In many South American countries, the twentieth century is characterized by political instability and repression under dictatorial regimes. Despite vast natural resources, including land and oil, many countries continue to struggle with the social consequences of widespread poverty. In the century following political independence, which comes to most former colonies in the nineteenth century, the South American republics are very often gripped by internal struggles as they seek to define themselves politically.
From a cultural point of view, the twentieth century is also one of independent definition. During the opening decades of the century, South American art bears the mark of European modernism. Breaking with earlier academic traditions, South American artists embrace such European-based movements as Cubism and Surrealism. In so doing, however, many attempt to represent Latin American identity in their art, or to respond to the particular conditions that exist in South America. Indigenous traditions have an important impact on works in all media as well, even those produced by some of the artists who study in Europe and North America.
As certain critics and artists argue, it is not only a case of South American cultural importation in the twentieth century, but also of exportation. In the century’s middle decades, South American literature, music, architecture, and other visual arts experience a “boom” elsewhere in the world. The organic architectural forms of Oscar Niemeyer (1907–2012), as much as the strains of the samba, come to define “mid-century modern” throughout the world. As part of globalization at the end of the twentieth century, South America continues to be connected with cultural developments elsewhere. Moreover, Latin American art enjoys increasing interest among North American collectors, critics, and scholars.
The War of a Thousand Days is fought between liberal and conservative factions in Colombia. Estimates of resulting deaths range between 60,000 and 130,000, and the country is plunged into economic crisis. In the wake of the war, Panama secedes from the republic.
Juan Vicente Gómez (1857–1935) begins his intermittent dictatorship in Venezuela, which continues until 1935. The oil boom begins in 1909 and leads to extensive immigration.
The Fourth International Conference of American States is held in Buenos Aires and its name is changed to the Union of American Republics. The Organization of American States achieves its current form at its 1948 meeting when twenty-one North, South, and Central American countries sign the new charter.
Argentinian Antonio Alice (1886–1943) wins the painting prize at the first National Salon in Buenos Aires with his exhibited work Portrait of the Painter Decoroso Bonifanti. Alice, Brazilian painter Eliseu d’Angelo Visconti (1866–1944), and Colombian painter Alfonso González Camargo (1883–1941) consider themselves “Intimists.”
The “tango craze,” which had earlier swept Europe, hits the United States. The dance originates in Montevideo and Buenos Aires.
In the midst of a period of economic prosperity, Argentinian radicals led by Hipólito Yrigoyen (1852–1933) gain political control of the country. Yrigoyen is reelected in 1928 but ousted by a military coup in 1930.
The first recording of Brazilian samba music, “Pelo Telefone” by Donga (1890–1974) and Mauro de Almeida (1882–1956), is made.
The Revolt of the Lieutenants takes place in Brazil, largely in response to ongoing agitation against the social and economic inequalities that result in the country from its landed-proprietor system.
Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973) returns to São Paulo after a period of European study. She becomes a member of the Grupo dos Cinco (Group of Five), which also includes Anita Malfatti (1889–1964), Menotti del Picchia (1892–1988), Mário de Andrade (1893–1945), and Oswald de Andrade (1890–1954).
The Semana de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Week) takes place in São Paulo. It is the culmination of a growing interest in modern art in Brazil, inspired in part by the European avant-garde, beginning around 1915.
Carlos Ibáñez (1877–1960) rules Chile as a quasi-dictator, following a coup that overthrows President Arturo Alessandri (1868–1950). Ibáñez serves as president between 1927 and 1931, and between 1952 and 1958.
Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre (1895–1979) founds Peru’s oldest political party, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), while in Mexico. Inspired by Marxism, the APRA resists Latin American domination by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The APRA is in power in Peru between 1985 and 1990, a period marked by hyperinflation.
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) publishes Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) and subsequently serves in a variety of diplomatic posts. He is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.
Argentine-born artist Xul Solar (1887–1963) returns to his home country after many years in Europe and is associated with the Grupo Martín Fierro (a.k.a. Grupo Florida), which includes Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). In 1925, he develops a system of pictorial writing called Neocriollo, which draws on a number of Romance languages. Xul Solar is a prominent member of the Argentine avant-garde, beginning in the 1920s.
