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The Blanton Museum of Art exhibits Latin American design

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In English, ‘modern’, is a word synonymous with sleek, stylish, new. But, in Central and South America of the 1940s, the word ‘moderno’ was about more than looks– it symbolized the promise and freedom of the future.

Spared from the ravages of the Second World War, many Latin American countries thrived in the 1940s after years of repression. As economies boosted, so did the time and space for Latin American art, design, and formal culture. Almost overnight, countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil were developing a unique kind of artistic and decorative style– a type of minimalist design that became known as ‘moderno’.

 In classic ‘moderno’ style, this is the living room of Alfredo Boulton’s beach house on Margarita Island, Venezuela, designed by Miguel Arroyo, circa 1953. Some of the works pictured here are also shown in the Blanton Museum of Art’s exhibit. Photo: The Blanton Museum of Art
In classic ‘moderno’ style, this is the living room of Alfredo Boulton’s beach house on Margarita Island, Venezuela, designed by Miguel Arroyo, circa 1953. Some of the works pictured here are also shown in the Blanton Museum of Art’s exhibit. Photo: The Blanton Museum of Art

For Central and South Americans of the 1940s, ‘moderno’ quickly became an ideology. It meant living a modern life, and domestic design soon became an agent of development. It encouraged the march forward to modernization and westernization.

Although heavily influenced by European design, artists of the ‘moderno’ period retained the cultural influences so characteristic of Latin American countries.  Work being shown in the Blanton exhibit includes pieces created by designer Lina Bo Bardi and architect Jorge Rivas Pérez. They utilized local materials and traditions, further expanding the economy of their countries.

The ‘moderno’ style of these artists and others, would go on to influence midcentury designers in the United States and across the world. Even today, the clean, sleek, colorful ‘moderno’ designs, mixing classic Latin American decorative arts and modern minimalist ideas, inform and inspire designers and artists.

To be informed and inspired yourself, head over to the University of Texas here in Austin, where The Blanton Museum of Art is currently showing an exhibit called ‘Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940-1978’.

Complete with jazzy ‘bossa nova’ music of the period (you can even tune into record machines from the time) and the same sophisticated attitude so many ‘moderno’ homes cultivated, the exhibit is an elegant step into the minds and spaces of Latin America’s mid-century designers.

From sleek furniture to intricate tapestries, many of the exhibit’s pieces are being shown for the first time. One walk through the elegant galleries, and you’ll be feeling the world’s growing fascination with mid-century Latin American art, design, and culture. The exhibit, which has shown in New York and California, will be in Austin through January 17th, 2016.

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Georgia Oldham is a senior at ARS, a third year Polaris Press veteran, and a pretty cool cat all around. Born to an aristocratic family in Saint Petersburg; Georgia was quickly smuggled out of Russia and brought to Austin, Texas to avoid numerous political schemes. Since then, she’s been wandering through museums, watching way too much PBS, doodling on just about everything, gobbling up all the chocolate in sight, and honing in on her storytelling skills. She hopes to one day return to Russia to claim her generous inheritance, where of course she will continue to work as a foreign correspondent for the Polaris Press.

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