Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today, the second exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, reconsiders the state of contemporary art in Latin America, investigating the creative responses of artists to complex, shared realities that have been influenced by colonial and modern histories, repressive governments, economic crises, and social inequality, as well as by concurrent periods of regional economic wealth, development, and progress. The exhibition presents contemporary artistic responses to the past and present that are inscribed within this highly nuanced situation, exploring the assertions of alternative futures.
In this video, Alexander Apóstol investigates the relationship between architecture, art, and urban planning in relation to Venezuelan history through reference to the work of Carlos Cruz-Diez, a pioneer of Kinetic and Op art. Apóstol’s project reflects the vibrancy and sophistication of Cruz-Diez’s architectural projects, which themselves mirror the progressive political climate that arose in Venezuela during an economic boom birthed by 1973’s U.S. energy crisis. Yet as the work—and recent events in Venezuela—also suggest, democracy in this context was not quite as firmly established as it appeared.
In her 2011 work Venn Diagrams (under the Spotlight), a forerunner to A ∩ B ∩ C, Amalia Pica uses overlapping circles of colored light to refer to her childhood in 1970s Argentina. During this period, the country’s military junta forbade the concept of intersection from being taught in elementary classes, concerned that even its mathematical representation might ultimately prompt citizens to conspire against it. In A ∩ B ∩ C, Pica invites performers to manipulate translucent colored shapes, producing new configurations that, emancipated from the historical anecdote, use abstraction and intersection as an invitation to reimagine forms of collaboration and community.
In this work, part of a larger series of “transitional structures,” Gabriel Sierra has built an armature in the passageway that connects two rooms. With its unfinished wood composition and simple geometric design, Sierra’s installation seems to expose the structural skeleton that exists beneath the museum’s walls, heightening the visitors’ awareness of their movement between the various spaces of building and exhibition.
One of a series of classified ads published in Brazilian and other newspapers that advocate absurd or impossible situations, Air Art Proposal of Composition of Colored Clouds in the Sky of New York articulates Paulo Bruscky’s plan to tint the metropolitan sky. A pioneer of mail art working with ephemeral materials, performance, and text, Bruscky produced the work during his first trip to New York, which was supported by a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship. Air Art Proposal follows a related ad, published in the newspaper Diario de Pernambuco, which appeals for “a chemist, meteorologist, or anyone capable of coloring a cloud.”
This work is made up of several slide projectors—objects redolent of the lecture hall—ranged around the gallery space, each one casting a rectangle of light onto the wall in front of it. Here, Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer points to the fact that art history is written by those in power, and tends to exclude certain accounts (including Latin America’s) from the canon around which the discipline organizes itself. The work’s empty projectors present viewers with a space within which to imagine and, potentially, write these “other” narratives.
The first of a series of indices for imaginary books, this alphabetical list invites the reader to mentally write a text in reverse, forging links between already-cited references to European, Latin American, and North American architecture, art, film, literature, music, and philosophy. Index also functions as a portrait of its maker as a young artist by detailing his aspirations, influences, and interests.
Artforhum appeared first in the form of a multicolored neon sign that was shown in the artist’s 1971 solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Since then, he has returned to it as a way to proclaim his discontent with the status of art as a product made by and for an elite. The work reads as a pun on Artforum, the name of the iconic art-industry journal. The resultant word, a contraction and corruption of the provocative question “Art for whom?,” suggests not only that the magazine has routinely ignored art produced outside the European-North American axis, but also invites the viewer to question his or her own cultural position.
This video, which documents a performance by the artist, is a meditation on human relations and perception. Regina José Galindo is shown completely nude and standing on a pedestal as if she were a sculpture. Though seemingly inviting of voyeurism, the tone of the work shifts dramatically as the gallery fills with an audience of blind people, who gradually begin to move their hands over the artist’s body with a mix of curiosity and mockery. Here, touch replaces sight as the primary way of knowing the world, and the work offers a metaphor for the revelatory capacity of art and the possibility of contact between subject and object, self and other.