Oswald de Andrade (1890–1954) publishes a book of poetry entitled Pau-Brasil (Brazilwood) in which he inverts the commonly held belief that Brazil imported its culture by equating Brazilian poetry with its well-known export, Brazilwood. The book’s cover and illustrations by Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973) are in a self-consciously childlike style that reflects what de Andrade considers to be Brazil’s inherent wildness and naiveté.
An exhibition of Cubist paintings by Emilio Pettoruti (1892–1971) is held. The event signals the emergence of an artistic avant-garde in Argentina. While Pettoruti’s work draws on European developments, it also features figures engaged in the Argentinian tango.
Argentinian writer Ricardo Güiraldes (1886–1927) publishes the novel Don Segundo Sombra, which is considered a masterpiece of Gaucho literature. The author’s friendship with Uruguayan painter Pedro Figari (1861–1938) inspires the latter’s depictions of cattle ranches
The Grupo Montparnasse is formed in Chile. Among its members, who call for a break with artistic tradition, are painters Luis Vargas Rosas (1897–1976), Laureano Guevara (1889–1968), Manuel Ortiz de Zárate (1887–1946), and Camilo Mori (1896–1973).
Russian-born architect Gregori Warchavchik (1896–1972) designs the Casa da Rua Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz House) in his adopted city of São Paulo. The house demonstrates the impact of Le Corbusier’s (1887–1965) modernist villas of the 1920s. In the 1930s, Warchavchik sets up a workshop to produce modernist furnishings to complement his architecture.
A student uprising in Venezuela leads to the emergence of two political parties that will share power after the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez (1857–1935) ends in 1935: the Acción Democrática and the COPEI.
Carmen Miranda’s (1909–1955) demo recording is a sensation in Brazil. After ten years of popularity as a performer there, she goes to the United States, where she is known as the “lady in the tutti-frutti hat” for the exotic film costuming that caricatures her South American identity.
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (1883–1954) is dictator in Brazil. Between 1934 and 1937, he serves as the elected president, as dictator between 1937 and 1945, as senator between 1946 and 1951, and finally as elected president between 1951 and 1954.
Argentine critic and writer Victoria Ocampo (1890–1979) founds the magazine Sur, which is considered the most significant Latin American literary magazine of the time. She champions many of Argentina’s most important writers, and is imprisoned for a short time when she opposes the regime of Juan Perón (1895–1974).
Bolivia and Paraguay fight the Chaco War over the Chaco Boreal region. The area is important to both countries for the access it provides to the Atlantic Ocean. Paraguay wins control over most of the region.
The film Flying Down to Rio, starring Fred Astaire (1899–1987), Ginger Rogers (1911–1995), and the Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio (1905–1983) as the Brazilian character Belinha de Rezende, debuts. The film is indicative of the North American fascination with Brazil and its music during the middle decades of the twentieth century.
Peruvian painter and theorist José Sabogal (1888–1956) heads the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Art) in Lima. Despite his self-described interest in “painting Indians,” he resists the label of “indigenist”—which he considers racist—instead calling himself a “cultural indigenist.”
Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García (1874–1949) returns to Montevideo after forty-three years in the United States and Europe. In the following year, he founds the Asociación de Arte Constructivo and in 1944 his own studio, the Taller Torres-García.
Cândido Portinari (1903–1962) executes murals for the Ministry of Education in Rio de Janeiro and is considered the outstanding Brazilian painter of the moment. The project illustrates the impact of the Mexican muralists in South America. In 1952, Portinari paints the twin muralsWar and Peace for the United Nations headquarters in New York.
An agrarian reform law is passed in Colombia and the Confederation of Colombian Workers is founded. In 1948, leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (1902–1948) is assassinated, thus ending the period of Liberal reform.
