Juan Carlos Distefano: The Rebellion of Form, Argentine Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015

The theme of the Argentine Pavilion is “The Rebellion of Form”, Created by artist Juan Carlos Distéfano. The pavilion had an assemblage of 29 human-size sculptures that were lined up beautifully to make up the exhibition La Rebeldía de la Forma (meaning The Uprising of Form). Each sculpture represents an array of deep human experiences and conditions; some were suspended in air and some suspended midway through a fall. The sculptures seemed to have apathetic expressions on their faces. The meaning of the artworks are representations of stories from Argentina’s history. Others are a commentary on the human condition and issues such as violence and social injustice.

Face lifted to the sky, La portadora de la palabra [The Word Bearer] holds Summa by Thomas Aquinas against her chest while raising her palm in a gesture both cautionary and revealing. Embedded in her flesh, in matter itself, he bears the markings of history, the intensity of memory. Perhaps, because as Hannah Arendt points out, “the chances that tomorrow will be like yesterday are always overwhelming,” this contemporary symbol alerts us solemnly to possible futures. Juan Carlos Distéfano’s art is, thus, a reflection on the human condition. In it, the body/bodies are a privileged terrain of experience. His figures take flight or huddle in tensions and falls, altering their relationship with space and matter. In his Kinderspelen, Distéfano seems to have admitted the density of bodies as the players in that childhood re-lived latch onto the earth and shatter, appropriating the extended space, designing playgrounds on wastelands while the real—firearms—is embodied in matter.

Distéfano’s first exhibition was held in the sixties; his works, at that time, were called “current expressions that exceed the limits of his discipline.” He was immediately selected to participate in the IX São Pablo Biennial, where some of his works was censored for “moral” reasons; it was ultimately exhibited only because other artists protested in solidarity. His works formed part of the Latin American art scene at historical moments characterized by what Argentine philosopher Oscar Terán has called the four souls of the period: “the nonsense soul of Beckett, the Kennedy soul of the Alliance for Progress, the Lennon soul of flower power, the Che Guevara soul of revolutionary uprising.”

From the transformative illusions of sixties and seventies, followed by one of the bloodiest periods in Argentine history beginning in 1976 and the later return of democracy in 1984, Distéfano’s art has constantly engaged questions of history and memory. Argentine history and memory, most certainly, but we know as well that the question of trauma—the holocaust being the universal measure of historic trauma—is precisely the point where the peoples of the world recognize one another and/or activate, on the basis of art, their own experiences, contaminating that original reference that comes to act as metaphor for other historical traumas and the memories thereof. Perhaps, returning to Arendt, they do this to activate the operations that enable engagement with the future.

Juan Carlos Distéfano (b. August 29, 1933 in Buenos Aires ) is an Argentine sculptor, winner of the 1982 Konex Platinum Prize for figurative sculpture and husband of Griselda Gambaro. In 1992 he received the Konex de Brillante as the most relevant personality of the Visual Arts in the last decade in Argentina

His life
He was born in Villa Celina, Buenos Aires, on August 29, 1933. He studied at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Gráficas №9 and Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Manuel Belgrano in Buenos Aires.

Between 1960 and 1970 he is graphic director of the Visual Arts Center of the Instituto Di Tella. From 1968 he dedicated himself to sculpture with a marked articulation between his sculptural works and his paintings.

He won the Francisco Romero Scholarship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Italian Embassy in Argentina in 1970. In 1976 he abandoned graphic design to dedicate himself exclusively to sculpture.

In 1977 (after the military coup in Argentina) he settled in Spain.

Married since 1955 to Griselda Gambaro, he must go into exile due to the prohibition of his wife’s novel “Winning Death” by the Argentine military dictatorship. He lived in Spain between 1977 and 1980.

In 1982 he is deserving of the Konex Platinum Prize for Figurative Sculpture, and in 1992 of the Konex of Brilliant for the Visual Arts.

His works
Distéfano, along with Rubén Fontana, defined the graphic image of the Instituto Di Tella in the 1960s when it was located at a central point for Argentine culture.

The critic Fabián Lebenglik mentioned about Distéfano:

The center of his reflections is the cross between body and violence. In his works, the human body modulates twists, exhausts, stretches, contracts, expands, and becomes confused with objects, forced by different classes and degrees of violence. They are bodies crossed (and enrolled) by the pain of the social and political violence that characterizes the faccious and bloody history of Argentina.

He is the author of little production due to the type of technical procedure he uses, divided into different slow and cumbersome steps. At the beginning he was a painter and he stood within the neofiguration responding to Baconian patterns. According to Hugo Monzón:

In our artist, the forms inhabited, like the English painter, spaces of an almost abysmal nature, bordering on the void, and were predominantly curved, with a tendency to enclose the figure within net, plastic limits, only in his case those contours corresponded to a sculptural interior modeling to which color was subordinated

It was another result of the new figuration of the time, lover of unusual relationships, of abrupt cuts, of explosive mixtures

It has influences from Latin American art, especially the Renaissance European-style colonial carvings and Egyptian, Etruscan, Aztec art and artists such as Lorenzetti, Brueghel, Signorelli and Van Gogh.

