Towards a New Art Criticism From Latin America

In Mexico, as in many other parts of the world, the contemporary art circuit is facing an enormous quantity of theoretical postures from many different latitudes, which informs the analysis of artistic production. Because of the influence of some postures, it is possible to consider them as canonical speeches, i.e., as a process “defined through the conformation of an accumulated of authors, movements, epochs and works that, through time stand as validated references of [... art] bonded to the idea of the ‘aesthetic paradigm of an epoch’”.Moraima Guanipa | Del canon a la crítica: los dilemas de un discurso canonizador | Anales de la Universidad Metropolitana | Vol. 6, Nº. 2 | 2006 | p 137 | Translated by the author. Regardless of the diversity of postures, the most influent canonical discourse is the one derived from the modern Eurocentric tendency, which departs from a historical and economical privileged position. For the artistic speech, Gerardo MosqueraGerardo Mosquera | Caminar con el Diablo: Textos Sobre Arte, Internacionalizacion y Culturas | Proyectos Utópicos | 2013 identified this hegemonic canon as “internationalism”, or, in the words of Hans Belting, the “Art World(s)”.

Mexico has a tradition of art criticism since the 19th Century, strongly bonded to the academic European model, specular aspect of its peripherical condition. Towards the end of the 19th Century, the visual arts showed a strong tendency to inquire the “the self” of the national art. The identity issue became fundamental for every cultural practice, and numerous proposals emerged from different fields of thinking the philosophical, the political and the social, in order to give a new interpretation for the social function of art.Justino Fernández | El hombre en llamas. Currently, due to the social and historical conditions of the Mexican productions, two postures are distinguished for the creation and discursive projection for the arts, which can be understood as canonical: the Eurocentric canon and the Latin American canon. Both postures coexist temporarily nevertheless the different perspectives, which inform them.

The action of the Mexican art criticism was strongly incorporated into the global art circuits starting on 2000, a moment in which the Mexican art Alberto López Cuenca | El desarraigo como virtud: México y la deslocalización del arte en los años 90. started its definite participation into the international artistic scenario, partly in consequence of the globalizing dialogues of the contemporary dynamics, especially, the economical ones. The so-called mainstream circuit, integrated by the international galleries, the contemporary art museums, the curators, managers, merchants and critics, coexist in a high- powered flux which sustains a hegemonic speech based on the economical, but, more significant, on a geopolitical posture.Joaquín Barriendos | Jerarquías estéticas de la modernidad/colonialidad. The participation of Mexico in the commercial international circuits of art is an example of the globalization phenomenon in the same way the Asian biennales, or the art fairs in the Middle East. We observed here, probably, the entrance of the so-called periphery into the mainstream, apparently inclusive, discourse and furthermore, the supposed decentralization of the commercial and legitimating capital cities of the arts. But, how do the Mexican artistic productions get inserted into the global artworld? Do the artistic producers sustain the existence of a “Mexican art”? Or is it motivated by the curatorial and critical discourses? By mapping the categories, practices and speeches involved within the present condition of the art criticism produced from the Latin American periphery, we located two constitutive elements that allow a critical approach to the phenomenon.

The first opens a space for the postmodern art theory. Putting aside the complexity and diversity regarding the definition of postmodernism, it is a common thought the notion of the end of History. From the North American position, the intellectual movements pointed at a fracture of the institutional story, opening a strong critical analysis of every modern construction. In the artistic field, concepts as multiculturalism and pluralism implied a new vision about what an artistic production could offer aesthetically, intellectually, and ideologically speaking.Cfr Daniel Bell | Introducción – La lógica cultural del capitalismo. But the institution of art also entered a process of globalization, making an appearance in the panorama of spectacular museums (Starchitecture), the transnational curators, the digital publications, and the massive international art fairs, including into their legitimating actions proposals from different latitudes ready to be integrated into the aesthetic geography that conforms a Eurocentric globalized panorama.

Using arguments such as “anything goes” (Arthur Danto), the possibility to participate in a dynamic that generates connections among artists, intermediaries and public, on to a platform free of valuations, classifications or nationalities hypothetically emerges. In contrast, authors from the Latin American theory of art consider that “not only the traditional identities and its sociocultural representations have been, in Latin America, modified by the dissolving fluxes of the capitalist regimen of circulation which on a day-to-day basis trans-nationalize merchandise and information [...but,] beyond the process of deterritorialization of the economic capital and of the interplanetary communication, the globalization device concerns also the production of knowledge and theories”.Nelly Richard | Globalización de los saberes académicos.

In addition, the contemporary dynamic proposes a dissolution of the idea of nationality and identity towards the globalizing behaviour, which is also noticeable in the art sphere, making Latin-American art enter the contemporary era with new possibilities of participation, nevertheless, highly conflictive. So, it is noticeable that “the depression of the super identities based on steady settles, in-class categories, or in universal proclaims, allows to foreseeing the birth of the so-called ’post-identities’, self-affirmed collectives around a diversity of sectorial demands [...]. This model understands the identity more like a historical task than as a cypher of intrinsic attributes, and, to accomplish it, privileges the moment of the difference over the unity [...]”Ticio Escobar | Identidades en tránsito., situating in a complex position the Enlighted concept of country as a fixed entity based on a political territory.

