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Dematerialization in the Argentine Context : Experiments in the Avant-garde in the 1960s


This study traces the development of happenings in Argentine art, through the work of Alberto Greco, Marta Minujín and Oscar Masotta, as both an artistic and socio- cultural imperative during the country's transformative 1960s. Their work presents a particular mode of dematerialization that experiments with gestures, events, experiences and mediations rather than conventional art forms and objects. Despite the artists' adoption of the term "happening" first coined by U.S. artist Allan Kaprow in 1958 and its relationship to the "internationalization" of Argentine art, the artists depart from happenings' original tendencies. This dissertation examines the artists' innovative formal and theoretical formation in relation to local contexts and discourses, while also accounting for their various modes of translating and recontextualizing happenings and other international models. While the works under discussion have received scholarly attention within a recent recuperation of postwar art in Latin America in the 1960s, they remain marginal to the development of Geometric and Informalist Abstraction and Conceptualism. Their position remains relatively obscure within the broader art historical narrative, in part as a function of its ambiguous status and ephemeral quality as artworks, but also stemming from a perceived frivolity. Traditionally, the works' more popular associations with levity and banality have overshadowed their critical potential. This dissertation addresses this disparity by critically examining and complicating the artists and their works' historical significance. I argue that these practices are a unique articulation of the artistic avant-garde in terms of rupture, social relevancy and political provocation that attempts to mediate the period's discontinuous process of modernization and progress following the overthrow of President Juan Perón. This study posits their artistic production, and more generally culture, as not merely reflective but productive, with a central concern stemming from an avant-garde strategy to shape people's perceptions and actions. The dissertation takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from cultural studies, performance studies, philosophy, communication and media theory to address the intersection of postwar art with questions of modernization, notably mass society and culture, urban development, and new media technologies

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