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Photo: Jason Mandella
Carlos Zerpa, Ceremony with Sharp-Edged Weapons. Photo: Jason Mandella.

An Art of Nooks: Notes on Non-Objectual Experiences in Venezuela

Abstract:An alternative vision of Venezuela was constructed through local transdisciplinary and participatory practices of non-objectual art from 1960–2000. That vision questioned the dominance of "universal" models of the modern in both artistic and political terms. Instead, its experimental practice emphasized the popular and the vernacular as forces that were organically constitutive of the modern nation. These actions occupied the "nooks" or gaps both inside and outside the logic of the museum, using such interstices to explore collective production, critical pedagogy, and alternative modes of aesthetic and national authority.

For Adriano, In Memoriam

I. From the (Museum's) Back Room

Twenty years have gone by between the two moments that created an uncertain place for non-objectual[1] art and conceptual forms in Venezuela, diluting their history and increasing the eccentric nature of these practices in the Venezuelan discourse on contemporary visual arts. The first was a happening entitled, Homage to Schmaltz (Homenaje a la cursilería) organized in 1961 by the Neo-Dada group El Techo de la Ballena (The Roof of the Whale) and the second, in 1980, consisted of seven performances by Marco Antonio Ettedgui in the conceptual/experimental art space the artist called Arteología. Both events were held in garages located in different places in Caracas. The first one, a corrosive political satire against the status quo, was staged in the shed of a private residence in the Conde neighborhood, gathering a coterie of the cultural left-wingers of the capital. In contrast, Ettedgui's events took place at the Araya Lamp Shop in Las Mercedes, an upper middle class neighborhood. They attracted hundreds of viewers from Caracas, who perhaps attended out of curiosity about this new type of emerging art or were simply mobilized by the young artist's charisma.

Photo: Julio Vengoechea / Courtesy: Marcos and Berenice Ettedgui
Marco Antonio Ettedgui, Corporal Hygiene: A Sound Mind, A Sound Body, Informal Event, 1980.

Photo: Julio Vengoechea
Courtesy: Marcos and Berenice Ettedgui

The time that elapsed between these two events, their ideological bipolar drive, and their contentious nature seem to converge diachronically in a single place: from the dark space of the nooks and the back room, as the artist Marco Antonio Ettedgui noted. This essay examines a group of actions and performances that have been obliterated from official Venezuelan historiography, which has been dominated since the 1960s by a formalist model initiated by Alfredo Boulton. Such a model projects itself into the present, rejecting the legitimacy of body art and performance as hybrid phenomena constitutive of postmodernism in that they subvert the idea that the formal structure of the artwork, cut off from its context, contains a stable meaning (Jones 1998: 21). Ariel Jiménez has argued that the history written by Boulton "ends up being conflated (due, in part, to the absence of a historiography that would encompass and comprehend the younger generations), the non-pictorial tendencies of the 1960s and 1970s (Jiménez 37). It is worth recalling here an observation by María Elena Ramos: "if the aesthetic, formal, and linguistic concerns were very important to the modernists, Performance art in Venezuela, like in the rest of Latin America, has a marked critical interest in social, idiosyncratic, and political processes" (Ramos 2007, n.p.).

If, in principle, we attempt to situate happenings, performances, and actions using historical milestones where criticism has gathered the production of events and the most important works of non-objectual art, we believe that these only have the practical function of providing factual elements for an initial hypothesis for this text: in contrast to the critical attention these forms have garnered in the U.S., Europe and the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile and Brazil), in Venezuela, non-objectual art has been (and continues to be) systematically excluded from the visual discourse, thereby confining this production to a footnote. Noting this historiographic tendency to distort the facts, Juan Calzadilla warned that "segregation thus facilitates the issuing of a perpetually temporary ID card […]. The assumption that a work of visual art is only that which is circumscribed to a material object (whether fixed or mobile) in space, but in any case, determined by an external structure to that of the artist, has led the public, as well as artists and critics, to reject manifestations of body art as a part of institutionalized visual arts movements […]" (Calzadilla 1995, n.p.).

It is not accidental that the intermittent public revivals of non-objectual events, actions, and situations from the 1960s to the present took place in the hall of the Mendoza Foundation, Librería Cruz del Sur, Sala Ocre, Galería Ángel Boscán, Salón Arturo Michelena, Ateneo de Caracas, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo of Caracas, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Francisco Narváez de Porlamar, Sala de Gobernación de Caracas, the project room at the Gallery of National Art (GAN) and at Teatro Juana Sujo, all non-conventional spaces run by artists or museums that were occasionally open to experimental work beyond painting or sculpture.[2] Conceptual art has also been condemned either to oblivion or to the oral history recounted by its protagonists. Another feature that highlights the hybrid nature of non-objectual art is its organic alliance with theater, dance, music, and film, thereby producing multidisciplinary collaborations that situate it outside the field of the museum and outside the aesthetic field defined by Boulton's teleological paradigm.

Photo: Billy Name / Courtesy: Rolando Peña
Rolando Peña and the Foundation for the Totality, The Paella-Bicycle-Totality-CrucifixionTitle, 1967.

Photo: Billy Name
Courtesy: Rolando Peña

Yet, despite the difficulty of locating happenings, performances, and actions in institutional spaces, whether public or private, and given the radical nature of their proposals or the instability of alternative circuits where they were occasionally shown, there are still significant productions of works and exhibits in Venezuela ranging from the proto-happenings of El Techo de la Ballena, to the pioneer happenings by Rolando Peña, the early performances by Diego Barboza, Antonieta Sosa, Claudio Perna, Ángel Vivas Arias, and Pedro Terán, the multidisciplinary show Image of Caracas (Imagen de Caracas),[3] the events by Yeni and Nan, Marco Antonio Ettedgui, Carlos Zerpa and Juan Loyola, and the most conceptual actions proposed by Alfred Wenemoser. This body of works, produced over the course of four decades, and subsequently reduced to a footnote, is part of a dense and complex discourse which reflects the contradictions of a country where the modernization process entailed "one of the most violent changes in Latin America, which practically split history in two separate periods, archived the past and without a solid educational base, leapt forward to the conquest of modernity. The predictable effect was the derangement of values, the partial destruction of inherited ones, and the impossibility to articulate new and coherent ones, especially in the context of a bourgeois society whose leading members become rich in ten times less time that in the 19th century European bourgeois models” (Rama 1987: 11–36).

In different approaches to this topic, some have argued that the most intense period for non-objectual art (which also had the most official support) happened in the 1980s as is seen in the exhibitions: Biped Art (Arte Bípedo, GAN, 1980), the Venezuelan selection for the XVI Bienal de São Paulo (1981) and Actions Before the Plaza (Acciones frente a la plaza, FUNDARTE, 1981).[4] Nevertheless, the facts reveal the weakness of this construct when it becomes evident that these practices, even during the said period, did not receive the systematic support of national museums, the commitment of private collectors, or the interest of local art galleries.[5] Still, this mere formulation shows that in the beginning of the eighties, non-objectual arts, in effect, had one of their most vibrant moments in the country.[6] Nevertheless, the history of these practices cannot limit itself to events or situations that gather an important number of works into a single movement, but should also include scattered actions or events that have contributed to the construction of a decentered visual discourse which is also eccentric in relation to the modern paradigm.

