Alexander Gray Associates announces the retrospective of Luis Camnitzer’s work, Hospice of Failed Utopias, curated by Octavio Zaya, now on view at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
For over five decades, Luis Camnitzer’s multidisciplinary work has explored diverse subjects such as repression under systems of power, pedagogical norms, and the deconstruction of familiar frameworks. Born in Lübeck, Germany in 1937, and raised in Uruguay, Camnitzer’s expansive artistic practice as an essayist, art critic, curator, teacher, lecturer and a creator of objects, actions and musical compositions, has focused on art’s transformative capacity. The retrospective at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía offers a global, contextualized view of Camnitzer’s multi-faceted work, organized around three critical stages in the artist’s development: Camnitzer’s conceptual use of language during the 1960s, his incisive political works of the 70s–90s, and recent works marking the failures of the increasingly globalized, neoliberal contemporary moment.
After moving to New York in the 1960s, Camnitzer co-founded The New York Graphic Workshop, along with fellow artists, Liliana Porter and José Guillermo Castillo, seeking to test and expand the contours of the medium of printmaking. This period of experimentation contributed to Camnitzer’s conceptual approach to the dematerialization of the art object itself, and works from the period, such as Adhesive Labels (1966) and Envelopes (1967), and later other works like Selfportraits (1968–1969) and Living Room (1969), encourage multiple associations through the use of language as a destabilizing signifier.
In the 1970s–1990s, Camnitzer’s purposeful play using language led to an exploration of visual elements that carried more political weight, marked by the height of various military dictatorships in Latin America and the fragility of the human condition. Expository and evocative works of this period began in the 1970s with Leftovers (1970), and led to pointed political works in the 1980s and 1990s, like The Uruguayan Torture Series (1982), Los San Patricios (1992) and El Mirador (1996).
Camnitzer’s most recent output is characterized by its awareness of widespread political failure resulting from the rise of the global neoliberal system. Most notably, the artist’s position is that the artistic process must facilitate education and collective understanding, encouraging speculation, questioning, defiance, and discovery. This ideology is present in the series Insults (2009) and The Assignment Book (2011), as well as in large-scale installations like Lección de Historia del Arte, Lesson Nº 1 (2000) and El aula (2005). The recent work Failed Utopias (2010/2018), informs the exhibition’s title at the express wish of the artist. Drawing upon the dark history of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía’s Sabatini Building, formerly a hospital for “lunatics, or the insane,” the retrospective also constitutes a time frame for Camnitzer’s utopia, which he defines as “a process through which one seeks perfection, where perfection, like a mirage, constantly grows distant at the same speed one believes oneself to be nearing it. Something similar to the revolution in the revolution”.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue, including new essays by Octavio Zaya, Peter Osborne, Beverly Adams, and Luis Camnitzer.
Camnitzer’s work is currently being shown in a solo exhibition at Parque de la Memoria, Buenos Aires, and has been shown at important institutions since the 1960s, including solo 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 (2010); and Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, Colombia (2010–13). His work has appeared in numerous group exhibitions, including HOME— So Different, So Appealing, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA, which traveled to Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (2017); I am you, you are too, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2017); Take Me (I’m Yours), The Jewish Museum, New York, NY (2016); Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2014); and Information, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1970). 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 many institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; 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 Sofía, Madrid; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Tate, London; Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich.