Pop Art in Latin America

Lawrence Alloway, the originator of the term Pop, identified the term in three different phases.   He insisted that it is characterized by an art that included “all of man’s artifacts”, that it included “iconography of signs and objects” that were known outside the art field by the general population and that it could be applied to “fashion, films, interior decoration, toys, parties, and town planning”. He applied the term Pop to represent the art of industrialism (Barnitz 251).   Since Alloway, many different historians, critics and artists have taken it upon themselves to re-define, re-apply and adapt the term to include or exclude artistic works.

Robert Rosenblum, for instance, creates a definition of “authentic Pop” which suggests that it is not necessarily the quality of work, which offers a coincidence between Pop artists, but the style and subject of commonplace objects and a commonplace look.   He feels like there is a visual vocabulary of mass production in all Pop art, and that simply having elements of Pop art in an artist’s work does not make their work Pop art, and does not make them a Pop artist.   His definition omits artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns as creators of Pop, as well as almost entirely all Latin American Pop artists (Rosenblum 54).

The Oxford English, however, describes a vastly more inclusive definition of Pop art.  It defines Pop art as an artistic style, which is based on the themes, and the imagery modeled from modern popular culture and the mass media.  It is characterized by the “ironic depiction” of everyday subject matter and uses strong colour, clear images, and can include “quasi-photographic techniques”(OED).  This definition is one which can be applied more internationally and include the variants of style throughout the different Latin American countries. Pop art, specifically in the context of Latin America, was not the manifestation of industrialism as Lawrence Alloway once suggested it should be, it took on a different context to the artists as well as the public viewing it (Barnitz 251).

Some art historians, such as Edward Lucie-Smith, believe that Pop art never took root in Latin America since Pop art reflected and celebrated the American ideals of superabundance of material goods and industrial society (Lucie-Smith 178). Latin American, however, proved to be more absorbent to other cultures and adapt areas of American Pop art and adapt the art genre to a more political context with politically charged emblems (Craven 103). The works of Latin American artists and the relationship to the political contexts of dictatorship, repression, and emerging social movements is key when analyzing Latin American Pop Art (Hija De La).

Latin American Pop art and US Pop Art had some similarities of artistic content– the appropriation of mass media and advertising was a common shared theme (Barnitz 251). The distinction between media and art within Pop art was very blurry and image work from advertisements and billboards were being showcased as fine art in galleries across the United States and Latin America (Rosenberg 11).  Pop Art, which takes on themes from the mass media images, can be combined with different elements from all styles of art.   Kinetic art is often featured in the works of Andy Warhol with the presence of televisions and moving objects (Rosenblum 54). Different elements from both Op art and Pop art are brought together in paintings such as With a Fixed Stare, by Argentinean artist Antonio Segui to demonstrate this connection.  The distorted faces in Segui’s work take on a cartoon characteristic and the dotted lines give one the illusion of tiny print (Chaplik 32).

Argentine Pop artists were the most visible and had the most information available on Pop art history of all the Latin American countries.  This is due to Argentina’s promotion of their own artists and international artists of the avant-garde styles, in exhibitions like one which opened in Buenos Aries this year (Art Knowledge News).  Many art historians, such as Jorge Glusberg, attributed the origins of Pop art in Argentina to the exhibition of “El hombre antes del hombre” in Buenos Aires in 1962. This exhibition featured two budding Argentinean Pop artists, Mata Minujin and Delia Puzzovio and sparked an interest in the new art style (Barnitz 251). It was  also the first Latin American country to embrace the comic strip biennial in the early 1960s (Rosenberg 10).   Some of the most famous Argentinean Pop artists, such as: Edgardo Gimenes, Carlos Squirru, Delia Cancela and Pablo Mesejian began to come together, calling themselves the Popes of Pop and adding further popularity to the art style to this day (Barnitz 251).

Pop art in Latin America overlapped with environmental and performance art, and included elements bringing it into the public sector and public space (Barnitz 251). For instance ¿Por qué son tan geniales? or  Why are they so great?  a current public art piece by some Popes of Pop artists Edgardo Giménez, Dalila Puzzovio and Carlos Squirru is exhibiting in Rosario, Argentina.  The idea behind the large installation of posters in the public space is to generate a relationship between the viewer and artist and the institutions on which they are displayed.  The Pop art pieces are festive and playful and combine the basic ascetics of colourful, 1960’s Pop art (5SAR/09). Pop art was quite popular from the 1960s to present due to the accessibility to the broader public despite upper and lower class distinction.  Latin American Pop artists used themes, like political figures, that would spark the common interest between the separate social classes, despite differences in amount of wealth (Breezely 62).