This is the case for Image of Caracas, a multidisciplinary event conceived between 1966 and 1968 by the painter Jacobo Borges. This happening constituted an exceptional experiment, rarely mentioned as a prelude to contemporary Venezuelan art, developed in the course of the 1970s in the conceptualist proposals by Claudio Perna, Héctor Fuenmayor, Maria Zábala, William Stone, Eugenio Espinoza, the emergent art salon Eleven Guys (Once Tipos) and experiments that explored the relations between audience, artist and daily life. Among the latter, The Bus (El Autobús) or Man's Lost Sensations (Las sensaciones perdidas del hombre) are worth mentioning.

In the decade of the 1970s, Margarita D'Amico had produced exhibits in which the happening and the performance had become single-channel, non-narrative video pieces that combined actions and live music with pre-recorded or feedback video images presented at Festival of Video Art in the newly-created Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas (1975). The group show 20 Venezuelan Artists Today (20 Artistas Venezolanos Hoy) was held at Centro de Arte y Comunicación de Buenos Aires (CAYC, 1979) and the Video Exhibition at the Caracas (Festival Muestra de Video at Festival de Caracas, Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1979). These pioneer experiments showed the close collaboration between super-eight filmmakers such as Carlos Castillo and Diego Rísquez and experimental theater artists and actors.

It may thus be asked why the most significant production of happenings, performances, and actions clusters around the beginning of the eighties, the most conformist period in Venezuelan history and the beginning of the first economic crisis that the country experienced since the thirties.

The indifference that art institutions showed in Venezuela to these practices is evidenced in the dispersion of archives and documental sources that preserve the memory of works and situations, jeopardizing their survival. The marginal nature of non-objectual art becomes more obvious in the erratic careers of the artists that were active in the country, since the 1960s. Their dedication to this ephemeral, non-commercial art that explores the limits of subjectivity using the body,[7] popular rituals, and the fusion with the real, has confined and culturally isolated them. Also, the untimely death of some of the pioneers of happenings and performance art caused the irreversible loss of great part of the history of the actions that these artists performed both in Venezuela as in Europe or the U.S. In this context, the documentation of actions by Diego Barboza, Alberto Brandt, Carlos Contramaestre, Marco Antonio Ettedgui, Juan Loyola, Claudio Perna and Ángel Vivas Arias was not acquired by the national museums, nor did it have public support in order to guarantee its accessibility to the public or its conservation for the future.

While abstract, Kinetic, and Op art have spawned a critical corpus over the last four decades, in the case of non-objectual and conceptual art there is no discourse that could inscribe them in a wider context or establish a comparative framework with regional experiments, as in the case of happenings and performances in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.[8] The development of these art forms in Venezuela also coincided with the emergence of a new generation of critics and curators among which are Margarita D’Amico, Roberto Guevara, María Elena Ramos, Elsa Flores, Juan Calzadilla, Luis A. Duque, Alejandro Varderi, and Juan Carlos Palenzuela, who interpreted these ephemeral works in the context of their appearance in articles and critical essays published in the Venezuelan press.[9]Nevertheless, the lack of specialized publications or consistent periodizations has hindered the reception of Venezuelan non-objectual and conceptual art in recent studies and publications in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America, where these practices have been recontextualized and projected on a global scene of conceptual art and feminism.[10]

This essay does not attempt to give an exhaustive account of non-objectual art in Venezuela, but rather aims at reconsidering a group of works that founded eccentric practices, most of which are critical of the process of modernization. They do not necessarily trace a linear progression or follow the predetermined scheme of the European avant-garde from Bauhaus, Dada, and surrealism, to their receptions at Black Mountain College, thus defining a genealogy of performance from a U.S. perspective (see Goldberg 2005).

In Venezuela, happenings, performances and actions appear and disappear from and in vernacular "nooks," lagging behind the great modernizing myth that hides the demographic explosion, the migration from the countryside to the urban areas, and the parallel "favelization" of the city, illiteracy, the informal economy, and postponed social struggles. All these phenomena are present in a country where, since the death of the dictator Juan Vicente Gómez in 1936 to the consolidation of democracy in 1958, the processes that have been disproportionately accelerated by oil wealth.

II. Not Works, Experiences

Homage to Schmaltz (Homenaje a la cursilería, 1961) by the group El Techo de la Ballena was the first happening in Venezuela.[11] This group, whose members were emerging visual artists and writers who believed in the renovation of letters and art, violently erupted onto the Venezuelan cultural scene as the symptom of a turbulent historical period. This era was characterized by the consolidation of a brand-new democracy soon threatened by the penetration of guerrillas spread throughout Latin America by the Cuban revolution, which began the last year of the developmentalist dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1950–58). Being a world oil producer and thus a strategic country for U.S. economic and political interests during the Cold War, Venezuela, in the early 1960s, was beginning to strengthen its constitutional bipartisan model, which had been criticized from its inception by many left-wing sectors of the country.[12] During those years of struggle between various social forces and political actors, geometrical abstraction began to consolidate itself as a canonical movement of Venezuelan art following the "Proyecto de Integración de las Artes," in the Central University of Venezuela by the architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva. Later the same happened to Op art thanks to the international success of Jesús Soto and Carlos Cruz Díez. The work of promotion and exposure of modern European art and the American and Latin American was taken up by Museo de Bellas Artes, directed by the critic Miguel Arroyo,[13] an ex member of the group Los Disidentes,[14] later on continued by Sofía Imber.[15] Jesús Soto, who then lived in Paris, showed his sympathies to Art Informel in that early period by participating in the controversial exhibit Living Spaces (Espacios Vivientes), organized by ex members of the group Sardio, which regrouped into El Techo de la Ballena, at Palacio de Bellas Artes of Maracaibo (1960). This exhibit aimed at breaking the ranks of geometric abstraction, complicating the binary logic and the false dichotomies that characterized the historical debate on figuration and abstraction that split Venezuelan artists and intellectuals since the 1950s, and doing away with the ideological distinctions that located progressive and revolutionary art exclusively in the confines of social realism and pamphleteering.[16]

For Ángel Rama, the violent modernization that Venezuela experienced could explain the critical reaction that El Techo de la Ballena used in its attacks against provincial habits and the Catholic morality that still ruled life in Caracas at the beginning of the 1960s. Conceived as a deliberate provocation, the group thought ahead and advertised their first manifesto, which did not attempt to revive the soirées at the Cabaret Voltaire.[17] This early happening constituted an experiment that tested the limits of the modern notion of authorship since it was conceived and presented as a collective action aimed at joining art with reality. Homage to Schmaltz presented a huge collage made up of excerpts from canonical Venezuelan writers, press clippings with news and photographs of high-level politicians like wallpaper covering the walls of a room and whose fragments were read by members of the group while they offered the public platters of "edible art" served by Alberto Brandt.[18] A year later, the public appeal of this happening was topped by a more ambitious project, Homage to Necrophilia (El Homenaje a la Necrofilia), which managed to stir up public opinion in Caracas with a "set" by Carlos Contramaestre containing works made with animal corpses and entrails, which began to decompose as time went by, forcing the Ministry of Public Health to shut it down.

