Juan Downey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Juan Downey
Born(1940-05-11)May 11, 1940
Died(1993-06-09)June 9, 1993
EducationPontificia Universidad Católica of Chile
MovementVideo Art, Kinetic Art

Juan Downey (May 11, 1940 – June 9, 1993) was a Chilean artist who was a pioneer in the fields of video art and interactive art.

Early life and education[edit]

Downey was born in Santiago, Chile.[1][2] His father David Downey V. was a distinguished architect in Chile, and following in his father's footsteps Juan Downey studied and completed a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1964 from the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile.[3][4] In 1961, to further his studies and develop his artistic practice, Downey traveled to Europe. He spent a few months in Barcelona and Madrid, followed by Paris[3] where he lived for a period of three years during which he studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter's legendary Atelier 17.[4] During this time, he befriended the artists Eugenio Téllez, Roberto Matta, Julio Le Parc, and Takis.[4][5][6][7]

In 1965 Downey traveled to Washington DC at the invitation of The Organization of American States to have a solo show of his work.[8] It was there that Downey would meet his wife Marilys Belt.[9] He stayed in Washington for a couple of years before moving with his family to New York City in 1969.[6] Downey was an associate professor of art at the Pratt Institute in New York from 1970 until 1993.[6] He died in New York City on June 9, 1993 as a result of cancer.[1][10]


In New York City he would become involved with the groups Radical Software and Raindance collective, both early proponents of using video for artistic and political means.[11][12][13]

He is recognized as pioneer and early adopter of video art,[1][14][15] however, during his artistic career Downey created an extensive body of work that also includes electronic and video sculptures, photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, performance, installation and writing.[1] Downey's drawings are especially remarkable and remained a constant practice for the artist.[16] All of his major works were accompanied by drawings. They not only reflect his “sureness of hand” as the curators David Ross and James Harithas noted,[17] but also his compelling ideas and visions, and reveal this sustained practice of drawing over a lifetime.

The early period of Juan Downey's artistic practice consisted of painting, drawing, writing and printmaking. After moving to the United States in 1965, he began to experiment with numerous forms of art that included creating interactive electronic sculptures, performances, happenings, and in the late 1960s video art. He wrote, “The universe is not an assemblage of independent parts, but an overlapping, interrelated system of energy. All my work relates to this vision.”[18] These media permitted Downey to investigate ideas about invisible energy as well as invite for active participation of the viewers with his work.

Two seminal series in Downey's career were Video Trans Americas, begun in 1971[19][20] and The Thinking Eye, begun in mid-1970s. Video Trans Americas (V.T.A.) is often divided into two groups: the first group was developed between 1973 and 1976, and the second between 1976 and 1977. The two series stress his preoccupation with political discourse, the self, history of art, western civilization, and Latin American identity.


Solo exhibitions[edit]

Solo exhibitions featuring Juan Downey's work include:

  • Juan Downey: Audio-Kinetic Electronic Sculptures, The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, (1968);[21]
  • With Energy Beyond These Walls, Howard Wise Gallery, New York, NY, (1970);[22]
  • Video Trans Americas, Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, TX, (1976);[23]
  • Juan Downey: Video Trans Americas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, (1976);[4][24]
  • Video Trans Americas, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY (1977);
  • Juan Downey: New American Filmmaker Series, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (1978);[25]
  • Juan Downey, Matrix/Berkeley 16, University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA (1978);[26]
  • Une Forêt 'Videoformes': Retrospective Juan Downey, Festival de la Création Vidéo, Clermont-Ferrand, France (1993);[27]
  • Juan Downey: Instalaciones, Dibujos y Videos, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago (1995), Chile;[28]
  • Juan Downey: Con energía más allá de estos muros, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Centre del Carme, Valencia, Spain (1997–98);[29]
  • Retrospectiva de Video Arte de Juan Downey, Museo de Arte Moderno de Chiloé, Castro, Chiloé, Chile (2000);
  • Plateau of Humankind, Honorable Mention: “Excellence in Art Science and Technology,” 49th Venice Biennale Chilean Pavilion, Venice, Italy (2001);
  • Juan Downey: El ojo pensante, Sala de Arte Fundación Telefónica, Santiago, Chile (2010);[30]
  • Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect, MIT List Visual Arts Center,[31] Cambridge, MA, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY (2011-2012)

Group exhibitions[edit]

His work was included in numerous group exhibitions including:

