Latin American Studies Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
by
Jorge F. Rivas-Pérez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0053

Introduction

Latin America is a heterogeneous region, a complex mosaic of nineteen different countries, each with its own unique and distinctive social and cultural traditions. Consequently, when thinking through Latin American design, it must be taken into consideration that the categorization encompasses a varied group of substantially different design histories and trajectories. Fine art and design in Latin American nations, however, share a hybrid cultural heritage rooted in the fusion of indigenous African and European (Spanish or Portuguese) fine art and craft traditions. This shared hybrid element, or mestizo, suffuses Latin American design with certain unifying components that when taken together—notwithstanding variant political, linguistic, and economic circumstances—render the unifying theme of Latin America particularly germane for those interested in the creative traditions of the region. The 20th century was an era of profound and transformative social, political, and artistic changes for Latin America. Born from these often-dramatic changes, the search for identity is a leitmotif of the modern design movement. With Europe as a model during the first half of the century and the United States serving as a model during the second half, the 20th century saw numerous aesthetic proposals originating from Latin America. Ranging from revisionist, neocolonial, and nativist movements, to modern and postmodern movements, Latin American design was colored with strong local characteristics, such as the use of local materials and a vibrant chromatic palette—and these elements emerged in the global design. Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are the regional leaders in design, which is likely due to their relative size, population, and degree of industrialization. It follows that the limited literature on Latin American design mainly comes from these countries. In some cases, other factors have encouraged the development of national design movements. Venezuela, where design was largely fueled by the booming oil economy of the second half of the 20th century, and Cuba, where a design movement developed after the political upheaval of 1959, are a few examples. The bibliography on modern Latin American design is limited, with very few or no texts available for some constituent countries. Although some publications are bilingual, English-language-only texts are exceedingly rare.

General Overviews

Fernández and Bonsiepe 2008 is presently the only text with a general overview of the entire region of Latin America. Other surveys are typically limited to single countries. Comisarenco Mirkin 2007 is an excellent publication on Mexican design. While limited to mid-20th-century design, Blanco 2005 is a good option for study of design in Argentina. With a different editorial approach, Leon 2005 surveys the most prominent Brazilian designers of the 20th century, while Joppert Leal 2002 deals with contemporary Brazilian design.

  • Blanco, Ricardo. “El Diseño en Argentina (1945–1965).” In Historia General del Arte en Argentina. Vol. 10. Edited by Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, 95–133. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2005.

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    Although it only covers a period of twenty years, this concise essay on mid-20th-century Argentinean design offers an excellent introduction to the subject.

  • Comisarenco Mirkin, Dina. Vida y diseño: En México siglo XX. Mexico City: Fomento Cultural Banamex, 2007.

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    Written in conjunction with an exhibition of 20th-century Mexican design and decorative arts, this superbly illustrated publication presents the more complete survey on Mexico. It covers an enormous amount of material ranging from folk art to high-end design and is written for a general readership. Useful appendix with short biographies of Mexican designers.

  • Fernández, Silvia, and Gui Bonsiepe. Historia del diseño en América Latina y el Caribe: Industrialización y comunicación visual para la autonomía. São Paulo, Brazil: Blucher Editorial, 2008.

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    The book covers ten countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Although there is little coherence on how each country is presented, this book is the best option for a general overview on the region. In addition to the chapters devoted to single nations, the publication includes ten essays addressing general topics on design, as well as an appendix with a program document and a manifesto.

  • Joppert Leal, Joice. Um olhar sobre o design Brasileiro. São Paulo, Brazil: Objecto Brasil, 2002.

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    A collection of forty-five very short and eclectic texts addressing different topics of Brazilian design. Numerous full color illustrations.

  • Leon, Ethel. Design brasileiro: Quem fez, quem faz. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Viana & Moseley, 2005.

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    A survey of the work of seventy-three 20th-century Brazilian designers. A useful book for an introduction to the subject. Bilingual edition in Portuguese and English.

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