Latin American art

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Presencia de America Latina (1964-65), mural by Jorge Gonzalez Camarena. Mural panoramico.JPG
Presencia de América Latina (1964-65), mural by Jorge González Camarena.

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, which were highly influenced by religious and spiritual concerns. Their work is collectively known and referred to as Pre-Columbian art. The blending of Amerindian, European and African cultures has resulted in a unique Mestizo tradition.

Colonial period

Archangel Uranus, anonymous, Cuzco School 18th century Warriorangel.jpg
Archangel Uranus, anonymous, Cuzco School 18th century
Single canvas depiction of the casta system of racial hierarchy in eighteenth-century Mexico, by Ignacio Maria Barreda. Most sets of casta paintings were individual canvases showing only one family. Ignacio Maria Barreda - Las castas mexicanas.jpg
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 and Dutch Baroque painting. In turn Baroque painting was often influenced by the Italian masters.

The Cuzco School is viewed 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 a system of racial hierarchy, known as casta paintings. It was almost exclusively a Mexican form however, one set was produced in Peru. In a break from religious paintings of the preceding centuries, casta paintings were a secular art form. Only one known casta painting by a relatively unknown painter, Luis de Mena, combines castas with Mexico's Virgin of Guadalupe; this being 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 being of one racial, the mother of another racial category, and their offspring being a third racial category. This genre of painting 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. These depictions included images of indigenous men and women, as well as still lifes. [3]

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

The most important scientific expedition was that of Alexander von Humboldt and French botanist Aimé Bonpland. They traveled 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 who recorded the scenes of everyday life.

In 1818, the Academy of San Alejandro in Havana, Cuba, was founded by Alejandro Ramírez, and the French painter Jean Baptiste Vermay, served as the founding director. [6] [7] It is the oldest academy of art in Latin America. [8]

Historiography of colonial art and architecture

The history of Latin American art has generally been written by those with training in art history departments. However, the concept of "visual culture" has now brought scholars trained in other disciplines to write the histories of art. As with the history of indigenous peoples, for many years there was a focus on either the pre-Columbian period (Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Inca) art production, then a leap to the twentieth century. More recently, the colonial era and the nineteenth century have developed as fields of focus. Visual culture as a field increasingly crosses disciplinary boundaries. Colonial architecture has been the subject of a number of important studies. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

Colonial art has a long tradition, especially in Mexico, with there being publications of Manuel Toussaint. [15] In recent years, there has been a boom in publications on colonial art, with some useful overviews being published in recent years. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] Many works deal exclusively with Spanish America.

Major exhibitions on colonial art have resulted in fine catalogs as a permanent record. [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28]



La Muerte de Girardot en Barbula, by Venezuelan painter Cristobal Rojas, oil, 1883 Cristobal Rojas 01.JPG
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. This movement 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. [29]

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, marking 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."[ citation needed ]

Constructivist movement

Brazilian artist Candido Portinari,Study for Discovery of the Land mural at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Discovery of the Land1.jpg
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 onward, the art of Latin America was greatly inspired by Constructivism.[ 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 constructivism to Latin America.[ citation needed ]

After a long and successful career in Europe and the United States, Torres García returned to his native Uruguay in 1934, where he both promoted Constructivism and augmented it into a uniquely Uruguayan movement: Universal 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 a lack of funding. In 1943, he opened the Taller Torres-García, a workshop and training center that operated until 1962. [30]


Jose Clemente Orozco, Mural Omniciencia, 1925 Orozco Mural Omniciencia 1925 Azulejos.jpg
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 and Pedro Nel Gómez were influential muralists. 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." [31] Through Muralism, artists in Latin America found a distinctive art form that provided for political and cultural expression, often focusing on issues of social justice related to their indigenous roots. [29]

Generación de la Ruptura

Generación de la Ruptura, or "Rupture Generation," (sometimes simply known as "Ruptura") is the name given to an art movement in Mexico in the 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. [29] Representative artists include José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Gironella, and Rafael Coronel.

Armando Reveron is one of the most important painters of the century in Latin America A.Reveron.png
Armando Reverón is one of the most important painters of the century in Latin America

Nueva Presencia

Nueva Presencia ("new presence") was an artist group founded by artists Arnold Belkin and Francisco 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 believed that the artist had a social responsibility. Their beliefs were outlined in the Nueva Presencia manifesto, which was 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." [30] Members of the group included Francisco Corzas (b. 1936), Emilio Ortiz (b. 1936), Leonel Góngora (b.1933), Artemio Sepúlveda (b. 1936), and José Muñoz, and photographer Ignacio "Nacho" López.


The French poet and founder of Surrealism, André Breton, after visiting Mexico in 1938, proclaimed it to be "the surrealist country par excellence." [30] Surrealism, an artistic movement originating in post-World War I Europe, strongly impacted the art of Latin America. This is where the Mestizo culture, the legacy of European conquer over indigenous peoples, embodies contradiction, a central value of Surrealism. [32]

The widely known Mexican painter Frida Kahlo painted self-portraits and depictions of traditional Mexican culture in a style that combines 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." [33] Kahlo's work commands the highest selling price of all Latin American paintings, and the second-highest for any female artist. [34] 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.

