Buenos Aires

Excéntricos y Superilustrados (Eccentrics and Ultra-Enlightened)

There is a worm in the White House. A sneaky, repulsive, tiny worm crawls through its corridors, aisles, and rooms. It sticks its head out, and slides from the balconies. This earthworm is not alone. There is more than one. In fact, there is a legion of earthworms in the White House, and they won’t be leaving; it is theirs now to keep. This is the situation presented in White House (2005), a transparent and highly political performance first presented by Argentinian artist León Ferrari in 1980 at the Sao Paulo Biennial. Now, White House is displayed as a video made by the artist in collaboration with film director Ricardo Pons, and is one of the opening pieces of the group exhibition Excéntricos y Superilustrados (Eccentrics and Ultra-Enlightened), at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Curated by Javier Villa, Sofía Dourron, and Laura Hakel, the exhibition comprises twenty-six Argentinian artists and a multigenerational selection of work from 1920 to 2016. The exhibition could have easily been divided and displayed chronologically to establish historical context, but instead—thanks to the acuity of the curators—enhances dialogue by mixing artistic strategies, moments in history, and ways of seeing the world, one where art and life cannot be conceived apart.

León Ferrari and Ricardo Pons. Casa Blanca (White House), 2005; recording of performance; 6'32''. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

León Ferrari and Ricardo Pons. Casa Blanca (White House), 2005; recording of performance; 6’32”. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

While Ferrari’s piece might reinforce a strong position toward international politics, specifically those of the U.S., the overall attitude of the artists in Excéntricos y Superilustrados is not one that claims or strives for a new center; inside and outside of the art world, these artists’ professional and personal paths have always been marginal, and it is from the borders that they have been able to find creative and performative freedom. This methodology is confirmed using four sections that are the exhibition’s organizing principles: political thought, experimental language, style and the representation of identity, and the figure of the artist.


Present at all times are the small gestures of the artists and an undeniable care for self-representation and awareness. Luis Pazos and Liliana Maresca criticize Argentinian political discourse through parody and personification. In Súperman Contra la Pálida (Superman v. the Bad News, 1982), Pazos embodies a weak Superman who is looking for a job in Buenos Aires, while Maresca dresses up as a posh lady and poses in front of the Government House for Marcos López’s lens in the series Liliana Maresca Frente a la Casa de Gobierno (Liliana Maresca Outside the Government House, 1984). In Blister Cognitivo (Cognitive Blister, 2002-2016), artist Lux Lindner places a series of books on scales. The book titles vary, from Argentinian classics such as La Escuela Ultrapampeana by Domingo F. Sarmiento, to sociopolitical manuals like Bases para una Argentina Moderna 1976–80, to L’Empire des Signes by Roland Barthes. With the elements stacked and weighed together, the piece poses questions regarding the way ideologies are measured, learned, and valued.

Lux Lindner. Blister cognitivo (Cognitive Blister), 2002-2016; scales and books; variable dimensions. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

Lux Lindner. Blister Cognitivo (Cognitive Blister), 2002-2016; scales and books; variable dimensions. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

Language is a major subject for these artists, and the way each relates to verbal communication is portrayed with a wide range of outcomes. Xul Solar’s invented language Neocriollo (1920s)—which mixes Spanish and Portuguese—serves as a historical starting point, and is shown concordant to Lux Lindner’s reprisal of the language, now distorted in the fashion of the early cybernetic era in an untitled work (ND). Ricardo Carreira reflects on calligraphy, syllables, morphemes, and nouns, in Untitled (ca. 1990) and Palabra y Error (Word and Error, ca. 1990), and Fabio Kacero rewrites historical passages to offer alternative versions to this reality in the artist’s book Estamos a Principios de 1969… (We Are at the Start of 1969…, 2016). What the spelling mistakes, marks, and annotations on Lindner’s, Carreira’s and Kacero’s documents and typewritten texts unveil is what remains hidden most of the time; the visibility of the writing process and its structures are revealed and shown to be essential to the texts’ experimentation.

Fernanda Laguna. Carta (Letter), 2008; text and photographs. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

Fernanda Laguna. Carta (Letter), 2008; text and photographs. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

Fashion has a privileged place in this show. Delia Cancela and Pablo Mesejean’s creations not only speak to the development of Argentina’s clothing industry, but also regard fashion as a rebellion and a vehicle to reaffirm one’s identity. With this action, the artists end up erasing the barrier between art and fashion.

Delia Cancela and Pablo Mesejean. Chica pelo negro con camisa de estrellas (Girl with black hair and star shirt), 1967; mixed media on paper. Courtesy of Henrique Faría Buenos Aires.

Delia Cancela and Pablo Mesejean. Chica Pelo Negro con Camisa de Estrellas (Girl with Black Hair and Star Shirt), 1967; mixed media on paper. Courtesy of Henrique Faría Buenos Aires.

If there’s an evident withdrawal from artists operating within a singular discipline—as this exhibition exemplifies—what, if anything, confines what an artist’s job is supposed to be? Can artists be poets, or wanderers, or TV stars? Federico Manuel Peralta Ramos, one of Argentina’s most outrageous contemporary artists, appears in a few episodes of Tato Bores’ TV show. In appearances by the artist on several programs presented by Tato Bores, he confesses to Tato his desire to cope with present times by going with the flow, as well as his efforts to be a modern figure recognized by the youth. While saying so, his gaze wanders through the TV set. He looks something like a prophet, and clearly like an outlaw—an awkward presence who does not belong there. But still his persona lingers, and makes people laugh.

Exhibition view with dresses by Delia Cancela and Pablo Mesejean. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

Exhibition view with dresses by Delia Cancela and Pablo Mesejean. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Photo: Tania Puente.

Mariano Blatt and Isaac Díaz’s poem Ahora (Now, 2014), and Fernanda Laguna’s Carta (Letter, 2008) are equally tender and raw. Maybe the core lies in these brutal impulses toward the truth. These artists do not hesitate in showing themselves as funny characters. They rejoice in their oddness, in their outrageous occurrences and abundant wisdom. Throwing worms into a dollhouse, writing a letter, babbling a new language, taking pictures, dictating a conference, walking a dog, or reading a poem, Eccentrics and Ultra-Enlightened is a show that outlines simple gestures that are made with a high dose of vulnerability. These gestures are the means of resistance, capable of reshaping not only the preconceptions we might have of art, but also of life.

Excéntricos y Superilustrados will be on view through October 23, 2016, at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires.

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