The Fall of Paris, in La tradición de lo nuevo, Monte Ávila Editores, Caracas, 1969 [1959]. Trad. Celso Fasio. p. 211 -222 (Extracts)
by: Harold Rosenberg

In 1940, Harold Rosenberg published The Fall of Paris announcing the downfall of the French capital and its leading role during the first decades of the 20th Century.

(…) No one could have foretold where would the epicentre of this new phase be; since a cultural capital does not rise on its own. Changing tendencies around the world made Paris emerge from the regions that surround it and left it suspended as a magical island. Its fall was not due to an internal weakness (…) but a change in course”. 

The Style of Today i

(…) Yet up to the day of the occupation, Paris had been the Holy Place of our time. The only one. Not because of its affirmative genius alone, but perhaps, on the contrary, through its passivity, which allowed it to be possessed by the searchers of every nation. (…)
Thus Paris was the only spot where necessary blendings could be made and mellowed, where it was possible to shake up such “modern” doses as Viennese psychology, African sculpture, American detective stories, Russian music, neo-Catholicism, German technique, Italian desperation.(…)

(…) twentieth-century art in Paris was not Parisian; in many ways it was more suited to New York or Shanghai than to this city of eighteenth-century parks and alleys. What was done in Paris demonstrated clearly and for all time that such a thing as international culture could exist. Moreover, that this culture had a definite style: the Modern.(…)
 But the Modern in literature, painting, architecture, drama, design, remains, in defiance of government bureaus or patriotic streetcleaners, as solid evidence that a creative communion sweeping across all boundaries is not out of the reach of our time. (…)

Because Paris was the opposite of the national in art, the art of every nation increased through Paris. No folk lost its integrity there; on the contrary, artists of every region renewed by this magnanimous milieu discovered in the depths of themselves what was most alive in the communities from which they had come. (…)
True, the Paris Modern did not represent all the claims of present-day life. Any more than its “Internationalism” meant the actual getting together of the peoples of different countries. (…)

Paris has been synonymous with Modernism in the sense of the special style and tempo of our consciousness. But it is a mistake to see this city also as central to the modern in the larger sense, the sense in which we think of the contemporary as beginning in 1789. This larger and more fundamental span has not belonged to Paris alone. It has embraced equally the United States, South America, industrial and revolutionary China, Japan, Russia, the whole of Europe, every spot in the world touched by contemporary civilization. (…)

Success: How New York Stole the Notion of Modernism from the Parisians (Extracts), 1948
by: Serge Guibault

Serge Guilbaut’s Success: How New York Stole the Notion of Modernism from the Parisians analyzes the political and social context in which New York became the centre of International art.

(...) On March 17, Truman made a long-awaited broadcast speech to the nation in which he lashed out violently at Soviet foreign policy, announced in no uncertain terms that the peace of the world was threatened, and urged Congress to hasten passage of the European Recovery Program in order to thwart the Soviet advance. (…) Clearly, the climate in which the New York avant-garde developed was pessimistic, ambiguous, uncertain, and full of disillusionment. (…) March 1948. A crucial moment, for it was then that Greenberg chose to announce that American art was the foremost in the world.

Despite the political and economic advantages to be found in the United States, the time had not yet come for the victory of modern art. But it was only a matter of time: aided by the new supremacy of the United States, and protected against the pitfalls of kitsch, American modern artists were busy creating the long-awaited new art. Despite his perception of alienation as something potentially “damning,” Greenberg agreed with Rosenberg and Rothko that it was a necessary condition for ambitious art. (…)

The key to Greenberg’s thought is the word “independence,” for it was on autonomy that the fate of the avant-garde depended. Independence meant independence of Paris. (…)

