Latin American art

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Latin American art is the combined artistic expression of South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico, as well as Latin Americans living in other regions.

The art has roots in the many different indigenous cultures that inhabited the Americas before European colonization in the 16th century. The indigenous cultures each developed sophisticated artistic disciplines, highly influenced by religious and spiritual concerns, and their work is collectively known as Pre-columbian art. The blending of Native American, African and European cultures has resulted in a unique mestizo tradition.

Colonial Period[edit]

Archangel Uriel, anonymous, Cuzco School 18th century
Single canvas depiction of the casta system of racial hierarchy in eighteenth-century Mexico, by Ignacio María Barreda. Most sets of casta paintings were individual canvases showing only one family.

During the colonial period, a mixture of indigenous traditions and European influences (mainly due to the Christian teachings of Franciscan, Augustinian and Dominican friars) produced a very particular Christian art known as Indochristian art. In addition to indigenous art, the development of Latin American visual art was significantly influenced by Spanish, Portuguese and French Baroque painting, which in turn was often influenced by the Italian masters.

The Cuzco School is regarded as the first center of European-style painting in the Americas. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spanish art instructors taught Quechua artists to paint religious imagery based on classical and Renaissance styles.[1]

In eighteenth-century New Spain, Mexican artists along with a few Spanish artists produced paintings of the system of racial hierarchy, known as casta paintings. At least one set was produced in Peru, but it was almost exclusively a Mexican form. In a break from religious paintings of the preceding centuries, casta paintings were a completely secular art form. Only one known casta painting by a relatively unknown painter, Luis de Mena combines castas with Mexico's Virgin of Guadalupe, but this is an exception. Some of Mexico's most distinguished artists painted casta works, including Miguel Cabrera. Most casta paintings were on multiple canvases, with one family grouping on each. There were a handful of single canvas paintings, showing the entire racial hierarchy. The paintings show idealized family groupings, with the father of one racial, mother of another racial category, and their offspring a third racial category. The genre flourished for about a century, coming to an end with Mexican independence in 1821 and the abolition of legal racial categories.[2]

In the seventeenth century, The Netherlands had captured the rich sugar-producing area of the Portuguese colony of Brazil (1630-1654). During that period, Dutch artist Albert Eckhout painted a number of important depictions of social types in Brazil, including images of indigenous men and women, as well as still lifes.[3]

Scientific expeditions approved by the Spanish crown began exploring Spanish America and recording its flora and fauna. Spaniard José Celestino Mutis, a medical doctor and horticulturalist and follower of Swedish scientist Carolus Linnaeus, led an expedition starting in 1784 to northern South America, the Expedición Botánica de Nueva Granada. Local artists were Ecuadorean Indians, who produced five thousand of color drawings of nature, which were published. The crown chartered expedition whose purpose was scientific recording of the natural beauty and wealth of Nature was a departure from the long tradition religious art.[4]

The most important scientific expedition was that of Alexander von Humboldt and French botantist Aimé Bonpland, who travelled for five years throughout Spanish America (1799-1804), exploring and recording scientific information as well as the attire and lifestyles local populations.[5] Humboldt's work became an inspiration and template for continuing scientific work in the nineteenth century, as well as traveller reporters recording scenes of everyday life.



Gallery - Foreign artists in Latin America[edit]

Gallery - Latin American Artists[edit]


La Muerte de Girardot en Bárbula, by Venezuelan painter Cristóbal Rojas, oil, 1883

Modernism, a Western art movement typified by the rejection of traditional classical styles, holds an ambivalent position in Latin American art. Not all countries developed modernized urban centers at the same time, so Modernism's appearance in Latin America is difficult to date. While Modernism was welcomed by some, others rejected it. Generally speaking, the countries of the Southern Cone were more open to foreign influence, while countries with a stronger indigenous presence such as Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia were resistant to European culture.[6]

A landmark event for Modernism in the region was the Semana de Arte Moderna or Modern Art Week, a festival that took place in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1922, and marks the beginning of Brazil's Modernismo movement. "[T]hough a number of individual Brazilian artists were doing modernist work before the Week, it coalesced and defined the movement and introduced it to Brazilian society at large."

Constructivist Movement[edit]

Brazilian artist Candido Portinari,Study for Discovery of the Land mural at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

In general, the artistic Eurocentrism associated with the colonial period began to fade in the early twentieth century as Latin Americans began to acknowledge their unique identity and started to follow their own path.

