Luis Camnitzer (b.1937) is a German-born Uruguayan artist and writer who moved to New York in 1964. He was at the van guard of 1960s Conceptualism, working primarily in printmaking, sculpture, and installations. Camnitzer’s artwork explores subjects such as social injustice, repression, and institutional critique. His humorous, biting, and often politically charged use of language as art medium has distinguished his practice for over four decades.
From the 1964 to 1970 he co-founded The New York Graphic Workshop, along with fellow artists Argentine Liliana Porter and Venezuelan Guillermo Castillo (1941–1999). Together they examined the conceptual meaning behind printmaking, and sought to test and expand the definition of the medium. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Camnitzer developed a body of work that explored language as primary medium, shifting from printing text on paper or walls, such as his Dictionary etchings and the room-size installation Living Room (both 1969). As his interest in language unfolded, so did his aim to identify socio-political problems through his art. Camnitzer responded in great part to the growing wave of Latin American military regimes taking root in the late '60s, but his work also points to the dynamic political landscape of his adopted country, the United States.
During the 1970s he created a key body of work that blended both language and humor, producing a series of object-boxes that placed ordinary items within wood-framed glass boxes with text printed on brass plaques. In all cases, the printed sentences are also the works’ titles. In many ways, these boxes anticipate one of Camnitzer’s most important works, the Uruguayan Torture Series (1983–84). This photo-etching series epitomizes Camnitzer’s ability to question the social and political roles of an individual in society, while also examining a dimension of human psychology by pairing images and text to create new meaning.
Though Camnitzer never left New York, his practice remains intrinsically connected to his homeland and the whole of Latin America. This consistent dedication cements his place as a key figure in shaping debates around ideas of post-Colonialism, Conceptualism, and pedagogy.
His work has been shown in noted exhibitions and institutions since the 1960s, including individual shows at The Kitchen and El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY; List Visual Arts Center at M.I.T., Cambridge, MA; and Museo Carillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico. Retrospectives of his work have been presented at Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx, NY; Kunsthalle Kiel, Germany; as well as at the Daros Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY; and Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, Bogotá, Colombia. His work has appeared in numerous group exhibitions, including Mail Exhibition at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina (1969); the seminal Information show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1970); Dia Foundation, New York, NY; Beyond Geometry at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA (2005); among others.
Additionally, he has been featured in several international biennials, including the Bienal de la Havana, Cuba; Whitney Biennial, and Documenta 11. Camnitzer’s work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; the TATE, London, UK; and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Argentina (MALBA), among others. He was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowships on two occasions, 1961 and 1982. A highly regarded critic and curator, Camnitzer is a frequent contributor to contemporary art magazines. He has authored the publications New Art of Cuba (University of Texas Press: 1994, 2003), Conceptualism in Latin American Art: Didactics of Liberation (University of Texas Press: 2007), and Didáctica de la liberación: Arte conceptualista latinoamericano (Fundación Gilberto Álzate Avedaío, IDARTES: 2012). He taught at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury since 1969, and he continues to serve as professor emeritus.