« Art Critics' Reading List


Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro is director and chief curator of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. From 2002 to 2008, he was curator of Latin American art at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin. In 2007, he was chief curator of the 6th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Prior to that, he was director of visual arts at the Americas Society in New York, founding curator of the University of Essex Collection of of Art from Latin America and programs coordinator at the Casa de América in Madrid. He holds a Ph.D. in art history and theory from the University of Essex and an M.A. in art history and Latin American studies from the University of Aberdeen. Pérez-Barreiro is the curator of the 33rd São Paulo Bienal slated to take place in 2018.

Guy Brett. Transcontinental: Nine Latin American Artists. London: Verso and Birmingham: Ikon Gallery, 1990.

Anyone interested in understanding the issues (both real and imagined) around the presentation of art from Latin America should start with the enlightening introduction to this catalogue by Guy Brett. As one of the pioneering presenters of international art in the U.K., Brett played a pivotal and critical role in introducing the work of artists like Waltercio Caldas, Victor Grippo and Jac Leirner to a mainstream contemporary art audience. At a time when the Latin American field seemed to be limited to either a stereotypical interest in the exotic or a turgid poststructuralist discourse, Brett’s clear and perceptive prose presented a new way to engage with the artists and their work. Brett makes no overarching claims for “Latin American art,” but rather sounds a note of caution in letting the framework get in the way of the art, and therein perhaps lies his greatest contribution.

David Sylvester. Interviews with Francis Bacon. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.

Originally published under the title The Brutality of Fact, these compelling interviews still serve as a model for the value of the sustained conversation between an artist and a critic. Sylvester was one of the most important critics of the 1960s and 1970s, and the clarity of his questions and prose are still staggering. Even if you are not particularly interested in the work of Francis Bacon, this book will engage you until the end. Far removed from a journalistic interview, the conversation covers everything from the type of paint he uses and Rembrandt to his gambling habits and statement that “painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system projected onto the canvas.” Every art historian should read this book to feel a little closer to the artistic process and to understand that asking questions of an artist is a great way to find out more.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. In Praise of Shadows. Stony Creek, Conn.: Leete’s Island Books, 1977.

Tanizaki’s short book is an eclectic rambling on Japanese culture. What impacted me was his discussion of the Japanese interest in half-light and darkness. According to Tanizaki (and I have no idea if this is true or not), the Japanese avoid stark light in favor of more somber tones. As an example, he discusses the difference between eating soup from a white bowl or from a dark-toned one. In the latter case, he argues that the tones allow for a more meditative and evocative experience. Modern and contemporary art seem to largely favor the well-lit, bright room as a paradigm, and Tanizaki’s proposal that we tone down the bright lights to enhance the other senses seems to be a productive and seductive provocation for how we think about art in general.