Sunday, April 24, 2011

BOMB Magazine :: Conceptualism in Latin American Art

Conceptualism in Latin American Art
By Luis Camnitzer

Luis Camnitzer
by Alejandro Cesarco

A bio of Luis Camnitzer, repeated numerous times in press releases for various projects, states, “Luis Camnitzer was born in Germany in 1937, grew up in Montevideo, Uruguay, and has lived and worked in New York since 1964. He has made his mark internationally not only as an artist but as a critic, educator and art theorist as well. Formally allied with the American Conceptualists of the 1960s and ’70s, over the past 50 years Camnitzer has developed an essentially autonomous oeuvre, unmistakably distinguished from that of his colleagues in the US.” In spite of sharing his North American counterparts’ interest in language, Camnitzer is not necessarily allied with them formally, as his use of printmaking and other manual processes indicates. He is, however, very much in dialogue with them, being both a product and an instigator of some of the main aesthetic and political changes of the time.

In the interview included in his catalog for the exhibition Luis Camnitzer, on view at El Museo del Barrio through May 29, 2011, Hans-Michael Herzog, its co-curator, begins with the following disclaimer: “I find it difficult to interview Luis Camnitzer because he’s a person who seems to have written everything, to know everything, to have said everything….” This is slightly excessive adulation and also partly true. Camnitzer has, in fact, been responsible for creating the main discursive context surrounding his own work. His growing body of writing ranges from cynical manifestos (where his own working strategies are taken to their logical absurdity); personal accounts on the history of Latin American conceptual art; texts loosely addressing postcolonialism and multiculturalism (in the ’80s and ’90s); and, most recently, essays and lectures on art education.

In 1986, for the catalogue of a retrospective organized by the Museo Nacional de Artes Pl├ísticas in Montevideo, Camnitzer charted his own chronology and ended it with the following statement: “If explanations exhausted my work, it would die and stop being art. [...] The artwork would be no more than a redundant illustration of a theory. It is possible that much of my work is no more than that. But if there is any part of it that survives beyond the reading of this text, it does so because of its inexplicability. Only this inexplicability is capable of an expansion of knowledge. Therefore, we find ourselves again in the realms of magic, of a surprised credulity, of passing mysteries as a validating condition for art. The creative process is lighted by theory, but true art stalks from shadows incompletely evanesced.”

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