Alienation, Greenberg argued, made the American artist the “most modern” of all artists and enabled him to express the modern age. Like Picasso, who worked alone in his studio and developed a modern style based on objects in his immediate vicinity, the American artist, who was cut off and isolated from the decadent culture of the United States and its offshoot, kitsch, and who was in rebellion against his formal and political attitudes of the recent past, but in contact with the modernist code of Parisian painting, concentrated on himself and worked at elaborating bit by bit an art capable of expressing the reality of our time, alienation, in all its facets. (…)

For the first time in the history of American art, and important critic showed himself to be sufficiently aggressive, confident, and devoted to American art to openly challenge the supremacy of Parisian art and to claim that the art of New York and Jackson Pollock had taken its place on the international arts scene. In the war against communism, America now held all the trumps: the atom bomb, a strong economy, a powerful army, and now artistic supremacy, cultural superiority. (…)

The transition occurred in two steps: American art moved first from nationalism to internationalism and then from internationalism to universalism. The first important item on the agenda was to get rd of the idea of national art, which was associated with provincial art and with the political and figurative art of the thirties. This kind of art no longer corresponded to reality, much less to the needs of the Cold War. During the first phase of the transition, therefore, American art recognized its international character. (…)

Young American artists stirred by the heroic image of America at war against fascism and emboldened by the economic boom and by the presence of European artists in the United States could envision at last a place for their art on the international scene and a standard of painting equal to that of Paris. They needed a unique image and new blood so that they might identify with the soldiers shipped off to Europe to defend civilization against barbarism. They were aesthetic soldiers who stayed home in order to fight for the same cause on the cultural front.

This situation was somewhat paradoxical. In order to be international and to distinguish their work from work done in the Parisian tradition and forge a viable new aesthetic, the younger painters were forced to emphasize the specifically American character of their work. (…)

American art was described as the logical culmination of a long-standing and inexorable tendency toward abstraction. (…) what had been characteristically American now became representative of “Western culture” as a whole. In this way American art was transformed from regional to international art and then to universal art. (…)

To those in the know, however, it was clear that the avant-garde had won. Not only was it well organized, but its victory had been celebrated in the pages of the Nation. Among the early signs of triumph were the showing of works by Kooning, Pollock, and Gorky at the biennial Venice show, increasing sales at Betty Parsons Gallery, and above all the award of coveted prizes to members of the avant-garde. (…)

In the August 1948 issue of Partisan Review, Greenberg and Leslie Fiedler described the literary avant-garde, which in many ways resembled the painting avant-garde, as a bearer of hope and an important cultural asset for the atomic age and its dangers.  Fiedler emphasized the importance of the individual, his aloofness, his independence of ideology, and his new vocabulary of “freedom, responsibility, and guilt.”  He attacked writers such as James T. Farrell, the proletarian novel of the thirties, and the omnipotence of the “subject-matter.” Fiedler’s article is interesting for its analysis of the road traveled since the Depression, when, in order to be “modern” and up-to-the-minute, artists had to be Marxists. (…)

Thus it was clear to Greenberg, for example, that in order to save “high culture” artists must be fiercely anti-Communist. (…)

Improving the cultural image of the United States was identified in 1948 as the most important goal for American propaganda. But what sort of image was appropriate? This was the main issue on the cultural agenda at the time the avant-garde came to the fore. (…)

Avant-garde art could be called American; it was cultivated and independent, yet linked to the modernist tradition. What is more, it could be used as a symbol of the ideology of freedom that held sway in the administration and among the new liberals. The domestic triumph of the avant-garde was important because it paved the way for conquest of the European elites. (…)
In 1949, Pollock became the looked-for culture hero big enough to gather something like a school around him. He was the catalyst, the “ice-breaker” of the new American avant-garde.

