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Art & Theory
New Methods Symposium
by José Antonio Navarrete

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The New Methods/Nuevos Métodos/Novos Métodos event was preceded by fieldwork carried out in Latin America by an associate curator of the Museum, Ruba Katrib, who defined the aims, contents and main features of this unusual meeting. During its sessions, the event addressed the following issues concerning the programs of the organizations invited: 1) community, audience and participation in the reception of the programs; 2) international work relations and the importance of the local setting in proposing and developing such relations; 3) strategies to ensure their continuance over time, or stated in technical terms, their functional sustainability, and 4) the role played in these programs by pedagogical considerations, or —to describe them more extensively—by the acquisition of knowledge, development of critical thinking and training in working methodologies.

To close the symposium, Dr. George Yúdice, a Professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at the University of Miami, gave a conference on experiences and processes in Latin America regarding the central issue of the symposium. Two of the organizations in attendance also held exhibitions in Miami: the first, Miamicito: Bolivian Contemporary Artists, was held from April 7 to June 5 at the Dotfiftyone Gallery in conjunction with Kiosko Gallery; the second, opening on May 20 at Gallery Diet, was organized by Proyectos Ultravioleta and featured artists of various nationalities, mainly Guatemalan.

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Let’s consider a few of the many issues that, one way or another, caught the attention of the participants at the event, both in the conference room and —often with much greater zeal and sharpness—during session breaks and nightly gatherings after the symposium.

Who are the beneficiaries of these organizations’ programs? The public to which these organizations cater can be fairly numerous and differentiated depending on the profile of each and the different programs under their management. Nevertheless, they all share an interest in generating initiatives that meet the needs of a local art circuit and particular art practices. In other words, the privileged group and beneficiaries of these services are those already in this particular field, particularly artists.

Moreover, as we pointed out initially, it is clear that these organizations are interested in mobilizing the art scene in their respective cities by establishing projects to support art practices with two aims: first, to provide an incentive for more experimental and critical, contemporary practices, and as a result, to foster critical discussions on the contextual functions of art. Encouragement is thus frequently given to a practice that “works” directly with contextually-based issues. Nevertheless —as we also pointed out initially—the guidelines for action of these organizations reflect their awareness that international artistic exchanges spur local reflections on art and broaden their conceptual and practical experience.

Both in its practical and in its conceptual aspects, “the institution” is the notion around which much of the rationale behind these organizations is based —sometimes by rejecting an institutional approach entirely, of course. By and large, none of the organizations views itself as an institution, so arguments on the flexibility and adaptability of their reduced, collaborative structures seem pretty persuasive. Nevertheless, these organizations work within the framework of the tensions stemming from the growing institutionalization and normalization of all spheres of contemporary social life, which are inevitably accompanied by a tendency to be anti- or non-institutional. Each of these organizations has a profile, programs, etc. that tend to give rise to a tell-tale institutional platform; despite that, almost all of them express the belief that “becoming institutionalized” would mean renouncing the idea of being a project, i.e., a proposal undergoing a permanent (and unfinished) process of realization, of constant change that seems to be more in keeping with their aims.

It is worth asking whether these organizations’ reluctance to be viewed as institutions —even if they function in that way in their day-to-day activities—can be overcome productively. To do so, it must be understood that problems viewed from the various registers of institutional criticism as pertaining to institutions (among them a tendency to stagnate, for their actions to be viewed as self-serving, to act from a position of power, etc.) are the result above all of their frequent inability to engage in self-criticism and consequently to promote public discussion of their mission.

How much pedagogical research is there in these organizations’ professionalization programs for artists? That is one point on which these organizations did not seem able to concur, despite what has been said and the similarity of such programs they all carry out. All things considered, each organization acts in keeping with its own assessment of the necessity for professionalizing services within its specific environment, as has been pointed out more than once. For some this means addressing the shortcomings of the current art education system regarding the methods and procedures used to produce art, but they all have programs that give preference to developing a critical approach on the part of artists themselves.

The organizations attending New Methods/Nuevos Métodos/Novos Métodos showed that the traditional role played by artists as public activators in Latin America, since the avant-garde movements of the first half of the twentieth century is now being redefined. Although they have not defined some of their aims —whether on purpose or not matters little—these organizations are engaging in ways of professionalizing art production that can be of interest to Miami, for better or worse, since such production is expanding the art field rapidly and giving rise to different strategies to diversify, organize and disseminate visual art.

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