In 2012, José Efraín Ríos Montt, the former President of Guatemala, was prosecuted on charges of genocide, terrorism, and torture; Regina José Galindo’s video is a haunting reinterpretation of the atrocities recounted during his trial. Tierra begins with the artist standing naked in a verdant field, the tranquility of which is shattered by an earth-moving machine. Here, Galindo alludes to the incident in which innocent citizens were murdered and cold-heartedly buried in a bulldozer-dug mass grave. The stark contrast between the machine’s huge, armored bulk and the artist’s vulnerable body captures the injustice of Montt’s regime, while the abyss that grows around her serves as a poignant symbol of the despair and alienation born of political violence in general, and Montt’s post-conviction acquittal in particular.
Three television monitors display an endless scroll of data reminiscent of the arrival and departure screens at airports and train stations. Each monitor presents a countdown to the next sunrise in ninety different cities, evenly spaced apart along every fourth meridian. When a sunrise occurs, the city in question disappears from the screen. While the work offers an expression of the passage of time, it also visualizes an expansion of our conception of geography (and, in the context of this exhibition, Latin America) beyond the politically determined borders of region and nation-state.
In this video, Mario García Torres contemplates the interconnections of art, culture, and place through an imaginary letter written to Gerardo Murillo (1875–1964), a Mexican landscape painter and writer who worked under the pseudonym “Dr. Atl.” The camera roves over Barranca de Oblatos, a canyon outside Guadalajara that was a recurring subject of Murillo’s landscape paintings (and once the suggested site of a proposed museum on which the Guggenheim consulted). García Torres’s correspondence raises critical questions about the relationship between the global and the local, and about ways in which art can transform a site’s cultural and material specificity.
This video documents Alfredo Jaar’s 1987 animation for an electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square, which was originally commissioned by the Public Art Fund as a part of the Messages to the Public program. The 42-second sequence appeared alongside scheduled advertisements over the course of two weeks. Images of the flag and map of the United States are followed by declarations that contest the meaning of each. In this work, Jaar challenges the ethnocentrism of the United States, which habitually claims the identity of the entire American continent as its own.
In February 1979, Marta Minujín wrote to the McDonald’s Corporation to request sponsorship for a project: “I write to you because I have an idea to be made with hamburgers.” Minujín planned to build an iron replica of the Statue of Liberty and install it lying down in New York’s Battery Park, a dormant icon awaiting revival. Visitors would be able to enter the sculpture and traverse walkways inside it.
For Homeless Lamp, the Juice Sucker, Iván Navarro built a grocery cart out of fluorescent tubes and with it wandered the gallery-lined streets of Manhattan’s Chelsea district. The luminous sculpture evokes the work of Dan Flavin while also referencing an object commonly repurposed by homeless people for storage and transportation. Scored to the Mexican revolutionary song “Juan Sin Tierra” (John the Landless), the documentary video follows Navarro and a friend as they search for public electricity with which to illuminate the sculpture. Presenting the artist as a transient figure, Navarro offers a critique of the inequity of the art world and the difficulties faced by migrants in establishing connections with the place to which they have relocated.
The GCC of this sculpture's subtitle is a reference to "Gold Coast Customs," a 1929 verse by British poet Edith Sitwell that traces the "savage" underpinnings of so-called civilized society, a complex cultural relationship echoed in the work itself. In a reference to modern and contemporary architecture, Armando Andrade Tudela has sandblasted a geometric grid into the surface of a copper-colored mirror, which is then veiled by a wrinkled sheet of plastic similar to those used in architectural construction. The blurred reflections that result allude to the distorted and illusory aspects of modernity and "progress."
Adriano Costa reinterprets the approach and aesthetic of Neo-Concretism—specifically as manifest in the work of Brazilian artists such as Hélio Oiticica—in this array of gold-painted household towels. Blending random selection with geometrical composition, the artist disregards the objects’ original function to create a flexible “pre-sculpture.” The work’s color and title (Ouro Velho translates into English as “old gold”) evoke the monetary incentive for colonization, as well as the new materialism that has accompanied recent rapid economic growth in Brazil.
