Héctor Ragni Número Uno (Number One), 1936 Oil on canvas Courtesy Joaquín Ragni and The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation Photo: Oriol Tarridas

17 September 2010 to 30 January 2011 – Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany – Bonn
The Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection
The rich cultural heritage of the Latin American continent has long fascinated European audiences. This fascination also extends to 20th-century Latin American art and literature, which tend to be perceived as largely dominated by Magic Realism (e.g. Gabriel García Márquez). The thematic focus of this exhibition seeks to counter this widely held misconception and to shed new light on the dynamic development of 20th-century abstract art in Latin America and its relationship to European classical Modernism. At the centre of the exhibition is the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, which caused a sensation when it first opened in the US and which now makes its first appearance in Germany.

A selection of more than two hundred works, spanning painting, sculpture, photography and drawing, presents key positions of Latin American geometric abstraction. The artists who propelled this broad movement broke with the narrative mode of figurative painting prevalent in their countries. Embracing European developments in abstract art, they expressed their novel perception of reality through structure, colour, form and rhythm alone. Intensely urban, Latin American geometric abstraction evolved in a fruitful dialogue with international art movements, ranging from Concrete Art of the 1930s and 40s to Op Art and kinetic art of the 1960s and 70s.

The thematically arranged exhibition traces the key trends of geometric abstraction and presents the most vibrant centres of the style in Latin America – most of them in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela. Surprising visual links between artists of different generations and between different disciplines and styles provide new insights into one of the little-known and underappreciated chapters of international Modernism written by artists such as Joaquín Torres-García, Lygia Clark, Lucio Fontana, Julio Le Parc, Hélio Oiticica, Hércules Barsotti, Carmen Herrera, Alejandro Otero, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Jesús Rafael Soto.

European artists who had fled Nazi Germany for Latin America also played an important role in this vibrant cultural exchange across the continents. Many found it hard to put down new roots, and most were forgotten in their countries of origin. The exhibition in Bonn showcases representative groups of works by three Jewish émigré artists – the photographer Grete Stern, the sculptor Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt) and the painter Mira Schendel – who defied adversity to build successful careers in their new home. This exhibition pays long overdue tribute to their life’s work.

The history of Latin America’s cultural identity and Latin American modern art is closely bound up with European developments which had a direct impact on the political, social and historical reality of the South American continent. The collection of abstract Latin American art of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in Miami illustrates the intercontinental creative dialogue and the intellectual and formal response of Latin American artists to the artistic preoccupations of the European avant-garde. Moreover, about a dozen of the artists presented in the exhibition were born in Europe and educated there in the 1920s and 30s. However, Gertrudes Altschul, Martín Blaszko, Lothar Charoux, Thomaz Farkas, Gertrud Goldschmidt, Mathias Goeritz, Annemarie Heinrich, Mira Schendel and Grete Stern, to name but a few, did not leave Europe on a whim; they were forced to emigrate or flee Germany and Europe during the time of the Nazi regime. They are among the few who survived the genocide and among the even fewer who overcame the adversity of forced exile, picking up the pieces of their lives and in rebuilding successful careers in the art world. In an effort to pay homage to the artistic achievement of these victims of National Socialism, the Art and Exhibition Hall has – pars pro toto – singled out three artists, Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt), Mira Schendel and Grete Stern, whose work, augmented with loans from international collections, is presented in greater depth and integrated into the exhibition.
Thus Vibración brings back to Germany important works by a number of artists who were forced to emigrate to South America during the Nazi era. The sensuous and aesthetic experience of these works also serves to sharpen our awareness of our collective historical responsibility.

Museum Hours