjunction of Pop art, Kineticism, geometric abstraction, illustration, and typographical approaches serves as a reminder of the possibility for regional integration through the diversity of its practices.

  1. Marta Traba, “Luis Caballero,” Revista Diners (Bogotá), (June 1968).

  2. Juan Camilo Sierra Retrepo, “La cámara del amor: Luis Caballero,” Credencial Historia (Bogotá), no. 111 (March 1999): 42.

  3. Alexandre Cirici Pellicer, “Al margen de la I Bienal de Medellín,” in I Bienal Iberoamericana de Pintura Coltejer (Medellín: Coltejer, 1968), 38–40.

  4. Viviana Palacio and Jorge Lopera, Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín: Breve Historia (Medellín: Museo de Arte Moderno, 2016).

  5. Rodrigo Uribe Echevarría, “Discurso de apertura,” in I Bienal Iberoamericana de Pintura Coltejer, 5.

  6. Alexa Halaby, “The 1968, 1970 and 1972 Coltejer Art Biennials: Six Years of Cultural Revolution in Medellín, Colombia,” Guggenheim.org, September 2, 2015, https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/map/the-1968-1970-and-1972-coltejer-art-biennials-six-years-of-cultural-revolution-in-medellin-colombia.

A Thought About La Tertulia

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Installation view of the exhibition Cali/71. Museo La Tertulia, Cali. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

Located on the Cali River, directly in front of what feels like the city’s center of skateboarding and cruising culture, Museo La Tertulia presented a set of thoughtful and original exhibitions organized by their relatively new chief curator Alejandro Martín. Cali/71 looked introspectively—but refreshingly without navel-gazing—at the city’s critical history of activism, cultural and otherwise, that not only led to the formation of its important art collectives, but also to massive changes at the museum itself. The combination of agitprop and formal approaches to political engagement by a range of artists including Barbara Jones, Luis Caballero, Jesús Rafael Soto, and many others, seen on the heels of the stunning upset in the United States of the Democratic Party candidate by a fascist, white supremacist, was a stunning reminder of the potential of art and culture to interfere with the work of hegemonic consolidation.

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Installation view of the exhibition Cali/71. Museo La Tertulia, Cali. Photo: C-MAP Latin America
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Installation view of the exhibition Cali/71. Museo La Tertulia, Cali. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

Singing for the Absent

The very first scene of the video Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia, by the art collective La Decanatura, depicts a mother cow slowly, even lovingly, stroking with her tongue a newborn calf, presumably her own. The landscape is pastoral and magnificent in its Arcadian calm, but for two uncanny architectural presences: two monumental satellite towers dating from the 1970s.

The place is known as the Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia (Satellite Space Center of Colombia) and, like many similar sites throughout Latin America, it was opened in the 1970s, specifically on March 25, 1970.

The video, introduced by two black-and-white photographs of the towers, was authored by a collective of young Colombian artists, La Decanatura...

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Singing for the Absent

The very first scene of the video Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia, by the art collective La Decanatura, depicts a mother cow slowly, even lovingly, stroking with her tongue a newborn calf, presumably her own. The landscape is pastoral and magnificent in its Arcadian calm, but for two uncanny architectural presences: two monumental satellite towers dating from the 1970s.

Perez oramas 1
La Decanatura. Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia. Video still. 2015

The place is known as the Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia (Satellite Space Center of Colombia) and, like many similar sites throughout Latin America, it was opened in the 1970s, specifically on March 25, 1970.

The video, introduced by two black-and-white photographs of the towers, was authored by a collective of young Colombian artists, La Decanatura (Elkin Calderón and Diego Piñeros), and presented among many works in the National Salon of Artists in Pereira.

I still have this video in mind. It is one of the strongest, most moving art pieces I have seen in recent months. It obliquely touches upon some of the issues that I have been personally interested in, both as a curator and as a poet. The experience of seeing it actually drew me to the writing of some verses, maybe a poem, as well as to the memory of some old, haunting readings, and to general thinking about the purpose (or purposelessness) of an initiative such as a trip by MoMA curators to Colombia within the frame of our Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives initiative, C-MAP.