The action of González-Foerster’s Plages takes place in Rio de Janeiro on New Year’s Eve, presenting the viewer with a bird’s-eye view of Copacabana’s beach crowded with white-clad revelers gathering for a seasonal firework display. Structured around a sequence of memories that intermingle personal desire with utopian ambitions for the city, it references landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx’s pavement designs and architect Sérgio Bernardes’s plan to build helix-shaped apartment blocks. For González-Foerster, the beach—with its free social movement and fluid boundary between land and sea—is a symbol of possibility. Copacabana could be a utopia, but as it starts to rain and the film nears its end, a local fisherman makes a stark announcement: “Copacabana does not exist.”
In this video, Guimarães stages a cocktail party in Casa das Canoas, the iconic home that architect Oscar Niemeyer designed for himself in Rio de Janeiro between 1951 and 1953. The apparent frivolity of the party is tempered by several more serious vignettes in which guests discuss Brazil’s past in terms of the relationship between modernity and social housing, political dictatorship and artistic exile. Yet these concerns strike a contradictory note in the party’s bourgeois context, a disparity that is underscored by the discreet presence of servants and waiters—despite the artistic and political idealism represented by Niemeyer’s modernist design, the reality of social stratification remains a part of Brazilian culture.
ContraTiempos documents the findings of Runo Lagomarsino’s wanderings under the Marquise, a concrete canopy that connects the different buildings in Oscar Niemeyer and Roberto Burle Marx’s 1954 Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo. Finding shapes that resembled the silhouette of South America in the cracks of the Marquise’s concrete pathways, Lagomarsino photographed the chance continental formations, displaying the images in a slideshow. For Lagomarsino, the fissures in the park’s modernist design serve as a metaphor for flaws in the modernist project as a whole, and for a colonialist “subconscious” that threatens to reemerge from beneath its damaged surface.
An ad hoc quasi-modernist sculpture, Tortillas Construction Moduleis made from corn, the archetypal Mesoamerican staple. In a move that reflects his fascination with the ways in which things are constructed, Damián Ortega has stipulated that the work’s components may be rearranged from exhibition to exhibition. The result is an ever-evolving expression of the grid that also functions as an act of dissent, inviting the viewer to think about the possibility of making things using local knowledge and materials, and to consider larger geopolitical issues by looking beyond the formal language of abstraction.
In this work, Carla Zaccagnini juxtaposes two magazine covers that connect a half-century of Brazilian development. In both the 1956 Time and 2009 Economist, the country is represented as being on the rise. In the former, this is visualized through a heroic figure emerging from the Amazons and the urban landscapes of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, while in the Economist, it is a skyrocketing Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer, the iconic statue that overlooks Rio from the peak of Corcovado) that represents the boom. Both covers refer to periods of economic prosperity, Time’s to the 1956–61 presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek, who ran for office under the slogan “fifty years of progress in five” and oversaw the construction of the new capital of Brasilia; the Economist’s to growth during the 2003–11 presidency of Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva. Zaccagnini invites the viewer to trace the connections between these two distinct yet parallel periods by learning about the political and economic crises that occurred during the time they bracket.
For Carlos Amorales, art represents the potential for harmony, chaos, and radical transformation. This installation is a cascade of curved steel rods with cymbals hanging from their ends. Its linearity and rhythm, gentle movement and delicate balance evoke the mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder (the work was developed during a residency at the Atelier Calder in Saché, France). By inviting exhibition visitors to play the forms, the artist expands abstraction into a multisensory, interactive experience.
In a performance at the 2009 Havana Biennial, Tania Bruguera provided a temporary platform for the free speech normally denied in Cuba. Members of the exhibition’s audience were invited to take the stage and speak uncensored for one minute, after which time they were escorted away by two actors in military uniforms. A white dove was placed on each speaker’s shoulder in allusion to the one that landed on Fidel Castro during his first speech in Havana after the triumph of the 1959 revolution. Part of a series of works that seek to activate viewers’ participation by recontextualizing powerful images from significant events, Tatlin’s Whisper #6 (Havana Version) confronts the widespread apathy that has followed in the wake of several failed social revolutions.
