by Karen Benezra. Studies in Latin American Art Series. University of California Press, April 2020. 256 p. ill. ISBN 9780520307063 (h/c), $50.00.

Reviewed November 2020
Clayton C. Kirking, New York Public Library (retired), ckirking@gmail.com

benezraMore than fifty years after Lucy Lippard and John Chandler published “The Dematerialization of Art” in Art International, Karen Benezra has added significant insight to the phenomenon as it developed in Latin America. The author’s efforts are magnified by a search of the literature, which reveals that as it relates to Mexico, Argentina, and Chile, not a great deal has been written in English on this subject. While it is clear that art has pretty much continued to materialize, the importance of conceptual art and the profound place it occupies in the history of twentieth and twenty-first century art cannot be denied. Benezra’s close look at major figures, such as Oscar Masotta, Tomás Maldonado, Felipe Ehrenberg, and Gui Bonsiepe, each of whom contributed to this movement in 1960s and 1970s Latin America, is timely and welcome.

This book would be most appropriate for upper level and graduate students, curators, art historians, and historians of the Americas. There is a particularly deep dive into the work of Octavio Paz concerning the major works of Marcel Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This section of the work should be of interest to Duchamp scholars as well. Later chapters tackle group work in art or collectivism and dematerialization in the context of industrial design.

The writing here is firmly based in art historical theory—as conceptualism may demand—and assumes that the reader has the vocabularies of both theory and the history of modern Latin America. The design of the book is tight and restrained. The typeface is easily readable, suitable for graduate eyes, and is printed on alkaline paper.

Dematerialization is the second in the series Studies on Latin American Art from the University of California Press, which is supported by the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art. Both the series and ISLAA deserve attention. Because the subject here is the dematerialized, not the object, the illustrations are minimal and tend toward documentation. The scholarly weight of the publication is certainly given heft by the end notes, impressive bibliography, and thorough index.

Dematerialization: Art and Design in Latin America, based on the author’s dissertation, should be on the shelf of any institution aggressively collecting in the areas of Latin American history or Latin American art. As Lippard recognized, art of the conceptual reverberated far beyond a tight-knit group of New York artists and thinkers. In this moment of exaggerated dependency upon virtual content, any expanded examination or reëxamination of this subject is appropriate.

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