Were we bound there with the expectation of discovering some (hidden) masterpieces? Do we really care about the history of a country such as Colombia—or for that matter about any other (relatively small) country in the Americas, or in the world? What is our position, as employees of a dominant, mainstream art institution, vis-à-vis the struggles and celebrations of national communities that are not planned to be part of the fairy tales embodied by our geniuses and artistic heroes? Could an institution such as MoMA be generous? Could an American, or for that matter international, curator working in the very axis of art power produce a critical perspective outside of a logic of power-will? What is a powerless art? A powerless Modernity: does it exist?

After the cow has caressed her newborn calf with her tongue, the video proceeds to show the rainy surrounding landscape of the very old Leal y Noble Villa de Santiago de Chocontá, in Cundinamarca.

Perez oramas 2
La Decanatura. Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia. Video still. 2015

Suddenly, sparingly, a group of children, all bearing musical instruments and wearing white costumes, which we presume were the uniforms of the technicians who worked at the Satellite Space Center, come out from those monster towers into the open field. They start playing a moving song, a lullaby. They caringly play that music while it slowly rains. In another shot, they play inside the abandoned towers, uncannily, against the silence of a failed Modernity.

Perez oramas 3
La Decanatura. Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia. Installation view. 44th Salon Nacional de Artistas, Pereira, 2016
Perez oramas 4
La Decanatura. Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia. Installation view. 44th Salon Nacional de Artistas, Pereira, 2016

They may be playing their music in search of a voice that they have lost, or the voice that they are losing as they become adults, and they look for the place of infancy, where they come from, that place that we all have abandoned: that site of absence projected into the future, uncertainly.

Perez oramas 5
La Decanatura. Centro Espacial Satelital de Colombia. Installation view. 44th Salon Nacional de Artistas, Pereira, 2016

The Satellite Space Center is no longer useful, no longer “modern.” Beside its ruins of modernity, the landscape continues, beyond itself, following the same secular, ever-evolving pace of cows, trees, tempests, veals, harvests, lightning storms. A verse by Alberto Caeiro, one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, reads, “Os pastores de Virgílio, coitados, são Virgilío, / E a Natureza é bela e antiga (Virgil’s shepherds, poor guys, are Virgil, / And Nature is beautiful and ancient)."

The Banda Sinfónica Infantil de Chocontá (Children’s Symphonic Band of Chocotá) ends its lullaby outside the satellite towers as the rain recedes. Each child turns away, one at a time, and goes inside. The day is ending. From above, from a hill maybe, we see the landscape of Chocontá entering the darkness of the night, gray mirrors of water slipping toward the horizon.

Few days, too many places: Medellín, Cali, Pereira, Armenia, Bogotá. A country emerging from a century of wars, from innumerable lost. A community rethinking itself, projecting for the first time, as a possible achievement, a future of peace. Artists getting together, making art there, where it was not possible to make art before. Is there a more exciting encounter? Do we need to expect there, as good old colons, the illusory greatness of art, the fiction of genius, the phantom of masterworks to feed our insatiable, Saturnine capitalization of the modern . . . instead of—Agamben’s dixit—just the upcoming, ordinary community?

I will keep with myself, for years, this brief encounter with La Decanatura’s view of Chocontá, the lullaby addressed to the absent, the dove’s coo intended for those who have not yet come as a testimony of something that, for the most, I think contemporary art has unfortunately lost.

We have lost an ambition. An ambition that consists of addressing those who are no longer with us, or those who have not yet (be)come. This deep ambition of temporal projection, of resilience against the precariousness of the present time; this will against the preterition of the absent; this illusion of making connection with that which we were, or with those who were, or with that which is the place from whence we come, and never were, was the driving ambition of art, at least since its intellectual regime was theoretically established in the Western world. It has been one of the most recurring figures of transcendence, that human impulse. That is what seems to have been lost in a world of art that only satisfies itself with the present; that aims only to be contemporary; that surges in cowardly silence against all forms of anachronism; that satisfies itself with a contempt of politics consisting in neutralizing it in its very mediocre scenes of representation; that feeds itself with its own commercial fetishizing, with its own, imperturbable economy. That conforms itself with its own present being, as if the darkness of the present or the uncertainty of the future were nonexistent; that satiates itself with its own fashions, happy to not be anything more than what it is, as all fashions, ceaseless, expiring from the anodyne exhaustion of its consumers. It is against that world that the kids of Chocontá are singing.