The “Triumph” of Argentinean Painting. Internationalist Nationalism During the Sixties (Extracts) .
by: Andrea Giunta

(…) During the sixties, Argentina’s art circuit was reorganized in accordance with a central objective: to convert Buenos Aires into an art center comparable to Paris or New York, cites that until then had functioned as models and centers of learning.  The purpose of this presentation is to analyze a group of exhibitions and works that will facilitate a consideration of the programs in which these centralist desires took shape.  A partial reconstruction of the networks along which these experiences were contrived reveals a terrain of imagination in terms of constructing power, whose programs and discourse could well have been signed by the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, that is to say, one of the institutions that design programs for distributing their culture throughout the world. (…)
“Argentina in the world”

In 1965 the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella organized an exhibition that was presented as an arena for ratification, more than one of promise.  It included works by those artists who had “triumphed” in the world and it was offered to the Buenos Aires public as proof of the accomplishments of a national project. (…) The introductory text by Argentinean critic Jorge Romero Brest—Director of the Centro de Artes Visuales at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella—in the exhibition catalog evidenced the series of “cuts” that constituted the parameters of his selection: out of all the artists who had contributed “on a major scale” to consolidate the “prestige” of Argentinean culture, the youngest had been chosen.  On the other hand, it was not that all Argentinean art of a certain level of “quality” was shown, but rather that which had received international recognition. (…) The internationalization of Argentinean Art was a central argument in the narrative fiction that laid out the guidelines of this evolution:  the “absence” of pre-Hispanic and Colonial art liberated Argentinean Art from any pact with the past.(…) Those who, like Romero Brest, were thinking about the development of Argentinean Art, organized it within a precise sequence: first, it had to be updated; once that had been achieved, it had to be actively incorporated into the narrative of Modern Art.  International recognition would come as a natural consequence. (…) To utilize an economic metaphor that was circulating in art discourse at the time, it was maintained that by importing the necessary tools, Argentinean Art could situate itself in a competitive position that would allow it to achieve “export quality” in no time. (…)
“Internationalism” is a term that circulated intensely in discourse on art in Latin America during the sixties. (…)

We can differentiate between at least three primary meanings of the term “international” according to how it was understood in the art scene at the time.  (1) The first is tied to the avant garde tradition: an art that advances in the terrain of the new where this dynamic is understood to be progress and its conquests are conceived of in a territory without frontiers. (…) (2) For North American institutions, international art was that which separated itself from any form of nationalism, where no local references appeared.  (3) For Argentinean artists and institutions, to have an art that was “international” meant being able to count on being recognized by hegemonic art centers.  It meant success and recognition, without it mattering very much in what style. (…)

These included the Latin American Art exhibitions program organized at the OAS headquarters from 1947 on,  selections that were presented in different European and North American museums, along with initiatives that were articulated in every Latin American country, generating an intense traffic of images that toured throughout different spaces in search of recognition. (…)

However, this intensified level of dialogue also responded to political purposes.  Faced with the Cuban revolution and the menace of an expansion of Communism in Latin America’s republics (a menace whose danger could be ascertained to a greater degree once it was evident that their poor territories could be turned into missile bases, aimed at the White House), improving relationships and exchange with Latin American countries became a priority.  The Alliance for Progress, launched in the speech that Kennedy gave on March 13, 1961, to the Latin American diplomatic corps at the White House, was a response to this in some way.  Its ten points established a program of assistance oriented toward economic, social and cultural development, and to disseminating knowledge on Latin America in the United States.  On a cultural plane, such intentions translated into exchange programs that intensified the rate of invitations to intellectuals, book translations and art exhibitions.  “Knowledge”, “dialogue” and “exchange” were words that filtered through all these programs, looking to overcome confrontational politics between the United States and Latin America.  (…)

Following the success of Mexican Muralism in the United States during the thirties, North American Art had elaborated its modernist project by eliminating all local contamination and above all, any social content.  (…)

In the post-war scene, the term “internationalism”, more so than exchange, signified the success of one aesthetic model over another and this model was fundamentally represented by abstract art, which was put forth as the absolute opposite of social realism.  The words abstraction and “freedom” were both part of the same format of discourse in art circles.  On the other hand, however, the promotion of abstract art was on a collision course with the strongest school of Latin American Art, Mexican Muralism.  The surprise that Latin American Art exhibitions had to offer was precisely that that they did not include native or nationalist expressions. (…)

