Luis Camnitzer (b.1937) is a German-born Uruguayan artist and writer who moved to New York in 1964. He was at the vanguard 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.
In 1964 he co-founded The New York Graphic Workshop, along with fellow artists, Argentine Liliana Porter and Venezuelan Guillermo Castillo (1941–1999). For six years until the end of the workshop in 1970, 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, Camnitzer 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.
Camnitzer’s work has been shown at important institutions since the 1960s, including one-person exhibitions at El Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago, Chile (2013); Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (2011); El Museo del Barrio, New York (1995); Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City (1993); and List Visual Arts Center at M.I.T., Cambridge, MA (1991). Retrospectives of his work have been presented at Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx, New York (1991); Kunsthalle Kiel, Germany (2003); Daros Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, El Museo del Barrio, New York; and Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin, Bogota, Colombia (2010–13). His work has appeared in numerous group exhibitions, including Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2014); the seminal Information show at Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970); among others. He has been featured in several international biennials, including the Bienal de la Habana, Cuba (1984, 1986, 1991, 2009); Pavilion of Uruguay, 43 Biennale di Venezia, Italy (1988); Whitney Biennial (2000); and Documenta 11 (2002).
Camnitzer’s work is in the permanent collections of Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Tate, London; Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich; 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.