Date of Degree

6-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor(s)

Anna Indych-Lopez

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Latin American History | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Studies

Keywords

Central America, Costa Rica, Manuel de la Cruz Gonzalez, modern art, provincial, transnationalism

Abstract

While scholars are increasingly scrutinizing twentieth-century Latin American art and inserting it into the canon of modern art history, studies of the region usually leap from Mexico to South America, skipping Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. This is not due to a lack of dedicated artistic effort in the isthmus, but rather to poor cultural infrastructure, which made being a modern artist in the region particularly challenging, and the underdeveloped state of local art histories, which have yet to traverse national borders. This oversight of Central American art makes it difficult to grasp the full scope of Latin America's adaptation of, and contribution to, international modernism. My dissertation counteracts the privileging of art from North and South America and introduces Costa Rican art history to an international audience by examining the art and life of Manuel de la Cruz Gonzalez Lujan (1909-1986), one of Costa Rica's most influential modern artists. It emphasizes the importance of the transnational cultural currents that influenced Gonzalez and his colleagues, and systematically discusses two fundamental phases of artistic growth in the country, the 1930s and the 1960s. By placing Gonzalez's artistic production within the socio-historic, cultural, and aesthetic contexts of Costa Rica, this dissertation is a groundbreaking case study of the development of modern art in this Central American nation.

Gonzalez prodded the boundaries of the provincial Costa Rican art world and moved beyond local frameworks to take part actively in the spread of modernist trends. He embraced regionalism, modernismo, and Latin American impressionism while in Costa Rica, and surrealism and geometric abstraction during the ten years he spent abroad in Cuba (1948-1950) and Venezuela (1950-1957). Upon his return, he shared his knowledge and experience of international modernism, but was faced with an unprepared and unpropitious artistic setting that neither accepted nor encouraged his geometric abstract art. What his story shows is that in order for a transnational style or idea to take hold in a country such as Costa Rica, which could be any "ex-centric" location, it is necessary to have a receptive context. This analysis of Gonzalez's career thus highlights the tension of being a provincial artist, attuned to transnational cultural flows, yet challenged by the limitations of his environment.

 
 

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