The photographs reproduced on the postcards in this work depict locations throughout Brazil—including motels, bars, churches, and stores—that are named after foreign continents, countries, regions, and cities; these include the seemingly incongruous Alaska, Baghdad, China, Jerusalem, Las Vegas, and Tokyo. While postcards typically represent the touristic desire to capture an “authentic” local experience, Rivane Neuenschwander’s images document the artist’s travels throughout Brazil while reflecting the desire of local communities to identify with an increasingly globalized culture.
The scenario of Sweat Glands, Sweat Lands is centered on the image of a skewered pig attached to the back wheel of a car, the animal’s roasting carcass rotating ever more rapidly as the driver continues to accelerate. Along with the music, by Puerto Rican band Calle 13, the video’s imagery of metal and flesh seems to offer a glimpse into a dystopian world.
In Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker’s video, the style of which is reminiscent of a television advertisement, the U.S. national anthem is played on Panamanian beer bottles and cans. The brand names of the four beers featured—Atlas, Panama, Soberana (“Sovereign”), and Balboa (from Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish conquistador)—conjure images of Panama’s geography, history, and nationhood. While the video has a humorous aspect—the anthem ends with a toppling beer pyramid and a sonorous belch—the symbolic clash it stages between the United States and Panama offers a sharp critique of the former’s imperialist interventions into the latter through the construction and administration of the Panama Canal, which it controlled from 1914 until 1999.
Centered on the image of a banana plant over which a modified version of the Fresh Del Monte Produce logo is superimposed, Del Montte—Bananeras narrates a history of tension between major transnational banana companies and various Latin American countries, Guatemala in particular. Representing the process by which natural resources are exploited by corporate interests, it also references cynical complicity on the part local elites. The doubled letter in the modified brand name of the title refers to José Efraín Ríos Montt, the military president of Guatemala in 1982 and 1983, who was responsible for the genocidal slaughter of members of the indigenous Ixil ethnic group. Minerva Cuevas has also hijacked the authority of the logo by replacing the self-congratulatory language of advertising with a potent message of political opposition on behalf of a long-subjugated population and landscape.
The coca plant, from which the narcotic cocaine is derived, has been an enduring object of inquiry for Wilson Díaz, whose work investigates the plant’s cultural, economic, and political meanings throughout the history of Latin America. In this work, the artist presents the scientific and native names for the plant using a pigment extracted from its seeds. The directness of his method is, however, at odds with the plant’s contested roles as consumer product, illegal substance, recreational drug, and traditional medicine. Díaz’s use of coca blurs the boundary between artistic practice, illicit activity, and political activism.
This work stems from a larger project that explores the many and varied meanings embodied by the coca plant. The initiative was begun by Díaz in collaboration with Amy Franceschini, a North American artist and educator concerned with the impact of human food production on the natural landscape. While recalling language-based works in neon by artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Wilson Díaz’s work here moves beyond the formal and theoretical concerns of Conceptual art to address everyday sociopolitical realities. In its call to “liberate” the coca plant, Díaz’s sculpture represents the search for an alternative to the violent nexus of narcotraffic and insurgency that has shaped life in contemporary Colombia.
Claudia Joskowicz uses video to imaginatively recreate events from Bolivia’s “mytho-historic” past, here focusing on the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Joskowicz uses a slow zoom to dramatically set the scene, drawing the viewer’s eye into the dilapidated laundry where Che’s corpse was displayed for the press after his 1967 assassination by the Bolivian army. Actors stand in frozen poses around the body, their reverential stillness evoking Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna’s painting The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c. 1480). The crucial moment occurs when a photographer mounts the funeral bier to get a better shot, the resultant iconic image sealing Che’s status as a martyr.
