It has been slow progress, but modern and contemporary Latin American art has started to make an impact in London. There have been solo shows by well-known artists such as the Mexican Gabriel Orozco at the Serpentine Gallery in 2004, Tate Modern in 2011 and also in the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh in 2013. In late 2012, the Tate Gallery appointed Cuauhtémoc Medina as its first associate curator of Latin American Art to advise on acquisitions, exhibitions and displays and it established a Latin American Acquisitions Committee to support the purchasing of works of art in this area.
In the year of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, London has several exhibitions – earlier this year, the art fair Pinta continued to bring galleries and artists from across Latin America to London, PANGEA: New Art from Africa and Latin America opened at the Saatchi Gallery in April and now there are a further two shows: Radical Geometry at the Royal Academy and Degrees of Separation at Maddox Arts, a short walk away.
The Royal Academy exhibition focuses on the artistic innovation created by artists across five cities where they used shape, colour and kinetics to create a new and bold geometrical language to express their belief about art and its power to change the world around them, which continues today in the work of artists such as Gabriel Orozco.
The exhibition shows work from from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, which is based in Venezuela and New York, by some of the greatest of these innovative artists, including Torres-García in Uruguay, Lygia Clark in Brazil, Maldonado in Argentina and Gego in Venezuela. They were Inspired by European artists such as Mondrian and Kandinsky, and developed their own style of bold geometry, space, movement and colour, whereas artists like Wilfredo Lam in Cuba retained some of the complexity of Kandinsky with an Afro-Cuban twist.
“This is art that refuses to be contained by its own perimeter, art that ruptures the boundary between the object and the space around it and introduces dynamic forms to give the illusion of motion and volatility. You will see work that changes as you move around it, and “drawings without paper” that use negative space and shadow to create unique, fleeting compositions.” says the Royal Academy.
There were parallels with architecture at the time. While Europe struggled with post-war austerity and shortages of construction materials, 1950′s architecture in Latin America was forward-looking, using plastic and geometric forms, perhaps the highest point being the ambitious project of Brazilia, designed by Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer in 1956 in order to move the capital from Rio de Janiero to a more central location.
Jonathan Jones, writing enthusiastically in the Guardian, says “This exhibition proves, once and for all, that South American art after the second world war was fully the equal of abstract expressionism in the United States. All the Americas, not just New York, got a new cultural confidence as Europe collapsed into postwar despair. “
At Maddox Arts, the exhibition Degrees of Separation takes this theme a stage further by looking at some of these same artists working in the 1950’s and 1960’s and how contemporary artists have taken inspiration in their work today. Works of the older generation include Jesús Raphael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez, (whose work at both exhibitions is stunning in its colour and complexity). The younger generation includes the Venezuelan artist Raphael Revenon Pojan whose works depicting empty and collapsed housing units both continue the geometric theme but also says something about the political situation in Venezuela today. Reflecting the modern world, Maglalena Fernandez creates two kinetic and geometric works on ipads, while Rafael Reveron-Pojan also dds a variety of geometric structures to such iconic buildings as Somerset House and the Houses of Parliament.
You have to see both exhibitions together, the Royal Academy first and then take the short walk to Maddox Arts. From there, you could go to the Saatchi if you have not already seen it. The three exhibitions together give a fascinating overview of Latin American art from the 1930’s to today.