From the early twentieth century onwards, the art of Latin America was greatly inspired by the Constructivist Movement.[citation needed] It quickly spread from Russia to Europe and then into Latin America. Joaquín Torres García and Manuel Rendón have been credited with bringing the Constructivist Movement from Europe to Latin America.[citation needed]

After a long and successful career in Europe and the United States, Joaquín Torres-García returned to his native Uruguay in 1934, where he heavily promoted Constructivism. Attracting a circle of experienced peers and young artists as followers in Montevideo, in 1935 he founded the Asociación de Arte Constructivo as an art center and exhibition space for his circle. The venue was closed in 1940 due to lack of funding. In 1943 he opened the Taller Torres-García, a workshop and training center that operated until 1962.[7]


José Clemente Orozco, Mural Omniciencia, 1925

Muralism or Muralismo is an important artistic movement generated in Latin America. It is popularly represented by the Mexican muralism movement of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, and Rufino Tamayo. In Chile, José Venturelli was an influential muralist, and Pedro Nel Gómez. Santiago Martinez Delgado championed muralism in Colombia as did Gabriel Bracho in Venezuela. In the Dominican Republic, Spanish exile José Vela Zanetti was a prolific muralist, painting over 100 murals in the country. The Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín (a student of Orozco), the Brazilian Candido Portinari, and Bolivian Miguel Alandia Pantoja are also noteworthy. Some of the most impressive Muralista works can be found in Mexico, Colombia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Mexican Muralism "enjoyed a type of prestige and influence in other countries that no other American art movement had ever experienced."[8] Artists in Latin America found in Muralism a distinctive art form that provided for political and cultural expression, often focusing on issues of social justice related to their indigenous roots.[6]

Generación de la Ruptura[edit]

Generación de la Ruptura, or "Rupture Generation," (sometimes simply known as "Ruptura") is the name given to an art movement in Mexico in 1960s in which younger artists broke away from the established national style of Muralismo. Born out of the desire of younger artists for greater freedom of style in art, this movement is marked by expressionistic and figurative styles. Mexican artist José Luis Cuevas is credited with initiating the Ruptura. In 1958, Cuevas published a paper called La Cortina del Nopal ("The Cactus Curtain"), which condemned Mexican muralism as overly political, calling it "cheap journalism and harangue" rather than art.[6] Representative artists include José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Gironella, and Rafael Coronel.

Nueva Presencia[edit]

Nueva Presencia ("new presence") was an artist group founded by artists Arnold Belkin and Fancisco Icaza in the early 1960s. In response to WWII atrocities such as the Holocaust and the atomic bomb, the artists of Nueva Presencia shared an anti-aesthetic rejection of contemporary trends in art and a belief that the artist had a social responsibility. Their beliefs were outlined in the Nueva Presencia manifesto published in the first issue of the poster review of the same name. "No one, especially the artist, has the right to be indifferent to the social order."[7] Members of the group included Francisco Corzas (b. 1936), Emilio Ortiz (b. 1936), Leonel Góngora (b.1933), Artemio Sepúlveda (b. 1936), and José Muñoz, Francisco Corzas, and photographer Ignacio "Nacho" López.

Otra Figuración[edit]

Otra Figuración (Other Figuration) was an Argentine artist group and commune formed in 1961 and disbanded in 1966. Members Rómulo Macció, Ernesto Deira, Jorge de la Vega, and Luis Felipe Noé lived together and shared a studio in Buenos Aires. Artists of Otra Figuración worked in an expressionistic abstract figurative style featuring vivid colors and collage. Although Otra Figuración were contemporaries of Nueva Presencia, there was no direct contact between the two groups.[7] Sometimes associated with the group are Raquel Forner, Antonio Berni, Alberto Heredia, and Antonio Seguí.


The French poet and founder of Surrealism, André Breton, after visiting Mexico in 1938, proclaimed it "the surrealist country par excellence."[7] Surrealism, an artistic movement originating in post-WWI Europe, strongly impacted the art of Latin America, where the mestizo culture, the legacy of European conquer over indigenous peoples, embodies contradiction, a central value of Surrealism.[9]

Wifredo Lam, (Cuba) The Jungle, gouache on paper, 1943, Museum of Modern Art

The widely known Mexican painter Frida Kahlo painted self-portraits and depictions of traditional Mexican culture in a style combining Realism, Symbolism and Surrealism. Although, Kahlo did not commend this label, once saying, "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."[10] Kahlo's work commands the highest selling price of all Latin American paintings and the second-highest for any female artist.[11] Other female Mexican Surrealists include Leonora Carrington (a British woman who relocated to Mexico) and Remedios Varo (a Spanish exile). Mexican artist Alberto Gironella, Chilean artists Roberto Matta, Mario Carreño Morales, and Nemesio Antúnez, Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, and Argentinean artist Roberto Aizenberg have also been classified as Surrealists.