Listen to Colombia

One of the most striking threads through our recent visit to Colombia was that of sound and its deployment as a tool to produce and question both standards of scientific investigation and understandings of nature and culture. Institutions of varying scales across Colombia are united by the strength of their spaces dedicated to sound art created toward these ends—works that ultimately reflect one of the strongest themes in contemporary Colombian art: an all-encompassing focus on territory as an umbrella under which both art and politics are articulated.

In Medellín, the newly expanded Museum of Modern Art (MAMM) contains a gallery called Lab 3, a space designed to showcase sound installations. On view during our visit was a biologically...

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Listen to Colombia

One of the most striking threads through our recent visit to Colombia was that of sound and its deployment as a tool to produce and question both standards of scientific investigation and understandings of nature and culture. Institutions of varying scales across Colombia are united by the strength of their spaces dedicated to sound art created toward these ends—works that ultimately reflect one of the strongest themes in contemporary Colombian art: an all-encompassing focus on territory as an umbrella under which both art and politics are articulated.

In Medellín, the newly expanded Museum of Modern Art (MAMM) contains a gallery called Lab 3, a space designed to showcase sound installations. On view during our visit was a biologically driven piece by Leslie García and Paloma López, titled Micro-ritmos. Powered by soil samples collected from different parts of the city, Micro-ritmos transforms organic bacteria into a constantly shifting light and soundscape. García and López are Mexican artists who have worked extensively in alternative spaces, radio, and experimental sound rooted in organic systems. Throughout our time in Colombia, we came to realize that the pattern of working with organic material is part of a broader focus on the issue of territory in Colombian art and politics. As a watchword, territory encompasses concerns with landscape, real estate, extraction of natural resources, organic animal and plant material, and more.

At the National Salon in Pereira, one of the standouts was Carlos Bonil’s Fonoarqueologia y otras conexiones con el Amazonas (2016). In this sound work comprised of a listening station on blonde wood, visitors were invited to hear sounds like those derived from field recordings of the Amazon. These “recordings” were, however, in fact reproductions, produced in a studio using special instruments and techniques. By implicating the construction of human-made sound with the scientific endeavor of field recording, Bonil allows his listeners to question the supposed distinction between nature’s purity and industry’s artificiality. This theme was repeated at FLORA ars+natura, a space in Bogotá dedicated to exhibiting nature-related artworks and cultivating artists demonstrating a keen awareness of nature. Alberto Baraya and Sylvia Jaimes’s worked with an archive of birdsongs from Cornell University, collaborating with a team of singers and musicians to re-create these natural sounds from scratch for a piece entitled Gallada Lab (2015–16). Gallada Lab was presented in a dedicated sound gallery at FLORA, a room used throughout the year to host a rotating series of sound installations.

While artists use sound to question the authenticity of nature itself, other institutions in Colombia use immersive sound toward more didactic ends. At the Museo del Oro, a dramatic sliding door lead to a gallery that houses glass walls behind which illuminated golden relics were presented. Sound recordings of rituals that once incorporated these artifacts were presented with musical punctuations of light that animate the objects. At the National University of Colombia, an exhibition tracing the history and contemporary manifestations of shamanistic rituals in indigenous communities in Colombia featured a completely dark space in which a sound bath of recordings of ceremonies played on a loop. In both exhibition venues, theatrical presentations of recorded sound were being used to convey experiences of anthropological knowledge.

In each of these institutional and extra-institutional contexts, sound is presented as an aesthetic experience contiguous with other mediums. From my perspective as part of MoMA’s Department of Media and Performance Art, this was an inspiring constellation of spaces fostering sonic experiments with thoughtful depth.

3 days in Bogotá

For the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with three artists from Bogotá—Mateo López, Johanna Calle, and Nicolás Paris—on a collective project called The Valise.1 Joining the C-MAP group in Bogotá for three days in November certainly expanded my outlook on Colombian art. I was particularly interested to see works that helped me understand the context for the Colombian contributions to The Valise—works that reflect an affinity for travel, history, and bookmaking, and that draw upon Latin America’s rich tradition of graphic design, typography, and illustration.

