Meeting Margins: Transnational Art in Latin America & Europe 1950-78

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


There is in art history a general consensus that after the fall of Paris at the beginning of WW2 the nerve-centre of the avant-garde moved to New York. The reality is more complex, as recent scholarship is beginning to reveal. By investigating transnational exchanges and encounters this project will explore ways in which the movement of individuals, ideas and works of art generated fruitful exchanges and established nuclei of intense and unquestionably avant-garde artistic production across Europe and Latin America between 1950 and 1978.

The decision made by many artists from Latin America to continue to favour Paris over New York was in part based upon a long-standing tradition of transatlantic intellectual exchange. Via internationalist movements, such as schools of geometric abstraction, this tradition remained active on Latin American and European soil both during and after WW2. Later, repressive regimes such as those in Brazil in the 1960s and Argentina in the 1970s forced artists into exile, some to other countries within Latin America and some to Europe, where the politicized milieus of 1960s London and Paris proved both attractive and sympathetic. Repressive governments also provoked collaboration between artists remaining in Latin America, with relatively stable institutions becoming urgent foci for exhibitions and meetings, allowing new allegiances to be formed, and for debates to be conducted concerning the particularity of a Latin American avant-garde and its restricted possibilities for action.

Transnational exchanges were also supported by the movement of artworks during this period. Large scale international exhibitions played an important role in bringing artists and writers into close contact and collaboration, but this role was not unchanging; the most prominent amongst these, the Bienal Internacional in São Paulo (founded 1951) was at first considered an exemplary modernist achievement but was to become an international focus for boycott, protest and intervention under Brazil's miitary rule. In addition to exhibitions, the circulation of ideas by post, from post-war journals to conceptual art works, supported transatlantic and intra-Latin American networks and became vital to sustaining these connections under constrained circumstances.

The proposal is for a collaborative research project shared between the Department of Art History & Theory, University of Essex and TrAIN, University of the Arts London, both of which have considerable expertise in modern art from Latin America and elsewhere. The involvement of the University of Texas, Austin provides a further dimension to the debate and will allow us to consider in greater depth the diverse role of the US in supporting, provoking, and connecting to transnational networks within Latin America and Europe.

Work in progress seminars will place case study research within broader thematic contexts, we will consider how the canonical map of post-war art might be redrawn, and what the characteristics and limitations of a transnational artistic practice and its history might be. These, fruitful trans-regional and transnational exchanges of our own, will also allow us to review research by other potential contributors and make progress towards a comprehensive and coherent publication.

A series of key case studies from across Europe and Latin America has already been identified. These include individual artists and critics, collaborative groups, exhibitions, collections, colloquia and magazines from both sides of the Atlantic. Interviews and research in libraries, archives and museums will build a clearer picture of these transnational exchanges. This in turn will enable us to reassess the bigger picture of modern art during this period, and the nature and role of transnational art in different locations. The findings will be presented at an international conference and published as an edited collection of essays at the end of the project.


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