“Exhibitions are stages of different insights and imply a true construction of senses”. With this statement, Maria Jose Herrera1 began the presentation of an important compilation (Exhibitions of Argentinean Art 1956-2006. The convergence of historians, curators and institutions in the writing of history) of texts by a group of researchers of the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA), where she, along with Andrea Giunta Herrera, is a coordinator.

The book includes as well essays by the participants in the First Days of Argentinean Art Exhibitions. All together, the works make up a corpus focusing on the analysis of museum practices in relation to different theoretical and artistic trends in half a century.

As much as the researchers’ rigorous work –as stated by the brilliant compiler– make up a thorough presentation of art displays by both public and private institutions of Buenos Aires, the texts included in the compilation correspond to a much more intense approach based on temporal interests that arouse from the interdisciplinary convergence of researchers and curators.

Organized around general topics, it is Maria Jose Herrera herself who throws the first stone as she analyzes the Romero Brest’s efforts as the first Argentinean curator, in the modern sense of administrator of sensitivities, an activity requiring high will of modernization.2

The first chapter “Institutions and Curatorial Policies” is exclusively devoted to the doyen of Argentinean museums, the MNBA, founded in 1895 through an institutionalization led by the Generation of the Eighties “a generation of intellectuals who dreamed of a country full of art schools and museums” that bade for this public adventure as a factor leading to growth and modernization. Destined to be the bearer of the artistic treasures of the nation, the museum’s collection started to grow through authentications whose main consecrated award was the National Fair of Fine Arts. This event, first held in 1911, established –following European standards–, what was “in” or “out” of the art circuit and the road leading to what could be labeled as the Argentinean “academic tradition”.3 On the other hand, donations from private collections contributed to increase the museum patrimony.

The curatorial policies analyzed in the book are those that came out from Jorge Romero Brest’s management actions after he took on the post of administrator in 19554 and developed an evaluation and promotion model that didn’t spare efforts to transform the institution into a paradigm of visibility of the Argentinean art in the international arena.5

When studying his successive managements, his differentiating slants and debates that shook the field of arts in Argentina for more than three decades pop up: propositions on aesthetic perception, bonds with power, storms unleashed by political and economic ups and downs.6

In “Exhibitions as institutions of the artistic field,” it is explained that exhibitions are a format for the interpretation of the art senses and that dialogues between different institutional and geographical contexts can be established. The material presents a thorough analysis of the role played by businessman and collector Guido Di Tella, who commissioned renowned architects at the moment to build the “frame” building7 housing his collection of modern art and venue of the Visual Arts Center (CAV) of the Torcuato Di Tella Institute (ITDT), a flagship of the 1960s in Argentina under the direction of Romero Brest. Researchers would go back into Brest over and over again, either to analyze his stance regarding Antonio Berni’s exhibition, an artist from Rosario, “former realist” and too old to be part of the ITDT youth group, or to discover the tactics that allowed him to justify a great retrospective display by the author.8 Another aspect developed in the chapter is the influence of art and culture in the diplomatic relations with Brazil, a country that established a model recognized as a continental power for its cultural development in the 1960s.9

The essay is introduced in the 1970s, marked by violence and censorship, to describe strategies forged by artists through aesthetic languages to evade restrictions imposed by official institutions. As in many other places of Latin America, the body became the metaphor representing the torn, mutilated and tortured society. Artists like Juan Carlos Distefano and Lea Lublin are examples of alternative and resistant solutions to the hegemonic trends.10 The absence of women in the History of Art, the construction of the discourse on sexuality, myths around the place of women, her role and transgressions are the core of the narration about one cycle of questioning exhibitions –Mitominas I, II and III–, an input on critical reflection and the inclusion of gender in the artistic agenda.11

As another enlightening contribution, it addresses the issue of the lack of recognition of artists from provincial cities like Rosario at the country level. In order to be acknowledged, its institutions would have to be legitimized in the “relative autonomy of the artistic sector,” and the value of its own poetics would have to be demonstrated. The experience taken as reference was the exhibition 34ARC (34 Modern Artists from Rosario) which had to overcome firstly the resistance of its own environment.12