Contemporary Art

Since roughly the 1970s, artists from all parts of Latin America have made important contributions to international contemporary art, from conceptual sculptors like Doris Salcedo (from Colombia) and Daniel Lind-Ramos (from Puerto Rico), to painters like Myrna Báez (from Puerto Rico), to artists working in media like photography, such as Vik Muniz (from Brazil).


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 upon a number of different styles such as Realism, Pop art, Expressionism, and Surrealism, only naming 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.

One movement devoted to figuration was Otra Figuración (Other Figuration), 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. [30] People who are sometimes associated with the group are Raquel Forner, Antonio Berni, Alberto Heredia, and Antonio Seguí.

Parody and sociopolitical critique

Jose Guadalupe Posada (Mexico) La Calavera Catrina Posada2.Catrina.jpeg
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 harsh images of Mexican elites as skeletons, calaveras. This was done 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. [32] According to Botero, his "puffy" figures are not meant to be satirical. He painted a powerful series of canvases, which are based on photos of torture by the U.S. military of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. .

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. [29]

Mexican painter and collagist Alberto Gironella, whose style mixes elements of Surrealism and Pop art, also produced parodies of official Spanish court paintings. He completed 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."

Cuban artist Sandra Ramos' paintings, etchings, installations, collages, and digital animation often tackle taboo subjects in contemporary Cuban society such as racism, mass migration, communism and social injustices in contemporary Cuban society. [35] [36]


Guerrillero Heroico
Picture taken of Che Guevara by Alberto Korda on March 5, 1960, at the La Coubre memorial service. GuerrilleroHeroico.jpg
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. Guy Veloso and José Bassit photograph the Brazilian religiosity. 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 Peruvian 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

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Latin America</span> Region of the Americas mainly speaking Romance languages

Latin America is a cultural region in the Americas where Romance languages—languages derived from Latin—are predominantly spoken. The term was coined in the nineteenth century, to refer to regions in the Americas that were ruled by the Spanish, Portuguese and French empires. The term does not have a precise definition, but it is "commonly used to describe South America, Central America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean." In a narrow sense, it refers to Spanish America and Brazil. The term "Latin America" is broader than categories such as Hispanic America, which specifically refers to Spanish-speaking countries; and Ibero-America, which specifically refers to both Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries while leaving French and British excolonies aside.

<i>Mestizo</i> Spanish term to denote a person with European and Indigenous American ancestry

Mestizo is a term used for racial classification to refer to a person of mixed European and Indigenous American ancestry. In certain regions such as Latin America, it may also refer to people who are culturally European even though their ancestors are not. The term was used as an ethnic/racial category for mixed-race castas that evolved during the Spanish Empire. Although, broadly speaking, mestizo means someone of mixed European/Indigenous heritage, the term did not have a fixed meaning in the colonial period. It was a formal label for individuals in official documents, such as censuses, parish registers, Inquisition trials, and others. Priests and royal officials might have classified persons as mestizos, but individuals also used the term in self-identification.

<span title="Spanish-language text"><i lang="es">Casta</i></span> Mixed-race people of Spanish and Portuguese colonial regions in the 17th and 18th centuries

Casta is a term which means "lineage" in Spanish and Portuguese and has historically been used as a racial and social identifier. In the context of the Spanish Empire in the Americas it also refers to a now-discredited 20th-century theoretical framework which postulated that colonial society operated under a hierarchical race-based "caste system". From the outset, colonial Spanish America resulted in widespread intermarriage: unions of Spaniards, Amerindians, and Africans. Basic mixed-race categories that appeared in official colonial documentation were mestizo, generally offspring of a Spaniard and an indigenous person; and mulatto, offspring of a Spaniard and an African. A plethora of terms were used for people with mixed Spanish, Amerindian, and African ancestry in 18th-century casta paintings, but they are not known to have been widely used officially or unofficially in the Spanish Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carlos Mérida</span> Guatemalan artist (1891–1985)

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Criollo people</span> Latin Americans of Spanish descent

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mexican muralism</span> 20th-century art movement

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Antonio M. Ruíz, was a Mexican fine art painter and scenic designer otherwise known by his childhood nickname "El Corzo" or "El Corcito" (diminutive) which came about due to his resemblance to a popular Spanish bullfighter or torero.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mexican art</span>

Various types of visual arts developed in the geographical area now known as Mexico. The development of these arts roughly follows the history of Mexico, divided into the prehispanic Mesoamerican era, the colonial period, with the period after Mexican War of Independence, the development Mexican national identity through art in the nineteenth century, and the florescence of modern Mexican art after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920).