Documentiation Photo: Jason Mandella / Courtesy: El Museo del Barrio

Documentiation Photo: Jason Mandella / Courtesy: El Museo del Barrio

Documentiation Photo: Jason Mandella / Courtesy: El Museo del Barrio
Alberto Brandt, El Techo de la Ballena, Original manifesto, Homage to Schmaltz, 1961.

Photo: Jason Mandella
Courtesy: El Museo del Barrio

El Techo de la Ballena, active from 1960 to 1968, coincided with the second phase of intensive modernization after the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship, which included education reform, the construction of low-income housing, and expensive public and private infrastructure. Still, in this period, the political climate was stirred by ideological divisions in Acción Democrática, the governing party between 1959 and 1969, and by various military insurgencies, strikes, and the assassination attempt against President Rómulo Betancourt at the beginning of the 1960s. These dramatic events shaped the profile of the intellectual groupings that emerged around magazines such as Sardio, Tabla Redonda, and Cal. By contrast, El Techo de la Ballena was a literary and visual movement in equal proportions, and defined its tactics as cultural guerrilla warfare in a period of extreme military repression due to the appearance of Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Liberación Nacional, an armed faction of the Venezuelan Communist Party proscribed for its support of guerrilla activity. The experimental aspirations of El Techo de la Ballena, their equation between avant-garde action and thought that distinguished them from the militant left-wing of the 1960s were so notorious that the writer Caopolicán Ovalles was pursued by the police for publishing an inflammatory poem, “Are You Asleep, Mr. President?” ("¿Duerme Ud., Señor Presidente?"). Ovalles had to flee to Colombia where he remained clandestine, and Adriano González de León was arrested for writing the foreword to the book. Indeed, El Techo de la Ballena's militancy in armed struggle predates the experiments with art and politics such as that of Tucumán Arde (Rosario, Argentina, 1968; see Longoni 2000). The left-wing artists affiliated to the Venezuelan Communist Party gathered around Tabla Redonda, in turn, as Ángel Rama has shown (Rama 1987), were conservatively linked to the realist models of propaganda art and literature.

Shortly before El Techo de la Ballena disbanded in 1968, Jacobo Borges, who was one of the artists linked to this group, was invited to collaborate in an homage to the 400th anniversary of Caracas, to be financed by the city's Municipal Council and produced by the philanthropist and historian Inocente Palacios. After almost three years of intense work, and following the earthquake that shook Caracas in 1967, Borges and a group of collaborators from various disciplines presented Image of Caracas, an event described by Lourdes Blanco as "a failed cinematographic-environmental project," whose "shimmering memory" remained in the minds of those who witnessed it (Blanco 108–155). This project gathered a fair number of the debates on realism that developed in various settings of Venezuelan intellectual life during the 1960s.

Courtesy: Jacobo Borges.

Courtesy: Jacobo Borges
Jacobo Borges, Image of Caracas, "Dispositivo Ciudad," 1968.

Courtesy: Jacobo Borges

Although Borges, a figurative painter supported by the most important critics in Venezuela, received the commission for this public project, Imagen de Caracas was not simply a visual experiment that brought together artists and experts from various disciplines. The project pushed the limits of the notion of authorship, even in the conception of the author(s) himself (themselves), since it shifted collective collaboration to the public sphere, revealing the production relations between work and time, through a complex technical device and positing the equality between artist and audience.[19] According to the "authors,"[20] Image of Caracas was not a show located on the margins of film or theater, since it proposed a critical revision of the conventions of both disciplines in their relationship with the audience:

The Italian stage with its pits, proscenium, raked floor, false perspectives, single sight line, space for the audience, aisles, boxes, is now a dead concept. All the subsidies in the world cannot stop its downfall. The public, sensitive to great spectacles—like department stores, airports, factories, demonstrations, and cinema—does not understand, nor it is interested in, individual dramas and their theatres […] We wanted a show that would be critical of the man-city-object relationship. That is why we did not go to the stage to look for the answer. It was on the street, at the market places. (Palacios 1970)

In an enclave in the downtown of the city, Borges and Juan Pedro Posani[21] drafted a complex architectural structure that the public would enter though a side door. Once inside, they were in the midst of a geometrical structure resembling a futurist city the spectators could walk through, with scaffolding supported by tubes, columns, ramps, reflectors, eight giant modular screens, and cubes suspended from the ceiling at variable heights. Single, simultaneous, and multiple screenings of films took place in this space, with the action being narrated in a non-linear form and a soundtrack composed specially for the event. This "quasi cinema"[22] had a complex set-up: eight 35mm projectors were placed in pairs on an axis determined by four columns located in the central part of the building and forty-five slide projectors were placed along the length and width of the space. The public could only perceive an overview of the event from the circulation platforms. The complicated mechanism accompanying the structure was regulated by a computer that had been programmed by a physicist for the event.[23]

The black-and-white and color images were shot by the filmmaker Mario Robles and Borges himself, and the text was written by Adriano González León and narrated by Salvador Garmendia (both well-known writers and members of El Techo de la Ballena), and the music was composed by the Chilean José Vicente Asuar, who at the time had recently finished his musical training in Germany and later founded an electro-acoustic music lab. Borges and his collaborators divided the action into a plot with two parts: the history of the conquest up until 1800, and colonial pre-republican life up until 1967. The episodes mixed professional actors with people with no previous experience,[24] were shot on location and had a clear stylistic influence of Italian Neo-Realism and Brazilian cinema novo. The final result combined original images with clips from ethnographic films. The use of black-and-white or color corresponded to the dramatic content of each episode.[25] The historical argument emerged from a critical interpretation of the processes of conquest and colonization, with a stress on the class conflict and ideological divisions between the protagonists. During the screenings, some of the actors and protagonists of the films made live appearances, which made the filmed action coincide with reality. For instance, a young man would speed by on a motorcycle, both on the screen as in the public space where the audience watched the scene.

A month after it opened, Image of Caracas was shut down due to its polemical interpretation of national history.[26] Nevertheless, the producers of the project, members of the Municipal Council of Caracas, argued that the reason for the shutdown was the high costs involved. Since Venezuela had a system of state philanthropy, frequently there would be friction between the State and artists, especially in the experimental fields of non-objectual art. In 1969, Rafael Caldera, the conservative founder of the Christian Democratic Party,[27] was elected president and shortly after his arrival to power, he implemented an amnesty law for the insurgents that accepted a separation of the guerrilla wars. That same year, Antonieta Sosa would destroy Plataforma II (Platform II), a 3-D work the artist included in a one-woman show at Ateneo de Caracas[28] as protest against the official participation of Venezuela in the Bienal de São Paulo.[29] In her invitation to the event, Sosa responded sarcastically to the controversial intervention by a critic[30] who urged her not to destroy an artwork that could become part of the collection of any provincial museum: "Do you know what a happening is? I don't, but I sense it."[31] The artist had returned to the country after concluding her training in California, and was then developing a series of 3-D geometrical pieces that embody what Peggy Phelan, paraphrasing Merleau-Ponty, has called "the phenomenological contours of touch itself," works that can be transformed into activated objects by the public’s participation through physical actions.[32] In this case, the platform destroyed by Sosa was used for jumping, making evident the tension between the function of the object and the danger in manipulating it, something that is presented in many early works up to Situation Called Home (Situación llamada casa, 1981, Museo de Bellas Artes), where, on the opening day, viewers could hurl up to twenty wine glasses together with the artist towards a bare brick structure that alluded to marginal housing in Caracas (the so-called "ranchos").[33] If breaking an object can be liberating and cathartic, the action sets in motion the destructive anatomy of the spectator in a possible relation of ambivalence with the artist. This corrosive underbelly of Sosa's work brings to mind Lygia Clark's apprehension when she spoke of being deflowered by the viewer (see Clark 1996: 64).

