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Maria Luisa Pacheco: Geographies of Abstraction---Madrid, La Paz, New York
October 20, 2023 - January 21, 2024
OAS AMA | Art Museum of the Americas

The exhibition Maria Luisa Pacheco: Geographies of Abstraction---Madrid, La Paz, New York reframes the life and oeuvre of one of the most significant abstract women artists of the Americas in the second half of the twentieth century. Utilizing a spatial geographic curatorial framework of three transformational geographic sites, the exhibition uncovers the local/global context of Cold War modernisms and the influences that shaped Pacheco's early transnational engagement and painting style, which eventually crystallized into a highly personal abstract vocabulary, evolved technique, and a mature artistic practice.

The exhibition features an array of paintings, collages, watercolors, sketchbooks, archival memorabilia, personal photographs, and audio. Interpretative wall labels contextualize the artworks in a larger modern art historical narrative while locating them in her trajectory as an artist.

Maria Luisa Mariaca Dietrich de Pacheco was born in La Paz, Bolivia in 1918. She showed artistic inclinations and an exceptional talent at an early age. Nurtured creatively by her father, one of the foremost urban architects of the time, and attending the School of Fine Arts in La Paz under internationally trained artists Jorge de la Reza (Yale University), Cecilio Guzman de Rojas (Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando) and others, Pacheco's early formative years were also complemented with art correspondence courses in Argentina. After winning a poster contest, she joined the newspaper La Razon as an illustrator in 1946. Rising to director of its cultural section, she became familiar with international news, contemporary art trends and debates, and the intellectual ideas and figures of the moment.

Even though Pacheco had painted sporadically in the 1940s, the beginning of her professional painting career can be located in 1950. The recipient of a painting fellowship in Madrid awarded by the Spanish government, Pacheco experienced the Francoist critical years of 1951-1952 when the city witnessed first-hand intense artistic activity. The galvanizing debates of a nascent non-objective abstraction led by Daniel Vasquez Diaz and Salvador Dali, the emergence of new art movements, and the rise of a future generation of informalismo espanol artists such as Rafael Canogar, Antoni Tapies, and others, had a profound and enduring effect on her evolution as an artist. Traveling extensively in France and Italy, Pacheco absorbed a new era of Post-War art, increasingly pushing the boundaries of formal abstraction. This early international phase also found her representing Bolivia in the I Exposicion Bienal Hispano-Americana de Arte in Madrid and the I Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo between October 1951 and February 1952.

Returning to La Paz in April 1952, Pacheco adapted to a new revolutionary process and everyday reality with the closure of the newspaper La Razon and a changed society. Joining the School of Fine Arts as a professor, she became enmeshed in the city's artistic life, emerging as a voice in the shaping of avant-garde abstraction debates that sought to break with an academist and highly representational and figurative past. Co-founding the collective Ocho Contemporaneos to reinvigorate a stifling art scene, the group precipitated a visual shift, forcing a dialogue with the international community of artists as participants in the various international biennials and exhibitions in museums and galleries.

With this nascent international presence in the early 1950s and accumulating art awards and recognitions, Pacheco was invited by Chilean Armando Zegri to exhibit at his Galeria Sudamericana on 866 Lexington Avenue in New York in 1956. This first exhibition in the United States marks the beginning of her New York period, characterized by great experimentation and a deep engagement in the international art scene. From 1958 to 1961, she was the recipient of an unprecedented three consecutive John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowships. The award allowed her to paint uninterrupted and to explore formal innovation and techniques. Thus, she moved away from her abstract figurative period of La Paz to a pure abstraction informed by informalismo, exploring materiality, texture, and a formal approach to the pictorial space's planes, shapes, lines, color, and structure. With an active studio practice, her New York period saw her mature artistically developing various vocabularies, aesthetic vocabularies, and approaches.

A significant figure in post-war Latin American and American art, as her gallery representation and exhibition record attest, Pacheco was part of the New York and East Hampton international art circle-the only woman among such figures as Fernando Botero, Omar Rayo, Leopoldo Castedo, Nemesio Antunez, Rodolfo Abularach, Rodolfo Mishaan, Manabu Mabe, Fernando de Szyszlo, and Armando Morales among others. Pacheco was active in the Latin American art boom of the 1960s in New York, with an abstract practice continuously receiving international recognition. However, her untimely death in 1982 at age 63, when her career was increasingly in a steady global arc ascent, may have contributed to her name being almost hidden from the dominant canons of the second boom of the 1980s and 1990s. 

The exhibition is organized by AMA | Art Museum of the Americas and is co-curated by Olga U. Herrera and Adriana Ospina.

A fully illustrated catalog accompanies the exhibition with scholarly essays and contributions by Olga U. Herrera, Adriana Ospina, Marco Polo Juarez, Felix Angel, and Valeria Paz. Public programs support the exhibition with panels and conversations with art historians and artists.

With a proud and lasting tradition of promoting and documenting women artists, with this exhibition, AMA |Art Museum of the Americas continues to support the increased visibility and the reevaluation of the canon of modern and contemporary artists of the Americas whose histories are closely intermeshed with the museum.

This exhibition is made possible thanks to the Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the OAS, the Permanent Observer Mission of Spain to the OAS, the Inter-American Commission of Women, Vinos 1750, and the Friends of the Art Museum of the Americas. Additional support provided by the Surf Point Foundation.

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Free admission, Tuesday-Sunday, 10AM-5 PM