by Niko Vicario. Studies in Latin American Art Series. University of California Press, April 2020. 312 p. ill. ISBN 9780520310025 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed March 2021
L.E. Eames, Instructor/Instruction Librarian, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, email@example.com.
Hemispheric Integration: Materiality, Mobility, and the Making of Latin American Art examines the influences of market capitalism on the construction of the category of “Latin American art” in the 1930s and 40s. Drawing on extensive archival research in Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, and the United States, Niko Vacario traces the ways various artists and art consumers embrace and resist these changes. Vicario, a professor in the departments of Art and the History of Art and Latinx and Latin American Studies at Amherst College, focuses on the post-revolutionary period and the rapid economic changes brought on by the Great Depression and World War II. He argues that the art market created the idea of “Latin American art” as a cohesive unit and that, at the same time, the creation of that category defined the boundaries of American art. In this conception, art is itself an exportable raw material. If raw materials are exchanged for industrial capitalism, art (both materially and philosophically) is exchanged for international modernism.
Vicario accomplishes this argument in four chapters, each treating an archetypical actor in these markets. Siqueiros’ embrace of Duco paint marks the creation of an industrial muralism that appropriates a quintessential product of American capitalism into art-for-the-masses rather than mass-produced art. Joaquín Torres-García’s syncretism of universalism and local specificity in Constructivism complicates the idea that modernism must be industrial. Rockefeller and his partners at the Office of Inter-American Affairs and the Museum of Modern Art create the market that circulates these works and ideas and creates the category of Latin American art through marketing and group shows. And Mario Carreño, while perhaps not exceptional in his work, is prototypical in his navigation of these competing influences. At the end of each chapter, Vicario traces each actor’s impact into the following decades to show the intermingling of these forces and the creation of the field of Latin American art as a cohesive whole.
Hemispheric Integration is written from an economic perspective built firmly on deft analysis of the artworks and artists’ bodies of work. The analysis is accessible to a reader without deep familiarity with either the art or the economics under examination Still, this text would be appropriate for advanced undergraduates in either art history or Latin American studies. The sixty images are both well selected and well placed. They are well integrated near the text they relate to, so the reader is not left flipping around the book. The back matter consists of an index of images, an index of concepts, and comprehensive endnotes. The glossy paper does at times make the book feel more like an exhibition catalogue than a monograph. Vicario’s first book, Hemispheric Integration, airs a valuable new voice in the field.