Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art and the UK: history, historiography, specificity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: School of Philosophy and Art History


The recent Frida Kahlo exhibition at Tate Modern and two major shows of Brazilian art at the Henry Moore Institute and the Barbican demonstrate a growing interest in Latin American art in the UK. University art history departments have been less adventurous but this too is changing and several institutions now include aspects of Latin American art in their courses. The Department of Art History & Theory at the University of Essex is unique in the UK for its expertise in this field. Since 2002, under the auspices of the unique University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art (UECLAA), it has organised a series of symposia to bring together specialist academics and curators to share ideas, research and information. These meetings have raised awareness of the lack of research into the history of the UK's interest in Latin American art. As an example, Tate Modern is opening a major retrospective of the work of the radical Brazilian Hélio Oiticica in 2007, although no focused research has been done on the artist's time in London in the 1960s.

1. To generate a new approach to the Anglophone history of modern and contemporary Latin American art by researching specific UK-based initiatives in the field
2. To examine the particular role of the UK in generating a body of English-language knowledge of Latin American Art
3. To distinguish between the way the history of Latin American art has been written in the UK and in the US
4. To establish a historical and theoretical context that will support the continued expansion of interest in contemporary art from Latin America

Because this is speculative research, the results may differ considerably from these aims. The realisable objectives, however, are
1. To identify and document a number of specific case studies of activities involving Latin American art in the UK, including exhibitions, publications and the presence of artists working in the UK, focusing on the 1960s and the prsent
2. To document ways in which UK-based art practice, exhibitions and criticism relate to teaching and research in the field of Latin American art in the UK
3. To test, in outline, the hypothesis that in the UK this field has a specific history, and one that differs from the way the history of Latin American art has evolved in the USA
4. To build better links between interested parties in the UK through seminars and a symposium

Potential applications and benefits
For the first time this research will identify 'Latin American art in the UK' as a distinct field of enquiry. By documenting a number of historical and contemporary cases of influential exhibitions and of Latin American artists working in the UK we will be developing a field of information and knowledge that will be of value to several different constituencies. We hope that
1. curators interested in showing Latin American art or working with Latin American artists will find it useful for audience development, publications and educational and outreach work
2. Latin American artists working in the UK will, if they wish, be able to situate themselves within a specific documented history and historiographical tradition
3. because of the UK-specificity of the research, university teachers will find it offers ways of incorporating Latin American components into more general courses on modern and contemporary art, while the project's findings should help them to identify suitable Anglophone literature for their reading lists.
4. it will open up avenues for future research and publications and for research-based curatorial practice.
In particular, it will ensure the continued successful collaboration between UECLAA and firstsite in Colchester, and more generally, it will help to consolidate existing informal networks across the UK, providing a solid framework that will ensure the continued development and sustainability of this exciting and growing field.


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