In The Dictator, David Lamelas adopts the fictional persona of Colonel Riccardo Garcia Perez, an overthrown tyrant from the fictional country of St. Ana. Lamelas’s colonel is a composite caricature of various Latin American dictators including Juan Perón in Argentina, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, and Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The video is staged as a television news interview in which the deposed dictator is questioned about his abuse of subversives, the mysterious deaths of his three wives, and his plans to return from exile. Yet, despite the reporter’s ostensibly hard-hitting questions, the interview ultimately serves to affirm its subject’s cult of personality. Lamelas, who had recently moved to Los Angeles when he made this work, offers an incisive yet humorous critique of the ways in which the mass media help fabricate that which we accept as reality.
Brief History is part of a series produced by Carlos Motta between 2005 and 2009 that presents two chronologies of events in Latin America: one of U.S. interventions in the region since 1946, and one of the area’s leftist guerrilla movements. One side of the print outlines the interventions’ interconnected narratives in text; the other depicts two bloody handprints and the symbol of the Mano Blanco death squads from 1980s El Salvador. The whole work thus contrasts the orderly, objective quality of written “facts” with the visceral immediacy of images associated with violence.
Wilfredo Prieto made Walk the first time he left his native Cuba. During a residency on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, the artist put a plant in a wheelbarrow filled with soil and took it on a five-kilometer walking tour. While there is a comic absurdity to this gesture, Prieto’s work connects to a long tradition of walking in twentieth-century art, its precursors including the Situationists’ dérive (drift), the Surrealists’ unconscious explorations of Paris, Robert Smithson’s forays into the ruins of Passaic, New Jersey, and Francis Alÿs’s treks around Mexico City.
Two electric fans stand before the viewer like mute oracles, their opposite, oscillating movements ceaselessly nodding “yes” and shaking “no.” In Yes/No, Wilfredo Prieto creates the possibility of bridging the gap between self and other, left and right, affirmation and negation, through the simple repurposing of mechanical movement. The fact that the fans move in different directions also serves as a metaphor for the continuously polarized confrontation between capitalist and socialist ideologies within Latin America.
One Flew over the Void (Bala perdida) documents a parade organized by Javier Téllez in Las Playas, on the border of Tijuana and San Diego. The event featured ordinary citizens, visitors to InSITE (the periodic exhibition for which the work was produced), and patients from a local psychiatric hospital (the last disguised behind animal masks and wielding signs protesting various injustices). The performance ends with a human cannonball being shot over the border into the United States, a defiant act that transgresses social and political boundaries literally and figuratively, underscoring the hardships faced by the millions of Mexican and Central American workers who cross the border illegally every year in search of a better life.
During a residency in Scotland, Mariana Castillo Deball immersed herself in the personal archive of late Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005), and was captivated in particular by documentation of the Pop art pioneer’s 1985 exhibition Lost Magic Kingdoms and Six Paper Moons from Nahuatl. In this display, Paolozzi presented “leftover” artifacts from the British Museum’s ethnographic collection, among them papier-mâché molds made by nineteenth-century archaeologist Alfred Maudslay at locations including Palenque, the site of a Mayan city-state in southern Mexico. Struck by these “ghost objects,” the artist has made what might be thought of as artificial fossils that embody both Maudslay’s casts and their influence on Paolozzi’s sculpture.
In this work, plaster casts inspired by monolithic Mayan stone sculptures called stelae are displayed on storage racks, and point to the artist’s interest in what she refers to as “uncomfortable objects.” Mariana Castillo Deball’s casts were inspired by papier-mâché molds made by nineteenth-century archaeologist Alfred Maudslay at the Mayan site of Palenque in southern Mexico. Many of the historic original sculptures were looted or have vanished, making Maudslay’s copies (which are now in the collection of the British Museum in London) the only evidence of their existence. Castillo Deball’s casts are thus twice removed from the original artifacts, raising questions about the value of the copy and the transmission of historical truth.
Much of Juan Downey’s pioneering video work critiques the purported objectivity of ethnographic observation and documentation. To produce The Circle of Fires, the artist lived with his wife and stepdaughter among the Yanomami indigenous group in the Venezuelan Amazon for seven months; inviting the Yanomami to both make and watch videos of themselves, Downey inverted the conventional roles of observer and observed. Likely seeing themselves in this medium for the first time, the subjects are presented with a new vision of themselves through the screen’s alternate reality. The installation’s multi-monitor design refers to the circular layout of a Yanomami settlement, encouraging viewers to see themselves not as outsiders, but rather as existing within the community it represents.
