“El mejor del mundo.” So declares a waiter at one of my favorite parilladas in Buenos Aires every time he serves a perfectly grilled steak. The excellence of Argentine beef, and of the Malbecs that accompany it, is very widely recognized.
What is not as widely recognized, however, is the greatness of the generation of Argentine artists who first came to prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s. Two leaders of this group, Nicolas Garcia Uriburu and Gyula Kosice, have recently died. Two others – Marta Minujin and Luis Felipe Noé – continue to work, and exhibit.
These four great artists had little in common stylistically, but they shared a basic career pattern. All four served artistic apprenticeships in Paris and New York early in their careers, and all four subsequently returned to their beloved Buenos Aires thereafter. All four made distinct breakthroughs during their time in Paris and New York, but these innovations were almost completely forgotten in these capitals after the artists left to return to Latin America.
This past summer, Luis Felipe Noé was honored with a retrospective exhibition at Argentina's Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The show was a tour de force surveying the power and beauty of the work that Noé had made over more than five decades. His distinctive form of gestural figuration is related to the art of others of his time including de Staël and Appel in Europe, and de Kooning in the US. But the complexity of his work, with constant motion across multiple focal points, is his alone, developed to express the anxieties of life in a modern society that has been dogged by upheaval and oppression. Noé has been deeply affected by Argentina's political problems, but his ability to make beauty out of his protests is testimony to the resilience of his optimism. His art is an extended statement of his belief that chaos lies at the core of the modern experience of Latin America.
Western art has produced a number of great artists during the past century. Most of these are immediately familiar to art connoisseurs in Paris, New York, and other centers of advanced art. But a few are not. Prominent among these are Luis Felipe Noé, Marta Minujin, Nicolas Uriburu, and Gyula Kosice. This neglect should be rectified not only for the sake of these great artists and Latin American culture, but for the benefit of art lovers everywhere.