Courtesy Antonieta Sosa
Antonieta Sosa, Conversation with a Warm Bath, 1980.

Courtesy: Antonieta Sosa

Sosa's political urgency when summoning people to the event protesting the Bienal is comparable to the destruction of works carried out by avant-garde artists in Buenos Aires a few months earlier at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella.[34] It was in this moment that Sosa defined as a happening that was destined to produce "a positive awareness of socio-cultural problems and the enrichment of our artistic experience" (Sosa 1969). Oriented towards investigating the structural relationships between things, their functions, and interaction with the public, Sosa's research mutated into an introspection of her own body. This changed contemporary dance, a discipline to which the artist dedicated herself for almost six years, later returning to the visual arts and devoting herself to various facets of pedagogy. In 1980 in Conversation with a Warm Bath (Conversación con Baño de Agua Tibia), presented at GAN, Sosa remained seated while she was slowly bandaged with toilet paper by Helena Villalobos until she was completely covered. The action was accompanied by a previously taped conversation between the artist Héctor Fuenmayor and the composer Alfredo del Mónaco on the question of the work of art as a discursive form or a way of thinking. At the end, Villalobos bathed Sosa with a bucket of water, destroying the sculptural form created by the layer of paper stuck to the artist's body.

The young journalist, actor, and performer, José Antonio Ettedgui realized the potential for participation and liberation that non-objectual art offered the public in an underdeveloped country in its search for spaces where the divide between art and life could be bridged: "My art is an art of nooks, not of salons, but instead of nooks. The majority [of my works] were performed in garages and private homes and balconies out-of-doors. The viewer is transformed when approached in these places" (Ettedgui in Ramos 2007). In this context, it is worth noting that at the beginning of the 1980s there was a sudden interest on the part of public in these works, and institutional support for performance art and actions were parallel to the stimulus that the Argentine director and promoter Carlos Giménez gave to the theater in Venezuela. Starting from the founding of the group Rajatabla and the Caracas International Theater Festival (1975),[35] both initiatives by Giménez, works by the most experimental and influential postwar playwrights and groups such as Gutai, Kabuki, Tadeuz Kantor, Augusto Boal, Peter Weiss, Living Theatre, Els Joglars and Lindsay Kemp were staged. Giménez not only created an institutional framework that favored the presence of experimental groups from Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the U.S., but also gave space to non-objectual practices within the festival, the coordination of which was entrusted to Marco Antonio Ettedgui.

Even if the intersection of theater and non-objectual art lies beyond the scope of this essay, it is important to note the central role played by Carlos Giménez in the public articulation of experimental and trans-disciplinary vocabularies that favored the institutional legitimacy of performance art and actions at the end of the 1970s. It is not accidental that this sort of golden age of non-objectual art also coincided with the return to Venezuela of Pedro Terán, Diego Barboza, Rolando Peña, Carlos Zerpa, Yeni and Nan, as well as the emergence of young artists such as Marco Antonio Ettedgui, Alfred Wenemoser and Juan Loyola.

In contrast to the generation of Alejandro Otero, Jesús Soto, and Carlos Cruz Diez, who settled in postwar Paris, emerging artists now traveled to New York and London, attracted to a new type of art that assumed the shape of performances, actions, texts, and photographic documentation that privileged the context and rejected the object in favor of its dematerialization and which, according to Alexander Alberro, situated art at "the threshold of information” (Alberro 2000). In this context in 1970, the Museum of Modern Art in New York had organized Information, an exhibit that launched global conceptual practices, including works by Latin American artists such as Hélio Oiticica, Cildo Meireles, Artur Barrio, The New York Graphic Workshop, David Lamelas, and Alejandro Puente, among others. Something similar happened a year before in Bern and later in London with the show When Attitudes Become Form, the European version of conceptual art.

Venezuela was one of the few Latin American countries not to be struck by the wave of military dictatorships that spread through Central and South America during the years of Operation Condor and the influence of the School of the Americas.[36] Still, the country clung to the paradigms of abstract and Op art, which at the time, were official and had become national schools. The changes dictated by the zeitgeist of hippie counterculture, the sexual revolution, the general condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, and the political urgency stirred by the Cuban revolution which accompanied student movements at the end of the 1960s, were, to a certain degree, modestly linked locally to the guerrilla warfare and the movement for academic reform initiated at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and which became known as La renovación.

Following the process of pacification of guerrilla groups and during the first administration of President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974–1979), a bipartisan constitutional model was finally consolidated. Emerging artists began to colonize alternative spaces in an attempt to expand the idea of art as exemplified in Information or When Attitudes Become Form. This moment also coincided with the exponential growth of oil revenue that was brought as a result of the nationalization of the industry. A massive national wealth was generated and managed by a government that did not guarantee an equitable distribution of income benefiting the poorest sectors of the population. The Pérez period, which historians ironically named "la gran Venezuela" (the Great Venezuela), was characterized by multi-million dollar investments in infrastructure and higher education that ran a public debt and generated widespread corruption in the public and private sectors, and lead to a consumer culture.[37] From the beginning of the 1970s, emerging artists had gathered around the art salon created by Lourdes Blanco at the Sala de la Fundación Mendoza, which she provocatively named Eleven Guys.[38] In her work, a budding generational malaise began to creep in caused by the processes of quick modernization that had been implemented in the country, and which were accompanied by moments of political repression. They became also aware of the dangers of social exclusion.[39] This incipient group was made up mostly of young, urban, middle-class professionals, and was beginning to expand due to the economic well being ensured by petrodollars.

In 1971, Sigfredo Chacón, Ibrahim Nebreda, and William Stone organized The Bus, a participative experience where the public could enter a bus parked at the Ateneo de Caracas. Referring to this, Lourdes Blanco highlighted the reactive intention of this heterogeneous group of artists, led in the beginning by Stone, who with other members of the Design Institute Neumann, CEGRA and the Escuela de Artes Plásticas, "conceived the idea of creating a movement that would distance itself both from New Figuration as from Op art, because deep down they were also under the influence of the desire to activate the dimension that clamored for the participation of the public, but also to challenge it" (Sala Mendoza 2002, n.p.).

Courtesy: Fundación Claudio Perna
Claudio Perna, Antonio Mendoza’s salsa band, Chewing Gum, 1977.

