Gerardo Mosquera, 'Introduction'
In: Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America. Edited by Gerardo Mosquera. London: Institute of international Visual Arts, 1995,
This book is a selection of new theoretical discourses on the visual arts in Latin America, dealing with the critical thought characteristic of the 1980s, which is still current today. They constitute a distinctive corpus of writing, a revision of the prevailing paradigms from the early 1960's when Marta Traba published the first book to approach Latin American art in a global manner, attempting to give the subject some conceptual unity.  This established a Latin Americanist social theory of art that, although diverse and often polemical, discussed the particularities of Latin American art in relation to culture and society, and which lasted for two decades. The authors included in this book are products of this process, but they reposition it in accordance with the demands of a new period and within the framework of a critique of modernity and of the end of a tragic utopia. In some cases the paradigms are adapted, in others they are rejected, but even when completely new viewpoints and strategies are introduced, the discourses are still centred in the notion of Latin America as a distinctive cultural field. While it may be simplistic to label this new moment as postmodern, there can be no doubt that it is conditioned by poststructuralism, cultural studies, and what we tend to call a postmodern awareness.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Latin American art criticism experienced a boom that involved such great names as Juan Acha, Aracy Amaral, Damián Bayón, Fermin Fèvre, Néstor GarcÃa Canclini, Mirko Lauer, Frederico Morais, Mario Pedrosa, Marta Traba and others who responded to Acha's plea for the production of theories.  This was a reaction to the dominance of impressionism and of metaphorical interpretations with the Latin American tradition of poetic criticism, the greatest exponent of which is perhaps Octavio Paz. Most of these critics were not creative writers, as was (and still is) common, and they attempted to construct a socially based modern Latin American theory, similar to that which had already been established within literary theory. Broad paradigms were explored (baroque, constructive vocation, mestizaje, etc.) in the search for a continental identity, while at the same time the issue of identity - so characteristic of Latin American thought - began to be called into doubt along with the paradigms that had created it.  With some, especially Frederico Morais, the critique of an 'identity neurosis' reached its most radical extreme, linking it with colonial manipulation and forwarding a 'plural, diverse and multifaceted' notion of the continent that was to influence subsequent developments. 
The backbone of these theories was a social and political view, with an emphasis on ideology, which was anti-colonial and anti-imperialist. Its most productive result was the affirmation of a Latin-American cultural perspective opposed to Euro-North American dominance, along with the construction of strategies for art to become socially relevant. There were some extraordinary experiments that were left undeveloped, such as Morais's 'New Criticism', which involved the critic's intervention in the work of art being discussed - especially appropriate for the installations and performances of socially aware Brazilian conceptual art. Sometimes these theories bordered on 'sociologism' or proposed the socialization of art as the utopia of a general concern for an increased role of art in society. In this respect there were strong influences from Marxism and dependency theory, both fundamental ideas for Latin American consciousness at the time. Fortunately, this Marxism was undogmatic, independent, contextual, free of links with the Communist Party or even Cuban orthodoxy. Latin America has always produced Marxists who could incorporate modernism, with the precedent of the brilliant Peruvian intellectual and politician José Carlos Máriategui, who in the 1920s supported the artistic avant-garde from a militant Marxist perspective, a unique combination anywhere in the world at that time.
These radical discourses coincided almost exactly with the political and social situation in Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s. These decades were strongly marked by the 'Sixties Spirit' in its most political sense, influenced to a great degree by the Cuban Revolution and the activity that generated across the continent. In fact, much of this spirit was actively created within Latin America, to the extent that one could speak of 'Latin Americanization' of US culture. This was a time when Latin America was given a mystical aura, produced by the rise of urban and rural guerrilla movements, student uprisings, Third World-ism  ...which in turn unleashed unprecedented levels of repression and resulted in military dictatorships. This had been a time of great hopes inspired by an economic boom (which proved illusory) and by loans that ultimately led to chronic debt and failed to produce any 'miracle' in the productive infrastructure. This delirium was given physical form in uncontrolled urban expansion, creating some of the largest megalopolises in the world. These megalopolises attracted the rural population as part of a structural deformation, a metaphor for which is the mixture of shanty towns, skyscrapers and mountains in Rio de Janeiro or Caracas. A record of this chaotic imagery is the book Para verte mejor, América Latina with a text by Edmundo Desnoes and photographs by Paolo Gasparini.  The left dreamed of a free continent in which social justice would reign, while the right imagined progress towards a developed economy. At this point Latin America's precarious and petulant semi-modernity reached its most feverish pitch of excitement.
