Interview with Ivo Mesquita
With the exhibition
El Regresso de los Gigantes/The Return of the Giants in Latin America,
the collection of the Deutsche Bank is currently presenting a comprehensive
view of German painting from 1975 to1985. Following its initial station
in Monterrey, which was enthusiastically received by the public, the show
will be travelling to Mexico City (where it can be seen beginning on February
27, 2003) and to São Paulo (from 6/18/2003). The Brazilian curator and
art critic Ivo
Mesquita was the director of the São Paulo Biennale
in Brazil from 1980 to 1988. Since that time, he has curated numerous exhibitions
addressing the theme of cultural identity in Latin American art and has
presented them on an international scale. For the collection of the Deutsche
Bank, Mesquita has overseen the catalogue
to Return of the Giants, including the essays it contains. In an
interview, db-art.info has asked him about the relationship of Latin American
artists to German painting from the eighties.
you were present at the opening of the exhibition The Return of the
Giants in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Monterrey. The MARCO assumes
a prominent position as the only institution for contemporary art in this
city of four million inhabitants. What was your personal impression of
the reactions to the exhibition among press and public?
first reactions to the exhibition were extremely positive. The show has
set a signal, both for the museum and the city. The public in Monterrey
has a thing for painting, and the exceptional quality of the presentation
practically guaranteed its success. MARCO
was founded as a museum by a group of collectors that had heavily supported
painting during the eighties. For this reason, of course, a very special
relationship exists between the exhibition location and the "Giants."
1996, the PREMIO MARCO, which is endowed with $250,000, was awarded to
the German painter Jörg Immendorf. Does a special relationship exist between
Mexico and the generation of painters presented in The Return of the
What connects this generation of painters in both
countries is the international style of painting that strongly prevailed
during the eighties, both in Europe and Latin America, and that resulted
in a fundamental involvement with the great traditions of western painting.
Taking this development as their point of departure, however, the art scene
here focussed its attention on the traditions and cultural values of this
continent and dedicated itself to the investigation of its own history
and culture. In Latin America, the artistic involvement with the colonial
past also meant a critical involvement with the all-embracing model of
modernism, which in many cases also brought about a return to the "Giants"
The contribution this movement made to the deconstruction
of modernism is enormous. The only country that can present its own giants
to the Europeans is Mexico, with its great tradition of mural
painting constituting an avant-garde that developed there during the
first decades of the 20th century. This painting lies at the heart of what
is considered "Mexican," and has permeated the entirety of the country's
art since that time. The generation of painters in Mexico during the eighties
radically questioned these aesthetic and cultural models. In this respect,
they were very different from the same generation of artists in other Latin
American countries. The so-called "Neo-Mexicanism" voiced considerable
criticism of the local pictorial traditions and thus paved the way for
a new and original generation of artists in the nineties.
Malerei understood itself as a radical break from conceptual and minimal
art, which it perceived as being excessively intellectualized. Are there
parallels between the art movements of the 70s and 80s in Germany and those
in Latin America?
Yes, the return to painting in Latin America
at that time turned just as much against the norms of conceptual art and
the dematerialization of art that went along with it. At the same time,
we were seeing an act of liberation on the part of a new generation of
artists, precisely at a time when the military governments and regimes
in South America were nearing their end. This was an essential difference
to Germany. In contrast to Europe and North America, conceptual art was
heavily politicized in Latin America and became an important instrument
of criticism against the ruling authoritarian system. The new generation
of painters never called this into question. They turned, however, against
the "cerebralization" of artistic work and demanded a return to sensuosity,
to the body, and to the imaginary. One shouldn't forget that the worldwide
art establishment back then had harked back to painting and developed an
international style out of it that became widely supported by the media,
the market, and the institutions. And all of this occurred while the new
communication media seemed capable of doing away with distances and differences
in time around the world.
How relevant is the reception of contemporary
German art for the artists of Latin America? Does a dialogue exist?
believe that Latin American artists, just like German artists or artists
from other countries who feel bound to western art traditions, should develop
a mutual curiosity for each other's work: painters should be interested
in other painters, video artists in other video artists, and so on. At
the same time, it seems to me that artists today often refer to the work
of other artists without taking their traditions and cultural values into
consideration. It's problematic to argue today using concepts such as "nationality"
– Latin American, German, etc. – because this has nothing to do with cultural
At the opening of the exhibition in Monterrey, you
referred to the relevance of the art being shown for the current discourse
over painting's position regarding developments in the field of media art.
Do you see any possibility that painting and media art might combine to
create new forms of expression?
No, never. I was referring
to certain contemporary works that use other media such as photography,
video, and film and reflect upon them in painting. Here, it's not a matter
of a connection between painting and media art, but rather of the discussion
over painting and its forms of representation.
11, Okwui Enwezor addressed the close exchange among cities and cultures
in the globalized world. His particular interest was focussed on what this
meant for art. Here, too, the media played an important role, which could
be seen particularly in the numerous video and film works by artists from
the so-called "South" or Third World. Painting was only represented at
the fringes. What role does an exhibition like Return of the Giants play
in this context?
I don't see any relationship at all between
these two exhibitions. documenta
11 belongs to a certain circle of exhibitions dedicated to the contemporary
discourse on art production, and it was brilliant: Okwui
Enwezor and his team of curators did an immense job in presenting a
well-observed panorama of contemporary artistic and cultural practices.
The Return of the Giants is a museum exhibition with extremely precise
curatorial aims. Here, it's a matter of German painting between 1975 and
1985 and a bank collection. I think it can contribute to a better understanding
and to a critical evaluation of that time, as well as to a deeper involvement
with the works of the artists shown. The view that documenta 11
only showed painting at its periphery is one I consider to be one-sided.
There, was, in fact, some very good painting in the exhibition, and along
with this there were many works referring to painting or involved with
painting on a more conceptual and critical level.