Date of Degree
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Latina/o Studies | Modern Art and Architecture | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies
Italy, Argentina, Argentine Art, Transatlantic migration, Transnationalism, Nation-Building
Between 1880-1930, Argentina took in millions of Italian immigrants, contributing to the largest voluntary diaspora in modern history. This dissertation examines how Argentina’s open immigration policy dovetailed with the formation of a national artistic style, generating new perspectives on how immigrants, particularly Italians, proactively shaped Argentine culture while also becoming enmeshed in an intricate geo-political relationship that spanned generations and regimes. This project takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon research from anthropology, social history, political science, and nationalism studies in order to produce new insights about art and national identity in Argentina around the turn of the twentieth century.
Though Argentina is often considered the most “European” or “Europhilic” country in Latin America, scholars do not often discuss which version of Europe Argentines were looking at. For most upwardly mobile Argentines, “European” was synonymous with “French”—they called their capital the “Paris of South America,” modeled their homes after Parisian hotels, and collected Impressionist paintings. However, many middle and upper class porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) were of Italian heritage. They embodied italianità—or Italianness—by default rather than choice, but often, it became embedded within other aspects of their Argentinidad—or Argentineness—making it hard to recognize. This dissertation aims to locate evolving strands of italianità within Argentine culture by looking first at migration trends, then the groups of artists and organizations founded by Italo-Argentines (first generation Argentines born to Italian parents) in the 1880s and 1920s, and finally, at the political byproducts of these migrations.
Chapters 1 and 2 investigate why Italy promoted emigration and why Argentina became an attractive destination in the late nineteenth century. This discussion considers how the Italian government sought to culturally colonize South American countries like Argentina, which was a willing accomplice, as it desired European immigrants and needed to repopulate the plains left empty by government-sponsored genocide. Chapter 3 explores Buenos Aires’s nascent art world circa 1880. A group of cultural elites known as the Generación del 80—white Argentines of Spanish descent—advocated for European immigration as a way to “civilize” the country. A key role model for politicians and cultural theorists alike was Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who posited that immigration and national art institutions were equally necessary to the cultivation of an Argentine culture. The Generación argued that art could act as a nation-building force, particularly in the form of landscape and history paintings that depict Argentina’s origin story of “conquering the desert” and imposing modern industry on the land.
Chapter 4 examines the first mature generation of Italo-Argentine artists, like Emilio Pettoruti and Xul Solar, who traveled to Europe to learn about their heritage and see avant-garde art in the 1910s. Upon returning to Argentina, they imported French and Italian modern styles, but infused them with Argentine imagery and subject matter, such as Tango dancers. This privileged group could claim European culture as their own and claim to be authentically Argentine, allowing them to exist in two cultural spheres simultaneously. For them, Italian and Argentine identity became intertwined and mutually inclusive, and their work reflects this transnational hybridity. In 1924, a group of artists and critics, including many Italo-Argentines, formed the journal Martín Fierro and an influential art organization, Los Amigos del Arte. Both the journal and the events organized by Los Amigos embodied an internal conflict—the desire to imitate European culture while also breaking away from it.
Finally, Chapter 5 considers Italy’s escalating attempts to exert influence over Argentina following Mussolini’s rise to power. Beginning in 1925, Mussolini used cultural diplomacy as a way to spread Fascism abroad. His efforts both succeeded and failed: they succeeded in that Argentina wound up developing its own brand of radical nationalism, Nacionalismo, but they failed in that Nacionalismo ultimately led a drop in immigration and the end of the symbiotic Italy-Argentina relationship that had persisted for decades.
Kaplan, Lauren A., "Crossing the Atlantic: Italians in Argentina and the Making of a National Culture, 1880–1930" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.