Grupo de Artistas de Vanguardia were an ‘avant-garde’ group active in the Argentinian city of Rosario in the late 1960s. The ground floor of the show currently dedicated to them at the Pump House Gallery focuses on their Experimental Art Cycle, ten pieces executed over six months in 1968. Among other things, Eduardo Favario invited people to a gallery opening, then locked the space in order to create a large crowd waiting to get in. Given that the Argentinian military dictatorship had made street gatherings illegal, this was considerably more provocative than doing the same thing in Paris or New York at that time.
Meanwhile, Graciela Carnevale locked the audience who came to the opening night of her show inside the gallery (the exhibition consisted of this event); it was the initiative of a passer-by, who smashed a plate glass window, that allowed them to escape. The Pump House exhibition brings together photographs, manifestos, reports and documentation of such activities by a variety of artists, from Carnevale’s personal archives.
Among other actions covered on the ground floor of the Pump House are attacks on the Braque Prize and the disruption of a Romero Brest lecture about the avant-garde. During the latter action, the lecture theatre was deliberately plunged into darkness, and then a statement was declaimed that concluded with the following:
“We believe that art means active commitment to reality, active because it hopes to transform this class-based society into something better.
“So it should constantly perturb the structures of official culture.
“We therefore declare that the life of “Che” Guevara and the actions of the French students are greater works of art than most of the rubbish hanging in the thousands of museums throughout the world.
“We hope to transform each piece of reality into an artistic object that will penetrate the world’s consciousness, revealing the intimate contradictions of this society of classes
“Death to all institutions. Long live the art of revolution!”
“Although the invocation of Che Guevara rather sticks in my throat, Grupo de Artistas de Vanguardia were definitely moving in the right direction.
The Artistas de Vanguardia work in two upstairs galleries is from Tucumán Arde (Tucumán Is Burning, 1968), an exhibition documenting life in the Tucumán region of Argentina and the ways in which the government’s repressive economic programme was exacerbating endemic poverty. Tucumán Arde was an effective piece of counter-government propaganda and, after being displayed for two weeks in Rosario, it was shown in Buenos Aires, where the cops closed the exhibition four hours after it opened.
I’d hoped to congratulate The Pump House Gallery for finally bringing an Artistas de Vanguardia show to London. Unfortunately the exhibition is completely botched, so while still worth seeing, it is none-the-less necessary to denounce the curator(s) for presiding over an unmitigated disaster. The work is very badly displayed, and while it is possible to read everything, it is neither easy nor pleasant. However, far worse is the interpretive and press verbiage.
The Artistas de Vanguardia material is being exhibited alongside 140 books issued by the now defunct right-wing publisher Loompanics Unlimited. Lompanics was owned and run by Mike Hoy, who advocated an unregulated capitalist market in which people could freely trade in anything they wanted – ranging from drugs to nuclear weapons. Loompanics also sold how-to-do manuals on subjects such as interrogation, torture, murder and creating fake ID. They were primarily a mail order and latterly internet outlet using shock tactics to shift product. The following quote from a Loompanics online catalogue page dedicated to The Poor Man’s James Bond 2 edited by Kurt Saxon, gives an idea of the kind of material Loompanics pushed:
“Kurt Saxon strikes again! Five great works in one volume! This book includes the complete Poor Man’s Armorer, a unique work with a whole arsenal of improvised weaponry not in any other books. Homemade bazookas, silencers, booby traps, bolas, concealed weaponry, mines, full auto plans, caltrops, dart catapults, knife throwing, water pipe shotgun, smoke/gas grenades, zip guns, takedown rocket launchers, homemade missiles, and much more! The Poor Man’s Armorer is alone worth the price of Poor Man’s James Bond, Volume 2!
“Also included in this mammoth volume are American JuJitsu (1942), a comprehensive course that has every move illustrated and described; Improvised Munitions Handbook, TM31-210, written by the US Army for the Special Forces; Chemicals in War (1937), a comprehensive collection which includes formulas for every poison gas in use at the time; and The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives (1943), the bible of all those who want to assure themselves a supply of explosives.
“Kurt Saxon has done an excellent job of assembling hard-to-find information on mischief and mayhem – Sold for informational pur-poses only!”
The editor, Kurt Saxon, is a notorious white racist, survivalist, and former member of the American Nazi Party. In August 1970, he appeared before a Senate Investigations subcommittee holding hearings on bombings and terrorism. According to newspaper accounts, he suggested police and ‘concerned citizens’ use bombs to wipe out ‘leftists,’ and recommended that student demonstrators be machine-gunned in the streets. While I can comprehend why a misguided liberal might think it clever to juxtapose material from a mail order business sympathetic to the likes of Kurt Saxon, with an Artistas de Vanguardia show, the conceit is stupid. However, if the press and interpretive material issued by the Pump House Gallery is to be taken literally, then that is not what is going on here.
From the exhibition guide: “For both Grupo de Artistas de Vanguardia and Loompanics Unlimited context, audience, language and meaning were all intertwined. Methods of information gathering and public distribution were critical. The audience was as important as the artists and writers involved: both were in a social relationship with questions about morality of practice and responsibility at their core. The works were an exchange with their audience mainly through informal and self-responsible networks. Both considered how art might operate outside of the market place, attempting to take away the mythical power of the artist.”
Loompanics were concerned with propagating the market place and capitalist social relations, the idea they were in any way interested in ‘how art might operate outside of the market place’ is completely ludicrous. The confused nature of the interpretive material apparently reflects the political and other illiteracies of those involved in making the Loompanics Unlimited section of this show (the Dutch ‘art wankers’ Bik Van der Pol and the Pump House Gallery). My guess would be that they’ve seen Mike Hoy described as an anarchist, and from this made an illogical leap to the idea that Loompanics was somehow ‘left-wing’, based entirely on the fallacious assumption that all anarchists are left-wing. After all, Bik Van der Pol and company are artists and curators, so they may well not have bothered to read the material they’re displaying. Anarchism, of course, simply means fetishised opposition to any and all states, and those who adopt the label often hold right-wing views – for an elaboration of this see my essay Anarchist Integralism.
When I enquired at The Pump House, I was told that the show was the work of a temporary curator called Hannah Liley. I’d never heard of Liley, and if she is responsible for the mess I saw, I hope I never hear of her again. I could find no online or printed credits naming her as curator; perhaps she is so ashamed of herself she wants to remain anonymous. Allegedly the resident curator is called Sandra Ross, but I don’t know if she had a hand in the current Pump House show.
The Pump House Gallery is in Battersea Park, London SW11 4NJ, and this show is on until 19 July. If you can’t make it to south-west London (Paradise on Earth AKA where I was born) in time to see the exhibition, then much of the Grupo de Artistas de Vanguardia material it collects together is covered in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde edited by Ines Katzenstein (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2004).
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!