  • Some More Beginnings: An Exhibition of Submitted Works Involving Technical Materials and Processes, organized by Experiments in Art and Technology, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum, Brookly, NY and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1968);[2][30][32]
  • New Learning Spaces & Places, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (1974);
  • Whitney Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (1975,[7] 1977, 1981, 1983,[33] 1985, 1987,[33] 1989, 1991);[33][34]
  • Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany, (1977);
  • Venice Biennale, US Pavilion, Venice, Italy, (1980);[33]
  • Sydney Biennale, Sydney, Australia, (1982);[35]
  • II Bienal de La Habana, Havana, Cuba, (1986);
  • The Thinking Eye, International Center for Photography, New York, NY, (1987);
  • Passages de l’image, Musée national d'Art moderne- Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, (1990);
  • Video Art: The First 25 Years, The Museum of Modern Art, and The American Federation of Arts, New York, NY, (1995);
  • Info Art ’95, Kwangju Biennale, Kwangju, Korea, (1995);
  • Electronic Highways, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, (1997);
  • Rational/Irrational, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany, (2008-2009)
  • VIVA ART VIVA, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, (2017);[36]

Selected works[edit]

Interactive art[edit]

  • Against Shadows, 1968, is an interactive artwork that uses a grid of photo sensors to translate shadow thrown by the human body to a matching grid of wall-mounted light bulbs.[31][37][38][39]
  • In Invisible Energy Dictates a Dance Concert, 1969-1970, readings taken by geiger counters are sent by walkie-talkies to dancers in different rooms of the gallery.[31][33]
  • Three-Way Communication by Light, 1972, used video, super 8 film and laser beams to join the actions of three performers painted in white face.[33][40]
  • Plato Now, 1973[31][12]

Performance art[edit]

  • Imperialistic Octopus, 1972[41]
  • Energy Fields, 1972[16][41]
  • Video Trans Americas Debriefing Pyramid, 1974[41]

Video art[edit]

Early works[edit]

  • Fresh Air, 3/4" NTSC format, b/w 16 min., 1971[5]
  • Plato Now, b/w, 30 min., 9 channels, 1972[31][42]
  • Monument to the Charles River, b/w, 27 min., 2 channels, 1973[42]
  • Rewe, video installation, 1991[43][44][28]

Video Trans Americas[edit]

The Video Trans Americas (V.T.A) Series was a video-installation composed of videos recorded with a Sony portapak during Downey’s travels from North to Central and South America between 1973 and 1976.[45][46] The first complete screening of the V.T.A video-installation was in the exhibition Landscape Studies in Video curated by David Ross at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 1975.[20] The V.T.A video-installation in subsequent exhibitions at other museum institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art (1976) was exhibited differently. This was largely due to the spatial component entailed in the presentation of the work, a key concern for Downey, as well as his own artistic liberty to make changes or integrate other components in the installation. Therefore, there are a number of different versions in the way the V.T.A video installation was exhibited. The following videos were included in the installation:[citation needed]

  • Rumbo al Golfo, b/w, 27 min., 1973[28][42]
  • Zapoteca, b/w, 27 min., 1973[42]
  • Yucatán, 1973
  • Chile, color, 13 min., 1974[42]
  • Guatemala, b/w, 27 min., 1973[42]
  • New York/Texas I & II, b/w, 27 min., 2 channels, 1974[2]
  • Nazca I & II, b/w 11 min., 2 channels, 1974[42]
  • Lima/Machu Picchu, b/w, 27 min., 1975[42]
  • Cuzco I & II, 1976
  • Inca I & II, 1976
  • Uros I & II, 1975
  • La Frontera I & II, 1976

Additional videos that are part of the V.T.A series:

  • Moving, b/w, 27 min., 1974[42]
  • Publicness, b/w, 30 min., 1974[42]
  • Central Zone, b/w, 27 min., 1975[47]
  • Videodances, b/w, 30 min., 1975[42]
  • Inca Split, 1976
  • Bi-Deo, 1976
  • In the Beginning, 1976
  • Guahibos, color, 26 min. 1976[47]
  • Yanomami Healing I, b/w, 1977[47]
  • Yanomami Healing II, b/w, 1977[47]
  • The Circle of Fires, 1978 (video installation comes in 2 versions)[48][49]
  • More Than Two, 1978 (installation)
  • The Abandoned Shabono, 1979[50]
  • The Laughing Alligator, 1979[51][52]
  • Chiloe, color, 18 min., 1981[16][42]
  • Chicago Boys, color, 16 min., stereo, 1982–83[42]
  • About Cages, 1986 (installation)
  • The Motherland, 1986
  • The Return of the Motherland, 1989

The Thinking Eye Series[edit]

