Elga Wimmer

Argentine artist Marta Minujin is in the best sense of the word a living legend. The artist is considered a pioneer of happenings, performance, and pop art. Marta Minujin is one of the most recognized post war artists in Latin America and is often referred to as the ‘Argentine Andy Warhol.’ The conceptual artist, sculptor, and painter, always at the pulse of the time, seems to be at the right place at the right time. In Paris in the early 60’s, where she met Nikki de St Phalle and Christo, she staged her first happening, created her now signature soft sculptures, and burned all her artwork to announce a new beginning. In New York in the mid 80’s she invited Andy Warhol to her performance with the concept of paying off Argentina’s external debt with maize, the traditional Latin American food staple and most widely grown crop in the Americas. Warhol, impressed by the young artist – already by then a household name in Europe and Latin America – asked her if she was rich. Marta replied famously: “I’m not, because I live in Argentina.”

From wherever she resided, Marta Minujin returned to Argentina, where she started to show as an artist with her first solo exhibition at Teatro Agon in Buenos Aires in 1959. From the mid 60’s on, she became one of the most energetic proponents of pop art and public art scenes in Buenos Aires.

All of the above and more was presented in a recent survey and solo show at the New York gallery Kurimanzutto, Marta Minujin: Making a Presence (April 27 to June 8, 2024), and Marta Minujin’s first major retrospective in the US at the Jewish Museum in New York (Nov. 17, 2023 – March 31, 2024). Curators Rebecca Shaykin and Darcie Alexander presented a stand-alone show at the Jewish Museum with ‘Marta Minujin: Arte! Arte!Arte!’ The exhibition showcased nearly 100 works from the artist’s archives along with private and institutional collections, including her mattress-based soft sculptures, fluorescent large-scale paintings, psychedelic drawings of performances, as well as rarely seen photographs and film footage. Marta Minujin is known for her large-scale politically playful art. A large ‘Tower of Babylon’ made of forbidden books was built in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires by the artist at the very end of seven years of a horrendous military regime and dictatorship in Argentina. It was a monumental gesture by the artist to symbolize freedom of expression! The sculpture was burnt down in the end and the books given to the cheering crowd. A more recent version ‘The Parthenon of Banned Books’ could be seen at Dokumenta, Kassel in 2017.

The 100 000 books assembled symbolized the ones censored and subsequently burned by the Nazi Regime. Similarly to the 1983 Parthenon, the books were distributed to people around the world when the work was dismantled.

Marta Minujin: installation view Image credit Jewish Museum New York

Monumental sculptural works of art are usually associated with male artists’ works. In that sense Marta Minujin emerges as a female pioneer in public art. Daring in political references as opposing the military dictatorship in Argentina, Minujin never neglects the poetic and human in her work. While being a serious artist and an inexhaustible creative force, Marta Minujin – both as a person and an artist – is playful, humorous, engaging, eccentric, and always thought provoking. We look forward to Marta Minujin’s next ventures.