Locating Abstraction: The South American Coordinates of the Avant-Garde, 1945-1959

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Locating Abstraction: The South American Coordinates of the Avant-Garde, 1945-1959

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Title: Locating Abstraction: The South American Coordinates of the Avant-Garde, 1945-1959
Author: Sullivan, Megan Anita
Citation: Sullivan, Megan Anita. 2013. Locating Abstraction: The South American Coordinates of the Avant-Garde, 1945-1959. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation investigates how the project of abstraction, initiated in interwar Europe, was reconstructed, continued, and transformed in mid-twentieth-century South America. Through an examination of the work and thought of three key artists (Tomás Maldonado of Argentina, Alejandro Otero of Venezuela, and Lygia Clark of Brazil), it posits historical continuity and universality as both central problems of mid-century South American projects of abstraction and potential avenues toward a new understanding of their historical specificity. I identify three key features of interwar abstraction that were consciously continued in the work of Maldonado, Otero, and Clark: the adoption of abstraction not as a style, but as a progressive teleology with a linear history and singular goal; the ambition to reach the end of painting as an autonomous activity and integrate abstraction into the built environment; and the belief in the power of abstraction to forge new subjects and collectivities. In all three cases, the encounter of a universalistic project with particular socio-historical realities had resonances unanticipated by their European predecessors. Whereas abstraction in interwar Europe was intimately tied to struggles against bourgeois subjectivity and for a new form of egalitarian collectivity, artists in mid-century South America were rather faced with accelerated, state-driven developmentalism and the emergence of populist politics. Against this background, I demonstrate how each artist envisioned abstraction as a tool to contribute to or disrupt newly emerging forms of collectivity, contrasting Maldonado's insistence on an international, class-based collective, Otero's efforts to forge a modern national community, and Clark's advocating for a contingent intersubjectivity as a way of resisting top-down projects of collectivity. Finally, I investigate how the engagement with ideas of continuity and universality, as exemplified by these three artists, intersected with broader conceptions of historical progress and development circulating in Latin America between the Second World War and the Cuban Revolution. The rise and fall of abstraction in South America during this period, I conclude, was closely linked to the dream of catching up with "universal history" and its eventual abandonment.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11095957
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