New Blanton Exhibit Celebrates Art For Pleasure’s Sake [A Tour]

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect artists who grew up under a brutal dictatorship to fill their works with political symbolism. But for artists who came on the scene in Argentina in the 1990s, one message prevailed over the rest: art is for pleasure’s sake.

The Blanton’s exhibit, Recovering Beauty: The 1990s in Buenos Aires, focuses — for the first time in North America — on a group of 13 young Argentine artists who celebrated life after repression through art.

Their work stands in contrast to the military dictatorship that ruled over Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina from 1976 to 1983. During that time General Jorge Rafael Videla ruthlessly imprisoned and kidnapped anyone he saw as a threat to the state. In all, between 9,000 and 30,000 people “disappeared” during his rule.

After losing the Falkland War, Videla was removed and free elections were held in 1983, but the country was still recovering as late as 1989. That’s when Buenos Aires artist Jorge Gumier Maier became curator of Centro Cultural Rojas, a gallery space consisting of just two walls for display. From that gallery came what was known as the “arte light” group of artists.

Recovering Beauty features the works of such artists as Benito Laren, Miguel Harte, and Feliciano Centurión. Their art stands as a celebration of the everyday, eschewing any role as spokespersons for a “new” Argentine society. In doing so, they have made art beautifully selfish to the viewer and the creator alike.

Laren’s work “Buscado Precios” [Searching for Prices] is the centerpiece of the exhibit. Made of holographic paper, mirror, and acrylic on glass, “Buscado Precios” is a former grocery store display that involves a town square, a church, groceries, and a giant tiger. Pictures cannot do justice to how light plays on the piece, making it shine like a candy bar wrapper.

Harte’s installation “La intrusa” [The intruder] is a mixture of an old-school science lab and fairy tale tree limbs, evoking an otherworldly and quiet mystery. Feliciano Centurión painted mostly on giant polyester carpets he found in markets, and while his piece “Pulpo Blanco” [White Octopus] is as inviting as it is ethereal, it is the piece he created the day he discovered he had AIDS that is the most affecting.

Coming near the end, “Cordero sacrificado” [Sacrificed Lamb] is the one dark piece in the exhibition. Yet it serves not to depress but to show that artistic beauty can be achieved even on the darkest days.

As the exhibition ends, the last piece is Marcelo Pombo’s “El nino mariposa” [Butterfly Boy], enamel on wood sculpture that looks as though it is ready to fly into the cavernous foyer and out the front doors.

Recovering Beauty runs through May 22. Admission is free to all students, faculty and staff of the University of Texas, or $3 for guests.

Top: Benito Laren’s “Buscado Precios.” Left: Laren’s “A La Hora Señalada.”


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