Brazil and Argentina’s History Found in the Layers of Paint

Assistant Professor of Art History Aleca Le Blanc is the co-curator of an art exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum

Le Blanc specializes in Latin American art and architecture of the 20th century and specifically Concrete Art.

UCR’s Aleca Le Blanc and a team of international experts are on a multiyear journey to explore the post-World War II evolution of art in Brazil and Argentina as told through the layers of paint found in 30 artworks from those countries. Their ongoing efforts are now on view at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in an exhibition called “Making Art Concrete: Works from Argentina and Brazil in the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros,” which will be on display through Feb. 11, 2018.

The exhibit is part of the J. Paul Getty Trust’s “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” initiative, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art involving more than 70 cultural institutions from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. The exhibits also include UCR ARTSblock’s “Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas.” The paintings on display in “Making Art Concrete” come from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC), a world-renowned collection of Latin American art. Following the exhibition, many works will return to New York and enter the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition presents preliminary findings of the first technical study conducted about this generation of vanguard artists.

Artists living in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Buenos Aires who practiced Concrete art believed that geometric forms, which bore no visual relation to nature, figure or national traditions, perfectly represented a new post-World War II age and were essential to the future success of modern and industrialized society. Many had communist leanings and wanted to create artwork that was accessible to every viewer, no matter their level of education, social class or nationality. One way they achieved this was by shunning the rectangular frame, while others rejected conventional materials, such as oil paint and canvas, and instead experimented with new industrial paints, compressed hardboards and metal sheets, believing that geometry was a universal language.

One of 30 artworks compiling “Making Art Concrete: Works from Argentina and Brazil in the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros,”co-curated by Le Blanc and other international experts.

Le Blanc, an assistant professor of art history and co-curator of the exhibition, specializes in Latin American art and architecture of the 20th century and specifically Concrete Art. She began this research project in 2013, while at the Getty Research Institute and before joining UCR in 2014. The exhibition draws on three years of extensive scientific analysis and archival investigation led by a team of experts from the GCI and Getty Research Institute (GRI), in collaboration with the CPPC. Important discoveries about the paintings and new insights into the artists’ techniques resulting from this analysis and investigation are presented for the first time. The works are installed alongside key technical findings, didactic videos, and historical documents that were identified during the course of the three-year research project. The research team has worked to comprehensively study and document their innovations. “One of our fundamental objectives was to better understand how a painting was made, the sequence of the application of different paints, and the chemical composition of these materials,” Le Blanc said.

A catalogue of the same name accompanies the exhibition, with essays by Le Blanc and Pia Gottschaller, assistant professor of conservation at the Courtauld Institute of Art. The catalogue is of particular significance because every single artwork was re-photographed several times and is represented by multiple images—not the norm in art exhibitions—including pictures of the back of the paintings, close-up details and cross-sections taken under the microscope. Another larger volume will be published when the project is complete, and will be a primary reference publication on Latin American Concrete Art.

In conjunction with this project, and with funding from the Getty Foundation, art historical and technical studies of the period are also underway by two teams of experts in Argentina and Brazil, including the Instituto de Investigaciones sobre el Patrimonio Cultural; Universidad Nacional de San Martín, in Buenos Aires; and LACICOR, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte.

Along with Le Blanc and Gottschaller, the exhibition is curated by Tom Learner, GCI’s head of science; Andrew Perchuk, deputy director of GRI; Zanna Gilbert, research specialist at GRI.

If You Go

Where: Getty Museum in Los Angeles

Dates: Through February 11, 2018

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