  • Las Meninas (Maids of Honor), color, 20 min., 1975[53]
  • Venus and Her Mirror, 1980 (video-installation)[54][55]
  • The Looking Glass, 1981[56]
  • Information Withheld, 1983[57]
  • Shifters, 1984[57]
  • Sinage, 1984 (video-installation)
  • Obelisk, 1985 (video-installation)[47]
  • J.S. Bach, 1986[57]
  • Bachdisc, 1988 (interactive video-disc)[58]
  • Hard Times and Culture: Part One, Vienna fin-de-siecle, 1990[59][60]


Downey’s work can be found in private collections and in the collections of major museums. Selected museum collections include:


Downey was a Guggenheim fellow in the area of Fine Arts in 1971.[66]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Valerie Smith, ed. Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect. Leipzig: MIT List Visual Art Center & The Bronx Museum, 2011.
  • González, Julieta, Nicolás Guagnini, Carla Macchiavello, and Valerie Smith. Juan Downey: el ojo pensante. Santiago: Fundación Telefónica, 2010.
  • Arévalo, Antonio, Marilys Belt de Downey, Juan Downey, José Goñi Carrasco, and Luisa Ulibarri Lorenzini. Juan Downey: La Biennale di Venezia, 49 Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte. Milan: Rodrigo Figueroa Schirmer, 2001.
  • Bonet, Eugeni, Douglas Davis, Juan Downey, Nuria Enguita, Coco Fusco, Juan Guardiola, John G. Hanhardt, James Harithas, and David Ross. Juan Downey: With Energy Beyond These Walls (Con energía más allá de estos muros). Valencia: Institut Valencià d’Art Modern and Centre del Carme, 1997-98.
  • Hanhardt, John G., and Ann D. Hoy. Juan Downey of Dream Into Study. Santiago: Editorial Lord Cochrane, 1987.


