Fox, Claire F.: Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War.
Fox's volume fills a gap in the studies of Latin and Pan American art, as she studies a little-examined institutional meeting ground between Latin American intellectuals and U.S. circuits of cultural diplomacy: the Pan American Union's (PAU) visual arts program. Taking theory, history and politics as departure points she analyzes the "cultural cold war" (24) in the Western Hemisphere to gain perspectives into the relationships between politics and culture in specific times and locations, and studies those relationships through the PAU's activities. One of the Organization of American States's (OAS) most successful endeavors of the postwar period, the PAU's visual arts program became a transfer point of Hemispheric modern art movements, played a key role in the shift from realism to abstraction, and advanced Latin American art as a continental project with close ties to economic development and American foreign policies. Fox's subject itself has been a cultural tug of war within the American academy, which in general has avoided sustained consideration of the PAU's arts program due to what Fox believes is a legacy of the "Cuban Revolution's polarizing impact on American intellectual sectors" (14). Fox is breaking this "cordon sanitaire" (15) to examine PAU's significant contributions to Latin American art as a coherent object of study.
In her introduction, the author sets the background for her book and summarizes the main ideas behind it. She studies Latin American art and the critical discourses that shaped it, and which coalesced at the PAU during the early years of the cold war. Fox traces the trajectory of the PAU's visual arts program through several periods. The first chapter examines the years 1945 to 1948 and marks the transition from the end of WWII to the Cold War. She begins with the study of cultural networks that flourished under the Good Neighbor Policy years, from the mid-1930s until the end of the war, and takes into account the work of the PAU's cultural administrator, Concha Romero James, who incorporated visual art into the organization's cultural programs. As WWII came to an end and the cold war gathered momentum, Fox traces the trajectory of two orientations regarding Latin America's art: one sponsored by Romero James with emphasis on "PAU's latinoamericanista humanism" (88) and a second one supported by MoMA's sponsorship of internationalism and disciplinary specificity. The Cuban-born American resident, Jose Gomez Sicre (1916-89) who oversaw the PAU's cultural programs for three and a half decades and whose influence in shaping Pan American and Latin American art is difficult to overemphasize, tried to fuse those tendencies (59). Gomez Sicre constitutes one of the axes in Fox's narrative and she studies his career in the next chapters.
The second chapter focuses on the period from 1948 to 1959, when the PAU's visual arts program was under the administration of Gomez Sicre. Starting in 1946, Gomez Sicre's tenure at the PAU carried on the tradition of the Good Neighbour-era art exchange programs, but it also gradually emptied them in favor of traveling exhibitions that would raise a continental consciousness, which Gomez Sicre helped finance through private sponsorship. In these endeavors he championed the sensibilities of Cuban, and other Latin American, avant-garde/modernist movements against social realism, such as the one dominating Mexico at the time. Unlike his U.S. counterparts, however, Gomez Sicre did not embrace the 1950s Abstract Expressionism movement, which was perceived to be a cultural tool of U.S. cold war policies (18). He looked instead to Latin American modernist movements in the region, championing aesthetic currents with internationalist perspectives, such as Surrealism as antidotes to mainly Mexican social realism. The roster of PAU's exhibitions in the post-1945 era and early 1950s includes artists that would become internationally famous after their exhibits at the institution's headquarters, such as Alejandro Otero, Fernando de Szyszlo, and Jose Luis Cuevas, to name a few.
The third chapter covers from the mid-1950s to 1968 and relates the Alliance for Progress's policies to Gomez Sicre's support for the Mexican artist Jose Luis Cuevas. In the early 1950s Gomez Sicre turned his attention to Mexico, one of the bastions at the time of social realism in the continent, to champion Jose Luis Cuevas, an artist who would reject that country's realism, muralism, indigenist and nationalist themes and their didactic impulses, in favor of modern art. From 1954 on, Gomez Sicre mentored Cuevas to advance his own cultural agenda, while Cuevas also benefitted from Gomez Sicre's friendship. Together they emphasized the links between Latin American art and existentialism, surrealism, and expressive figuration in contrast to the Mexican muralism and what Cuevas called "the Cactus Curtain" (157).
While the first three chapters of Fox's book relate in different ways to events in Latin America, mainly in Cuba and Mexico, the last chapter focuses on what the author calls the "greater Mexico" (38); a concept that extends the culture of Mexico to the United States border areas and allows Fox to discuss issues of hemispheric cultural citizenship. She finds the greater Mexico present in "the intersection of visual culture and citizenship at HemisFair '68 (FlemisFeria '68), a world's fair held in San Antonio, Texas to commemorate the city's 250th anniversary" (39). This chapter also charts the decline of the PAU's Visual Arts Section's influence in the art world of the Americas by the late 1960s, when events such as the Cuban revolution, the OAS's anti-communist response to the overthrow of Batista, and the U.S. Alliance for Progress, as well as the emergence of other players in the art world, meant a loss of PAU 's relevance in the Americas.
In her afterword, the author relates the ways in which art was exhibited at HemisFair '68 to current techniques for contextualizing art, and to the "creation" or "invention" of Latin American art. These relationships, contends Fox, together with those introduced by American scholarship based on race or ethnicity, as well as the study or transamerican aesthetic movements, might generate new ways of conceptualizing cultural citizenship that are not based on political and/or economic liberalism, not even on area designations, but that take other dimensions, such as Pan-Americanism, into account.
Gustavo Fares, Lawrence University