Styles & Trends[edit]


European classical art styles have made a long-lasting impression on the art of Latin America. Into the twentieth century, many Latin American artists continued to be schooled in the traditional 19th-century style, resulting in a continued emphasis on figurative work. Due to the far reach of figuration, the work often spans a number of different styles such as Realism, Pop art, Expressionism, and Surrealism, to name a few. While these artists confront issues that range from the personal to the political, many have a shared interest in indigenous issues and the heritage of European cultural imperialism.

Parody and Sociopolitical Critique[edit]

José Guadalupe Posada (Mexico) La Calavera Catrina

Art in Latin America has often been used as a means of social and political critique. Mexican graphic artist José Guadalupe Posada drew scathing images Mexican elites as skeletons calaveras, prior to the Mexican Revolution, strongly influencing later artists, such as Diego Rivera.

A common practice among Latin American figurative artists is to parody Old Master paintings, especially those of the Spanish court produced by Diego Velázquez in the 17th century. These parodies serve a dual purpose, referring to the artistic and cultural history of Latin America, and critiquing the legacy of European cultural imperialism in Latin American nations. Two notable artists who frequently employed this technique are Fernando Botero and Alberto Gironella.

Colombian figurative artist Fernando Botero, whose work features unique "puffy" figures in various situations addressing themes of power, war, and social issues, has used this technique to draw parallels between current governing bodies and the Spanish monarchy. His 1967 painting The Presidential Family, is an early example. The painting, echoing Diego Velázquez's 1656 Spanish court painting Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), contains a self-portrait of Botero standing behind a large canvas. The thick, "puffy" presidential family, decked out in fashionable finery and staring blandly out of the canvas, appear socially superior, drawing attention to social inequality.[9] According to Botero, his "puffy" figures are not meant to be satirical. He painted a powerful series of canvases based on photos of torture by the U.S. military of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

Fernando Botero, Abu Ghraib, 2005, oil on canvas. Botero painted the abuses of Abu Ghraib between 2004 and 2005 as a permanent accusation


The deformation you see is the result of my involvement with painting. The monumental and, in my eyes, sensually provocative volumes stem from this. Whether they appear fat or not does not interest me. It has hardly any meaning for my painting. My concern is with formal fullness, abundance. And that is something entirely different.[6]

Mexican painter and collagist Alberto Gironella, whose style mixes elements of Surrealism and Pop art, also produced parodies of official Spanish court paintings. He did dozens of versions of Velásquez's Queen Mariana from 1652. Gironella's parodies critique the Spanish rule of Mexico by incorporating subversive imagery. ‘’La Reina de los Yugos’’ or "The Queen of Yokes" (1975–81) depicts Mariana with a skirt made of upside-down ox yokes, signifying both Spanish dominance over Mexico’s indigenous peoples and those people’s subversion of Spanish rule. The yokes are rendered useless by being upturned. "[Gironella's] hallmark was the use of particular Spanish Grocery cans (sardines, mussels, etc.) in his works, and soda bottle caps nailed or glued around the rim of his paintings."


Guerrillero Heroico
Picture taken of Che Guevara by Alberto Korda on March 5, 1960, at the La Coubre memorial service.

Photographers captured on film indigenous peoples as well as distinct social types, such as the gauchos of Argentina. A number of Latin Americans have made significant contributions to modern photography. Guillermo Kahlo photographed Mexican colonial buildings and infrastructure, such as the railway bridge at Metlac. Agustín Casasola himself took many images of the Mexican Revolution and compiled an extensive archive of Mexican photos. Other photographers include indigenous Peruvian Martín Chambi, Mexican Graciela Iturbide, and Cuban Alberto Korda, famous for his iconic image of Che Guevara. Mario Testino is a noted fashion photographer. In addition, a number of non-Latin American photographers have focused on the area, including Tina Modotti and Edward Weston in Mexico. Guatemalan national María Cristina Orive has worked in Argentina with Sara Facio. Ecuadoran Hugo Cifuentes has garnered attention.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The "Cusquenha" Art. Museu Histórico Nacional. (retrieved 30 April 2009)
  2. ^ Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting, New Haven: Yale University Press 2005.
  3. ^ Dawn Ades, "Nature, Science, and the Picturesque" in Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980, London: South Bank Center 1989, 64-65.
  4. ^ Stanton L. Catlin, "Traveller-Reporter Artists and the Empirical tradition in Post Independence Latin American Art" in Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980, London: South Bank Center 1989, pp. 43-45, color plate 3.2 p. 44.
  5. ^ Alexander von Humboldt, Voyage de Humboldt et de Bonpland, Première Partie; Relation Historique: Atlas Pittoresque: 'Vues de Cordillères et monuments de peuples indigènes de l'Amérique', Paris 1810.
  6. ^ a b c d Lucie-Smith, Edward. Latin American Art of the 20th Century. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1993.
  7. ^ a b c d Barnitz, Jacqueline. Twentieth Century Art of Latin America. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Edward. Latin American Art. London: Phaidon Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-7148-3980-6
  9. ^ a b Baddeley, Oriana & Fraser, Valerie. Drawing the Line: Art and Cultural Identity in Contemporary Latin America. London: Verso, 1989.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Moses, Tai. Saint Frida. MetroActive: Books. 9 Nov 2005 (retrieved 18 April 2009)
  12. ^ Image—full description and credit: Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, oil on canvas on Masonite, 24½ × 19 inches, Nikolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 2007, Banco de México, Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D.F.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ades, Dawn. Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980. New Haven: Yale University Press 1989.
  • Angulo-Iñiguez, Diego, et al. Historia del Arte Hispano-Americano. 3 vols. (Barcelona 1945-56).
  • Anreus, Alejandro, Diana L. Linden, and Jonathan Weinberg, eds. The Social and the Real: Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere. University Park: Penn State University Press 2006.
  • Baddeley, Oriana & Fraser, Valerie (1989). Drawing the Line: Art and Cultural Identity in Contemporary Latin America. London: Verso. ISBN 0-86091-239-6. 
  • Bailey, Gauvin Alexander. Art of Colonial Latin America. New York: Phaidon Press 2005.
  • Barnitz, Jacqueline. Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press 2001.
  • Bayón, D. and M. Marx. History of South American Colonial Art and Architecture. New York 1992.
  • Bottineau, Yves. Iberian-American Baroque. New York 1970.
  • Cali, François. The Spanish Arts of Latin America. New York 1961.
  • Castedo, Leopoldo. A History of Latin American Art and Architecture. New York and Washington, D.C. 1969.
  • Craven, David. Art and Revolution in Latin America, 1910-1990. New Haven: Yale University Press 2002.
  • Dean, Carolyn and Dana Leibsohn, "Hybridity and Its Discontents: Considering Visual Culture in Colonial Spanish America," Colonial Latin American Review, vol. 12, No. 1, 2003.
  • del Conde, Teresa (1996). Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Phaidon Press Limited. ISBN 0-7148-3980-9. 
  • Donahue-Wallace, Kelly. Art and Architecture of Viceregal Latin America, 1521-1821. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 2008.
  • Fane, Diana, ed. Converging Cultures: Art and Identity in Spanish America. (exhibition catalogue Brooklyn Museum of Art 1996.
  • Fernández, Justino (1965). Mexican Art. Mexico D.F.: Spring Books. 
  • Frank, Patrick, ed. Readings in Latin American Modern Art. New Haven: Yale University Press 2004.
  • Goldman, Shifra M. Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1994.
  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The Word Made Image: Religion, Art, and Architecture in Spain and Spanish America, 1500-1600. Boston 1998.
  • Kagan, Richard. Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493-1793. New Haven: Yale University Press 2000.
  • Keleman, Pal. Baroque and Rococo in Latin America. New York 1951.
  • Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century. New York: MoMA 1992.
  • Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States. New York: Bronx Museum 1989.
  • Padilla, Carmela, ed. Conexiones/Connections in Spanish Colonial Art. Santa Fe 2002.
  • Palmer, Gabrielle and Donna Pierce. Cambios: The Spirit of Transformation in Spanish Colonial Art. Exhibition Catalog, Santa Barbara Museum of Art 1992.
  • Ramírez, Mari Carmen and Héctor Olea, eds. Inverted Utopias: Avant Garde Art in Latin America. New Haven: Yale University Press 2004.
  • Reyes-Valerio, Constantino (2000). Arte Indocristiano, Escultura y pintura del siglo XVI en México. (in Spanish). Mexico D.F.: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes. ISBN 970-18-2499-7. 
  • Reyes-Valerio, Constantino (1993). De Bonampak al Templo Mayor: El azul maya en Mesoamérica (in Spanish). Mexico D.F.: Siglo XXI editores. ISBN 968-23-1893-9. Retrieved 2007-03-16. 
  • Scott, John F. Latin American Art: Ancient to Modern. Gainesville: University of Florida Press 1999.
  • Los Siglos de Oro en los Virreinatos de América, 1550-1700. Exh. cat. Madrid: Museo de América, 1999.
  • Sullivan, Edward. Latin American Art. London: Phaidon Press, 2000.
  • Turner, Jane, ed. Encyclopedia of Latin American and Caribbean Art. New York: Grove's Dictionaries 2000.

External links[edit]