Latin America has been the forum for every hope and every failure. Liberation led to dictatorship, torture, 'disappearances', criminal violence ... The only sector to develop fully was drug trafficking, while the economic 'miracles' moved to South-East Asia. The 1980s saw the end of one cycle and the start of another based on failure. The critics in this anthology all represent to some extent a reaction to this reversal of a project and its imaginary, strengthening themselves in the stimulated postdictatorial democratic process. Their anti-utopia is not only the result of a critique of modernity and its totalisms, but also comes from the collapse of the high ideals of modernization during a specific period of this region. It is part of a new post-utopian thought that is currently one for the few dynamic spaces fo the Latin American left wing. Contrary to appearances, this new mental panorama is very positive. It shows a lifting of the burden of great schemes and a greater concentration on small horizontal changes. It implies not pessimism but pragmatism.
Contemporary criticism is in line with a new situation that marks a clear break with the processes of the late 1960s and their repressive consequences. It accompanies the end of the armed struggle, democratization processes, new-liberalism, globalization, migration and the displacement of culture, the collapse of real socialism, expansion of mass culture and communication, North American multiculturalism, so-called new social movements and the calamity of the Cuban Revolution. This feeling was summarized by some graffiti I saw in Caracas several years ago that said: 'The dream has been Castro-ated.'  There has been a shift from the key concepts of 'resistance', 'socialization', 'anti-colonialism', and 'revolution', which marked earlier rhetoric, towards 'articulation', 'negotiation', 'hybridization', 'de-centring', 'margins' and 'appropriation' terms that are frequently discussed in this book. The 'grand policy' of vertical transformation has been replaced by specific horizontal micropolicies.
There is a critique of modernity - which is very complex in Latin America given its fragmentary characteristics and the weight of non-modern components in our societies - not to mention a sort of premodern postmodernity - or 'modernity after postmodernity', to use Canclini's term,  which is the result of a diversity of interacting economic, political and cultural structures. This critique involves a questioning of the concepts of nation and national culture that has done a great deal to soften Latin American nationalist fundamentalism. The tendency of contemporary discourse to emphasize the fragment has led to a more pluralist view of Latin America. This is not to say that previously there was no awareness of the diversity of the geographical/historical/cultural area (or of each of its countries), but nonetheless there was an attempt to apply, or manipulate, integrationalist narratives that obscured or minimized social and ethnic differences. Recent migratory floods, with their massive uprooting of peoples and cultures, have done a lot to weaken the paradigm of nation-state. At the same time, the debate on 'otherness' has drawn attention to the amount of 'others' who coexist in countries that have not accepted their multinational character, and the many implications this has. The benefits have been pluralism and a sharper focus, which allow one to particularize specific problems. The risk is that pluralism, used as the ideology of contemporary neo-liberalism, can accept difference without threatening the status quo, or even neutralize conflicts behind a mask of equality, as Yúdice, Franco and Flores have pointed out. 
Beyond any intellectual verification, the 'others' themselves - in as much as they are 'others', and using their own resources - have started to expose the false communion of our nation-states. An example of this is the Frente Zapatista de Chiapas against the 'perfect dictatorship' of neo-liberal Mexico and NAFTA. These 'postmodern' guerrillas have nothing to do with the ideological and strategic schemes of Che Guevara's foquismo  of previous decades; instead their struggle is born from a specific social and ethnic base, the particular demands of which are fought over without aiming for an all-encompassing revolution. They are closer to the so-called new social movements, albeit using 'old' guerrilla tactics. On the other hand, the most effective battles have been fought within language and through a sort of political performance through the mass media; it has also been a guerrilla war of the symbolic.
New criticism puts forward particular strategies, working on the margins, deconstructing power mechanisms and rhetoric, appropriating and resignifying. This agenda is related to the development of a socially, politically and culturally aware conceptualism that has sophisticated the symbolic resources of this type of art in order to discuss the complexity of Latin American societies. It is also related to artistic tendencies that cynically proclaim their customary Latin American freedom to take from the centre and freely and often 'incorrectly' readapt. The complex of being 'derivative' has been transformed into pride in the particular skill of appropriating and transforming things to one's own benefit, encouraged by a postmodern breaking-down of the hierarchies between the original and the copy.