When I first visited Bogotá in 2014, I went to the Luis Ángel Arango Library with López and Paris. While there, we looked at nineteenth-century atlases,...

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3 days in Bogotá

For the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with three artists from Bogotá—Mateo López, Johanna Calle, and Nicolás Paris—on a collective project called The Valise.1 Joining the C-MAP group in Bogotá for three days in November certainly expanded my outlook on Colombian art. I was particularly interested to see works that helped me understand the context for the Colombian contributions to The Valise—works that reflect an affinity for travel, history, and bookmaking, and that draw upon Latin America’s rich tradition of graphic design, typography, and illustration.

When I first visited Bogotá in 2014, I went to the Luis Ángel Arango Library with López and Paris. While there, we looked at nineteenth-century atlases, entomological drawings, and expeditionary volumes, and it was clear that some of these objects, which López and Paris have been looking at for years, influenced their works for The Valise. In any case, all three artists appreciated the suggestion that their contributions might evoke earlier journeys or explorations of South America.

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Detail from Johanna Calle's studio. Photo: C-MAP Latin America
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Visit to Nicolás Paris' home and studio. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

The C-MAP trip introduced me to some of the institutions and collections of older works that have inspired the Colombian artists participating in The Valise, as well as to some of their contemporaries, colleagues as well as rivals, who also employ graphic techniques, albeit in different ways. For example, after hearing of my project, the kind curator of art at the Museo Nacional de Colombia showed me a gallery filled with heroic paintings of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conquest. Then he took me to an adjacent gallery and showed me a satirical reproduction, by José Alejandro Restrepo, of a nineteenth-century print of a supposedly paradisiacal tropical scene. This work, an interesting contrast to that of Calle, Paris, and López, sends up the colonial idea of the “picturesque." The next day, I saw some of Restrepo’s incisive videos at Espacio El Dorado; despite the shift in medium, these pieces still incorporate text and photographic illustration in a layered way, recalling the artist’s harshly powerful work as a printmaker.

I saw echoes of the artwork we’ve commissioned in multiple places. Knowing of López’s love of the informational poster, I was struck by a large, early twentieth-century color chart in Beatriz Gonzáles’s studio—one of the only pieces of décor/art/information hanging there (other than her own work). I saw collaged, collapsed, altered, and/or blurred typography, and texts as images in almost every collection we visited. This only added to my impression that Calle, a master of such mediums, is a singular innovator rooted in a long Latin American lineage. In fact, typography appeared where I least expected it! At the studio of Miguel Ángel Rojas, we saw miniaturized photographs of illicit acts, bunched together to form letters and words. Conversely, Doris Salcedo, an artist clearly on the “maximalist” end of the typographic imagination, showed us her studio filled with dozens of massive concrete plinths, cut with water-filled alphabetical letters that form the names of would-be immigrants to Europe who had drowned in the Mediterranean en route.

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Detail from Johanna Calle's studio. Photo: C-MAP Latin America
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Nicolás Paris' working table. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

More practically, I saw López’s gallery, Casas Riegner, and they proposed that we might show our project in La Oficina del Doctor at the time of the Bogotá Book Fair. I’ve begun to think about libraries in which we might place The Valise, or to whom we might give the extra, offset-printed pamphlets we’ve made in conjunction with it. For example, we will have 150 extra copies of a small pamphlet, designed and created by Nicolás Paris (and including a poem of his authorship), about Colombian leaves that have been marked by leaf-mining insects—perhaps of interest for the Flora library?

Img 5014
Detail from Mateo Lopez's exhibition at Casa Riegner. Photo: C-MAP Latin America

  1. The Valise, to be published in early 2017, includes the work of seven artists: Johanna Calle, Mateo López, and Nicolás Paris, from Bogotá; Matías Duville, from Buenos Aires; Christian Vinck, originally from Venezuela and now residing in Santiago de Chile; and Maria Laet and Rosângela Rennó, from Rio de Janeiro. They are contributing printed maps, artist’s books, and pamphlets to The Valise, to accompany a copy of César Aira’s Un episodio en la vida del pintor viajero (An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter). This novel, first published in 2000, concerns a journey made by the nineteenth-century German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas.

