Art as a Way of Seeing: Two Works by Antonio Caro

If you chose to escape the SXSW revelry last month with a visit to the Blanton, you may have happened upon the installation of two new works in the museum’s Klein Gallery. Both are recent acquisitions created by the Colombian artist Antonio Caro.

[art-object number=2014.64]

The first is a painting on tin, in which the name of the artist’s native country is depicted in one of the most iconic typefaces in the world.

Across the gallery, a row of sixteen hand-painted posters wraps high along one wall to another, spelling in bold block letters “Aquí no cabe el arte,” or “Art does not fit here.” (One can’t help but wonder whether the work, in light of its positioning, is site-specific.)

Antonio Caro
Antonio Caro, Aquí no cabe el arte (Art Does Not Fit Here), 1972-2014, acrylic paint on paper, edition 2/2, Susman Collection, 2014. Photo by Milli Apelgren.

On the contrary, Caro has been making and remaking series of work like Aquí no cabe el arte and Colombia Coca-Cola since the early 1970s, when he became one of the first Colombian artists to engage with ideas as his principal subject. In Caro’s practice, material and technique are always second to meaning. His media of choice often include materials that are inexpensive and close at hand, like salt, sand, natural dyes, and cardboard.

At the same time, Caro’s use of format and poor materials is purposeful. His works often evoke popular advertisements and signs of protest and recycle old motifs. Such strategies are intended to dispel the notion of artistic aura and originality. In a 1974 interview, the artist explained, “People think that art is something mystical, something outside of the everyday. There are people that assign it metaphysical, transcendental value. Not me. I think of art as a way of seeing.”

Caro’s use, repetition, and subversion of popular logos stems from his experience working at an ad agency as a young artist. There he learned how an image, like a missile, could be used to “hit the target” of people’s desires. Colombia Coca-Cola harnesses the ubiquity of the Coca-Cola logo, historically treated as a signifier of U.S. capitalism, to call into question the distance between the producer and the consumer. Unlike in modern ads, the handmade quality of the painting (note the absence of a dot over the “i”) points to an invisible agent guiding our consumption of popular imagery.

Antonio Caro
Antonio Caro, Aquí no cabe el arte (detail)

Similarly, Aquí no cabe el arte [Art does not fit here] exemplifies Caro’s ability to use simple means to convey a complex web of meanings. Originally conceived for Colombia’s National Salon of 1972, this work refers, on one level, to that venue, which was being boycotted by a number of artists at the time. But the tongue-in-cheek snub gives way to a pointed reflection on the chaotic political situation in Colombia. Beneath each letter of the banner, Caro inscribed the name of a slain university student or indigenous activist and the year and location of the protest in which he or she was killed. Interpreted as a whole, the work questions the place of art and the art institution in the midst of national trauma.

The installation of these two works by Antonio Caro continues the Blanton’s history of collecting and displaying postwar conceptual art from South America. Visit the Blanton now through July to experience it for yourself.

Beth Shook is the Blanton’s Curatorial Associate for Latin American Art.

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