Confluences: 4000 Years of South American Arts

8 - 26 April 2022
The exhibition Confluences encompasses 4000 years of Abstraction in South American art , bringing together the works of a group of modern and contemporary artists whose careers spanned the 20th and 21st centuries, namely Joaquin Torres Garcia, Álvaro Gómez Campuzano, Fernando Coco Bedoya, Anita Payró, Alejandro Puente, Candelaria Traverso, and Augusto Ballardo. These artists all shared a reverence for Pre-Columbian Andean arts and their artworks reflect its power to inspire bodies of work rooted in its ancient abstraction and its spiritual depths. In each artist we can view a contemporary response to this archaic alternative reality.

The textile arts of the ancient Pre-Columbian Andes are not well known, but made a significant contribution to the world’s artistic heritage. These mainly female anonymous artists would have been aware of their relationship with the cosmos, as shown in their deities and everyday natural forces. These textiles were conceived and executed in reverence to the divine, and in turn were thought to bring a divine response to their invocations. In the textiles' glowing and heavenly colours and vibrant primordial abstracted symbolism, we can sense a profound faith, above the range of normal human consciousness.

These mostly female textile artists were part of a continuous 8,000 year tradition, engendering a technical virtuosity and inspired iconography rarely surpassed in world visual culture. In terms of the application of materials, composition and artistic expression pregnant with meaning, these creations resonate with the viewer today, as they did with these South American artists, who rediscovered them within the last century. They have followed an aesthetic trajectory based on their ancient indigenous heritage, rather than simply absorbing dominant Western conventions.

Alejandro Puente (Argentina 1933-2013) From the late 1960’s a bold use of grid patterning appears in his works. After his Guggenheim Fellowship in New York on 1969, he returned to Argentina in 1971 and immersed himself in Pre-Columbian studies. We can see in the exhibits his enthusiastic acceptance of archaic textile art, confirmed by his use of ancient Quechua titles for many of the works.

Andean Pre-Columbian Textiles are one of the seminal yet little known influences to a Pan-American prototype of abstraction in the pre and post-war era, innovative art schools such as the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and museums collections at the Natural History and the Museum of Primitive Art in NYC where also instrumental, dealers such as Betty Parsons and Andre Emmerich played a pivotal role in these cross fertilisations of visual arts culture. The extent to which African and Oceanic tribal art have nourished and influenced the Cubist, Surrealist and later schools of modern art is well known and documented. Less known or published is the impact and connections of Pre-Columbian art in the context of modern artistic developments apart from ancient Mexican architectural and sculptural in influences on works of, Frank Lloyd Wright, Diego Rivera and Henry Moore。

Confluences will present visual comparative narratives illustrating the role that Andean Pre-Columbian Textiles arts have played a significant and major part in opening the windows to new developments of Abstraction in the 20th century. Challenging the notion that abstraction is a unique development of the modern West, this exhibition reveals its connections and deep roots in An- dean Pre-Columbian Textiles arts, it further illustrates the threads that link and aesthetic kinship in the work of twentieth-century artists such as Joaquín Torres García, Josef and Anni Albers, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and other important artists related to the Abstract Expressionists, Colour Field movement and later stylistic developments such as Minimalism.

Torres Garcia played a pivotal role to assimilate Andean Textiles into his work and teaching of Universal Constructivism, his first exposure to these textiles is in 1922 at the Natural History Museum in NYC and then in Paris at the 1928 exhibition Ancient American Art at the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro , which his son Augusto curated. He was also the founding member of the Paris artists led group “Cercle et Carre” in 1929 where he gave talks on Andean Pre-Columbian art, other notable members are, Hans Arp, Wassily Kandinsky, Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, Kurt Schwitters, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Sonia Delaunay. Returning to Montevideo in 1932 he founded the Escuela Del Sur and later Talliers de Torres Garcia. The school went on frequent field trips to the Andean regions with his student Francisco Matto who created an outstanding museum collection of Andean Pre-Columbian art and textiles.

Anita Payro (Argentina 1897-1980) was one of the first female artists devoted to abstraction in Argentina, who was in early contact with Joaquín Torres García, a family friend, in Barcelona. Both shared their ideas about geometry, structure and symbols that were portrayed in their works, each one with their own style.

The combining of popular culture with an arrivisme, by now hardly a novelty, of emerging bourgeoisies that reorganise the map of economic power in the Andes region. In this tangled space, close to fever pitch, Candelaria Traverso has found the emotional and intellectual core of her work. She found it in the proliferating overlap of social technologies of highly dissimilar yet intermeshing times, from Pre-Columbian time to modern popular culture. 

Álvaro Gómez Campuzano (Bogotá, Colombia, 1956) displays, through his textile pieces and installations, the influence of the indigenous heritage of Latin America which represents an invaluable reference within modernity and its reflections. Gómez Campuzano became a pioneer of Textile Art since 1976 with his innovative approach focusing on space and intervening it -a representative practice of Contemporary Art- with the use of raw cotton and wool strings which, interwoven in relief, create ideograms that give a notion of spatiality.

Augusto Ballardo takes on a more archaeological approach in deconstructing the Pre- Columbian Andean’s geometric language. In his recent investigation at the Amano Pre-Columbian Textile Museum in Lima, Augusto worked simultaneously with the Pre-Columbian feather collection from Yoshitaro Amano and the recycled Peruvian aircraft relics. By polishing the relics surface and applying the most symbolic visual language of Pre-Columbian cultures on its surface, Augusto perpetuates the aesthetic quality of geometric abstraction, while highlights the tension between the past and presence, between the industrialised pragmatism and merit of pre-modern craftsmanship.

Bedoya’s practice brought him back to Peru as he continuously investigates on cultural-historical marks. This Moche Day, taking the forms of intervened replicas of Pre-Columbian pottery intended for tourist consumption, belong to a larger series that explores Peru’s colonial history of exploitation and cultural erosion. As Bedoya saw, it refers to “a colonised nation trepanned by opportunism, exploitation and by the ongoing tension between popular and fine art.”