A Big, Healthy Nose

Perception, when it becomes habitual, also becomes automatic. Take, for instance, your nose: you know it is there and yet you don’t really see it anymore. Unless, of course, you change your habitual perspective: close one of your eyes and your nose (or at least part of it) “appears.”

Russian formalism, notably Viktor Shklovsky, proposed that this process of fighting the habitual, of seeing anew, is called defamiliarization—and he identified it as one of art’s core effects. But art is not by any means the sole defamiliarizer. So, I think, are time and space, something that became apparent to me during (and after) our recent C-MAP trip to Colombia.

C-MAP Latin America’s recent focus on Colombian modern and contemporary artistic practices—...

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A Big, Healthy Nose

Perception, when it becomes habitual, also becomes automatic. Take, for instance, your nose: you know it is there and yet you don’t really see it anymore. Unless, of course, you change your habitual perspective: close one of your eyes and your nose (or at least part of it) “appears.”

Russian formalism, notably Viktor Shklovsky, proposed that this process of fighting the habitual, of seeing anew, is called defamiliarization—and he identified it as one of art’s core effects. But art is not by any means the sole defamiliarizer. So, I think, are time and space, something that became apparent to me during (and after) our recent C-MAP trip to Colombia.

C-MAP Latin America’s recent focus on Colombian modern and contemporary artistic practices—which included around twenty study sessions on the country’s art, history, and culture and was the reason for MoMA’s recent trip to Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Pereira—was, for me, a defamiliarizing moment. In a way, I saw my nose again and realized how much it had grown.

Born and raised there, I moved to the United States (space) a good number of years ago (time). I return to Colombia a lot, usually in a rush, always trying to do and see too many things in too short a time. In November 2016 I went back, again in a rush. But this time I was joined by a group of colleagues, most of whom were traveling to Colombia for the first time and whose objective was, after having spent more than a year researching its art, history, architecture, key figures, and particularities, to gain a better understanding of the artistic scene of the country.

We experienced a very intense ten days, complying with the stereotypical Protestant ethic: early mornings, late nights, and few (too few!) breaks in between. We visited artists, museums, independent spaces, galleries, collectors, schools, exhibitions, universities. I felt like a proud local, though a defamiliarized one, showing them things that were also new to me. Because despite the cliché, things are changing in Colombia—quite radically. Not only politically, of course, with the much-discussed and recently signed peace treaty with FARC, but also behaviorally.

There is optimism and brains and creativity. And a very encouraging desire to work together. This was clear to me throughout the whole time in Colombia and during most of our visits. But I want to underscore two events, in particular: a brunch with representatives from some of the most interesting and exciting independent spaces in Bogotá, and a class (of sorts) that we took at Universidad de los Andes.

Brunch was held at Espacio Odeón, where we met not only with Odeón’s team but also with teams from La Agencia, C a m p o, and Miami. The spaces these groups are creating are, it seems to me, the basis for a community of experimentation and thus the impetus for a self-critical and fertile scene. I felt a bit jealous seeing this scene from afar—I know that some of my colleagues, who have no particular connection to Colombia, felt the same way, and so I think it is safe to conclude that it was not (only) a case of homesickness. Odeón, La Agencia, C a m p o, Miami, and the more than sixty flourishing independent spaces existing in Bogotá alone, invite you to belong and that is perhaps one of the reasons why they have successfully lured new publics into their spaces, projects, and experiments.

After brunch we left for class. The whole MoMA group sat quietly and in orderly fashion to hear a group of artists, who had graduated from Universidad de los Andes or were otherwise affiliated it in some way, discuss a diversity of paths enabled by artistic education. The group was so diverse and the conversation was so engaging that we ended up staying for a couple hours more than initially anticipated. You know it's a good class when students refuse to leave and instead linger in the classroom trying to get a bit more of what has been given.

After class, as we continued on with our full schedule, my feeling of defamiliarization intensified with every new conversation. My conclusion: a pleasure, and an unparalleled opportunity to (re)discover my big, healthy, full-grown nose.

Photos from the trip

Medellín (Nov 10-12)

Cali (Nov 13)

Bogotá (Nov 15-18)

Pereira (Nov 14)

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Growing Seeds of Thought: 10 Days in Colombia

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