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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Playing their game : France, Latin America, and the transformation of geometric abstraction in postwar Paris Sesín, Martha L.


This study considers a specific form of geometric abstraction initiated by a group of Latin American artists — including the Argentineans Julio Le Pare and Martha Boto, and the Venezuelans Carlos Cruz-Diez and Jesus Rafael Soto —who were active in Paris during the early 1960s. The work of these artists, which was by no means cohesive, was rooted in a tradition of European and Latin American geometric abstraction, yet with a modem edge. The work played with a recognizable formal vocabulary, but offered a participatory model of engagement distinct from the emotional detachment of early 20th century geometric abstraction and the gestural tendencies of abstract expressionism. Optical and kinetic art, as it came to be called, offered the early 1960’s viewer in Paris a kind of unique artistic experience which mediated both the pressing postwar needs of France and Latin America and the technological optimism of a hyper-consumerist era. Utilizing new artistic materials (i.e. plastic) and technological devices that made reference to the world of advertising and design, these artists became unwittingly connected to the international economic and political aspirations of France at what was an uncertain historical moment. Launched by the seminal exhibition Le Mouvement, held at Galerie Denise René in April 1955, optical and kinetic art enjoyed significant attention and public success in Paris for a decade, yet this prominence has yet to be critically examined. With its focus on interaction and play, optical and kinetic art led some serious-minded critics in the 1950’s and 60’s to dismiss this work as whimsical and light-hearted, a condition which still plagues the critical reception of this work. This thesis addresses this gap in scholarship by situating this particular version of optical and kinetic art within its historical moment and local context. More specifically, I consider what made this work so appealing to a French public, as tensions regarding France’s global identity under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle were being worked out.

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