In 1965, the Museum of Modern Art presented a show called The Responsive Eye. An early exploration of Op art and related movements, it introduced New Yorkers to what a MoMA press release called “a widespread and powerful new direction in contemporary art.”
Movements like geometric abstraction, kinetic art, and Op art flourished in Latin America in those years. But you’d never know it from the checklist of the MoMA show. Of the 123 works on view in that show, only seven were by Latin American artists, said Jorge Daniel Veneciano, executive director of El Museo del Barrio and curator of The Illusive Eye. Only five of the 99 artists were from Latin America, he added, “and they were all living in Europe.”
Furthermore, said Veneciano, “If you look at only a formal history” of these movements, “European and North American scholars always point back to Paris and Impressionism as the origin.” But, he said, “if you look at the values that artists bring to these works, it really goes to other continents, other times, and becomes more than just a European history.”
While paying tribute to MoMA’s groundbreaking exhibition 50 years later, The Illusive Eye offers an alternative reading of these international movements, spotlighting Latin American artists’ contributions and calling into question a Eurocentric curatorial point of view. It also looks at the spiritual and philosophical foundations of these works, rather than simply their formal characteristics.
Not surprisingly, artists from Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil—centers of geometric and concrete art—are well represented. Among the artists on view are Gego, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesús Rafael Soto, Julio Le Parc, and Luis Tomasello, who was also featured in the 1965 MoMA show.
In addition, six more Latin American and Caribbean countries are represented, including Cuba, along with key works artists from eight European countries, as well as the US and Japan.
“This is a big exhibition for us,” said Veneciano at the media preview on Tuesday. “As a Latin American museum, we are interested in a history that is more ample, more inclusive, richer, and more encompassing of the world, and not just a modernist art history that always refers back to itself.”
Among the artists from some 20 countries, Cuba has a strong presence, with work by six artists: Ernesto Briel, Mario Carreño, Sandú Darié, Carmen Herrera, Zilia Sánchez, and Loló Soldevilla.
In a season when several of these artists are on view in the gallery show Concrete Cuba, it is particularly interesting to see their work presented in such a broadly international, movement-specific context.
Near the gallery entrance, an untitled 1954 sculpture by Loló Soldevilla is prominently positioned in a vitrine in the exhibition’s introductory gallery.
Two intricate ink-on-paper works by Ernesto Briel are featured in the exhibition section titled “Mandalas and Dervishes.”
“Ernesto Briel is one of our discoveries,” said Veneciano of the Havana-born Op-art pioneer, who died in New York in 1992. “The kind of spiraling compositions that he had were perfect for this exhibition.”
“We have many, many more women artists in our show than in any of the other geometric and op art exhibitions” of the past,” said Veneciano. In the section on geometric abstraction, Carmen Herrera’s black-and-white work anchors the gallery space, across from a shaped canvas by Zilia Sánchez.
This section also includes a small untitled painting done in 1956 by Loló Soldevilla,
The exhibition’s final section focuses on color and the energies of different colors in combination. Works on view here include an untitled, undated mixed-media work by Sandú Darié, on loan from the Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation.
The exhibition also included two untitled compositions from 1954 by Mario Carreño.
The Illusive Eye is on view at El Museo del Barrio, New York, through May 21.