Courtesy: Fundación Claudio Perna

Other artists who belong to an in-between generation joined the group congregated around Fundación Mendoza: Claudio Perna, a geography professor at Universidad Central de Venezuela, Diego Barboza, poet and painter trained in Maracaibo, and Rolando Peña, precursor of the happening, dance, and experimental film, who had traveled around Europe and the U.S. in search of new horizons. Barboza and Perna had created mail art, artist books, and experiments with ephemeral forms of visuality today catalogued as conceptual. Perna and Barboza were also part of the programs of Librería Cruz del Sur. An alternative space open to non-conventional art forms, there they explored the participatory potential of popular culture to create works inspired in the vernacular or the popular-festive, generating situations where communities were eventually created or playful interactions emerged. In the case of Perna, such potential was used as a corrosive critical goal in a system that would marginalize or ostracize the popular to segregate it from the processes of modernization. In two different editions of the salon Eleven Guys, Perna presented Antonio Mendoza's salsa band, Chewing Gum (Chicles), as a "sound sculpture," (1977) and later on, Rain, Social Sculpture (Lluvia, escultura social, 1979), an installation made up of a prostitute seated next to a table and a jukebox.[40] A few years before, he had created collaborations with Charlotte Moorman, Miralda, and Antonio Muntadas, who had traveled to Venezuela as guests of the international video festivals organized in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo by Margarita D'Amico. His insatiable curiosity regarding dematerializing procedures in the visual arts ranged from portraits commissioned, to film posters, popular paintings to photocopies, and collectively discarded photographs gathered and exhibited by the artist in a show that attempted to reconfigure the national imaginary from residual layers. Perna also collaborated with Eugenio Espinoza,[41] Héctor Fuenmayor, Alfred Wenemoser and Roberto Obregón, artists who shared with him the need to expand the notion of art in a country where abstract modes of modern art were, and still are, considered a modernization tool (see Rangel 2004).

Courtesy: Fundación Claudio Perna
Cluadio Perna, Rain, Social Sculpture, 1979.

Courtesy: Fundación Claudio Perna

The squandering of resources and the corrupt system that began during the administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez continued during the constitutional period under Luis Herrera Campíns (1979–1984), until the economic crisis known as Black Friday, when Herrera Campíns was forced to devaluate the currency with the sudden drop in oil prices in 1983. Facing political conformity in the period preceding Black Friday (with massive oil revenue and an increase in imports, excessive consumption, tax evasion, and public and private corruption), Diego Barboza and Pedro Terán, two artists who had taken part in the 1960s debate on new figurative art at the independent art space El Círculo del Pez Dorado, undertook an anthropological revision of popular culture, folklore, and foundational myths of the republic. They would be joined by other artists with divergent and heterodox views, such as Rolando Peña, who had explored santería and vernacular rituals, Carlos Zerpa, and later, Juan Loyola.

Photo: Doris Spencer de Barboza / Courtesy: Doris Spencer de Barboza
Diego Barboza, Armadillo's Box, 1975.

Photo: Doris Spencer de Barboza

In the manner of an intervention in Venezuelan popular festivities, Diego Barboza created the event Armadillo's Box (Caja del cachicamo), where a crowd would cover itself with a large red tarpaulin prepared by the artist to simulate an animal shell producing what Elsa Flores called "a happy alliance of conceptual elements and folk allusions" (Flores 1983: 89). The work was designed by Barboza to be carried out in outdoor spaces with "public commemoration,” (Flores 1983: 89) in a city where these forms of community interaction were driven away from public spaces due to the smoke of cars and the invasion of the informal economy (due in turn to unchecked demographic growth and urban chaos which characterize peripheral capitals).[42] This "action poem," as it was defined by Barboza himself, came to recognize anew the collective celebration of an activity playfully produced by the members of an anonymous social body, making this art expression accessible to an audience wider than that of museums.[43] Other "action poems" conceived by Barboza in London included girls covered by colorful stockings or nets strolling down the street in marches or pop music conferences, intervening in the public space, and Pro-testas or "heading protests" in which many wore colorful hats.

Carlos Zerpa, in turn, had been exploring the popular from a lineage formulated as the carnivalesque, which inverted the rules of the game by exposing the dark and grotesque side of popular culture, patriotic symbols, and magic/religious rituals. Trained at the Polytechnic Institute for Design in Milan (Italy), at the end of the 1970s, Zerpa began to collaborate with the Mexican collective No Grupo, whose members he met at the First Colloquium on non-objectual Art in Medellín. No Grupo “proposed a dissident branch of the political groups project: a parodic guerrilla that benefited both from the solemnity of committed artists, as from the clumsiness of cultural institutions and social myths about the artist (Debroise 2006: 226–227). Later on, he continued to develop important performances with them, such as Hot-Hot (Caliente-caliente), presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico (1982).[44] Together with Perna, Barboza, and Yeni and Nan, he also took part in the show, 20 Venezuelan Artists Today (1979), organized by Margarita D'Amico at the Centro de Arte y Comunicación (CAYC) in Buenos Aires, at the time, a space dedicated to conceptual art under the direction of Jorge Glusberg.

Documentation Photo: Jason Mandella / Courtesy: El Museo del Barrio
Carlos Zerpa, Ceremony with Sharp-Edged Weapons, 1981.

Photo: Jason Mandella
Courtesy: El Museo del Barrio

At Teatro la Campana de Valencia, Venezuela, Zerpa had presented his performance Each with His Own Saint (Cada cual con su propio santo), a work that was censored for its non-conformist criticism of institutionalized religion. Afterward, Marco Antonio Ettedgui and Pedro Terán joined in programs devoted to non-objectual experiences launched in several locations in Caracas and elsewhere in the country. One piece from this fertile period is Ceremony with Sharp-Edged Weapons (Ceremonia con Armas Blancas, 1981), a performance presented in the hall at Gobernación in the federal district as part of the cycle Acciones frente a la plaza and later shown in México. Choosing the form of the love letter to sustain the action, Zerpa played the role of an inmate and read a letter, with his face painted white like a mime, while a bolero by Julio Jaramillo and music composed for expressly the pieced played in the background. The action took place in an intimate atmosphere created by Zerpa's confessional tone, which, according to witnesses, became troubled by states of agitation and violence in which the artist tried to involve the audience in, with Brechtian-style interruptions without proposing a final catharsis.[45]

Photo: Taller Pedro Terán / Courtesy: Pedro Terán
Pedro Terán, Clouds for Colombia, 1981

Photo: Taller Pedro Terán
Courtesy: Pedro Terán

Trained in the visual arts and film in London, where he performed actions in the streets and obtained an important prize at Ikon Gallery, Pedro Terán worked with his body and from the body upon his return. He embodied several versions of the myth of El Dorado-Manoa, using a highly stylized visual and personal language. Like Rolando Peña, many of his performances (Exhibition Body [Cuerpo de exposición], Ateneo de Caracas, 1973) were fashioned from a narcissistic perspective in order to reintroduce the public into history and its fictions via this affirmation of male power.[46] Using gestures of extreme masculinity, Terán would unfold his body in order to feminize it and show his subjectivity. In this sense, Terán theoretically distinguishes between, on the one hand, performances (events that for him create an intimate connection between the viewer, the body, and subjectivity by ritualizing time) and on the other, actions geared towards the public sphere, where what happens is not inscribed in a ritual.[47] Clouds for Colombia (Nubes para Colombia, 1980–81), a performance created for an exhibit that never took place in Bogotá,[48]was presented at the Museo de Bellas Artes as part of the program Acciones frente a la plaza. Later, at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Francisco Narváez in Margarita, it was performed in the form of a shamanistic ritual in three sequences, which began when the artist manipulated canvases and pigments with the colors of the Colombian and Venezuelan flags. After he tore his clothes and ended up covering his naked body with gold paint and transforming himself in a sort of sculptural representation of the myth of El Dorado.[49]