He recognizes influences from the CoBrA group, from the Englishman Alan Davie, and from this neo-figurative movement of Ernesto Deira, Rómulo Macció, Luis Felipe Noé and Jorge de la Vega, but he always worked alone without marrying any group or tendency. His neo-figurativism is not surreal.
The themes of the Distéfano sculptures are the physical pain given to others, violence, the animality of the predatory man, torture – in clear allusion to the Argentine dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 -, Biblical stories about tortured evil spirits, the crucifixion, ignominious forms of torture, the descent of the tortured soul into hell, tragic destinies, the drama of the damned without cause.

All his works convey a suffocating feeling, an oppressive state, a compression effect.

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Destruction and horror, contempt and degradation, ferocity and terror prevail in them. But it is not chaos that reigns, quite the opposite: a rigorous geometric order with alterations in distance, position and scale.

The naked human figure, subjected to structures that crush and compress it, bears brutal tensions to the tear. This depressed, suffering, kneeling, humiliated, never standing figure is the protagonist of these works of a beauty? convulsive and revulsive.

Contorted characters with painful expressions, lacerated, fetal, uncomfortable and traumatic positions, shrunken, pathetic, terrifying and terrified figures, falling, lying, suspended, sitting and tied with total absence of freedom. Skinned, dismembered, exploded and disintegrated bodies.
Human beings who have lost their identity, eyes that do not look, beings that suffer pain that come from abroad and are in a state of permanent alert.

Twitching, lying, twisted, unprotected, vulnerable and exposed figures to inclement weather and men: impenetrable, swampy water and rigid smoke that drown, viscosities of disturbing liquids, steps of stairs that open to the abyss.

Among its themes appear fierce fights, racial riots, death masks, massacres, murders, disasters, iniquities, rapes and genocides.

His works permanently exhibited in:

Buenos Aires Memory Park
National museum of fine arts
Italian Embassy
National Endowment for the Arts in the United States
Museum of Modern Art of Chile
Private collections in Switzerland

Art technique
First mold in clay, obtain the plaster mold and then pass it to polyester by painting it with epoxy enamel. According to Jorge Glusberg, director of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires in 1998, the materialization of a work by Distéfano consists of three stages:

“Firstly, the relief paintings, made of polyester reinforced with glass wool, on a canvas, pressed wood or stainless steel support; the type of paint used was greasy tempera or acrylic. Then the initial sculptures, made of uniformly colored polyester, reinforced with glass wool, partly painted with epoxy resin-based paint, which meant adding the paint. Finally, the final sculptures, a product of a more significant solution – according to the artist – than the method of adding paint. Now the color, which is the polyester resin, is the first thing that is applied in the mold, painting backwards, just as if painting a glass; that is to say, it is painted in the beginning what will appear in front, then what follows behind and so on, giving as many layers as shades the sculpture has, up to one or two base shades; then the laminate is executed. Thus, the shape includes color. Distéfano’s expressive system is thus resolved into an amalgam of painting and sculpture; if you like, the artist went from sculpted paintings to painted sculptures, from incipient volume to declared volume, from pictorial space to general space. ”

In the words of Distéfano himself:
“I think that art has to do fundamentally with desire, even more, I would say with the erotic. To make a work of art is to respond to an erotic drive. In me, work is never a speculative process; there is no program to carry out the work. I work on impulse, for infatuation”.

“Virtuosity doesn’t interest me in the least, nothing. It is only a demonstration of skill, and skill, in relation to art, is reduced to the category of circus exercise”.

He is one of the few sculptors who allows the public to touch his sculptures to connect with them by stroking the contours.

The Exhibition:

Works exhibited:

Telaraña II, 1974 (Spider Web II)
Icarus I (1978)
To a Certain Point II
The Enlightened II
Uninterrupted Action III (1998)
The Ground Dove in Buenos Aires. Homage to Gómez Cornet II(2008)

Venice Biennale 2015
The 2015 Art Biennale closes a sort of trilogy that began with the exhibition curated by Bice Curiger in 2011, Illuminations, and continued with the Encyclopedic Palace of Massimiliano Gioni (2013). With All The World’s Futures, La Biennale continues its research on useful references for making aesthetic judgments on contemporary art, a “critical” issue after the end of the avant-garde and “non-art” art.

Through the exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor, La Biennale returns to observe the relationship between art and the development of human, social and political reality, in the pressing of external forces and phenomena: the ways in which, that is, the tensions of the external world solicit the sensitivities, the vital and expressive energies of the artists, their desires, the motions of the soul (their inner song ).

La Biennale di Venezia was founded in 1895. Paolo Baratta has been its President since 2008, and before that from 1998 to 2001. La Biennale, who stands at the forefront of research and promotion of new contemporary art trends, organizes exhibitions, festivals and researches in all its specific sectors: Arts (1895), Architecture (1980), Cinema (1932), Dance (1999), Music (1930), and Theatre (1934). Its activities are documented at the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts (ASAC) that recently has been completely renovated.

The relationship with the local community has been strengthened through Educational activities and guided visits, with the participation of a growing number of schools from the Veneto region and beyond. This spreads the creativity on the new generation (3,000 teachers and 30,000 pupils involved in 2014). These activities have been supported by the Venice Chamber of Commerce. A cooperation with Universities and research institutes making special tours and stays at the exhibitions has also been establihed. In the three years from 2012-2014, 227 universities (79 Italian and 148 international) have joined the Biennale Sessions project.

In all sectors there have been more research and production opportunities addressed to the younger generation of artists, directly in contact with renowned teachers; this has become more systematic and continuous through the international project Biennale College, now running in the Dance, Theatre, Music, and Cinema sections.