Visual arts

Diverse and mobile, Chile can be figurative and abstract, sometimes surrealist, or even hyper-realist; always avant-garde. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2009  
Bienal de Venecia; Ivan Navarro Pabellón de Chile; Bienal de Venecia (Photo: Sebastiano Luciano)

All tendencies are manifested in Chilean plastic arts, with creators who have contributed to universal art, as is the case with Roberto Matta, whose poetic vision vitalized the surrealist movement, followed by abstract expressionism. Matta also stands for the social commitment as expressed in Chilean political muralists of the 1970s, in addition to having cooperated in the founding of the Afro-Latino Art Museum. 

Another perspective that reflects diversity is in the work by Eugenio Dittborn, which questions traditions and systems and belongs to the so-called advance guard scene of the 1980s and 90s. With his Aeropostal Paintings, Dittborn criticizes traditional society and traditional plastic arts media and takes on the codes of globalization: he stakes his distance out from the origin, both materially and symbolically, and then comes back with his work full of other perspectives. Arturo Duclos, Alfredo Jaar and Juan Castillo are also part of the advance guard scene and there are studies and theoretical publications on them available for those interested.

Chile was recently invited to the Venice Biennale, probably one of the most important in the world. And it was the artist Ivan Navarro, who presented the work Threshold, which considers fluorescent lights.

Claudio Bravo, also internationally known but far from the avant-garde, emerges with a different vision, contributing fundamental procedures to the development of hyperrealism, a trend that stresses the effectiveness of the pictorial trade in esthetic representation.

Currently Chilean plastic artists are resorting to different foundations and have acknowledged the expressive and interactive potential of technology and the use of multimedia.

A bit of history

The most remote art is certainly native rock art, as represented by remarkable figures found in northern Chile in particular. For example, the rocks in the El Encanto Valley or the 86 meter humanoid drawn onto Cerro Unita in the Tarapacá Region, the largest geoglyph in the world called the Giant of Atacama. In addition to the expressions of native people, there is the western tradition brought over by the Europeans with colonial painting and the vestiges of a genuinely Chilean painting.

An unknown facet that the main independence leaders in Chile shared is that they had ties to the plastic arts. Bernardo O’Higgins studied painting and left behind a miniature oil self portrait. José Miguel Carrera was also criticized for his “bloody caricatures.”

The most disseminated iconography of the time is the product of the José Gil de Castro’s (1785-1841) brush. Arriving from Peru in 1810, the man they called the mulatto Gil portrayed the transition from colony to independence. He made official portraits of the Supreme Director, religious paintings, and registered military campaigns and high society. Other traveling artists have been important in the beginning of professional painting in Chile and in teaching it, such as Mauricio Rugendas, a German who arrived in Chile in 1834 and registered popular scenes and characters; the Frenchman Raymond Monvoisin, who was brought in by the government in 1843 and painted the portraits of the ladies in Santiago society.

The Neapolitan Alessandro Cicarelli was the one to ultimately directed the Painting Academy, the predecessor of the Fine Arts Academy, from which the first generations of painters and sculptures trained in the country were to graduate. The book Chilean Painting from the Colony to 1981, by Gaspar Galaz and Milan Ivelic, provides greater detail on the issue. Since then, Chilean artists have represented academicism, experimentation and irreverent iconography, cryptic imprisonment and collective art in public.

There are playful, political, theoretical and apparently innocent perspectives and there are diverse traditions, from avant-garde easels to contemporary Chilean plastic art, which also has room for religious, political and graffiti muralism, photography and comics.

For its part, since 1944 the state has been awarding a prize to artists for their trajectory through the National Art Prize and it stimulates the creations of young artists with public funds from the National Arts Development Fund, Fondart. For their part, the artists themselves reward their peers with the Altazor Prize.

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