ART: THE RISE OF LATIN AMERICAN ART - BEYOND CLICHES
While Latin American art might have been synonymous with Fernando Botero, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera a decade ago, collectors and art enthusiasts are dipping their toes into previously obscure — but by no means less influential — names.
Collectors and art enthusiasts are dipping their toes into previously obscure - but no means less influential - names
On a sweltering Sunday in May 2013, a huge white cloth unfurled on smack dab in bustling Central. Suddenly, a sea of heads pierces through random cuts in the cloth, the chorus of black bobs bouncing gently up and down.
A young couple searched for each other’s hands under the cloth, a smartphone-wielding girl tried to snap a selfie, someone struggled to stay ‘afloat’ as her head disappears beneath the white, velvety surface momentarily. The march begins.
To the untrained eye, it’s nothing more than a bizarre ritual. To fans of Lygia Pape, it was a rare opportunity to participate in a reenactment of the Brazilian artist’s Divisor, a performance art piece first staged on the streets of Rio de Janeiro in 1968. In the absence of wall text, what we are left with the curious feeling of being isolated from everyone else, yet having to march in tandem with the whole procession. One is tempted to classify Divisor as minimalist, but that nuanced exploration of the tension between the individual and collective is anything but, and a far cry from usual impressions of Latin American art.
RISE OF LATIN AMERICAN ART
The Latin American art market has been on a steady climb in the last few years. According to Deloitte’s Art and Finance Report 2016, overall sales for modern and contemporary Latin Art are up by 11 per cent. There has been a slew of record-breaking deals at the major auction houses: Christie’s Latin American art auction in Autumn 2016 nabbed a total of 7 records, including Cuban artist Carlos Enríquez’s Héroe criollo (1943), which went under the hammer for $US 967, 500; during the same season, Phillips hammered down four auction records, including Os Gemeos’s Untitled (2009), which soared past its US$120,000 (HK$ 936,800) to US$180,000 estimate to notch US$310,000.
All of these have aligned with an institution-wide effort to reevaluate Latin American artists who were under the radar.
Last year, Wilfredo Lam had a long overdue retrospective at the Whitney, which then travelled to Tate Modern and Museo Reina Sofia. The Met Breuer mounted a Pape exhibition the same year - the Brazilian artist’s first major US retrospective. Meanwhile, Carmen Herrera’s minimalist abstractionist works were put on glorious display at the Whitney Museum of American Art last Autumn.
Yet, collectors who are entering the fray might find the market hard to navigate. After all, given the geographical and cultural diversity of thte region, how does one begin to define Latin American art?
A SHARED COLONIAL PAST
According to Adriana AlvarezNichol, founder of the Hk-based Puerta Roja gallery, Latin American art is divided into three regions: Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and South America. “Brought together by a colonial past, these regions share a Spanishor Portuguese-speaking history, and strong Catholic traditions.”
Broadly speaking, the development of modern Latin American art followed two very different trajectories. The first - the one that the amateur art viewer is more familiar with - is art heavily grounded in the region’s colonial history.
“This is especially prevalent in Mexico, where there is a strong historical and visual baggage. During the 20th century, many artists turned to social and magical realism to address issues related to sovereignty,” notes Alvarez-nichol. Shining examples include Frida Kahlo, who leveraged a naive folk art style to questions issues relating to post-colonialism, gender and race, and Diego Rivera, whose gigantic murals chart the history of Mexican itself, from the Mayan age to post-independence times.