The late 1960s saw the emergence of diverse and radical spaces for the production and dissemination of art, in which new pedagogical formats were experimented with. The role of the Argentinian institutions Instituto Di Tella and the Centre of Art and Communication (CAyC) in the development of relationships between art and politics, art and action, and art and the media was key to changing the forms of carrying out and understanding artistic practice. From independence and self-management, and galvanised by the impetus of May ‘68, both centres of production transcended art to be built as “life spaces”.
The revolutionary influx of the Argentinian avant-garde from the 1960s made such waves that it reached out beyond the country’s borders, illuminating not only neighbouring countries in Latin America but also Spain and the USA. This vitality materialised within and was marked by the military dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía (1966-1970) and his expanding system of censorship and authoritarianism, and by the unconventional and international spirit of May ‘68.
Kenneth Kemble and particularly Alberto Greco, both hailing from Informalism, anticipated this generation with transgressive practices which tested the dematerialisation of the object and art as action. In Buenos Aires, Instituto Di Tella — funded with private capital and with a system of philanthropy — kept some distance from the State. The Centre of Visual Arts (CAV), which operated under Di Tella and was directed by Jorge Romero Brest, constituted a vital point in the modernisation of the Buenos Aires scene, with large doses of avant-garde and utopia. Among the numerous artists and figures coinciding there was, crucially, Oscar Masotta, whose writings on art, politics and psychanalysis initiated a profound renewal of critical thinking in both Argentina and Spain, where he took up exile following a brief period in Paris. Happening (1966) is his indispensable text. Notable inside this milieu were also artists David Lamelas and Marta Minujín, who, aged 17, went to Paris in 1960 with a scholarship and came into contact with the New Realists, a group driven by Pierre Restany. Once back in Argentina, Minujín made Simultaneidad en Simultaneidad (Simultaneity in Simultaneity, 1966) and La Menesunda (Mayhem, 1965), two symbolic works from Di Tella. Masotta was one of the first theorists to take an interest in “media art” and questioned — in a clear McLuhan discussion — information technology, a patent pop icon of mass culture. For Masotta, avant-garde and media art could be revolutionary political receptors, and indeed, Minujín was one of the artists seduced by the theories of Masotta and Marshall McLuhan.
Onganía’s reforms advanced in their suffocation of intellectuality and culminated in 1968 with the closure of Instituto Di Tella, which cited financial problems. The incident translated into a political radicalisation of the art scene, whose revolutionary latencies produced works that were even more ideological. Some artists left the country, others replaced art with militancy, such as Roberto Jacoby. The author of the memorable piece Mensaje en el Di Tella (Message in the Di Tella, 1968) temporarily vanished from public life, but not before participating in Tucumán arde, the event that capitalised on the union between art and politics in Argentina.
In La Plata, in turn, the group known as Grupo de los 13 self-organised around CAyC. In the group was Juan Carlos Romero, Horacio Zabala, Luis Pazos and Carlos Ginzburg, among other artists orbiting the institution. CAyC sought to take over from where Di Tella had left off, and to this end worked with critic and curator Jorge Glusberg, its main ideologist and organiser and the person who instilled it with an international vocation, strengthening relations with artists and critics from different continents and inviting them to participate in its exhibitions and activities.