Rolando Peña is a special case within this narrative: He was a pioneer of happenings and performances who, in his comings and goings between New York and Europe, frequented Andy Warhol's circle and participated in the first Factory, which included experiments with film and experimental theater. Peña trained in contemporary dance with Martha Graham's company in the same style as Antonieta Sosa and feminist artist Nela Ochoa. He produced early works he presented at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Universidad Central de Venezuela, straddling both theater and performance. Noteworthy among them is Homage to Miller (Homenaje a Miller), created in collaboration with the writer José Ignacio Cabrujas and the architect Domingo Álvarez.[50] In the 1970s, Peña participated in the festivals and exhibits organized by Margarita D'Amico. Years later, he did a particularly symbolic and powerful performance at the 5th International Theater Festival, Crude Oil (Petróleo Crudo). In this piece, he did a series of physical actions that harmed his body and destroyed objects before ending with an oil bath he poured from a barrel. Also known as “The Black Prince” (Príncipe Negro), Peña from that point on appropriated the world's main source of energy in order to transform it into a metaphor of Venezuela as a nation doomed by its own wealth.

If Rolando Peña used oil to create a counter-narrative of modernization, Juan Loyola manipulated the national flag in order to re-inscribe it in places that were foreign to the hegemonic discourse of the fatherland, which was already untenable by the mid-1980s, when Jaime Lusinchi (1984–1989) became president following the "Black Friday" crisis. Lusinchi, a medical doctor and a Social Democrat of humble origins who rose to power under the promise of bringing back political stability to a country ravaged by public corruption and a high poverty index, did not honor his pledge to clean up public offices and create new jobs, increasing instead the levels of state repression. In this period of disenchantment and depolitization, Juan Loyola organized performances in marginal urban spaces, in which he would paint the national flag on old car carcasses, ornamental stones on highways, and industrial junk scattered throughout the city. This action became a political ritual that assailed the daily life of the residents of Caracas, showing these remains marked by a symbol that had been emptied out of its meaning through the dysfunctional nature of its discourse. Moreover, the use of the flag on junk and waste objects and in the metropolitan landscape was the result of the systematic use of nationalist symbolism in events and actions created by Loyola from the 1980s, where these were destroyed. Loyola was arrested numerous times by the police while in the midst of performing these actions on the street.

Long-term collaboration among artists is something alien to Venezuelan culture. This was changed by Yeni (Jennifer Hackshaw) and Nan (María Luisa González) who, over the course of seven years, created works performed as duets that straddled experimental dance, theater, and performance art. In contrast to artists of their generation, Yeni and Nan did not appeal to the country, popular culture, or vernacular myths, but rather to a feminist, self-reflexive language, and to a dialogue with nature and contemporary dance experiments performed in the U.S. by Simone Forti or Yvonne Rainer. The artists used water, fluids, and crystals as the poetic axes in their exploration of "personal identity, the limits of individual and shared space in the you-I dialectic."[51] As Amelia Jones correctly points out, the body has been the place where identities, in the plural, are self-conceived and interpreted. According to this principle, Jones considers that body art practices have turned to the exploration of multiple, dispersed and non-normative subjectivities (Jones 1998: 214–16). Yeni and Nan showed the contingent and unstable nature of identities in many of their performances, from Birth (Nacimiento, 1979, Galería Ángel Boscán, Caracas), to Integrations in Water (Integraciones en agua, 1981), presented at the Bienal de São Paulo, and proposed for the Paris Biennial, where the meeting of their bodies and their paused gesturing movements constituted actions that challenged binary distinctions between interior and exterior, public and private, inside and outside, and which, according to Juan Calzadilla, in the case of Parting Action of Space (Acción divisoria del espacio) (1981) "disturb the axial structure of the couple" (in Ramos 1995 n.p.).

If information was a shared concern among conceptual artists all over the world in that it challenged the center/periphery opposition, communication, in turn, was the ideological bridge between artists such as Alfred Wenemoser, Claudio Perna, and Marco Antonio Ettedgui. Perhaps attracted by the cosmopolitanism enjoyed by Venezuela at the time, Alfred Wenemoser settled there in 1980, where he has created performances that challenge the status of the work of art per se in an information distribution and consumption system. Wenemoser's actions, like those by Ettedgui and Perna, have exposed the conventions of art (Person to Person [Persona a Persona], Domo Plaza Bolívar, 1981). They explore the way in which these conventions are communicated to the public in a resource economy where the passive or voyeuristic stance of the viewer is inverted, creating dilemma situations. Born in Graz and influenced by Vienna's action art, Wenemoser quickly became part of the group of Caracas performance artists. Ida Píngala II, an action chosen for the 1981 Bienal de São Paulo and presented in variants at the Fifth Theater Festival, used Tantric symbolism to place the artist and the viewer in an ethical dilemma.[52] After a three-day fast, Wenemoser lay down in the middle of the stage to await the verdict from the mask-wearing audience, who had to choose between the sun (Pingala), a male being symbolized by oranges placed on stage, or the moon (Ida), a female being represented by a white dove trapped under a helmet. If the audience chose to eat the oranges, this meant the artist would not eat, and if they chose the dove, the artist would break his fast by eating it.

In line with aesthetic forms stressing communication with the audience, Marco Antonio Ettedgui, whose tragic death at age twenty-two truncated a brilliant career, created an important autobiographical event that shook the institutional fabric of national museums in Venezuela. Shown at the exhibit Search for the Image (Indagación de la Imagen), proposed by Ettedgui himself at GAN, Happy Birthday (Feliz Cumpleaños) was an event in which the artist invited the public in general, family, and friends to celebrate his birthday at a party held in the museum. The slogan "the personal is political," used by feminist activists in the 1970s as a legitimate expression of the need to acknowledge individual freedoms and sexual difference as part of women's rights, was theoretically recovered by Ettedgui in its libertarian sense by applying it to the private sphere and the symbolic space of national identity (inside a museum whose mission is dedicated to Venezuelan art). By celebrating his birthday, a private act, as a daily-life event shared with the public, friends, and family, Ettedgui not only blurred the distinction between art and life, but also between the public and the private.

Experiences and situations pointed out throughout this text do not totalize the history of non-objectual art, nor do they reduce it to a list of unpublished experiences contributed by specific artists.[53]An alternative vision of Venezuela was constructed through these actions, one that is different from the one offered by abstract, Kinetic and Op art, which argued that Venezuela could only attain progress and cultural independence by embracing these universal forms of modern art. Such idealized forms, self-contained and autonomous, were attractive for the modernization project of the intellectual, economic, and political elites, inasmuch as they held the promise of a rational order in a country that had been undermined by military rule of caudillos and underdevelopment. In contrast, the dystopian model proposed by local non-objectual practices and conceptual modes not only questioned this willful order that suppressed cultural miscegenation in the modern narrative, but rather proposed rethinking such mixing of the popular and the vernacular as forces that were organically constitutive of the nation. Another genealogical feature of these experiences shows they challenged the central and individual role played by the artist as a creative genius, favoring instead a collective pedagogy, which challenged the place of the exhibit as a professional space limited only to aesthetic contemplation. These hybrid, transdisciplinary and participatory practices were devised to occupy the nooks, inside and outside the museum, as Marco Antonio Ettedgui suggested, to later show up in those uncomfortable places that the philosopher Homi Bhabha has called the liminal figures of the nation-space, the interstices of modernity where no political ideology or ethnographic project can exercise a transcendent or metaphysical authority (Bhabha 1990: 298–301). Hence the resistance of institutions to preserve their memory, and of criticism to interpret it.

