Artists such as the late Alejandro Xul Solar, whose surrealist and mystic paintings found their inspiration in subjects as varied as alchemy, mythology and metaphysics, to name but a few, explored and created worlds whose resonance is timeless. The Museo Sul Solar in Buenos Aires houses his extensive collection of paintings and objects. Xul Solar was regarded as one of the most remarkable representatives of the Latin America avant-garde and was a close friend of the Argentine writer Jorge Louis Borges, many of whose books he illustrated.
Another figure of the Latin American avant-garde and one the most influential artists in Argentina at the time was Emilio Pettoruti, who caused a stir in 1924 with his cubist exhibition. Pettoruti however never claimed to belong to any particular movement and his work had hints of constructivist, futuristic, abstract as well as cubist influences. Other Argentine visual artists of the early and mid 20th century include the muralist, painter and engraver Benito Quinquela Martín, renowned for his romantic portrayals of Porteño themes, or themes from Buenos Aires; the wonderful sculptor, whose monumental hydrospacial, luminous and aquatic sculptures are quite staggering, and surprisingly modern and futuristic for their time. The painters Lidy Prati, Albertdo Heredia, and Fabian Marcaccio; the optic and kinetic artist Luis Tomasello, well known for his “chromoplastic atmospheres”, and the multi-talented Jorge De La Vega, who was not only a painter and visual artist but also a writer and a musician.
The second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st saw an even larger number of Argentine visual artists flourish. Many of these artists have attained worldwide recognition and reached incredible standards of excellence and originality. The painter Guillermo Kuitca, who began painting aged 7 and had his first exhibition aged13, is today one of the most internationally sold Argentine artists. Several of his works, including installations, are permanent exhibits in principal galleries worldwide, such as the Tate Gallery and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The conceptual work of Alejandra Padilla poses questions about the sign’s signifier and the notion of originality The conceptual work of Alejandra Padilla poses questions about the sign’s signifier and the notion of originality. Playing with the notion of ambiguity, she uses mainly collage to create her kaleidoscopic designs to great effect. Adrián Villar Rojas is a young Argentine sculptor whose work straddles more than one dimension. His representations of fantastical creatures in chaotic environments and gigantic sculptures of sea-like creatures entitled Mi Familia Muerta (My Dead Family) seem to focus on existential as well as environmental issues. His mixed media installations are just as intriguing as his sculptures and his work has been exhibited in places as diverse as Ushaia, in Tierra del Fuego, Berlin and San Francisco. Villar Rojas uses a huge array of materials to create his very distinct work, including cement, sand, soap, seashells, stickers and demolition debris. Just as intriguing is the work of Carolina Gori, a photographer whose images always seem to have a poetic quality to them, even when their subject is a bit gory, such as her beautifully lit and almost romantic looking close ups of surgical wounds.
The horrendous military dictatorship of the 70s and early 80s that painted what is undoubtedly the blackest episode in Argentina’s history, has been and still is the subject behind many Argentine artists’ work. As though trying to exorcise the pain caused by the wound that this piece of history inflicted upon their nation, artists like Fernando Traverso have addressed the traumatic events in several bodies of work. Traverso, who was part of the resistance against the dictatorship before he was forced into exile, used abandoned bicycles to symbolize the thousands of people who were “disappeared” by the ruthless military regime, secretly spray painting 350 silhouettes of leaning bicycles all over his native town of Rosario (one for each of the “disappeared” in that town alone) as a silent but very visible reminder of the tragedy; a metaphor for the absence of his comrades.
Because the discovery of his or her abandoned bicycle was often the first evidence of someone’s disappearance, the relevance of the symbol used was all the more poignant.
The photographer Marcelo Brodsky’s projects have also been clearly inspired and driven by the inner turmoil caused by Argentina’s callous military regime and his years of exile in Spain, while the sculptures and installations of Nicolás Guanini have also tackled Argentina’s vicious military regime as well as other globally and socially sensitive issues. In 1998, 13 prominent Argentine artists took part in the project Identidad (Identity), initiated in support of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo), whose children and Traverso used abandoned bicycles to symbolize the thousands of people who were disappeared grandchildren were “disappeared” during the dictatorship and who have since been fighting to identify their grandchildren among the children who were born in captivity and adopted by members of the military junta. The 13 artists, who come from various fields of the visual arts and whose personal work deals with a variety of subjects were Carlos Alonso, Nora Aslán, Mireya Bagliatto, Remo Bianchedi, Diana Dowek, Leon Ferrari, Rosana Fuertes, Carlos Gorrianera, Adolfo Nigro, Luis Felipe Noé, Daniel Ontiveros, Juan Carlos Romero and Marcia Schvartz.
The list of exceptional Argentine artists is long, and in all fairness, each deserves an article to him or herself alone. Particularly so the mouth-dropping artwork of Tomás Saraceno, which is a rare amalgam of poetry and science, harbouring an optimistic desire for a better world, and attempting to find creative solutions to environmental and social concerns and questions. His airy and colossal scientific and architectural sculptures and installations have already gained worldwide fame and toured several areas of the globe. They have been showcased many times in the UK, the US, Japan and Germany among other places, and are sure to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. His is not the only, nor I believe it is fair to say, last name to come out of the exceptionally inspiring land that is Argentina, a young country which has known several upheavals in its brief history. Perhaps precisely for that reason, it has always been a source of great art and culture. Channeling their love, anger, frustrations and desires into works of art is possibly the Argentines’ biggest talent.