The present selection of works and artists refers to two exhibitions of “unofficial” Chilean art organised in Europe: the Paris Biennale in 1982 and Chile Vive (Chile Lives), held in Madrid in 1987. This dialogue shows the strategic, ideological and even diplomatic value an art show can accomplish, even though the experimental and political potential of those artistic practices were difficult to understand, particularly beyond Chilean borders.
On 11 September 1973 the military coup d’état in Chile overturned Salvador Allende’s socialist government (1970–1973), granting power to Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990). Some artists who supported Allende’s Popular Unity were silenced or went into exile, while a new generation emerged under the dictatorship, determined to surreptitiously challenge Pinochetismo. Art historian Nelly Richard grouped many of these artists inside what she called the “Escena de avanzada”, or the Vanguard Scene, and certain artists and groups — the C.A.D.A. collective and Eugenio Dittborn, Carlos Leppe, Elías Adasme, and Lotty Rosenfeld, to mention a few — shaped the period with a counter-institutional practice questioning canonical art languages, doing so through photography, video, mass printing techniques and, above all, performance and direct action in public space. Their aim was to redefine the conditions of their creative participation and transform behaviour and discourse in everyday life.
Relations between Chile and Spain would undergo a transformation after the death of Franco in 1975. Strategies of democratisation and the transformation of the Spanish image beyond its borders shared a distinctive chapter with Chile, in particular from an art and cultural policy perspective. In this room two “unofficial” Chilean art exhibitions held outside the country face one another: on one side, the 1982 Paris Biennale, attended by Nelly Richard to present artists from “The Vanguard” in Europe; and, on the other, Chile Vive (Chile Lives), a show organised in 1987 by Spain’s Ministry of Culture, the Community of Madrid, the Institute of Ibero-American Cooperation, and Madrid’s Círculo de Bellas Artes, which held the event.
Although both exhibitions sought to grant visibility to practices of resistance in the face of the Pinochet regime and, therefore, express a gesture of solidarity with the Chilean people, there was a somewhat Eurocentric gaze underlying them that encumbered an understanding of what was on display. The Paris Biennial saw “The Vanguard” as an ill-timed replica of North American and European conceptual art, ignoring the political context in which it was inscribed. The Madrid show, meanwhile, sought to encompass — eclectically and with a focus on painting and sculpture — the totality of the Chilean cultural sphere, resulting in a homogenisation which deactivated the radicalism of the works. Overall, this room bears witness to the change of paradigm that occurred as the 1980s drew to a close, when, in Spain, two trends met from art and politics: the rise of the painting market and the Transition to democracy.