Concrete Invention: Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, is a comprehensive essay on the development of geometric abstraction in South America from the 1930s to the 1970s. During this period, many artists across South America adopted abstraction as a language through which to develop and express multiple, and often contradictory, models for a radical new relationship between art and experience. In the modern cities of Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Caracas abstraction was embraced as a language for a cosmopolitan and progressive future. Although originally developed in Europe and Russia, geometric abstraction became for Latin America a powerful and rich tool through which to express the growing ambition of a continent that emerged as a cultural and political generator of new ideas during the mid twentieth century.
The exhibition is structured around the idea of artistic intention. The artworks are considered to be visual manifestos, declarations of a series of principles about what art can and should be. In common with many modern artists, the creators in Concrete Invention wrote profusely about art and its role in society through polemical magazines, manifestos and articles in which they laid out the implications of a new artistic language that was supposedly universal, yet charged with different meanings in each context and in each period. The exhibition invites the viewer to explore these different intentions through the experience of the works themselves, and also through the digital library made available through the website www.lainvencionconcreta.org and the iPad app available in the exhibition and for free download at home.
The works in the exhibition are grouped according to affinities in the fundamental artistic beliefs of their authors, regardless of chronology or geography, and also includes works by some European and North American artists whose works were especially important in establishing these intentions. This model allows us to appreciate the rich diversity of proposals contained within this period, and to understand that the use of a common language does not condemn the artists to a common goal. We will see artists who conceive of abstraction as a system to create interpersonal relationships through manipulable objects, or those for whom stable mathematical proportions are a metaphor for the underlying mathematical structure of the universe. For others, visual rhythm and repetition creates the possibility of dematerializing the object into optical vibrations and luminous effects, while yet others use symbol and language to create a dialogue with past cultures and spiritual systems. All of these intentions are based in fundamentally different perspectives on the role of art in society, and its potential for poetic or political transformation.
Published to accompany the exhibition Concrete Invention: Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros at the Reina Sofía in Madrid, this volume presents a collection of reflections on Geometric Abstraction from Latin America. Presenting a range of viewpoints, this catalogue brings together texts by academics responding to theoretical issues raised by the project along with contributions by contemporary artists reflecting on works in the exhibition. A questionnaire, with replies from a selection of respondents, concludes this richly illustrated volume. The varying reactions of the respondents suggest that the legacy of Geometric Abstraction from Latin America has yet to be determined, and this collection of artworks continues to encourage a stimulating discourse.