This set of articles wraps up with a debate about centers for legitimization in the 1990s which disputed their right to the ITDT’s inheritance and tried to “bring back the aura of the 1960s” when their “mythological efficiency” consists of ephemeral actions of that “exaggerated poetics of intensity.”13 It contains the thoughts by two curators: Gumier Maier with the Rojas Cultural Center and Elena Oliveras about the exhibition 90-60-90 displayed in the Banco Patricios Foundation, and the opinion of art critics in two media outlets with totally opposing stances.

Each article of the chapter “Curatorial Strategies: from the scientific script to the museum installation,” reveals the importance of museum scripts as constructors of senses using the historic present and what its communicative strategies can achieve.14 It states that each cutting has different readings influenced by the design, illumination, texts, that is, a communicative arsenal deployed to accompany the visitor.

In two articles, the MNBA research team tackles the museum’s critical narrative structure that takes advantage of modern resources to increase the value of the collection arguing that identity is the result of the conditions in which the work is created. Eclectic criteria is required in the presentation of works of art and artists to be able to deal with notable absences and rescues, such as the case of the opening of a Pre-Columbian Andean Art Salon that was legitimized based on the aesthetic value and the documentation provided by the archeological research.15

In Beyond geometry. A Bridge between two decades, the author examines the exhibition of the same title curated by Romero Brest (about the period 40-70) which was a milestone in the internationalization project of the Argentinean art. In this case, the script takes a stance theoretically justified in the catalogue and aims to convey a reassuring message regarding international relations: the will of order geometry entails, even though the state of unrest of the moment did not seem to reveal it.16

The last article of this series states that curatorial practices are readings of cultural objects within a certain society. It enquires of exhibition mechanisms employed to stage in public a concept that was originally conceived for the private and non-museum space. The exhibition Cosmococas by Helio Oiticica (MALBA, 2005) illustrates the grammar of narrative statements that are at stake in every exhibition.17

In the chapter “The voice of the curator” four curators relate experiences setting new challenges and showing the importance of exhibitions in the writing of history. For that reason different alternatives18 are taken into account when making curatorial decisions: how to analyze, recreate or rebuild an aesthetic experience? What are the conditions set for a narrative? According to modern trends in museology, theoretical frameworks need to be highlighted and an interdisciplinary research team is required as support for an exhibit that reveals a reading of a fragment of history.

The “Appendix: cultural policies,” last part of the book, is made up of documents explaining the guidelines of a policy that considers culture as “a habitable place shared by citizens on equal grounds,”19 and where it is quite clear the paradigm set by the MNBA, which was provided with all the necessary elements for an optimum performance, especially in the fields of research and curatorship and a design subjected to modern communication premises. An in-depth study of the museums emerging in the 21st century unveils as well the paradoxical and positive sense of what crises could mean to artistic market, when its objects become “refuge assets.” It shows as well that there is a long way to go for institutions in the provinces to be able to sustain and move forward with renewed criteria.20

In 351 pages, the book basically offers –exactly as Maria Jose Herrera concluded in her presentation– a debate “between the pure research and the museology representation codes practiced by the curator,” and presents a way to “question the different historical, critical and symbolical strategies involved in the construction of the representation of the Argentinean art over the past few decades starting from the different types of exhibitions produced in that period.” The fact that the edition was issued by the Association of Friends with the Museum of Fine Arts sponsored by a private company, speaks for itself about the meaning of art displays to the museums’ life and health.

Exhibitions of Argentinean Art 1956-2006. The convergence of historians, curators and institutions in the writing of history is definitely an important contribution to knowledge in a field that is just starting to be explored in Argentina, and a call to researchers of different latitudes to participate in the production of knowledge about their respective local histories, visibility strategies, possibilities and obstacles posed to be accepted in the metropolitan areas where the places in culture are assigned and senses are distributed.


