São Paulo

Alfredo Jaar, Oswald de Andrade VOLTA!, 2017, neon, 23 5/8 × 35 3/8 × 2". From “Nuestra América” (Our America).

Alfredo Jaar, Oswald de Andrade VOLTA!, 2017, neon, 23 5/8 × 35 3/8 × 2". From “Nuestra América” (Our America).

“Nuestra América”

Interrupted by the pandemic, this ambitious show borrows its title, “Nuestra América” (Our America), from an essay by nineteenth-century Cuban poet José Martí, who called for a uniquely South American culture, freed from a Western Eurocentric framework. The exhibition, commemorating Galeria Luisa Strina’s forty-fifth anniversary and featuring forty-one works by twenty-five artists, traces the recent history of a persistent tension in Latin American art, namely that between urgent sociopolitical critique and formal experimentation, especially in abstraction.

A Logo for America (Miami Beach), 2018, a diptych of Fujiflex pigment prints by Alfredo Jaar, anchors the show. It documents an installation that the Chilean artist has staged in various places in the United States since 1987. In the first image, a floating barge displays the slogan THIS IS NOT AMERICA twice, a map of the United States outlining each iteration of the phrase. In the second, the barge bears the text AMERICA AMERICA, with the contours of both North and South America traversing the words vertically. Jaar directs his provocation at the United States’ hegemony vis-à-vis its South American neighbors. He also furthers his investigation, ongoing for more than forty years, into the politics of images, examining how graphics and pictures together produce “truths” that reinforce oppressive worldviews.

Like Jaar, Anna Maria Maiolino conjoins social and formal concerns. Her diverse oeuvre across media, including print, drawing, photography, and sculpture, stems from her participation in the New Brazilian Objectivity movement of the 1960s alongside Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, and others. It also reflects her early interest in figuration, folk literature, and quotidian materials, as well as her experience of Minimalist and Conceptual art in New York in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Maiolino’s Mais buracos (More Holes), 1975/2013, from the series “Desenhos objetos” (Drawing Objects), 1972–76, is a wall-hung sculpture made of a number of sheets of black paper layered inside a wooden box. A large, jagged hole has been ripped into the top sheet, five smaller holes into the one beneath. Maiolino plays with the perception of depth and with nature’s organic forms. She also conjures social and psychological associations, from political violence, censorship, and depression to environmental destruction. Maiolino refers to astronomical black holes in her 1971 “Mapas mentais” (Mental Maps) series (not on view in this exhibition); one might say that she uses the black hole in Mais buracos to create a metaphor for the Brazilian social experience of the period while at the same time sustaining a vigorous material and conceptual inventiveness.

Argentine artist Magdalena Jitrik invigorates abstraction the same way Maiolino does, likewise binding it to earthbound themes and materials. Her work explores the folk appeal and gestural power of geometric forms and often references the history of twentieth-century leftist movements; the artist herself has campaigned for workers’ rights as a member of the collective El Taller Popular de Serigrafía (the People’s Screen-Printing Workshop). To make Maíz/Humanismo (Maize/Humanism), 2008, Jitrik laid out paper semicircles and squares painted in red, blue, black, and yellow acrylic and glued them to squares of woven straw affixed to twigs. The final composition of seven miniature flags occupies a middle ground between modernist avant-gardism and handmade craft. According to Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa, Jitrik’s “repoliticization of abstraction” shows her “questioning the economy of painting as a stable, fixed object hanging from a wall in a white cube.”

In Vasarely—Milan, 2011, Venezuelan artist Juan Araujo depicts fragments of the Milan House, a modernist residence in São Paulo, in two small oil paintings on wood, displayed on slightly staggered shelves. In a rhythmic interplay of color, line, and light, the work captures the building’s interior and green surroundings, while also referencing the Op art of Victor Vasarely: Realistic details of windows and furniture are overlaid by vibrant quadrilateral and circular forms in ocher, gray, and primary and secondary colors. Araujo deploys transparency as a pictorial and a metaphorical device. While modernist architecture has historically been tied to progressive movements, Araujo eschews sociopolitical commentary, instead investigating architecture as a dialogue between a physical, functional space on one hand and an imaginary and abstract one, mediated and informed by the organic, on the other.