Columbian artists responded to both American Pop art and Minimalist art, but they differed from their American contemporaries peers by converting by converting the techniques and subject matter so that it applied directly to Columbian culture and their distinct Latin American identity (Barnitz 199).  Pop objects no longer held their identity as consumer commodities the way they did for American artists like Andy Warhol, and were transformed and harnessed as Columbian tools of National pride (Barnitz 199).  An example of this is Columbian Pop artist Antonio Caro’s painting Columbia from 1976, in which he mimicked the Coca-Cola logo’s text (Lucie-Smith 179). Brazil embraced Pop art differently from countries like Cuba or Mexico, which focused on a more political agenda, by developing the comic strip style of Pop art. Although this style often included arbitrary text and consumer goods in the works of the American Pop artists, they were altered by Brazilian artists and focused more on events and people and what was present in the media.  Rubens Gerchman is a Brazilian artist who is often compared to American artists as his work; like his colourful piece o rei do mau gusto, appears to fit the American definition of Pop art (Barnitz 229).

Pop art in Cuba is used largely as a tool for propaganda and is strongly politically charged.   Famous propaganda posters, such as ones of Che Guevara, impacted the progression of Pop art for Cuban artists (Cubanow). Always Che, in 1970, was Cuban artist Raul Martinez’s take on Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series, although he laboriously painted his images instead of silk screening them (Lucie-Smith 179).  Raul Martinez was famously known for his colourfully painted portraits of Cuban politicians.  Other Cuban Pop artists known for their propaganda posters such as: Landaluce, Blanco, Salcines, Valls, Sirior and Massaguer, also used non-political motifs in their artwork; strong themes of love and national pride were present and recurring (Cubanow).   Mexican Pop artists, like Alberto Gironella, achieved great success by also focusing on political and controversial figures, like Mexican revolutionary Villa Zapata, by used these figures as a means of portraying specifically Mexican symbols of national pride and less as a politically charged means (Lucie-Smith 182).

Lisa Earley

Spring 2010

Works Cited

Barnitz, Jacqueline. Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Press, 2001.

Breezley, William H. and Linda A. Curcio-Nagy Eds. Latin American Popular Culture; 

An Introduction.  Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Inc, 2003.

Chaplik, Dorothy.  Defining Latin American Art.  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005.

Craven, David.  Art and Revolution in Latin America 1910-1990. London: Yale University Press, 2006.

Lucie-Smith,  Edward. Latin American Art of the 20th Century. New York:  Thames and Hudson Inc, 1993.

National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires Opens Pop Art ExhibitionArt Knowledge News.  2009.  October 16, 2009. <http://www.artknowledgenews.com/2009-10-06-18-30-00-national- museum-of-fine-arts-in-buenos-aires-opens-pop-art-exhibition.html>.

“Pop Art In Cuba” Cubanow; Cuban Art and Culture. 2008. 27 September 2009. <http://www.cubanow.net/pages/loader.php?sec=12&t=2&item=4531>.

“Pop Art in Latin America” Hija De La; Official Web Log of Artist, Photographer, Sandra De La Loza. 2006.  12 October 2009. <http://www.hijadela.com/blog/2006/07/pop-art-in-latin-america.html>.

“¿Por qué son tan geniales?” 5SAR/09;  Quinta Semana Del Arte Rosario.  2009.  31 October 2009. <http://www.semanadelarte.org.ar/5sar09/descargas/NOTA%20Edgardo%20Gimenez%20CARTEL.pdf>.

Rosenberg, Harold.  “Art and it’s Double” Art Education 21. 6 (Jun., 1968):  10-13. Web. 15 Oct 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/3191192&gt;.

Rosenblum, Robert.  “Pop Art and Non-Pop Art” Art and Literature, 5 (Summer 1964): 80-93.

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This entry was posted in Andy Warhol, Argentina, Edward Lucie-Smith, Lawrence Alloway, Pop art, Rubens Gerchman, Uncategorized, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

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