*Essay first published in the edited volume:
Deborah Cullen. 2008.
Arte ≠ Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas 1960-2000. New York: El Museo del Barrio.


Gabriela Rangel holds an M.A. in curatorial studies from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, an M.A. in media and communications studies from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, and a B.A. in film studies from the International Film School at San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. She is currently the director of Visual Arts and curator at the Americas Society. Prior to this position she was assistant curator of Latin American art and programs coordinator for the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She has curated exhibitions on the work of Marta Minujín, Gordon Matta Clark, Paula Trope, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Juan Downey, and Dias & Riedweg, among others. Rangel has also made catalogue contributions to Arturo Herrera (Transnocho Arte Contacto, 2009), Arte no es vida (El Museo del Barrio, 2008), Da Adversidade Vivemos: Artistes d'Amérique latine (Musee de Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2001) and Liliana Porter (Centro de Arte Recoleta, Buenos Aires) and co-edited A Principality on its Own (Americas Society-David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard, 2006).


Notes

 [1] Even if we accept that happenings, performances, actions and situations do not do away with objects even while they dematerialize them, we have opted for the term "non-objectual art," used by the Mexican-based Peruvian critic Juan Acha, because it allows us to consider performances that are not necessarily theatrical, where the body of the artist need not intervene in order to create a situation or produce an event. On the other hand, the term non-objectual recovers, historically speaking, the reference to Primer coloquio Latinoamericano de arte no-objetual, which took place in Medellín, Colombia in 1981. This event created a different perception from that of critics who judged happenings, performances, and actions as derivative of events that happened in the U.S.A. and Europe. Acha was a great regional promoter of this type of hybrid, ephemeral art, stimulating artists who were making forays into very conservative media.

 [2] The most recent institutional life took place in the 1990s with several body art events and exhibits sponsored by the Museum of Fine Arts under the leadership of María Elena Ramos. In those years, the Galería de Arte Nacional and the Museo Alejandro Otero also occasionally opened their programming to performances and actions within thematic exhibits.

 [3] After rejecting the idea of a commemorative exhibit, Inocente Palacios and Miguel Arroyo convinced the Municipal Council of Caracas to give Jacobo Borges the green light for a 1967 "multimedia" project that would celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city. Palacios would remain as producer, mediating between the State and the artist and his collaborators.

 [4] This idea is repeated and becomes a historiographic principle in texts that go from exhibition catalogs such as La Década Prodigiosa, Los Ochenta, La Invención de la Continuidad, to monographs by María Elena Ramos y Juan Carlos Palenzuela.

 [5] An exception is the private Collection of Ignacio E. and Valentina Oberto, who have created an archive that documents the actions of El Techo de la Ballena and some performances from the 1970s.

 [6] Juan Calzadilla argues that the performatic rituals by Armando Reverón in El Castillete de Macuto, documented by various filmmakers and photographers, should be seen as precursors to body art in Venezuela. Even if this idea is interesting, a discussion of this material lies beyond the scope of this essay.

 [7] I agree with Amelia Jones's theoretical position in considering the body as constitutive of a subjectivity excluded from postmodernism by theoreticians associated with the journal October. Jones argues that, "Body art is specifically antiformalist in impulse, opening up the circuits of desire informing artistic production and reception. Works that involve the artist’s enactment of her or his body in all of its sexual, racial, and other particularities, and overtly solicit spectatorial desires unhinge the very deep structures and assumptions embedded in the formalist model of art evaluation" (Jones 1998: 50).

 [8] I am referring to thematic exhibitions motivated by a comparative approach that does not privilege European or North American works in its selection such as Global Conceptualism (Queens Museum, 1999), Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution (Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art–MoMA PS1, 2007–2008), and Global Feminism (The Brooklyn Museum, 2006–2007).

 [9] Very few of these authors published a compilation of essays, as is the case of Elsa Flores, Convergencias, (1983), or monographs on a specific event, such as María Elena Ramos, Acciones frente a la Plaza (1995) and Juan Carlos Palenzuela, Once tipos, (2002).

 [10] An exception is "Embodying Venezuela," an essay by María Elena Ramos (2000).

 [11] Members of this group were: Edmundo Aray, Alberto Brandt, Jacobo Borges, Juan Calzadilla, Carlos Contramaestre, Daniel González, Salvador Garmendia, Adriano González León, Angel Luque, Gabriel Morera, Dámaso Ogaz, Caopolicán Ovalles, and Francisco Pérez Perdomo.

 [12] The project for a free bourgeois society was supported by the signatories of the Partido de punto fijo, a political and economic alliance signed in October 1958 between the Army, business leaders, the Church, and the right-of-center political parties excluded the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV). The outstanding contribution of PCV to the struggle against the Pérez-Jiménez dictatorship was unable to guarantee it a degree of power in the new order inaugurated by the presidency of the social-democrat, Rómulo Betancourt.

 [13] The most noteworthy were perhaps the exhibits of Grupo Zero, Julio Le Parc, The New York Graphic Workshop, two group shows where artists such as Hans Haacke and Bruce Nauman participated, as well as the Op artists Jesús Soto, Carlos Cruz Díez and the Venezuelan conceptual artists Héctor Fuenmayor, Eugenio Espinoza and Claudio Perna. Lourdes Blanco, “A solas en la Sala Mendoza,” in Sala Mendoza 2001: 108–155.

 [14] Review founded by Alejandro Otero and a group of Venezuelan artists in 1950 in Paris. Otero published five numbers together with Pascual Navarro, Mateo Manaure, Miguel Arroyo, Luis Guevara Moreno, Carlos González Bogen, Narciso Debourg, Perán Erminy, Rubén Nuñez, Dora Hersen, Aimé Battistini, and the classical dancer Belén Núñez, the filmmaker César Enríquez and the philosophy student J. R. Guillent Pérez.

 [15] Only at the beginning of her tenure as Director of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas did Sofía Imber favor programs such as video art festivals, coordinated by Margarita D'Amico, in which Latin American, European, and North American artists participated, including members of Fluxus.

 [16] The exhibit Living Spaces (Espacios vivientes), organized by Perán Erminy and Juan Calzadilla, pushed the limits of the old abstraction-figuration divide present in Venezuelan art from the 1940s and 1950s, a debate that had been led in the Venezuelan press by the artist Alejandro Otero and the writers Miguel Otero Silva and Mario Briceño Iragorry. Espacios vivientes proposed viewing abstraction as an existentialist meditation on the amorphous without positing a division between figurative art as an inclusive form, legible by the common person, and abstraction as a falsely universal, elitist and hence reactionary language.