1 Arts Degree from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), MNBA’s head researcher and curator, president of the Argentinean Association of Art Critics (AACA-AICA). In 2008 she was the MNBA’s acting art director. 2 Maria Jose Herrera: “Romero Brest in the MNBA: the time of curators,” pp. 15-28. 3 Fabiana Serviddio (UBA): “The exhibition 150 years of Argentinean Art. MNBA: 1960-1961. Academy and Cosmopolitism in the conflict for the Argentinean art story,” pp. 29-44. 4 The so-called Liberating Revolution, coup d’état that overthrew Juan Domingo Peron’s government on September 1955. The extreme political tension of the time makes it impossible to name the leader of the “Defeated Dictatorship.” Jorge Romero Brest is one of the most prominent figures of the intellectual opposition to the “Toppled Regime” and in the magazine Ver y Estimar –he founded–, he slams and at the same time puts forward modernizing strategies. 5 Maria Jose Herrera: ibidem. 6 F. Serviddio: “Samuel Oliver as director of the Nacional Museum of Fine Arts (1964-1977) new senses for the project of modernization,” pp. 45-62; Mariana Marchessi (CONICET-UBA): “Between development and institutional crisis MNBA exhibitions, patrimony and projects in the 1970s,” pp. 63-80; Viviana Usubiaga (CONICET-UBA): “About the temporary character of the permanent exhibition of Argentinean art n the recent history of the National Museum of Fine Arts,” pp. 81-96. 7 Silvia Pampinella (UNR): “The invisible frame. Exhibiting strategies by Guido Di Tella in the early 1960s,” pp. 99-112. 8 Silvia Dolinko (CONICET-UBA): “Former realist in athe avant-garde center: Antonio Berni in the Di Tella,” pp. 113-122. 9 María Amalia García (CONICET-UBA): “La brasilidade of Romero Brest’s management in the MNBA,” pp. 123-136. 10 Paola Melgarejo and Florencia Ballarino (MNBA): “The discourse of art between aesthetics and censorship,” pp. 137-148. 11 Maria Laura Rosa (UCM): “The role of exhibitions in the writing of history. Mitominas and the origin of the art-feminism relationship in Buenos Aires”, pp. 149-158. 12 Pablo Montini (UNR): “The battle between novelty and tradition: 34ACR in the modernization of modern Rosario’s artistic field,” pp. 159-170. 13 Cecilia Rabossi (UBA): “Transgression and social context in the 1960s? Tolerance and preservationist in the 1990s? Debates about an exhibition,” pp. 171-182. 14 Maria Florencia Galesio, Maria Jose Herrera and Valeria Keller (MNBA): “New curatorial script and museography of Argentinean art galleries of tahe National Museum of Fine Arts,” pp. 211-224. 15 , and Mariana Rodriguez (MNBA): “The Andean pre-Columbian art in the National Museum of Fine Arts,” pp. 201-210. 16 Cristina Rabossi (UBA): “Beyond geometry. A bridge between two epochs,” pp. 185-199. 17 Teresa Riccardi (CONICET-UBA): “Exhibition mechanism and visibility strategies. From Cosmococas to Helio Oiticica / Neville D’Almeida”, pp. 225-240. 18 Raul D’Amelio (Museum of the City of Buenos Aires): “Exhibitions as collective construction,” pp. 243-2549; Tomas Ezequiel Bondone (Higher Institute of Fine Arts “Dr. Figueroa Alcorta”): “One history, one collection. Memoirs of an exhibition,” pp. 255-266); Maria Jose Herrera: “Curatorial strategies in the exhibition En medio de los medios,” pp. 267-286; Ana María Batisttozzi: “Scenes of the 1980s, the culture of return to democracy,” pp. 287-298. 19 Americo Castilla (DNPM / TyPA Foundation): “Notes for: A cultural policy for museums in Argentina,” pp. 301-308. 20 Andrea Giunta (CONICET-UBA / IDAES-UNSAM): “Crisis and Patrimony,” pp. 309-328.