What was shown on the walls of the Instituto Di Tella in 1965 was the result of a cultural and ideological program that had germinated during the post-Perón era, conceived of as a model in negative: while during Perón’s government Argentinean Art had fallen into a “suicidal seclusion” (the words that Jorge Romero Brest had used), the dominant program after Perón’s fall was that of establishing international contacts to show Argentina’s art abroad. (…)  In this spirit, the Museo de Arte Moderno en Buenos Aires was founded, the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella was organized and Industrias Kaiser created the American Art Biennials. ii  All these institutions fomented an atmosphere of requisites for Buenos Aires’ artists.  Once the institutions that would house the new Argentinean Art had been created, it was just a matter of waiting for it to emerge. (…)

In 1965, the “Argentina en el mundo” (Argentina in the World) exhibition evidenced a subtle change in the direction that the internationalist project was taking.  At this juncture, Buenos Aires’ magazines and newspapers had repeated time and again that Argentinean Art had finally achieved the requisite “export quality” and had managed to insert itself in principal art centers. (…)

For Argentinean institutions, “internationalism” was, in the end, a notion that wound up involving a program that was aimed at operating more on an internal order than an international one, which at the outset it had aspired to influence.  Originally established as a mechanism oriented toward provoking immediate adhesion and organizing people’s will into actions that should have been measured only according to their initial objectives, for ample sectors of the avant garde  and above all, for projects originated by institutions, it was a term that was redefined as soon as a change in strategy was needed.  Some sectors (and Romero Brest, in particular) went along eliminating all the contradictions and renunciations harnessed in by their compulsory compliance, and, like automatons, took what was left over to reassemble the project for international success, time and again.  The game that was established between Argentinean institutions and those who organized the inter-American circuit from the United States included a large degree of parody.  It was a relationship in which one side feigned recognition and the other obstinately perceived it as such. (…)

The Decline of Internationalism
The enthusiastic, celebratory tone that had been dominant in the reception of the first exhibitions of Latin American Art in the United States gradually gave way to a critical, disenchanted one.  In 1967, shortly after having participated as a juror in the third Bienal Americana de Arte, organized by Industrias Kaiser in the city of Córdoba [in Argentina], Sam Hunter (director of the Jewish Museum in New York) wrote an article that could easily bring any expectations to an end.  To begin with, his description of Argentina’s socio-political context was sufficiently dramatic to dissuade any desire to contemplate this art, along with any desire to visit the country in which it was exhibited.  The biennial was held at the Universidad de Córdoba’s main campus, just after Onganía’s rise to power through a military coup (1966). (…)

However, during the late sixties, there seemed to be no possibility whatsoever that Latin American Art could attain access to or play a central part in the grand narrative of the history of Western art. (…) From that point on, when the term “international” was applied, it functioned as a device to exclude and subalternize Latin American Art that served to leave it out of art history.  The terms “derivative”, “dependent” and “epigonal” replaced “international” when it came to making classifications and qualifications. (…)

In 1965, the “Argentina en el mundo” exhibition still did not account for this.  On the contrary, it was presented as proof demonstrating its triumph. (…) to what point had the artists being exhibited really been integrated into the international circuit and received the recognition of the centers?  To what degree had all the efforts made by artists and institutions allowed them to achieve their objectives?  (…)


i This text was presented at the 2001 LASA (Latin American Studies Association) Conference in Washington D.C.

ii The Bienales Americanas de Arte (American Art Biennials) were held in 1962, 1964 and 1966. As opposed to the ITDT, which sought to insert Argentinean Art and Buenos Aires into the international circuit, the Kaiser biennials were organized on the basis of inter-American postulates, and convoked art from the American continent.