  1. ^ a b c d Juan Downey, 53, A Pioneer Of Video as a Medium for Art - NYTimes.com
  2. ^ a b c Juan Downey; Gabriela Rangel; Nohra Haime Gallery (New York, N.Y.) (2005). Juan Downey: drawings from Las Meninas, and The looking glass. Nohra Haime Gallery.
  3. ^ a b Stanton Loomis Catlin; Terence Grieder (1966). Art of Latin America Since Independence. Yale University.
  4. ^ a b c d Biennial Exhibition. Whitney Museum of American Art. 1987.
  5. ^ a b Juan Downey: Chile : La Biennale di Venezia. publisher not identified. 2001.
  6. ^ a b c https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/juan-downey
  7. ^ a b Thomas Riggs; Association of Hispanic Arts (New York, N.Y.); Association for Latin American Art (2002). St. James Guide to Hispanic Artists: Profiles of Latino and Latin American Artists. St. James Press. ISBN 978-1-55862-470-2.
  8. ^ Organization of American States (1993). Contemporary Latin American Artists: Exhibitions at the Organization of American States 1965-1985. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-2644-1.
  9. ^ Qué pasa. Segunda Editorial Portada. 1986.
  10. ^ Umbrella. Umbrella Associates. 1992.
  11. ^ A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1950-1975. BRILL. 31 March 2016. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-90-04-31050-6.
  12. ^ a b Juan Downey - Exhibition at Tate Modern | Tate
  13. ^ Johan Pijnappel (December 1993). World wide video. Academy Editions.
  14. ^ Linda Frye Burnham (1987). High Performance. Astro Artz.
  15. ^ Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll (5 December 2016). Art in the Time of Colony. Taylor & Francis. pp. 208–. ISBN 978-1-351-95707-6.
  16. ^ a b c Mari Carmen Ramírez; Edith A. Gibson; Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery (1997). Re-aligning vision: alternative currents in South American drawing. Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin. ISBN 978-0-935213-07-2.
  17. ^ (Juan Downey: With Energy Beyond These Walls, p. 329)
  18. ^ Amalia Mesa-Bains (1993). Ceremony of Spirit: Nature and Memory in Contemporary Latino Art. Mexican Museum. ISBN 978-1-880508-02-2.
  19. ^ Social Media: Juan Downey’S Video Trans Americas |
  20. ^ a b Kathy Rae Huffman; Long Beach Museum of Art (1984). Video: a retrospective : Long Beach Museum of Art, 1974-1984. Long Beach Museum of Art.
  21. ^ Project MUSE - Electronically Operated Audio-Kinetic Sculptures, 1968
  22. ^ Arts Magazine. Art Digest Incorporated. March 1970.
  23. ^ Emmis Communications (August 1976). Texas Monthly. Emmis Communications. pp. 20–. ISSN 0148-7736.
  24. ^ William Kaizen (5 July 2016). Against Immediacy: Video Art and Media Populism. Dartmouth College Press. pp. 153–. ISBN 978-1-61168-946-4.
  25. ^ Whitney Museum of American Art (1979). Bulletin of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Whitney Museum of American Art.
  26. ^ Juan Downey: University Art Museum, November-January 1978. The Museum. 1978.
  27. ^ La Biennale di Venezia. Premiato Stabilimento C. Ferrari. 2001.
  28. ^ a b c Juan Downey (1998). Con energía más allá de estos muros. IVAM Centre del Carme, Generalitat Valenciana. ISBN 978-84-482-1580-4.
  29. ^ Olvidando a Velázquez: Las Meninas : Barcelona, Museu Picasso, 15 de mayo-28 de septiembre de 2008. Ajuntament de Barcelona, Institut de Cultura. 2008. ISBN 978-84-9850-089-9.
  30. ^ a b Antonio Sergio Bessa (2014). Beyond the Supersquare: Art and Architecture in Latin America After Modernism. Fordham University Press. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-0-8232-6079-9.
  31. ^ a b c d e Brandon LaBelle (29 January 2015). Background Noise, Second Edition: Perspectives on Sound Art. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 313–. ISBN 978-1-62892-353-7.
  32. ^ Brooklyn Museum (N.Y.); Museum of Modern Art (N.Y.) (1968). Some More Beginnings: An Exhibition of Submitted Works Involving Technical Materials and Processes Organized by Staff and Members of Experiments in Art and Technology.
  33. ^ a b c d e f Salvatore Bizzarro (20 April 2005). Historical Dictionary of Chile. Scarecrow Press. pp. 230–. ISBN 978-0-8108-6542-6.
  34. ^ Video Artist Juan Downey, 53 - tribunedigital-chicagotribune
  35. ^ Vision in Disbelief: The 4th Biennale of Sydney, 7th Apr.-23rd May 1982. Biennale of Sydney. 1982.
  36. ^ "La Biennale di Venezia - Artists". www.labiennale.org. Archived from the original on 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2017-02-22.
  37. ^ Frank Popper (1975). Art, Action and Participation. Studio Vista. ISBN 978-0-8147-6563-0.
  38. ^ Shifra M. Goldman (January 1994). Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the United States. University of Chicago Press. pp. 361–. ISBN 978-0-226-30124-2.
  39. ^ Juan Downey | Frieze
  40. ^ Arts/Canada. 1973.
  41. ^ a b c https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/17/arts/design/the-pacific-standard-time-initiative-seeks-to-rescue-fugitive-art.html
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Juan Downey of Dream Into Study. Editorial Lord Cochrane. 1989.
  43. ^ Mapuche people, and art, survive – The Denver Post
  44. ^ AFTEREFFECTS: Mapping the experimental ethnography of Juan Downey in The Invisible Architect | The Brooklyn Rail
  45. ^ John Robshaw (29 April 2014). John Robshaw Prints: Textiles, Block Printing, Global Inspiration, and Interiors. Chronicle Books LLC. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-1-4521-3949-4.
  46. ^ MoMA | Juan Downey. Map of America. 1975
  47. ^ a b c d e Juan Downey; Visuala Galería (Santiago, Chile) (1987). Festival Downey: video porque te ve. Ediciones Visuala Galería.
  48. ^ The 2017 Venice Biennale's Neo-Shamanism | artnet News
  49. ^ https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/33093
  50. ^ http://www.31bienal.org.br/en/post/1399
  51. ^ http://www.li-ma.nl/site/catalogue/art/juan-downey/the-laughing-alligator/188
  52. ^ https://www.moma.org/collection/works/118204?locale=en
  53. ^ a b Juan Downey. Las Meninas (Maids of Honor). 1975 | MoMA
  54. ^ Juan Downey (1987). The Thinking Eye. International Center of Photography.
  55. ^ Florence de Mèredieu (1 January 2005). Digital and Video Art. Chambers.
  56. ^ Electronic Arts Intermix: The Looking Glass, Juan Downey
  57. ^ a b c New York Media, LLC (22 June 1987). New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. pp. 82–. ISSN 0028-7369.
  58. ^ Lori Zippay (1991). Artists' Video: An International Guide. Cross River Press. ISBN 978-1-55859-357-2.
  59. ^ http://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/rochester/art-reflections-on-place-and-culture/Content?oid=3462143
  60. ^ Electronic Arts Intermix: Hard Times and Culture: Part One, Vienna 'fin de siècle', Juan Downey
  61. ^ Juan Downey 1940-1993 | Tate
  62. ^ Juan Downey | MoMA
  63. ^ La personne Juan Downey - Centre Pompidou
  64. ^ Juan Downey - Video Trans Americas
  65. ^ Artworks Search Results / American Art
  66. ^ John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Juan Downey

External links[edit]