Modernist but not exceptional: The debate over modern art and national identity in 1950s Venezuela

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Since the 1950s, Villanueva's and Otero's work has transcended the negative association with the dictatorship that it once had, primarily because the image it presented to the international community coincided with the desire of the Venezuelan upper classes to appear modern and technologically up-to-date. This desire did not end with the overthrow of the Pérez Jiménez regime, nor did the hegemony of geometric abstraction in the country. The democratic governments of the early 1960s shared with the dictatorship a desire to modernize the country and to participate in global politics. Ironically, geometric abstraction, taken by some members of the Venezuelan elite in the 1950s to embody communist tendencies, by the 1960s had connotations of an official governmentally sanctioned style and still received financial and political support. Modernist architecture, in contrast, perhaps because of its association with large public works projects in other countries and its espousal by nationally known architects such as Villanueva, does not appear to have aroused as much aesthetic controversy, at least during the 1950s. It would be its social effects - the alienation, passivity, violence, and isolation attributed to modernity and, by extension, modernist architecture - that critics would denounce in the decade following modernism's transformation of the streets of Caracas. © 2005 Latin American Perspectives.

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Latin American Perspectives

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