Stories of Abstraction:
Contemporary Latin American Art in the Global Context

This groundbreaking exhibition features rarely seen examples of Latin American abstraction alongside works by American and European  modernists and Phoenix-based contemporary artists.

Above: Sergio Vega, Shanty Nucleus After Derrida 2, 2011-2013. Installation, Inkjet vinyl prints mounted on syntra. Gift of Nicholas Pardon. Image courtesy of Nicholas Pardon. 

Stories of Abstraction: Contemporary Latin American Art in the Global Context at Phoenix Art Museum will present for the first time more than 40 recently acquired works of contemporary Latin American art in conversation with those by 30 European and American artists, including four currently working in Phoenix. The new exhibition explores how the visual language of abstraction has generated profound insights into Latin American culture and politics and how Latin American artists have drawn on abstraction’s parallel history in the United States and Europe. 

By providing an overview of post-1990s abstraction from various geographies in Latin America, the exhibition examines how abstraction is employed in contemporary Latin American art to convey specific emotions, stories, and ideas stemming from the cultural and political zeitgeist, while addressing the multitude of ways in which artwork lacking figuration or recognizable characters can generate new narratives, insightful commentary, and even political change. Stories of Abstraction will be on view at Phoenix Art Museum from October 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021. 

Stories of Abstraction seeks to uncover how Latin American artists have used abstraction as both a vehicle to explore key issues relating to society and a tool to recast sometimes radical civic discourse,” said Gilbert Vicario, the Museum’s Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and the Selig Family Chief Curator who curated the exhibition. “The title of the exhibition intends to make clear that there are complex narratives within these abstract works that connect Latin America to the rest of the world. Abstraction in Latin America didn’t develop independently; rather its genesis is inextricably tied to the region’s history of colonialism, a relationship that is visually evident through formal and conceptual frameworks. This exhibition also furthers the Museum’s dedication to preserving and presenting significant works by Latin American artists, as well as its commitment to developing original scholarship that examines the meaning and underpinnings of abstract Latin American art. As our Phoenix community is more than 40-percent Latinx, Stories of Abstraction offers a timely examination of the visual language of Latin American abstraction that we believe our visitors can relate to and find inspiring and exciting.” 

Above left: Geny Dignac, Stella Stella, 1968. Acrylic sheet and light. Courtesy of the artist. Right: Matt Magee, Solent, 2013. Oil on panel. Courtesy of the artist. 

The exhibition also celebrates a 2018 gift to Phoenix Art Museum of 112 contemporary Latin American artworks, including paintings, sculptures, installations, and works on paper, from Nicholas Pardon, co-founder of the former SPACE Collection—the largest collection of post-1990s abstract Latin American art in the United States. Featuring artwork from the landmark gift, which increased the Museum’s holdings of contemporary Latin American art by nearly 300-percent, Stories of Abstraction makes accessible a wide range of compelling artwork from Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Honduras, and Guatemala by 25 of the most innovative artists working in Latin America in recent years and today, including seven women artists, thus opening a window onto how abstraction is used to visualize the social philosophies of the present. 

To historically contextualize the exhibition’s contemporary Latin American artworks from Pardon’s recent gift, Stories of Abstraction incorporates works by an earlier generation of artists from the Americas and around the world to substantiate their influence on post-1990 Latin American abstractionists. These works, by seminal artists like Alexander Calder, Pedro Friedeberg, Agnes Martin, Carlos Mérida, Hélio Oiticica, Frank Stella, Bridget Riley, and Jesús Rafael Soto, create historical touch points demonstrating how formal threads become appropriated, reworked, and reimagined in the post-1990 Latin American landscape. 

Artworks by contemporary U.S. artists working in abstraction, including those based in Phoenix, further expand the conversation around abstraction to illuminate how these tendencies continue to develop and unfold in a global context. Locally based artists featured in Stories of Abstraction include Argentine sculptor and light and fire artist Geny Dignac, abstract and conceptual artist Matt Magee, photographer and performance artist Liz Cohen, and internationally renowned artist and sculptor Rotraut Klein-Moquay. 

“By including works by Phoenix-based artists, Stories of Abstraction will help audiences trace the evolution of abstraction to the present day and illuminate its importance as a visual language that is currently being employed within our local art community through various media,” Vicario said. “Each artist uses abstraction in surprisingly different ways to elicit emotional and spiritual transcendence toward singular ends.” 

Above: Emilia Azcárate, La mar de letras, 2013. Green typewriter ink on paper. Gift of Nicholas Pardon. Image courtesy Nicholas Pardon. 

Stories of Abstraction places the Museum at the forefront of conversations surrounding scholarship, exhibition practices, and the global significance of contemporary Latin American art,” said Vicario. “The exhibition will foster new dialogues in the Phoenix community and beyond and provide the opportunity to learn about the significant achievements of Latin America’s foremost abstract artists.” 

Stories of Abstraction: 

Contemporary Latin American Art in the Global Context

October 1 – January 31

Phoenix Art Museum