An Uncomfortable Eagerness (Un afán incómodo) presents a collection of images culled from the collections of the Library of the Center for Theological Studies of the Amazon and the Library of the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon. The artists traveled to Iquitos, Peru—a locus of vigorous debates around Amazonian identity—to conduct their research. Guided by intuition, they unearthed texts, images, and sounds from myriad documents, assembling a work that maps connections and constructs narratives reflecting the desire to understand the area in its complexity while examining the difficulty of conserving delicate materials in tropical climes.
Making reference to the sketching expeditions undertaken by anthropologists to record “exotic” cultures, Carbon Copy Jungle I consists of an encyclopedic grid of drawings derived from Raimond Chaves and Gilda Mantilla’s research at the Library of the Center for Theological Studies of the Amazon and the Library of the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon in Iquitos, Peru. Through the act of making carbon copies of different materials found there, the artists pose various questions about the uses and meanings of drawing, probing its historical function as a method of indexing resources targeted for later exploitation, and examining the practical and political difficulties of preserving historical documents in the tropics.
The Black Cave (La Cueva Negra) explores the Paso del Indio, an indigenous burial ground in Puerto Rico that was discovered during the construction of a highway, and eventually paved over. Drawing on interviews with local residents and with archaeologists involved in the excavation, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s video offers a reflection on the origins and meanings of the site, which becomes in the process an allegory for the island’s convoluted history. The camera tracks two teenage boys wandering through the area, their freedom of movement and sense of curiosity symbolizing the romantic but ultimately misguided desire to find and preserve paradise.
The piñanona (scientific name Monstera deliciosa) is a common plant used for decoration in homes and hotels throughout Mexico. In this canvas, Gabriel Orozco abstracts a composition from the image of a piñanona leaf’s shadow. While Orozco’s earlier paintings tend to focus on geometry and chance variation, here he observes a quotidian natural form, thus blurring the boundaries between the rational and the organic.
Alluding to Charles and Ray Eames’s Hang-It-All coatrack (1953), an iconic work of design distinguished by an arrangement of colorful spheres that echoes models of molecular structures, Gabriel Sierra has stuck various pieces of fruit onto the prongs of a wall-mounted coatrack, thus replacing perfect geometric form with irregular organic matter. The result is a functionless object that references an inventive do-it-yourself culture in which salvaging and repurposing are commonplace.
Formed from bronze casts of bananas, pomegranates, and other fruits, and inhabiting an ambiguous space between representation and abstraction, Painted Lady has an uncanny anthropomorphic quality that is also found in works by Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse, as well as in those of Brazilian artists Tarsila do Amaral and Maria Martins. Erika Verzutti has characterized her practice as mirroring the process of natural growth; in Painted Lady, this takes the form of a totem pole. Echoing Brancusi’s Endless Column sculptures of the early twentieth century, the artist forges a link between established modernist methodologies and less outwardly rational ways of working.
While Erika Verzutti aims to distill the essential physical qualities of natural objects, her sculptures also have a symbolic aura. Rather than attempting to capture an objective truth about her subjects, the artist presents the results of an intuitive process of material transformation. In Venus on Fire, organic forms derived from pumpkin, Annona muricata (commonly known as cherimoya, graviola, guanábana, or soursop), and Annona squamosa (fruta do condeor sugar-apple) are endowed with allusions to archeology (specially to the Paleolithic Venus of Willendorf) and ethnography, and are given a fertile erotic charge.
The second exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, Under The Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today was presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from June 13–October 1, 2014. The exhibition then traveled to Museo Jumex in Mexico City (November 19, 2015–February 7, 2016) and to the South London Gallery (June 10–September 4, 2016).
The exhibition is curated by Pablo León de la Barra, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Latin America.
All object descriptions were written by Pablo León de la Barra and are copyright the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
To learn more visit www.guggenheim.org/map