The nationality notion leads to the second constitutive element, proper to the Latin Americanist aesthetic canon. From its peripherical and critical condition, and mainly using social theories, Latin Americanist tendencies pointed at thinking of Mexican art from its material and ideological production systems. This canon puts in advance the condition of Mexico as a territory located in a very specific social context from which dialogues may be established with other systems based on its similitudes and historical, cultural, productive and economic differences. Therefore, the importance of identity plays a determinant role in the social theories, striving for a creative activity focused on its differentiative character as a way for the liberation of the collectivity. Globalist and national identity are two categories in dispute and conciliation, either through the channels of material consumption, or, via the legitimation circuits.

Both canons, the Eurocentric-North American and the Latin Americanist exist in a paradoxical encounter, whereas the first suppose the dissolution of the territorialities on the global panorama, the other looks for the construction of a statement based on the cultural difference existing between diverse countries and entire regions away from a geopolitical imposition and looking for connecting points. As Ticio Escobar wrote, this construction appears within the historical interstice, which in the Latin American case, could be, the colonial past, the cosmogonic vision of a language, etcetera. Albeit both canons are theoretically separated and even contradictory, in the real dynamics of the Mexican (and worldwide) context, both postures coexist and build the platform on which contemporary art develops and gets consumed. So, one of the tasks of art criticism is to make evident the discursive qualities of the artistic creation, and how different canons promote different kinds of legitimation and circulation of the artistic forms within the artistic circuits.

As an attempt for a diagnosis, we may say that the Mexican artistic productions travel in a pretended universality/ globality of the artistic creations circulating across the mainstream circuits, which provoke a blurring of the enunciation place. Most of the time, the result is the exhibition of ’unlocated’ forms or forms that accentuate the exotic as a strategy of differentiation, always speaking from an official speech.
For those, the critic based on the “anything goes” argument functions in an exceptional manner. Museums and art galleries are still the place for the abstract appreciation of these art forms, and, therefore, sustain the traditional exercise of the modern art critic, as an elite and informed intermediary who explains an artwork to a less educated public. In this panorama, Mexican art is affirmed as peripheral even when it seems to be integrated into the global arena of the “anything goes”. This happens because “the cyphers of the periphery would be transcript always from a central place: enunciated from the outside, that [periphery] would be understood not as the different, but as the adulterated. Additionally, peripheral art forms could only acquire legitimacy assuming the foreigner position, of a creation that has been left out the centre and is identified as an exotic specimen that satisfies the western need for the otherness”.Ticio Escobar

At the same time, the Latin American canon, supported most of the time by sociological studies, shows special sympathy for the productions that declare the contextual and conflictive reality of the Latin American (Mexican) condition, and this arouses some questionings, like, are the Latin American artists obligated to point at a conflictive art on the global mainstream context? Is this what the hegemonic art criticism procures? Apparently so, as Nelly Richard says, some versions of the critical studies look for the exaltation of the “‘Latin American difference’, in many occasions emblematic of the representation of the otherness that the metropolitan academic device turns into a romantic-popular fetish discourse about marginalities and cultural peripheries”.N. Richard In this sense, it is possible to conclude that this is a characteristic of the fixation of the identity that also reinforces the peripheral condition. The traditional academy of cultural studies points at this form of permanent dispute, “pedagogical consignment of the difference, in a revendicate and militant tone”.N. Richard


Considering this condition in thinking about art, art criticism works as one of several channels of discourse production and legitimation of the traditional dynamics of contemporary art. In this sense, it is important to ask if it is worthy to continue writing about art/aesthetic productions from the position of the so-called “criticism”. Perhaps, if we consider the critic as a category for thinking and contextualizing, instead of just a legitimation practice of the modernity, one could think of the crisis of art criticism as the disappearance of the traditional manner in which modern criticism operates, and the arrival of a new period – an art criticism that clarifies and makes its discursive constitution evident and considers the places of enunciation of each production; an art criticism acting directly in the network of interpretations that the artistic activity provides.
In that way, art criticism understands the birth of art pieces parallel to the mainstream circuit of art, while integrating places from which new reflections are possible. Places not centred on the object, but on the practices around it.

In this sense, the proposal is to look for a deterritorialization of the concept of “criticism”, so it can become a sort of transmitter of different coordinates of the sensible and the cultural. As Beatriz Sarlo considers, referring to the literature criticism, “it would be necessary then to reintroduce the question of the ‘value’ (of the fundament, the judgement, the taking sides) on this landscape of relaxation and indifference for the differences that uniforms all the objects among them, and stop pleasing these processes of cultural relativism which make no other thing but to weaken the critical reasoning”.Beatriz Sarlo

Using this new conception of criticism as an expanded category, it is possible to consider the Mexican critical practices not from its geopolitical constitution, but from its discordances, production conditions and from the permanent changing dynamics of the subject and the collective. A cultural criticism understood as a new formulation “which opens the texts to the analysis of the struggles among the different systems of social appraisement through which the hegemonic cultures shape the significant and the representations of literature and the literary [the art and the artistic]”.Beatriz Sarlo