Los Angeles

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (detail), 1972, seven C-prints, each 13 1/4 × 20".

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (detail), 1972, seven C-prints, each 13 1/4 × 20".

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985”

Hammer Museum

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (detail), 1972, seven C-prints, each 13 1/4 × 20".

ONE OF EIGHTY-SOME EXHIBITIONS in the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985” explicitly endeavored, as curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta put it, “to write a new chapter in twentieth-century art history” by correcting the field’s long-standing obfuscation of women artists’ contributions. On this count, “Radical Women” was a triumph, introducing dozens of neglected artists (including some from such rarely represented nations as Panama, Paraguay, and Costa Rica) to new audiences. It was more a feminist curatorial intervention than a survey of “Latin American feminist art,” which, the curators note, never manifested as a pan-regional movement. “Most of the artists featured in this exhibition did not set out to make feminist works,” Fajardo-Hill and Giunta write in the catalogue, “even though we, as curators and art historians, can now identify feminist agendas in their production.” Heavy on video, performance documentation, and photography, the show referenced Brazilian—Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi’s immersive exhibition designs, bringing screens and documentation off the wall so that viewers could physically interweave disparate eras and approaches.

Two stills from Gloria Camiruaga’s Popsicles, 1982–84, video, color, sound, 6 minutes.

The curators chose as their overarching theme “the political body”: a femininity constructed in relation, and in resistance, to postwar authoritarianism and institutionalized machismo in Latin America and the United States. A scaled-up print of Liliana Porter’s Untitled (Self-portrait with square), 1973, at the exhibition’s entrance served as an antiessentialist emblem. With a rectangle drawn half on her face and half on the wall behind her, the Argentinean artist posits the female body simultaneously as a manifestation of physical matter, a bearer of information, and an image. The work appeared on a wall bridging two sections devoted to “Performing” and “Mapping” the body, seeming to introduce an additive logic by exploring presence and mediation, actions and conceptualism. Teresa Trujillo’s Improvisación danza-cine II (Improvisation Dance-Cinema II), 1964–65, reported on the Uruguayan artist’s bodily contortions in a “stretch suit” through the medium of film. Likewise, Antonieta Sosa’s acrobatic embraces of chairlike sculptures in her own Caracas exhibition worked as a video critique of modernism. Other sections appropriated essentialized constructs to yield unexpected juxtapositions. In “Body Landscape,” feminist reclamations of the woman-nature association by the likes of Ana Mendieta and Silvia Gruner were matched with Pola Weiss’s exuberant color video Ciudad mujer ciudad (City Woman City), 1978, in which the female body appears superimposed on footage of Mexico City. “The Erotic” crossed frank discussions of sexuality (such as Isabel Castro’s bondage photographs) with more oblique work, such as Colombian sculptor Feliza Bursztyn’s pulsing vermilion kinetic-art piece Cama (Bed), 1974, and Pop painting-sculpture hybrids by Teresinha Soares and Delia Cancela, both deploying bright-red hearts.

Sandra Eleta, Edita (la del plumero), Panamá (Edita [The One with the Duster], Panama), 1977, gelatin silver print, 30 × 30". From the series “La servidumbre” (Servitude), 1976–89.

Meditations on dictatorship and disappearance were powerfully interspersed with the region’s earliest feminist interventions. In Gloria Camiruaga’s video Popsicles, 1982–84, made roughly a decade after the Pinochet coup in Chile, the artist’s daughters recite Hail Marys while licking Popsicles with toy soldiers inside. Visceral and relentless, this video was matched by Letícia Parente’s Marca registrada (Trademark), 1975, in which the artist sews MADE IN BRASIL into the bottom of her foot. In 1968, while Argentina was under authoritarian rule, Lea Lublin—invited to participate in Paris’s Twenty-Fourth Salon de Mai—presented and cared for her seven-month-old son in the gallery, as if to displace her domestic situation onto the exhibition’s site. Her performance insisted on an arguably feminist valorization of the personal during the political unrest of the moment, both in her home country and in France. Portraiture was a central focus throughout, most memorably in Teresa Burga’s Autorretrato. Estructura. Informe, 9.6.1972 (Self-Portrait. Structure. Report, 9.6.1972), which represents the Peruvian artist via physiological charts such as electro-cardio-grams and phonocardiograms, as well as ID photographs, her heartbeat evinced by a throbbing red light. Puerto Rican artist Frieda Medín shattered her naked form by rephotographing combinations of negatives, ripped prints, and found materials in her “Rumbos” (Paths) works, 1984. The most haunting example of figuration—a series of early-1980s watercolors and videos of male and female bodies in strangely mundane settings by Colombian artist Karen Lamassonne—betrays the artist’s strangely ambivalent relationship to the body. In her clinical watercolors, pairs of legs grace a toilet, straddle a bidet, and arch before a glowing television, respectively—caught between eros and melancholy. With an emphasis on photography, “Social Places” surveyed representations of other groups: Chilean gay and trans people (as documented by Paz Errázuriz); domestic workers in Panama and Spain (portrayed by Sandra Eleta); and indigenous people in Brazil (represented by Claudia Andujar). The intersectional complexities that arose in this section—in some cases, the artists were privileged white women representing marginalized others—would make for a powerful follow-up exhibition.

As Fajardo-Hill notes in her catalogue essay, “A few women artists have been chosen to represent the field at large,” even while so many others have been rendered invisible. At the Hammer Museum’s show, those canonical figures—among others, Mendieta, Marta Minujín, Lygia Clark, and Marisol—were movingly recontextualized alongside their marginalized compatriots. Yet one wonders whether a show of only historical omissions might reveal the extent to which certain practices have been less welcome in curatorial and academic pursuits now closely integrated into the art market. Far from being dictated solely by gender, the radicalism of the show’s eponymous women was—and continues to be—contingent on the broader normative structures they subvert.

Daniel Quiles is an art historian and critic based in Chicago.