San Francisco

“New Directions in Modern Art From South America”

Kaiser Center Art Gallery, Oakland And Oakland Art Museum (Simultaneous)

South American painting in the current exhibition is represented by the art of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. The exhibition was sponsored and arranged by the Industries Kaiser de Argentina, and juried by Sir Herbert Read in conjunction with several leading South American critics.

Of the nineteen artists included in the show, sixteen have studied abroad, fourteen in Europe and two in the United States. Fernando Muro moved to Argentina from Madrid at eighteen, and at present is in New York. Manabu Mabe, among the best known, was born in Japan and now paints in Brazil. Antunez studied at Columbia University and Hayter’s workshop before returning to Chile. Like the others from Uruguay, Jorge Paez studied with Torres Garcia at home, then traveled to Europe where he met their leading artists. Thus while the paintings in this exhibition were sent here from South America, the artists who produced them have been all over, accumulating a multitude of return addresses. Even if they had stayed at home in their own capitals, with the recent exception of architecturally rich but exhibition poor Brazilia, they would have seen the contemporary trends in western art. São Paulo held a major modern art exhibition as early as 1922.

Within this environment, one expects and finds the whole range of abstract trends to appear. Inevitably one describes and compares them to their North America counterparts. Maccio’s Espejo, brutal in its strength and violent in red-blue contrast, recalls de Kooning. Antonio Segui at twenty-nine has already had an exhibition in San Francisco and amazes one with dexterity and a rich and beautiful use of paint surface. Closer to the more established Europeans is the work of Brazil’s Ivan Serpa. Raquel Forner, the top prize winner of the show, and Chilean Ernesto Barreda deal in very different individual ways with objects and figures derived from reality. Forner’s figurative compositions are darkly and dramatically impressive. Argentinian critics stress her compassion in looking at a mysterious and oppressive world. Mampara by Barreda comes close to the examination of a wretched aspect of reality we expect of a socially conscious artist. Color in his work here has given way to a grey, monochromatic value scheme. Common to all the works is the modern emphasis on color above drawing and an intense and almost chaotic expressionism. The paintings of the Uruguayans are most similar; the most diverse are those of the Brazilians. And perhaps the most accomplished are the Argentinians. Taken together they all have a high degree of polish and skillful technique.

Following the opening in New York and the well-publicized visit of Mrs. John Kennedy to the Pan American Union exhibition in Washington, much stress has been placed on the chance to understand South American life in terms of its art. Russian art today, Mexican art in the thirties and our own art seen in Winslow Homer’s work all strived for and succeeded in finding peculiarly national qualities. Observers of contemporary South American painting will not find the art of emerging nations. These artists and teachers are international, modern Abstract Expressionism also is international. And it is in this international setting that local support for these South American painters is found. The culturally aware of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay are highly sophisticated, quite aristocratic, class-conscious patrons whose ties are not limited to their own countries. They are not to be confused with the recipients of Alianza aid, the movers for political change in the headlines today. Rather it would be more surprising if this South American exhibition were not international in flavor.

Therese T. Heyman