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Exhibition of Avant-Garde art in Latin America opens at the Weatherspoon Art Museum
Fernando Botero, Las Frutas (The Fruits), 1964, oil on canvas. Collection of Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami. ©1964 Fernando Botero.

GREENSBORO, NC.- The Weatherspoon Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro announces Pan American Modernism: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America and the United States, an exhibition featuring the work of 20th-century masters, including Wifredo Lam, Man Ray, Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Adolph Gottlieb, Jacob Lawrence, Hans Hofmann and Lee Krasner, among others. More than 70 seminal works by over 60 artists from 13 countries across North, South and Central America and the Caribbean highlight a 60-year period of artistic exchange from 1919 to 1979. The exhibition demonstrates how cross-fertilization, rather than stylistic transmission, constructs a full understanding of Modernism as an international phenomenon across the Americas during this period.

Developed by the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami, the exhibition includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photography, and mixed media works. The works of art illustrate the many forms in which Modernism took shape and reveal the commonalities and disconnects that developed throughout the Americas. Rather than perpetuating a North American-centric hegemony, which tends to diminish and polarize works of art produced by Latin American artists, Pan American Modernism demonstrates that these artists were not working in isolation; rather, the global influences of Central and South American artists contributed to the experimental, innovative nature of Modernism in the U.S.

The exhibition is framed by five dynamic themes: Mexican Muralism and Its Legacy; The Female Muse: Class, Gender, Race; Abstract Expressionism: A Pan American Language; Modernist Photography: Pan American Exchanges; and, Geometric Abstraction and Its Legacy.

In Mexican Muralism and Its Legacy, the parameters of modern, socially minded art are explored, particularly in the development of muralism. José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, known as “the big three” painters within the Mexican mural movement, are presented alongside U.S. artists Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Ben Shahn, each of whom expressed his interest in muralism and admired the possibility for social reform through this form of art. However, not all artists accepted the nationalistic overtones and the social realist style of muralism. The inclusion of work by José Luis Cuevas, Rufino Tamayo, and others working in Mexico reveal the variety of modernist styles that developed in this country during the early and mid-twentieth century.

The Female Muse: Class, Gender, Race examines the international interest in the female form between 1919 and 1979. Objects in this section propose commonalities among disparate works via subject matter, rather than stylistic, nationalistic, or cultural constructs. Notions of race, artistic “primitivism,” and class distinction equally develop as motifs alongside the overarching theme of gender. Photographs by Lola Álvarez Bravo and Man Ray exemplify these themes alongside paintings and drawings by the Cuban Vanguardia, who explored the female body through the visual language of naturalism, surrealism, cubism, or a combination of divergent styles. The Colombian modernists Enrique Grau and Guillermo Wiedemann similarly reveal their interest in (though differing from) European representations of the female muse, offering images that convey a strong sense of aesthetic hybridity.

Rather than perpetuating a modernist narrative focused solely on the United States, Abstract Expressionism: A Pan American Language proposes that this style and its legacy (including Color Field painting) might instead be viewed as a Pan American language that developed through artistic dialogues among Pan American artists, or within independent schools that formed in the 1940s through the 1970s in the Americas. It is known, for example, that European Expressionism and Surrealism played a significant role in the New York School’s initial exploration of abstraction, though it is less well-known that works by the Chilean artist Matta had a profound effect on the early development of these New York-based artists. Artists associated with the New York School (such as Adolph Gottlieb, Lee Krasner, Knox Martin, and Robert Motherwell) are therefore juxtaposed alongside their contemporaries from Latin America, such as Matta, the Cuban Los Once artists, and the Puerto Rican abstractionists Olga Albizu and Luis Hernández Cruz. Individuals who openly, though sometimes inconspicuously, rejected Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting in favor of neo-figuration, such as Fernando Botero, Ernesto Deira, Sacha Tebó, and Enrique Castro-Cid, also are included as stylistic challenges to the concepts of abstraction developed by their peers.

Modernist Photography: Pan American Exchanges examines the manner in which Pan American artists utilized the camera to explore modernity by way of the photographic lens and via different genres, such as studio portraiture, documentary photography, or social realism. Prints by Paul Strand and Edward Weston illustrate the value and importance of travel, as each of these U.S. artists spent time in Mexico, which had a profound effect on their individual oeuvres. Weston, in turn, encouraged Manuel Álvarez Bravo to continue to pursue the medium as a fine art form in the late 1920s. Images by Lola Álvarez Bravo, Man Ray, and Arnold Newman are contrastingly included in other sections within the exhibition, as they reinforce photography’s desire and ability to confront themes explored by other mediums, such as painting, drawing, and printmaking.

Geometric Abstraction and Its Legacy examines geometric abstraction, variously called non-objective painting, Neo-plasticism, or Constructivism, as it was explored by countless modern artists in the United States and Latin America. In South America, the well-known Uruguayan Constructivist artist Joaquín Torres-García was an early proponent of geometric abstraction and was responsible for popularizing this form of abstract art in the 1930s and 1940s. In terms of geometric abstraction’s legacy, Concrete art, Minimalism, hard-edge painting, post-painterly abstraction, and Optical art (or Op art) can collectively be seen to have developed out of, or as a form of, this concept of abstraction at mid-century. A number of artists represented in this module were first shown together in William C. Seitz‘s exhibition The Responsive Eye, held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1965. These individuals include: U.S. artists Richard J. Anuszkiewicz, Gene Davis, Kenneth Noland, Julian Stanczak, and Frank Stella, and the Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. Pan American Modernism examines objects by these artists, but additionally presents works by Pierre Daura, Gordon Matta-Clark, Jesús Rafael Soto, and Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar.

A rare opportunity to have so many principal artists together in one exhibition, Pan American Modernism showcases the significant themes and innovations developed in a dynamic modern age. The keen and rarely seen examples chosen for the exhibition reveal the international exchanges that transpired across the Americas and validate the legacy of these profound artists, demonstrating their unique contributions to the history of modern and avant-garde art.

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