Paradoxically, new critics are questioning old notions of identity just when the issue has become relevant to the West as a result of multiculturalism. From this debate they take and develop a dynamic, relational, multiple and polymorphic view of identity, making a plausible break with more or less deep-rooted essentialisms that had affected previous discourses to a certain degree. The increase in migratory movement, along with the consolidation of Latin American communities in the United States and of Latin Americans from one country in another, have all contributed to this 'liberation of identity'. Latin America is a continent of internal and external displacement. This situation has sharpened multiple identities and emphasized frontier cultures. Many artists have centred their work on this. There is widespread enthusiasm for 'hybridization', a category that critics have underlined as one of the paradigms with which to interpret contemporary culture in the continent in several directions. The previous concept of mestizaje, which was based on ethnocultural identity and for some writers was tainted by an ontological aftertaste, has been replaced by a more dynamic, encompassing and polymorphic notion that nonetheless also runs the risk of becoming another all-encompassing term with which to blur differences, power relationships and conflicts of interest.
There is a tendency on the part of left-wing postmodernist critics to use terms such as 'hybridization', 'displacement', 'borders', 'decentralization' or ' re-articulation' like mantras of peripheral sociocultural affirmation, with an optimism that prevents a critique of the internal workings of these categories. There is a risk of making carpet slippers for the periphery, constructing a complacency in subalternity that prevents a questioning that might stimulate change and blunts the critical blade that should always be turning upon itself. This contradictory risk arises from a post-colonial critique of the hegemony of the centres of economic and symbolic power, accompanied by a reaffirmation of the margins, one of the most useful achievements of the contributors to this book.
The postmodern tendency to break down the divisions between 'cultured' and popular has opened the doors to a re-evaluation of indigenous cultures, and to the vernacular in general. The most important achievement is that this is being done with a less paternalistic slant. Several artists and critics have expressed their astonishment at the syncretism and spontaneity of urban popular culture, which has become an icon for the new paradigms of appropriation, resignification and hybridization. Critics of the 1960s and 1970s were suspicious of mass culture, which they associated with imperialist penetration and ideological, consumerist and pseudocultural manipulation. Now, in contrast, there is a new appreciation and even a utopian view of it and of kitsch, which has eliminated the Grenbergian distance typical of previous critics. However, the point is that increasing international contact between 'high' and 'low' cultures - which has always been an important factor in Latin America - implies more of a mutual exchange of signifiers and resources between fields that nonetheless remain separate with regard to their signifiers and specific circuits. The supposed breaking down of distinctions is a postmodern utopia.
Beyond the Fantastic presents a selection of new theoretical discourses on Latin American visual arts in one volume for the first time, bringing together the most important exponents of the new criticism. The title, taken from one of the texts, alludes to the stereotype of the marvellous so common in the expectations of European and North American audiences with regard to Latin America, an assumption that is radically called into question by these critics. Some of the writers included, like Canclini and Lauer, were also leading figures of a previous moment. Canclini moved rapidly from a sociology of art and Gramscian Marxism towards cultural studies, becoming a leading contemporary critic. Lauer is a good example of how rigid chronologies are, for while he is a bridge to the current phase, as is Aracy Amaral who is still active and influential, they both continue to favour the sociological viewpoint characteristic of the earlier period. I have included Lauer's texts for their importance to the structure of the anthology.
This anthology aims to show the current issues under discussion, along with different positions, methodologies and discursive strategies. It attempts to place a fair emphasis on traditional and popular aesthetic-symbolic production, although this sector is not central to the book. There is a similar concern with Afro- and Indo-American presences in the visual arts. In Latin America, more than in other regions, visual culture is decisively determined by vernacular production. This book aims to find a balance in this sense, despite being aimed at art critics and artists, leaving aside anthropologists or scholars of cultural studies.
The map of Latin American I had in my mind when selecting the text covers the whole American continent, including the Caribbean and the United States (one of the countries with the most active Latin American cultures, as well as being the fifth Spanish-speaking nation after Mexico, Spain, Colombia and Argentina, and projected to be the third or fourth within a few years). However, this collection has aimed to be representative not of countries but of authors, while trying to include the broadest geographical and cultural base possible, as well as an even gender balance. Neither is it a survey of critics; it tries to structure its own discourse as a book through a conjunction of issues, authors and discourses.
