Museums and the art market seem to have finally become aware of demographic shifts. Once ‘young artists’ had been done to death, the search began for new niches, leading to the discovery of… older artists. A gap in the market and in art reception opened up around this hitherto neglected though steadily expanding group. Filling this gap led to the profitable discovery or rediscovery of older women artists, including the Cuban painter Carmen Herrera and the American photographer Barbara Kasten. This survey ‘Teresa Burga’s Chronology: Reports, Diagrams, Intervals’ offers another example.
Yet it would be wrong to suspect a merely strategic campaign to open up new markets in the slipstream of a greying society. The Kunstverein’s directors Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ came into contact with Burga’s work by hosting the group exhibition ‘Subversive Practices. Art Under Conditions of Political Repression. 60s-’80s / South America / Europe’ in 2009. Burga, who was born in 1935 in Iquitos, Peru, and now works in Lima, emerged as a versatile, intelligent and ironic artist operating on the borders between Pop, installation and Conceptual art. The show, curated by Dorota Biczel, Miguel A. López und Emilio Tarazona, fuelled doubts over the validity of a value-based distinction between ‘centre’ (New York) and ‘periphery’ (in this case, Lima).
The first room featured her Pop art works from the 1960s; their stridently colourful anti-modernism could remind well-conditioned viewers of Britain’s Independent Group or American artists like Andy Warhol. At first glance, Burga’s environment sin titulo (untitled, 1967), and reproductions of other lost environments with their pop-culture-saturated domestic spaces, looked like responses to the collages of Richard Hamilton. But Burga was inspired by Argentinian Pop art – a fact that supports the ‘comparative art history’ of Polish art historian Piotr Piotrowski, who argues that ‘universal’ styles develop distinct dynamics in different geographical contexts. Burga’s Pop art also has a feminist slant, for example when she reduces her female figures to pure surfaces in sin titulo (untitled, 1967) or presses them in the most brutal two-dimensionality onto a bed where they appear to merge with the mattress in sin titulo (untitled, 1967).
Many of her works based on diagrams and sociological studies from the 1970s and ’80s appear more ascetic, serial and structuralist. They include drawings on which she neatly marked how much time she needed for the various lines (sin titulo, untitled, 1972–74). She also used pseudo-scientific diagrams and colourful visualizations of brainwaves to illustrate her Perfil de la Mujer Peruana (Profile of Peruvian Woman, 1980–81), created using sociological methods. It quickly becomes clear that Burga prefers to deconstruct the conceptual via the conceptual, to use statistics against statistics, diagrams against diagrams: affirmation is subversion.
Most strikingly, Burga never celebrated Conceptual art as bloodless asceticism.
In this exhibition, she emerged as a talented and exultant creator of drawings and collages who neither dresses up forms platonically
nor shies away from humorous brain teasers in the spirit of Magritte. Her conceptual art came across as so smart and so nonchalant that one was tempted to coin a neologism: nonceptual art.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 3