Carlos Cruz-Diez in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez

Fundacion Cisneros

Released September 2010
by Ursula Davila-Villa

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      Ambientación Cromática (Chromatic Environment), Aeropuerto Internacional Simón Bolivar, Maiquetía, Venezuela, 1974.

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      Pérez-Barreiro, Gabriel ed. Carlos Cruz-Diez in Conversation with / en conversación con Ariel Jiménez. New York, NY: Fundación Cisneros, 2010, 248pp. w illus.

      CONVERSACIONES / CONVERSATIONS, published by the Fundación Cisneros, is a new bilingual series of in-depth conversations between modern and contemporary artists and scholars and curators from Latin America. The first book in the series of ten was recently released. It presents a sequence of intimate and profound exchanges that took place over a span of thirty years between Venezuelan Carlos Cruz-Diez, a pioneer artist who was a leading practitioner of color theory, kinetic and Op art, and Ariel Jiménez, Chief Curator of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC).

      This handsome volume opens with an insightful introduction by the CPPC director and series editor Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro. In his opening text, Pérez-Barreiro highlights the pleasure and richness that conversing with an artist affords, underscoring the importance of this book (and those to come as part of the series) in understanding the layers of meaning behind the work of such influential figures as Cruz-Diez. The subsequent conversation traces the artist’s life and career from his childhood in Venezuela to his present practice in Paris, engaging in themes that matter most to the artist through an uncensored and casual voice that makes for an enjoyable and rich read.

      The beginning and ending of a conversation is difficult to define. We normally engage in deep exchanges without noticing. As if encountering the artist and curator in an informal gathering, this book opens with a conversation that seems to have started before we become a third participant in the dialogue. It is evident that Jiménez has a deep understanding of the artist’s work and life, and so the questions and comments that lead the conversation allow for a fluid and thorough examination of ideas. The volume’s seven sections offer a fascinating understanding of Cruz-Diez’ production through his views on history, painting, personal doubts as an artist, color, the relationship between art and reality, the urban presence of art and time.

      The book’s format is a refreshing lightweight and compact hardcover of an elegant and dynamic design. Along with the conversation, this publication includes a great number of illustrations that trace the span of the artist’s oeuvre, from his early career in the 1940s and his first experiments in geometry and use of color during the 1950s to his large-scale public sculptures and interventions. These include works like Ambientación cromática (1974), a work at the international Simón Bolivar Airport in Venezuela that transforms the sometimes tedious experience of being in an airport into a playful encounter with geometry and color, and his Cromosaturaciones—works that alter spaces through colored light, modifying our perception of volume and depth. The careful documentation (and placement of illustrations) enriches the experience of reading the artist’s voice, especially when he expressed doubts or, to the contrary, when he clearly envisioned a visual experience that resulted in powerful works. The vibrant conversation, which is liberated from cryptic theory or obscure concepts, offers a close encounter with a stimulating artist.

      For many years the Fundación Cisneros’ mission, through the CPPC, has focused on the advancement of scholarship and understanding of Latin American art. Some of the foundation’s greatest contributions to the field have been the support of new scholarship by experts in Latin American art, paired with programs for non-experts, in order to create a better and richer understanding of the history and contemporary practice of artists from or working in the region. The power of this published series is the chosen format of a relaxed yet in-depth conversation with an artist, an event normally reserved for very few. The joy of reading Conversaciones lies in its tone and intimacy. Towards the end of the book Cruz-Diez states: “The important thing is for the concept to be expressed effectively and the work, in the purity of its concept, to outlast all of us.” He leaves us with a strong idea: that of permanence through the power of art.

      Ursula Davila-Villa is Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art.

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