Chilean painter Roberto Matta Echaurren (1911–2002) exhibits at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris. Matta reacts against the Generation of ’40 in his own country, but also presents a vision that is distinct from that of the Parisian Surrealists. In 1933, he traveled to Paris and in 1939, as a result of World War II, moved to the United States. In 1957, a retrospective of his work is held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and establishes his preeminence among Latin American Surrealists.
The May Salon of Ecuadorian Writers and Artists begins. Three painters who participate become leaders of Indigenismo in Ecuador: Eduardo Kingman (1913–1997), Oswaldo Guayasamín (1919–1999), and Diógenes Paredes (1910–1968).
German-born artist Gertrudis Goldschmidt (a.k.a. “Gego,” 1912–1994) relocates to Venezuela. In the 1960s, she makes wire constructions that are associated with Informalism and in 1972 produces the outdoor installation Environmental Aerial Structures, which reflects South American interest in kinetic art.
Colombia assists the United States in ensuring that the Panama Canal remains open during World War II. In 1944, a Brazilian force of 25,000 troops participates in the Allied invasion of Italy. Other South American countries also support the Allied cause in World War II, although Argentina initially supports the Axis side.
Ecuador and Peru fight a border war. Under the terms of the Rio Protocol of 1942, Ecuador cedes some territory to Peru. At stake is the Amazon Basin seized by Peru. The border dispute between the two countries is not resolved until a treaty of 1998.
Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) publishes Ficciones. He will become one of the internationally best-known South American literary figures of the twentieth century. In 1983, he receives the Legion of Honor in France.
Juan Perón (1895–1974) is elected president of Argentina. In 1943, he had participated in a military coup that brought down the constitutional government. Perón wins a second term in 1952 but is deposed in 1955 and goes into exile. He returns as president in 1973 with his then wife Isabel Martínez de Perón (born 1931) as vice-president. She succeeds her husband as president when he dies in 1974 but is removed in a 1976 coup and exiled.
The Civil War (“La Violencia”) in Colombia leaves hundreds of thousands dead. In a bid to stop the fighting, Conservatives and Liberals together form a National Front (the Sitges Agreement), but a guerrilla war ensues. By the mid-1960s, numerous groups form in opposition to the Sitges Agreement, which had outlawed parties other than the Liberals and Conservatives. In 1974, the Colombian government begins a protracted offensive against oppositional guerrilla groups.
María Eva Duarte de Perón (a.k.a. “Evita,” 1919–1952) makes the “Rainbow Tour” of Europe to increase support for the regime of her husband, Argentinian president Juan Péron (1895–1974). The former actress, although a controversial figure, is nonetheless extremely popular. In 1978, she is the subject of a long-running musical play, Evita, in London and New York.
Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva (1900–1975) organizes an internationally known slate of artists to decorate the new Ciudad Universitaria in Caracas. Among his other works is the Venezuelan Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal.
The São Paulo Bienal is inaugurated. As an institution, it plays an important role in advancing Brazilian abstract art by featuring European, North American, and Latin American modernist artists.
The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) leads a successful revolution in Bolivia. In 1964, a coup by a military junta ends the period of MNR rule.
A military coup brings Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1900–1975) to power in Colombia. His failure to restore democratic rule, however, leads to his being ousted in 1957.
A victory by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in Guyana, with Cheddi Jagan (1918–1997) as chief minister, in the colony’s first popular elections leads to military intervention by the British, who are fearful that a communist state will be established. Forces opposed to the growing independence movement foment a conflict between the Indo-Guyanese and the Afro-Guyanese. Jagan is prime minister from 1961 to 1964, and president from 1992 until his death in 1997, when he is succeeded by his wife Janet Jagan (1920–2009).
Alfredo Stroessner (1912–2006) is dictator in Paraguay. His regime generally suppresses political opposition, and he is known for allowing Nazi war criminals to seek refuge in Paraguay.
The exhibition Nineteen Artists of Today reflects the renewal of contemporary art in Uruguay. Under the political regime of the Blanco party, from 1958 to 1962, a climate favorable to advanced artmaking exists in the country.