The anthology opens with an essay by Canclini that incorporates the second chapter of, and part of the introduction to, his influential book Culturas HÃbridas. It serves as a general framework for the anthology by critically presenting the sociocultural situation in Latin America and the issues to be discussed in terms of a rethinking of modernity and in relation to contemporary processes. The short texts by Giunta and Herkenhoff expand and specify some of the basic issues. Lauer analyses the relationship between modernity and Indo-American cultures, the construction of 'indigenism' and the possibility of an 'other' modernity. Escobar debates the issue of change - in response to the contemporary situation - in traditional and popular art, within dynamic identity criteria. The construction of a Caribbean identity is at the centre of Bocquet's article and is also present in my own, which presents a case of the appropriation of modernism in the search for a non-Western means of expression. Richard has often discussed the issue of resignification as a key strategy for Latin American culture, as well as remapping the new relationship between the centres and the peripheries; her essays on these topics are here supplemented by her text of feminism and its application to the work of several Chilean artists. There is a very close relationship between Camnitzer's conceptual art and his writings on the visual arts, which are often interpretations of the art of the centres seen from a Latin American perspective. It was important that this anthology should include the voices of artists who write, and Camnitzer has focused on their relationship with the mainstream and on the transcultural problems of the exiled artist. The critic Ybarra-Frausto offers an analysis of Chicano art and culture that serves as an example of the condition of Latin American communities in the United States. Gómez-PeÃ±a is another artist who connects his visual and textual discourses closely, developing the paradigm of the border as a privileged site for contemporary culture, together with the issue of multiple identities. Yúdice criticises the 'exportation' of North American multiculturalism, putting the case for a truly pluralist cultural valuation. The international circulation of Latin American art is dealt with by RamÃez and by Ponce de León, who analyse control from the centres and its cultural implications. Mónica Amor criticises the new emphasis on plurality in Latin American art exhibitions that is replacing the 'fantastic' paradigm, going 'beyond the fantastic'. Olalquiaga's essay is one of the most radical examples of valuation of vernacular urban culture. Peluffo Linari discusses the construction of a modern national identity in Uruguay through an analysis of urban monuments. Buntinx's essay explores the intertwined relationship between art, politics and social communication, through the analysis of two specific works that reflect a particularly complex moment in Peruvian history, emphasizing the reconstruction of an aura in 'cultured' works through popular perception. The book ends with a text by Lauer that could almost act as a readjustment of the anthology itself, or at least as a very apposite warning against certain postmodernist deliriums that ignore the dire social situation of the continent. Alongside globalization and decentralization, poverty remains the same. At least, I have not yet heard of 'postmodern poverty'.
 Marta Traba, La pintura nueva en Latinoamérica (Bogotá, 1961).
 Juan Acha, 'Hacia una critica de arte como productora de teorÃas', Artes Visuales, 13 (Mexico City, 1977).
 Mestizaje: refers to the racial and cultural mix of European, Indian and African descendants typical of Latin American society [translators note].
 Frederico Moraise, Las artes plásticas en la América Latina: del trance a lo transitirio (Havana, 1990) pp.4-5. First published in 1979. Pages 5-17 summarize the development of Latin American art criticism prior to the new stage on which this anthology focuses. See also Juan Acha, 'La critica de arte en Latinoamerica', Re-Vista, 13 (Medellin, 1979), pp.18-22.
 From the Spanish term tercermundismo, a theory that defends the particular characteristics of Third World culture [translator's note].
 Edmundo Desnoes and Paolo Gasparini, Para verte mejor, (Mexico City: América Latina, 1972).
 In Spanish: 'El sueÃ±o se Castró', a pun on Fidel Castro' name and castration [translation note].
 Néstor GarcÃa Canclini, Culturas HÃbridas (Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1989), p. 19.
 George Yúdice, Jean Franco and Juan Flores,' Introduction' to On Edge: The Crisis of Contemporary Latin American Culture (Minneapolis and London, 1992) pp. 18-19.
 Foquismo: the theory of stimulatiing focal points of revolution as a global strategy [translator's note].