When it comes to the global contemporary art scene, Chile doesn’t appear to be among its MVPs – at least not at first glance. However, for those wanting to delve beyond the mainstream and get to know the exotic outskirts of the discipline, the Chilean art story might just be among the most compelling today, with a culture that’s quite different from the one known by Western civilisation
Artists of Chile, which is renowned in particular for its poets, but also painters, photographers and filmmakers, all of whom are innovators in their own right, with their cutting-edge work recognised all around the world. They are currently producing some of the freshest, most innovative work on the South American contemporary art scene, a fact reflected – and further disseminated – through a string of recent, critically acclaimed shows in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
Latin American art has boomed in recent years, but although plenty of attention has been lavished on countries like Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, there’s a wealth of talent elsewhere in the region that’s only just starting to arouse international interest.
Given that Chile is a young country in geopolitical terms, it comes as no surprise that it was slightly underdeveloped at the time when the era of modern art blossomed in Europe and the U.S. Its first official collective of painters was called ‘Generation del 13’, named after the year of its inauguration (1913). The subjects that concerned these painters were close to those of American realists, though the style itself is often described as post-romanticism – a category similar to realism still enveloped by a touch of the personal, and ignorant to the leading trends around the rest of the world.
As much as this collective was significant as a pioneering example of what a unified artistic group could be about, it could be said that one of the greatest breakthroughs came in the 1950s when the ‘Rectángulo Group’ abandoned naturalism and started experimenting with geometric shapes. This was the first direct take on abstraction in Chilean art. Chile then went through a series of political and societal changes that further shaped the interests and the subject matter that became central to their artists.
Chilean artists currently produce some of the freshest, most innovative work on the South American contemporary art scene, a fact reflected in – and further disseminated by – a string of recent critically acclaimed shows in the U.S., Asia and Europe
When you’re living in a country with a landscape as dramatic as Chile, there is no doubt that it will become one of the most inspiring subjects. The way of dealing with landscapes, on the other hand, is what changed and evolved over the course of time. The Rectangulo Group dared to treat landscapes differently and reinvent their momentous character through abstract shapes. The legacy was further embraced by younger creatives, especially the muralists who dominated the art scene during the 1960s and early ‘70s, including Roberto Matta, who became one of the Chilean fine arts most prominent figures.
Chile faced the beginning of the most dreadful period in its history in the mid-1970s, marked by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which lasted from 1974 to 1990.
Chileans were deprived of their rights to speak and act freely at a time when humanity as a whole was, ironically, progressing toward significant social liberation and tolerance (marked by the aftermath of the 1968 protests and the steady rise of feminism, all of which were supposed to lead towards a more equal and righteous world).
Pinochet censorship naturally became the second most important impression impacting on Chilean art, but the freedom to express discontent or fear was restricted.
Given that Chile is a young country in geopolitical terms, it comes as no surprise that it was slightly underdeveloped at the time when the era of modern art blossomed in Europe and the U.S.
This is the point at which Chilean art actually became a tool for realising the life that could not be lived directly. It is no coincidence that this was also the period in which artists massively rejected painting and traditional art forms and embraced other genres that helped them live the art they made, even if tacitly.
In an equally unexpected and brilliant turn of events, the period of great crisis in Chile gave birth to some of the most avant-garde art forms, such as performance art and installation.
A secret language was developed in Chile, in order to evade censorship and mystify the explicit notion, which created perfect conditions for the evolution of conceptual art. Art had to be smarter than direct language and less obvious than a metaphor. In a way, Chilean art went through painstaking training that produced some of the most remarkable shifts in the way art was viewed in Chile.
Chile went through a series of political and societal changes that further shaped the interests and the subject matter that became central to its artists. Art went through painstaking training that produced some of the most remarkable shifts in the way art is viewed in Chile
The most notable group from the ‘70s was CADA – Colectivo Acciones Chile went through a series of political and societal changes that further shaped the interests and the subject matter that became central to its artists.
Art went through painstaking training that produced some of the most remarkable shifts in the way art is viewed in Chile de Arte, which consisted of both thinkers and artists.
Lotty Rosenfeld and Raul Zurita were perhaps the two most inspiring members of the group, responsible for introducing the power and significance of public art and action.
They were the ones who touched upon the concept of documenting art as a way of signifying that art happens, just like life does. Another type of hidden language was used by Eugenio Dittborn, who tackled the subject of isolation in Chile (also inspired by the political situation).
The actual subject matter of his drawings and other types of visual artwork were not as relevant as the act that followed, which was to send his works in packages, all across the globe.
Today’s art in Chile is more frequently described as forward-looking, more concerned with the present and even the future than the past. Still, one of the most ubiquitous remnants of the Pinochet period is a search for identity, which requires reinvention and affirmation. A search for (or a claim of) identity was present in some form both during and after Pinochet’s regime.
The position of the Chilean immigrant, as well as the image of a native Chilean as seen by the rest of the world, reappears as a theme in many Chilean artists’ works – starting with the aforementioned Dittborn, and including some of today’s contemporary artists as well, such as the renowned Ivan Navarro. The feeling of isolation and distance is preconditioned both by Chile’s geography and history.