Luis Camnitzer (Lübeck, Germany, 1937) is a factory of headlines: "The artist is the one with the disciplined intuition"; "The function of good art is to be subversive"; "Art is political even when it is apolitical"; "Art as education is still a fraud". He speaks as if he emphasizes master phrases with a marker, those used by teachers as anchoring points for the ideas they convey. It is noted that he has been over 30 years at the helm of the State University of New York, where he is currently professor emeritus.
Stroll through the rooms of the Reina Sofia Museum as who reviews his life in photos, skipping pages, rodeos and memorable appointments. Those that have more weight in his curriculum occupy the central space: his works for the Uruguay pavilion of the Venice Biennial of 1988 and the cell he made for Documenta 11, and that is reproduced for the first time since 2002. The exhibition begins with a self-portrait, which makes him a pencil hung from the ceiling moved by the air of a fan, and ends with the series From the war, his last work full of maps where the artist rereads the five volumes that von Clausewitz wrote at the beginning of the 19th century about military strategy and that is still being studied in military schools. "We are returning to the nationalist fragmentation of the most reactionary style, a clownsocracy full of authoritarian governments," he says.
Along the route, organized together with the curator Octavio Zaya, are emblematic works such as History of art lesson, blank slides for that story that is still to be told, and Memorial, his Montevideo phone book with the disappeared in Uruguay during the military dictatorship that governed the country between 1973 and 1985. There is also language on the floor, exercise books and plates that escape from the showroom. From one of them he has taken the title: Hospice of failed utopias, "The revolutionary ones", qualifies, "and today more than ever".
The retrospective gathers the best of its production although its best work is its head. He is 80 years old and a happiness, he says, attached to his name. The ability to name has dedicated his last texts, such as the one he wrote a few weeks ago for the Babelia supplement. His work never explicitly denounces but condemns the artistic systems that turn their backs on the political realities of their time. He is one of the key figures of Latin American conceptual art, although he likes to say contextual: "Conceptual art has always been problematic because, apart from being a formalist, what I was looking for was to reach the spirit of art without a body, a mystical thing that interests me nothing. Contextual art is to use the minimum stimulus for maximum effect. Use art as a sounding board. That's what I do, looking to activate the viewer efficiently, an action, no doubt, militant. Politics in art can seep into the narrative of the content or the effect that a work can have on the spectator. That is the one that interests me, insofar as it forces others to generate their own ideas. My greatest desire is that the work happens in the viewer, that he becomes an author and does not need me. As long as I have to do art, I am a failure. Success will come when you do not have to because people do it alone. That is why I say that I am an intermediary, like the teacher who manages to make the student independent. "
He says he works with problems, that he prefers to be an intellectual exhibitionist rather than an emotional one, and that at this point in his life he is more interested in putting his effort into structural changes than in making things. Bring up the book you are reading these days, The unfinished symphony of Darwin, by Kevin Nevile Laland, to talk about the market: "Divide the world between social and asocial activities. The social is the collective, the one that you imitate and repeat. The asocial is the one that innovates and seeks the experience of the first order. Today the art market is based on a framework that favors the asocial individual, which goes to more the more successful the better. But it is a distortion, like a cancer. Everything that is sold at millionaire prices will have no effect in terms of collective culture spent a century. The art that really has value is the one that filters anonymously in a society. You have to connect both poles. It's a fragile game, but when we name it, we schematize it in a bipolar way that does not allow us to see things. " Also the word "art" is uncomfortable, "all classifications are, because they are exclusive."
Camnitzer also combats the presumption that museums are enclosed places, safes with objects of commercial value and advocates replacing this idea with one in which museums collect the cultural value that comes from people. Turn the museum into a school. This is what María Acaso, new head of education at the Reina Sofía, will do from the exhibition and project rooms Disturbing school. During the four months will be installed there fifteen people worked many of the ideas that inhabit their texts. Those that this retrospective gathers sees them with a certain nostalgia. "It's the last big thing, I suppose." He trembles like a flan in the Uruguayan style, the metaphor, he says, that best defines him: "that fact of flan, covered with dulce de leche and, just in case, with chantilly cream on top. My first stage is the base of gelatine, the second, the concentration and the third is made of air. In those I am. "