Alberto Gironella (1929–1999) was a self-taught Mexican painter born in Mexico City. Heavily influenced by the politics and artist in Mexico, he showcased his works in Brazil, United States, Spain, France, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland. In Mexico his works were in the Palace of Fine Arts and Museum of Modern Art, and the Carrillo Gil and Rufino Tamayo museums. Gironella also illustrated the book Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes. In 1960 he won the first prize of the Paris Biennial for Young Painters and the first prize of the Sixth Biennial of São Paulo, Brazil. Several of his later paintings were nudes, including several with either topless or fully naked women on beds either holding a classical guitar or one shown in the background such as Sanda as Carmen (1985).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Generación de la Ruptura</span>

Generación de la Ruptura is the name given by art critic Teresa del Conde to the generation of Mexican artists against the established Mexican School of Painting, more commonly called Mexican muralism post World War II. It began with the criticisms of José Luis Cuevas in the early 1950s, followed by others who thought the established art had become dogmatic, formulaic and nationalistic and the artists too deferential to the government. This new generation of artists was not bound by a particular artistic style but was more interested in personal rather than social issues and influenced by a number of international trends in art such as Abstract expressionism. Early reaction to them was strong and negative but by the end of the 1950s, they had succeeded in having their art shown in the major venues of Mexico. The Generación de la Ruptura had influence on other arts in Mexico, such as literature but it did not end the production of murals in Mexico with social and nationalist purposes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juan Rodríguez Juárez</span>

Juan Rodríguez Juárez was an artist in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. He was a member of a Spanish family long noted for their accomplishments in the world of painting. His brother was Nicolás Rodríguez Juárez (1667–1734), who was like himself, an established painter in New Spain. He was the son of Antonio Rodríguez (1636–91), a notable Spanish painter. His maternal grandfather José Juárez (1617–1661) and maternal great great grandfather Luis Juárez (1585–1639) were also notable painters in Spanish history and prominent in the Baroque era.

While the Casta system was flourishing in New Spain (1519-1821), a painters' guild emerged in order to classify the different ‘races’. The painters' guild in New Spain paralleled the structure, purpose, and mobility of the Casta system they were representing.

<i>Pardo</i> Term for multiracial people

Pardos is a term used in the former Portuguese and Spanish colonies in the Americas to refer to the triracial descendants of Southern Europeans, Indigenous Americans and West Africans. In some places they were defined as neither exclusively mestizo, nor mulatto, nor zambo. In colonial Mexico, pardo "became virtually synonymous with mulatto, thereby losing much of its Indigenous referencing". In the eighteenth century, pardo might have been the preferred label for blackness. Unlike negro, pardo had no association with slavery. Casta paintings from eighteenth-century Mexico use the label negro, never pardo, to identify Africans paired with Spaniards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spanish American Enlightenment</span> Philosophical movement leading to revolutions

The ideas of the Spanish Enlightenment, which emphasized reason, science, practicality, clarity rather than obscurantism, and secularism, were transmitted from France to the New World in the eighteenth century, following the establishment of the Bourbon monarchy in Spain. In Spanish America, the ideas of the Enlightenment affected educated elites in major urban centers, especially Mexico City, Lima, and Guatemala, where there were universities founded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In these centers of learning, American-born Spanish intellectuals were already participants in intellectual and scientific discourse, with Spanish American universities increasingly anti-scholastic and opposed to “untested authority” even before the Spanish Bourbons came to power. The best studied is the University of San Carlos Guatemala, founded in 1676.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historiography of Colonial Spanish America</span>

The historiography of colonial Spanish America in multiple languages is vast and has a long history. It dates back to the early sixteenth century with multiple competing accounts of the conquest, Spaniards’ eighteenth-century attempts to discover how to reverse the decline of its empire, and people of Spanish descent born in the Americas (criollos) search for an identity other than Spanish, and the creation of creole patriotism. Following independence in some parts of Spanish America, some politically-engaged citizens of the new sovereign nations sought to shape national identity. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, non-Spanish American historians began writing chronicles important events, such as the conquests of the Aztec Empire and the Inca Empire, dispassionate histories of the Spanish imperial project after its almost complete demise in the hemisphere, and histories of the southwest borderlands, areas of the United States that had previously been part of the Spanish Empire, led by Herbert Eugene Bolton. At the turn of the twentieth century, scholarly research on Spanish America saw the creation of college courses dealing with the region, the systematic training of professional historians in the field, and the founding of the first specialized journal, Hispanic American Historical Review. For most of the twentieth century, historians of colonial Spanish America read and were familiar with a large canon of work. With the expansion of the field in the late twentieth century, there has been the establishment of new subfields, the founding of new journals, and the proliferation of monographs, anthologies, and articles for increasingly specialized practitioners and readerships. The Conference on Latin American History, the organization of Latin American historians affiliated with the American Historical Association, awards a number of prizes for publications, with works on early Latin American history well represented. The Latin American Studies Association has a section devoted to scholarship on the colonial era.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indochristian art</span> Art in Latin America combining Christian and native influences

Indochristian art, is a type of Latin American art that combines European colonial influences with Indigenous artistic styles and traditions.


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Further reading