The overseas artistic Mecca
The neo-Creole vanguard that sprung up in 1920s Buenos Aires, with Jorge Luis Borges and his great friend, plastic artist Xul Solar at the helm, came about as a reaction towards the spreading model of European modernity. Of course, had this not been as magnetic and influential as it was, there would have been no need to put up such cultural resistance shored up by ideals, traditions and myths considered "indigenous". When, in 1924, Xul Solar also returned to Buenos Aires following a ten year stint in Europe, during which time he had engaged in interminable conversation, even cohabitation with Pettoruti, he would set down the parameters of what was the new quest, stating: "We loved our maestros, but we no longer want our only Meccas to be overseas".
A Bridge Towards Modernity
During the 1960s, Argentina's trans-ocean ties with Europe were supplanted by the general internationalization of the North American model. A continental link was forged between North America (which had prospered over the post-war period) and the South (still susceptible to frequent military interventions). Pop, conceptualism and happenings all originated primarily in New York and were received with enthusiasm, but, as an introduction to contemporary discourse it was only possible in the same way as modern art had earlier been introduced and "digested" from Europe. Speed and ease of communications would reinstate Argentina's relation with Europe, although the Mecca glimpsed by Xul Solar is, today, clearly the New York market.
Fontana and the Triumph of Provocation
In Mazzotti's studio, near Tullio d'Albisola, as well as in Sèvres, Fontana was showing signs of his provocative spirit, creating delicious and insolent polychromatic pieces that eschewed categorization in terms of genre and style. "I am a sculptor, not a ceramist" he would state some years later with reference to the pieces produced during this period, insisting that they were diametrically opposed to decorativism. When, in 1939, he returned to Argentina - where he would remain until after the end of the Second World War - there began an intermediary step in his trajectory, during which his own background and his European experiences would struggle to gain the upper hand in an environment which, while not hostile, was, however, highly receptive to new ideas. Before settling in Europe for good, Fontana would prepare the ground for the most complex and vital avantgarde experience ever seen by Argentine art: the Asociación Arte Concreto Invención, born almost simultaneously with the Manifiesto Blanco drawn up by Fontana and his followers from the Altamira School. Although Fontana would not follow the concretist line in later work - preferring to concentrate his energies on spatialism - he was behind a valuable injection of renewal, exchanging opinions and visions with young artists who were left cold by traditional forms of representation.
Back in Europe, Fontana was concentrating on investigating holes, incisions and spatial environments, "discoveries" that would ensure his place as one of the leading figures in 20th century art. Whenever his artistic legacy is analyzed, what invariably stands out is his imagination and the rich conceptual weave of his work. Space permitting, I would have liked to address Fontana's other role as a nexus between two cultures - one ancestral, the other nascent. As part of a line of descent that includes Pettoruti, Xul Solar and Berni, Fontana transcended the dimension of his own work to become a reference point on the bridge with Europe, the much-vaunted and questioned oversees Mecca which, for decades, would subjugate the flowering nation of Argentina, an example of the quest for identity which was, and indeed still is, characteristic of the countries of Latin America.
Buenos Aires, March 2001.
Eva Grinstein was born in Buenos Aires in 1973. She is a member of
the Argentine and International Association of Art Critics. Joined the
Culture section of the newspaper El Cronista in 1994, leaving as editor
and art critic in late 2000. Since 1998, she has been editor of the
magazine Barbaria, published in Buenos Aires by the ICI-Cultural Center