Brasília, the new capital city of Brazil, is constructed to replace the former capital, Rio de Janeiro. Inspired by the modernist urban planning theories and projects of the Swiss-French designer Le Corbusier (1887–1965), the plan of Brasília is executed by Lúcio Costa (1902–1998). Architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907–2012) designs the Senate, Secretariat, and Congressional buildings.
Fernando Botero (born 1932) wins the National Prize for Painting in Colombia with his work Camera degli sposi (Homage to Mantegna),, which represents the contemporary return to figuration. Soon after, he relocates to New York. Botero is the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Caracas in 1976.
Brazilian poet and critic Ferreira Gullar (born 1930) publishes the “Neoconcrete Manifesto,” which seeks to define the relationship between European Concretism and its Latin American expressions. Among the artists associated with the movement are Lygia Pape (1927–2004), who stages her Neoconcrete Ballet in 1958, and Lygia Clark (1920–1988).
Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) publishes Laços de família (Family Ties). Her passionate portrayal of the internal lives of women draws the attention of French feminist Hélène Cixous (born 1937), who publishes L’heure de Clarice Lispector (The Hour of Clarice Lispector) in 1989.
An Argentine circle of abstract artists is constituted, partly in response to the rise of Abstract Expressionism in North America. Among the leading members are Sarah Grilo (1919–2007) and Miguel Ocampo (1922–2015). At the same time, a group of Argentinian artists led by Miguel Angel Vidal (1928–2009) and Eduardo MacEntyre (1929–2014) produce Arte Generativo (Generative Art), which parallels contemporary Op and Pop art in the U.S.
Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (1906–1962) is captured in Argentina, where he had settled as Ricardo Klement. Eichmann is subsequently tried and executed in Israel. In 2000, President Fernando de la Rúa (born 1937) apologizes for Argentina’s role in harboring war criminals.
Ethnobiologist Nicole Maxwell (1906–1998), a founder of the Ecuadoran Institute of Geography and Ethnology, publishes Witch Doctor’s Apprentice: Hunting for Medicinal Plants in the Amazon, detailing her experience studying the medicinal use of plants by native Indians in the upper Amazon. In 1979, she publishes on native Peruvian art.
Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim (1927–1994) and poet Vinícius de Moraes (1913–1980) write the song “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”), based on Heloisa Pinheiro (a.k.a. “Helô,” born 1944), a resident of the Ipanema district of Rio de Janeiro. The 1964 release of the song in English on an album by Brazilian performer João Gilberto (born 1931) and American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz (1927–1991), with vocals by Astrud Gilberto (born 1940), makes bossa nova music popular worldwide.
The Tupamaros guerrilla resistance group is formed with a raid on the Swiss Gun Club in Uruguay. They engage in political kidnappings and other terrorist tactics, especially in Montevideo. Subsequently transformed into a legitimate political group, the Tupamaros are represented in the Uruguayan parliament from 1995 by José Mujica (born 1935), who had been jailed for thirteen years by the military government.
Colombian Marlene Hoffmann (born 1934) exhibits tapestries at the Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) in Bogotá. The tapestries parallel the abstraction prevalent in painting of the period and are part of a larger revival of tapestry production.
The election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva (1911–1982) signals the beginning of a period of reform in Chile. He is succeeded by Socialist Party member Salvador Allende (1908–1973), who serves until a military coup, supported by the U.S., unseats him in 1973 and he dies under mysterious circumstances. Some allege his death is the result of the CIA’s involvement in toppling his government. Allende is succeeded by the repressive regime of Augusto Pinochet (1915–2006), which continues until 1990.
The Museu de Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art) in Rio de Janeiro is completed to the design of architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy (1909–1964). The landscape is designed by Roberto Burle-Marx (1909–1994), an internationally renowned landscape architect who uses native Brazilian plants to achieve geometric abstraction in his work.
Brazilian president João Goulart (1918–1976) is ousted from power in a coup and goes into exile. The ensuing military regime is repressive but presides over a period of economic expansion.
Forbes Burnham (1923–1985) rules Guyana as prime minister and after 1980, under a new constitution, as executive president. In 1950, Burnham had been one of the founders of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
The Instituto Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires presents The Mess, a multimedia spectacle. Among the artists who participate is Marta Minujín (born 1941), who exhibits an installation entitled The Flop.