 [17] The foundational manifesto of the group, entitled Pareciera que todo intento de renovación (It Would Seem As If Any Attempt at Renewal), spelled out the warning, "It would seem as if any attempt at renewal, or rather at exploration or experimentation, in art would lean towards, whether we like it or not, the mention of groups who prospered at the beginning of this century, such as Dada or Surrealism. Even though we do keep in mind these experiments when founding El Techo de la Ballena, it is not our intention to revive actions or resuscitate gestures that time has laid in their proper place in the history of contemporary art and literature” (in Rama 1987: 49).

 [18] Although there is no documentation on happenings organized by Alberto Brandt, a member of El Techo de la Ballena, the critics Juan Calzadilla and Perán Erminy argue that they contributed to prepare the way for the appearance of conceptual art in the country. See Brandt 1990.

 [19] Imagen de Caracas was based on the Brechtian notion of the interruption of action and participation, in which theatrical elements and film images become fragmented in space and their contents are completed by the spectator, who also needs to move around in order to follow the action projected onto various screens. The in situ presence of actors completed the intention.

 [20] The collaborating artists were: Jacobo Borges, Mario Robles, Juan Pedro Posani, Josefina Jordán, Manuel Espinoza, Jorge Chirinos, Ramon Unda, Edmundo Vargas, Ana Brumlik, Maricarmen Pérez Alvaro Boscán, Luis Luksic, and Francisco Hung. For more information about this project see Sanz 1996.

 [21] Posani, who began as a draftsman in the 1950s in the office of the architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva, began at the time collaborating with Villanueva in the design of the School of Economic and Social Sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela (1967–1979).

 [22] The idea of quasi cinema was developed by Hélio Oiticica in installations where the cinematic experience was liberated from a passive consumption of images and alienating fictions. This type of experience conceived by Oiticica was stimulated by his readings of Herbert Marcuse, Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed, and the reception of Brecht's ideas by Jean-Luc Godard.

 [23] This and other points were kindly clarified by Borges in an interview with the author in January 2008 in New York.

 [24] The actors, for the most part, were common people, members of the film crew, celebrities from the arts and intellectual milieu, including Miguel Arroyo and Inocente Palacios, who played historical characters.

 [25] For instance, the relationship between Simón Bolívar and Simón Rodríguez was narrated as a stroll through a beautiful and colorful garden, whereas the execution of Manuel Gual was told in black and white.

 [26] When Imagen de Caracas was shut down, Jacobo Borges, deeply affected, ceased painting for several years and co-founded a left-wing political party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), devoting his time to creating political artworks and agitprop.

 [27] During the Caldera's five-year term, Bernardo Bertolucci's film Last Tango in Paris was censored for its pornographic content.

 [28] Sosa's show was entitled Siete objetos blancos.

 [29] Brazil, like Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, was under a military dictatorship at the time. In New York, artists that were based there such as Luis Camnitzer, Gordon Matta-Clark, Mathias Goeritz, Lorenzo Homar organized a counter-biennial in condemnation of the dictatorships.

 [30] Rafael Pineda, a member of the Committee Pro Museum of Ciudad Bolívar, published an article entitled "No queme su obra," (Don't Burn Your Work) in the daily El Nacional (Caracas) on Friday, 5 September 1969.

 [31] Antonieta Sosa's Response to Rafael Pineda, El Nacional (Caracas), Sunday, 7 September 1969.

 [32] Such works attempted to integrate the viewer with the meaning of the work as such in the same way the experiments of Groupe de Recherche Audiovisuel (GRAV) had done in Paris in 1966.

 [33] This type of sexual aggressiveness on the part of a mass-oriented viewer that transforms the artist into an idol was foregrounded by Yoko Ono in Cut Piece, 1965.

 [34] The artists that participated in Experiencias visuales 68, a group show curated by Jorge Romero Brest, decided to destroy their works on the street where the Galería Di Tella was located in protest against the censoring of the piece El Baño by Roberto Plate, also present in that show and removed by the police.

 [35] Both events had sizeable budgets granted by the State.

 [36] Operation Condor was a state policy implemented mostly in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s by the military dictatorships against the ideological opposition.

 [37] The Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho scholarship fund, which supported middle-class students going abroad, was created.

 [38] The first edition took place in April 1973 and was curated by Lourdes Blanco until 1976, when she quit the directorship of Sala Mendoza and was succeeded by Margot Romer. The salon Once Tipos was organized until 1981, at which point the name was changed to Premio Eugenio Mendoza.

 [39] If Blanco's motivation to organize such a salon was to show specific alternatives to local constructivism and Op art to the members of MoMA's International Council gathered in Caracas in 1973, this salon became a refuge for conceptual artists and those interested in transdisciplinary and non-objectual practices.

 [40] For an assessment of the impact of this salon during this period, I recommend the monograph by Juan Carlos Palenzuela, Once tipos (2002) and the art catalog of the retrospective Arte social, Claudio Perna (2004).

 [41] Espinoza created Impenetrable, a mesh painted on a canvas, which questioned the idea of aesthetic autonomy in Soto's Penetrable.

 [42] These problems were particularly serious during the period previous to the construction of Caracas's subway in 1983.

 [43] In 1970, Barboza created his "action poems" in pop music concerts, Parks, and public marches in London, with girls wearing nets or stockings; he later used hats.

 [44] Since there were multiple intersections between performers and conceptual artists in the region, promoted by non-objectual art meetings organized by Juan Acha in the period, it is worth conducting a more systematic search for Zerpa's works in Mexico.

 [45] Elsa Flores and Juan Calzadilla agree on this approach.

 [46] Amelia Jones provides an insightful reading of Vito Acconci's performance Seedbed as a work that indicates this type of turn in subjectivity (Jones 1998: 136–137).

 [47] Interview of the author with the artist, November 2007.

 [48] Organized by Juan Acha in Medellín, Colombia, and with a text by María Elena Ramos.

 [49] During the conquest and colonization of the New World, the Spaniards were looking for a Golden City called El Dorado. The city was transformed into a myth, becoming a trick used by Amerindians in order to doom the conquerors in their ambition.

 [50] Alvarez is a prominent architect who was part of Carlos Raúl Villanueva's team and in the 1960s and 1970s created elaborate installations with mirrors that distorted space and destroyed the consistency of the white cube, creating instead an illusionary environment.

 [51] For more information see the issue of Franklyn Furnace's magazine Flue devoted to Latin American artists (1981).

 [52] Elsa Flores suggested this idea in a text that was distributed during the Bienal and was later reprinted in Convergencias.

 [53] Notably absent is Ángel Vivas Arias, a key figure in performance art during the 1970s and 1980s. This omission is due to the lack of materials at research centers in Venezuela.


Works Cited

Alberro, Alexander. 1999. Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology. Cambridge Mass. [etc.]: The MIT Press.

Bhabha, Homi K. 1990. Nation and Narration. London: Routledge.

Brandt, Alberto, and Felipe Márquez. 1990. Alberto Brandt: cazador de avestruces: Fundación Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, 9 de diciembre de 1990 al 3 de febrero de 1991. Caracas: El Fundación.

Calzadilla, Juan. 1995. "Siete eventos para una nueva lógica del arte venezolano," In María Elena Ramos. Acciones frente a la plaza: reseñas y documentos de siete eventos para una nueva lógica del arte venezolano. Caracas: Fundarte.

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