For any progressive artist coming of age in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, the newly emergent theories of post-Modernism and Deconstructivism were the animating forces around, and the de rigeur, au courant approaches to, thinking about, critiquing, and making fine art.
For the first time since Impressionism, the issue of a modern artist’s having to innovate an autograph style was put to rest, replaced by the overarching idea that all that could have been discovered and done in painting and sculpture has been.
Theory suggested that the new quest among artists was more sensibly to synthesize, pastiche, “cut and paste,” appropriate, even copy freely from the global art past, in order to generate new aesthetic conflations – mergers that would uncover the ironies and illuminate the blind spots in the ages-old, planet-sized quilt of the visual arts.
A key approach for many was to not privilege the established, Caucasian-male dominance of even-our-most-basic approaches to art by exposing and shaming its ubiquity. Example: if Byzantine followed Romanesque, why do we not hear about nor study that which was going on in Australia, Africa, Brazil, Alaska at the same time? Why no women artists; why no outsider art; why no art by people of color; why no folk art? Then more broadly: why is our art history the “main one,” and why is ours understood apart from “theirs?” – “theirs” always being somehow adjunct in a separate chapter to “ours.”
As a progressive artist in the ‘70s/80s, one felt liberated from having to seek out new “alphabets,” since presumably there were no more to be uncovered. Indeed, the new game became to “recombine the letters” from all “existing alphabets” in canny, extraordinary ways to reveal our chauvinisms, provincialities, and blindedness to the Other . . . To root out our presumptuous readings of meaning and hierarchy in art based on Judeo-Christianity, Western art theories and histories, even on our predisposal to the two- and three-dimensional arts of painting and sculpture in a shrinking world of multi-various life habitats being cross-mediated and -pollinated – all in a computerizing world on its way to the democracy of the internet.
What if your people have always lived outside, thanks to the tropical weather? Will you generate paintings to hang on walls that do not exist?
One noble goal of the period became to communicate the new tide of multiculturalism shattering status quo perspectives on world art history. Tossing off this history’s Eurasia-centrism, we radically began to “re-dig” global arts everywhere and in every time, as somehow rightly splintered off and blossoming apart in their own self-chosen contexts, rationale and beautiful on their own terms – natively, historically, contemporaneously. A power object (formerly fetish object, read “mentally ill”) from Africa would no longer be prized less, perhaps not even priced less, by definition, than a Ming bowl, and a Ming bowl would no longer be outdone, by definition, by a Caravaggio masterpiece still in private hands! Hard habits of the market and of taste to reconceive?
As years passed, the presumptions and traditions of art history and criticism – after all, a field only 100 years old at the time – were further undermined by the emergence of new mediums: installation art, video art, land art, body art, photography, digital art, conceptual art, etc. This explosion in media, taken together with the new desire to grasp all the artistic peoples of the earth from their own perspectives and in their chosen contexts, allowed young artists like Yamandú Cuevas to articulate a bevy of styles and approaches to art with no apologies for having more than one autograph style.
This over-achieving, by the way, is anathema to art dealers and writers who seek stylistic unity for ease of understanding to train the public. How much easier is it to define and to pitch an artist who is the supreme stylist of his one and only “stripe?” How much harder is the teacher’s or the salesman’s task without this unified and easily recognizable signature style? – a Modernist prejudice that may explain the “artist equals one-original-style” equation.
In Yamandú’s case, that of signature-style iconoclast par excellence, I can count at least four approaches: non-Objective, cartooning, grapho-conceptual, and mail art – all important to Cuevas’s case and work. As post-Modernism allows, Cuevas does not fear multi-styling. Nor does he avoid quoting sources from as far apart as Jasper Johns to the French cartoonist Folón – let alone Kandinsky, Klee, Stuart Davis, Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Rauschenberg, Italian Transavangardia, arte povera, etc. – in the name of achieving an impossible-to-recapture and therefore dépassé “originality.”
Simply put, an artist today finds nothing new under the sun, so he goes about his “cut-and-paste” mission, no less absorbed and challenged than the Rx chemist inventing within the confines of the periodic chart!
Finally, this being about a South American, how could this “post-Modern” writer himself leave unmentioned the amazing 20th century history of geometric abstraction so brilliantly articulate in art and architecture in post-WWII Latin America? (Cf. Tamayo, Legoretto, Oiticica, et al.) Its greatest visionaries seem to have jumped from colonial Baroque to modernism without any 19th century European intervention! This post-Modern Cuevas of manifold styles emerging concurrently, and with appropriations from a plethora of earlier masters, is even more firmly underlined by his participation in a recent art blog entitled “Post-Modern Schizophrenia.” Could you say it better?
Then again, Cuevas has been an important contributor to the quixotic world of mail art – that ephemeral web of artists around the world exchanging words, ideas, and images small enough to fit into first-class envelopes. “I like an art that breaks the barriers surrounding drawing and painting, and that has for itself one individual as recipient/ correspondent, instead of the exhibition concept wherein, it seems to me, one is often ‘performing for an audience’ of an unknown group – as opposed to my doing art dialogue with just one other whom I know I know.”
In mail art, he even seems to engage us at a juncture with anti-Modernism or, say, a post, post-Modernist platform whose –ism chromosomes are so interbred they bear neither tracing nor tagging. Triumphant that is, like ceasing with the tired conceit of putting “Latin-American” before the word “Art.” Gratefully, and because of those pioneering post-Moderns, perhaps, we get to exist in a worldwide space in which Cuevas is from Uruguay, nothing more, nothing less – and certainly with nothing “Latin” implied about, or expected from, his global approach. It’s Art . . . Beautifully complex. Simple as this plus that.
Michael J. Miller
The Bohemian Gallery
Kansas City, Kansas