The exhibition Art of Latin America since Independence is held at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, the most important retrospective to date.
Gabriel García Márquez (1927–2014) publishes Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), which is considered a masterpiece of the magic realist mode associated with the author, and is set in the mythical Colombian coastal town of Macondo. The book contributes significantly to the “Latin American Boom,” the international movement to publish Latin American literature during the 1960s.
Peru is run by military governments. During the “first phase,” General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1910–1977), who comes to power in 1968, undertakes agrarian and other reforms. In the “second phase,” under the presidency of General Francisco Bermúdez Cerruti (born 1921), the authoritarianism of the first phase is tempered.
Brazilian architect Jaime Lerner (born 1937) is appointed mayor of the city of Curitiba, capital of the state of Paraná. In that position, which he holds intermittently through the 1980s, Lerner develops environmentally sensitive ways of planning urban growth.
The “Dirty War” takes place in Argentina as the military junta in power persecutes and kills thousands of supposed terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. A return to democracy follows in the 1980s.
The novel El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman), by Argentinian writer Manuel Puig (1932–1990), is published. An English-language film adaptation is released in 1985 and a musical version opens on Broadway in 1994.
A mass suicide of 914 people, including 276 children, takes place in Jonestown, Guyana. The dead are all members of a cult, the People’s Temple, led by Jim Jones (1931–1978).
General Luis García Meza (born 1929) seizes control of the Bolivian government in a coup following fraudulent elections in 1978, 1979, and 1980. His regime is characterized by crime, mismanagement, and oppression. In 1995, following extradition from Brazil, he is convicted of various crimes and begins serving a thirty-year sentence.
The Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a radical Maoist political organization begun by Abimael Guzmán (born 1934, a.k.a. “Chairman Gonzalo”) in the late 1960s, begins using violent means to overthrow the Peruvian government. More than 30,000 people are killed by the movement.
Argentina fights a war with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands. Although Argentina surrenders, rights to the Falklands are not relinquished.
Isabel Allende (born 1942) publishes La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits), her best-known work. Like others of her Latin American contemporaries, she employs magic realism in her writing. Her father’s cousin is former Chilean president Salvador Allende (1908–1973).
Argentine writer Julio Cortázar (1914–1984) publishes Nicaragua tan violentamente dulce (Nicaraguan Sketches). The book concerns Sandinista Nicaragua and reflects the author’s socialist politics.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (born 1945) is elected to the Brazilian Congress. In 1980, Lula had co-founded the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), the workers party. With the PT, he helps to draft Brazil’s postdictatorship constitution.
Colombian author Álvaro Mutis (1923–2013) wins the Prix Médicis for best foreign novel published in France, for La nieve del Almirante (1986). It is the first book in a trilogy that features the fictional character to whom Mutis often returns, Maqroll el Gaviero (Maqroll the Navigator).
Alberto Fujimori (born 1938) is president of Peru. He flees to Japan when allegations of corruption in his government begin to emerge.
The Museu de Arte Contemporanea (Museum of Contemporary Art) at Niteroi, Brazil, is built to the design of Oscar Niemeyer (1907–2012). The dramatically sited building, embodying many aspects of Niemeyer’s earlier work, suggests the architect’s ongoing importance to Brazilian culture.
Notorious Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar (1949–1993), leader of the Medellín drug cartel, is killed by the Colombian police. His death follows years of assassinations of public officials by drug cartels in response to the Colombian policy of extraditing drug traffickers to the United States.
Guyana is involved in border disputes with Venezuela and Suriname. At stake in the conflict with Suriname is an oil-rich area along the coast. Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez (1954–2013), who came to power in 1999, claims more than half of the land area of Guyana.
The Liberal party in Paraguay makes its first decisive political gains in fifty years. The party’s vice-presidential candidate, Julio César Franco (born 1951), is elected. Paraguay embarks on a program of reform.
“South America, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11®ion=sa (October 2004)