Until February 2023, the exhibition “Art is a mystery. The 90s in Buenos Aires”, curated by Francisco Lemus, in the Fortabat Collection. An exhibition that brings together a large repertoire of productions by Sergio Avello, Elba Bairon, Feliciano Centurión, Martín Di Girolamo, Rosana Fuertes, Fabulous Nobodies (Roberto Jacoby and Kiwi Sainz), Silvia Gai, Mónica Giron, Alberto Goldenstein, Sebastián Gordín, Jorge Gumier Maier, Pompi Gutnisky, Miguel Harte, Graciela Hasper, Alicia Herrero, Fabio Kacero, Alejandro Kuropatwa, Fernanda Laguna, Benito Laren, Lux Lindner, Alfredo Londaibere, Ana López, Liliana Maresca, Emiliano Miliyo, Ariadna Pastorini, Marcelo Pombo, Elisabet Sánchez, Cristina Schiavi, Omar Schiliro, Marcia Schvartz, Alan Segal, Pablo Siquier, Pablo Suárez.
This is how the art of the 90s was described in Buenos Aires.
The note published in La Nación in 1992, by López Anaya on the exhibition by Gumier Maier, Benito Laren, Alfredo Londaibere and Omar Schiliro at Espacio Giesso, entitled “The absurd and fiction in a remarkable exhibition”, provided the term light for describe the works. Although Anaya did not have a pejorative intention, the term came like a glove to those who expressed their discontent with the art that was flourishing in the underground scene and, especially, in the surroundings of the Rojas Cultural Center. In addition, the French critic Pierre Restany in his article “Arte guarango para la Argentina de Ménem”, characterized the art of the time as decorative and in tune with the government.
Therefore, the art of the decade was marked by the discussion around what was supposed to be “Light Art”. This involved two antagonistic and irreconcilable positions: the “committed” art of the 60s, 70s and 80s and the “evasive” art of the present. That dichotomy cast a veil that clouded, to this day, the gaze on the art of the 90s and that therefore prevented us from understanding the complexity and richness of its production. From that point, the curator and art historian Francisco Lemus positions himself to take a turn and dispel the prejudices that hindered the gaze. Through a process that has involved years of research, he comes today to propose a renewed reading regarding the times that ran through the 90s and the fundamental implications that this production entailed for the art of current times. That is why the exhibition is made up not only of the works but also of other objects such as posters, flyers and other documents that complete the curatorial reading, appearing in the context of the artistic practices of the time.
At the global level, after the fall of the Berlin wall, a new order was erected with the United States at the head that successfully imposed the capitalist political and economic system. Thus, as María José Herrera says, “future projects seemed to be subsumed to the free game of the market.” What happened in Argentina in the 90s? The neoliberal plan was developed, which brought with it modernization in the field of telecommunications with the Internet, the installation of large international commercial chains and access to consumer goods from different parts of the world. But there was also a hyperinflationary crisis at the end of the 1980s, a progressive labor informalization and unemployment, to which was added the HIV pandemic that consumed the bodies.
In this context, a very diverse panorama of art was configured, some closer to the underground manifested new forms of sociability that proposed the liberation of sexual canons and gender roles. For example, Alberto Goldenstein’s photographs, Pablo Suárez’s sandwichongos, Marcia Schvartz’s “Macetón”, among others, showed the coexistence of the party, hedonism and parody. The underground was a place of exorcisms that freed the body and repelled what was hurting it.
Other productions appropriated the statements that called this art guarango and light or that opposed the art of the 60s to that of the 90s, for example the work of Martín Di Giorlamo “Steffie’s solitude” or that of Rosana Fuertes “Los 60 It’s not the 90s.” As Lemus explains, art was embedded in a social and economic scenario conditioned by the doctrine of neoliberalism. They were vulgar images for critics, but what is the overflowing consumption of neoliberalism if not obscenity?
Art, as the curator explains, did not adhere to neoliberal postulates but settled on survival and the possibility of creating in a hostile context. Added to this context, as we mentioned earlier, was the HIV pandemic. This is how different responses arose in art: from productions that focused on the personal, to connect with a more spiritual aspect of art, such as the work of Mónica Girón; while others focused on collective projects, such as “I have AIDS” by Fabulous Nobodies, made up of Roberto Jacoby and Mariana “Kiwi” Sainz. The collective was then the appropriate means to produce with a support network.
Globalization brought with it the great era of plastic and access to new consumer goods and imported products. And, since art is a sublimation of reality, many productions used different materials, proposing irony as a poetic resource. Some examples of this are Marcelo Pombo’s cartoons, Alfredo Londaibere’s collages or Sebastián Gordín’s objects. Images of childhood and humor were also used, as in the small acrylics and drawings-poems with stickers by Fernanda Laguna. Here her works speak to us about desires, moods, love and also the cheesy.
Emotions and affections were also expressed in a more intimate sense, focused on the domestic sphere. These works, explains the curator, had the ability to record problems that until then had gone unnoticed or that occupied a minor place in the history of art. In this line are, for example, the works of Ariadna Pastorini or Feliciano Centurión. Here, sewing, embroidery and decorative patterns confirm the sublime of the everyday and the domestic, where we discover what underlies appearances.
Abstract art also had its role, but not without the twist that characterized the time: it was about abstraction and ornament, with pastel or strident colors, some works even close to kitsch aesthetics. This is how works such as those by Omar Schiliro, Jorge Gumier Maier or Fabio Kacero appeared, inspired by design, fashion, decoration and, ultimately, everyday life.
The underground and the activism of the post-dictatorship laid the foundations and the artists distanced themselves from the “great themes valued by the artistic tradition”, says Lemus. In this context, the global and the euphoria of consumption coexisted with the intimate and with death. It was created with intensity as HIV took loved ones away. It is then that “beauty and enjoyment were mixed with death. Subjectivity went through everything: the recurrent images, the aesthetic operations, the discourse and the ways of grouping. The personal acquired an unprecedented hierarchy in representation”.
The domestic aspect was brought to the fore, the irony about the stereotypes of women, an unprejudiced and liberating look at gender and sexuality was provided. Without being an activist but not apolitical for that, art developed in the form of micropolitics as a way of ordering the signs of an era, explains Lemus.
How does 90s art resonate now?
We can say that art manifests itself in various forms: sometimes elusive, it seduces and scares us. And, without our permission, it resonates in our pupils and in our nerves. Art, sublimation of some reality, is a mystery.