It is said that once the liberator Simón Bolívar said that Venezuela was a country of the military, Ecuador of priests, and Colombia of lawyers. If I had known the Argentina of the last decades, I would say that it is the land of therapists. “Why has psychoanalysis been so pervasive in this country?” Asks the Venezuelan curator Gabriela Rangel. “Why did psychoanalysis come to Argentina and become a matrix of modernity and a matrix to read reality through an exploration of the unconscious?”
Part of the answer to such a big question is currently in the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA). A few years ago, Rangel proposed as the new artistic director of the museum one of the institution’s most ambitious projects: Therapy, the museum’s most important exhibition about the time when Argentine artists and psychoanalysts had a very close relationship. To start to see Therapy, visitors to the PAINTING they must pass through the conservative entrance of an office, a small room smelling of patchouli and elevator music. There, people become patients, and they are inside the first work: Waiting room, installation by the artist Marisa Rubio.
With almost 200 works of works by more than 50 Argentine artists, Therapy It was going to be available to all its visitors for five months, from March 17 to August 16. A reunion with art and its urgent therapeutic potential when depression and anxiety have increased during the pandemic. But a month after opening its doors, after the dramatic spike in coronavirus infections in the capital, the MALBA was closed for the second time in a year. “Museum authorities will have to decide whether or not it can be extended,” says Rangel of the exhibition, who resigned from his post in May after a year of trying to keep the museum afloat despite the pandemic. “It is very difficult for me to work at this time in Buenos Aires, in this epidemiological situation, and for personal reasons I prefer to return to New York,” says the artistic director, who worked many years ago with patients from a neuropsychiatric center in Venezuela.
Two years ago, Rangel, with curators Veronica Rossi and Santiago Villanueva, found that there were not many exhibitions in Buenos Aires that would have explained the close relationship that Argentine therapists had with painters or writers. So they looked for the children of the artists, consulted the archives of the therapists, visited psychiatric hospitals, and found in these places the way in which art and psychoanalysis intersected and continue to intersect in Argentine art.
TherapyThe result is divided into 10 sections, among which are “The Sinister”, with artists who reflect those emotions that are kept in the darkness of the mind; “Surrealism”, where many of them defied reason and logic; “Dreams”, with works as windows to a dream world; “Self-representation”, on the formation of the I and the other; or the “Rorschach Test” that transforms the famous spot tests of the psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach into works of art. “It is inevitable, when you talk about psychoanalysis, to talk about surrealism,” says Rangel, about the main room of the exhibition. “But I believe that surrealism has been repressed from Argentine art, although it did emerge, it did walk.”
If Argentina were a patient, it began to repress surrealism in the 1940s when, says Rangel, “the concrete, abstract, geometric avant-garde was promoted, and somehow it imposed itself as a kind of rationalist profile.” Psychoanalysis, at the same time, had been institutionalized in 1946 with the appearance of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association (APA), founded by six psychoanalysts, including a bohemian and art lover named Enrique Pichon-Rivière, a key man in friendship. of psychoanalysis and surrealism. A very close friend of several Argentine artists, the doctor even worked with one of them, Juan Battle Planas, in what was known as the “Borda Hospital”, or the Hospicio de las Mercedes.
“It is undeniable that, when surrealism accepts the romantic position of life, it joins psychoanalytic theory, because it is the only one that explains and clarifies fundamental facts of existence,” said Battle Planas. If Argentina repressed surrealism, Battle Planas and a small group were like sinister dreams that reminded the art world that it was possible to explore in the murkiest darkness of the unconscious.
Almost seventy years later, the MALBA curators also found artists in hospices where, as curator Verónica Rossi describes, there is “that nucleus of art and madness”. The artist Claudia del Río, for example, selected some works by people in a psychiatric hospital in the province of Santa Fe, in addition to exhibiting her works exploring anxieties and dreams. “Art is a fall-encounter with oneself or oneself,” says del Río. Another artist who was not afraid to expose the depths of her mind in the visual arts is Martha Peluffo, whose self-portraits of furious colors exploring a self or an alter-ego are some of the most impressive on the walls of MALBA.
When she was an art student in the early 1950s, Peluffo took notes after meeting with her psychoanalyst in the city of Buenos Aires, notes that MALBA publishes in a magazine that accompanies the exhibition. “It scares me to think that I can fall in love with you like most of those analyzed do,” Peluffo wrote about her therapist. “I have noticed that he studies my gestures carefully, I have to make an effort to act normally.” As part of her quest to distance herself from her figure, she experimented with lysergic acid to unfold and saw herself in attitudes and colors that she later transferred to her paintings.
The sketches that Luis Felipe Noé made in the consulting room, or the mural of My analysis sessions with the psychologist Made of words and strokes with which Guillermo Iuso reflected after each session during the Argentine crisis of 2001-2002, they realize the importance of this discipline also for many artists. Others, however, rebelled against its influence, considering it a bourgeois space of normalization, as reflected An art of the media, happening devised by Eduardo Costa, Raúl Escari and Roberto Jacoby about an encounter that never really happened. The drawings of Aída Carballo and Emilia Gutierrez on madness, or the surrealist oil paintings with pastel colors by Casimiro Domingo, are some of what artists who faced illnesses in psychiatric institutions have offered, works that were repressed in the artistic subconscious, until the MALBA offered therapy.
“I am healerRemember, it comes from the possibility of healing ”, Rangel tells El PAÍS about the possibility of the art of healing deep wounds. “I believe that art is a way of escaping from the sphere of consumption. Art opens floodgates, a type of thinking that is not necessarily academic or scientific thinking. These gates allow you to see and perceive, and search with your body for experiences that have nothing to do with consumption and that lead you to another type of reality. In this sense, psychoanalysis also aspired to find exactly that: the most unfathomable thing in the unconscious ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.