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City/Art: the Urban Landscape in Latin America

City/Art: The Urban Scene in Latin America

by Rebecca E. Biron, Editor
Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2009
288 pp. Trade, $84.95; paper, $23.95
ISBN:  0-8223-4455-6; ISBN: 978-0-8223-4470-4.
Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


I'm an ubanist; perhaps most artists are.  I enjoy the remaining benefits of my small city in the North American deindustrialized midwest, while recognizing that cities in the developing world are where the action (and major growth) is taking place.  City/Art is an anthology of essays on aspects of Latin America's major cities, including Buenos Aires, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Mexico City and Miami.  It sprang from a Latin American City Symposium held at the University of Miami in 2002.  This worthy book will fit on the shelf between Bill Freund's The African City: A History and the anthology Mutations by ACTAR (Arc en Reve Centre d'Architecture).

Following the editor's introduction, the 10 essays in City/Art are organized into three sections; a few exemplary essays are noted. The first section is called "Urban Designs", where James Holston's essay explores the new (in the 1950s) city Brasîlia.  Constructed by a state corporation blessed by President Juscelino Kubitschek, architect Oscar Niemeyer and team endeavored to create a classless modern and modernist city.  Yet the workers' encampments at the outside of the gleaming town soon grew into permanent, proletarian suburbs.

In the second section "Street Signs", Marcy Schwartz offers non-objective painter Antoni Tàpies and experimental novelist Julio Cortázar and silhouetted mosaic murals in New York subways as signposts to the aesthetics of Chilean streets, walls and their graffiti.  Amy Kaminsky examines Buenos Aires, as mapped in fiction by its Jewish inhabitants.  In the final section called "Traffic", Hugo Achugar describes the conversion of Puntas Carretas prison in Uruguay's capital into a lavish shopping mall, and relates it to colonial cartography.  Latin American cities, like perhaps all human agglomerations, are always in flux, fugitive as an art installation with projections by Chilean artist Lotty Rosenfeld.

Rebecca E. Biron is Associate Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College.  This is the same department that, until her recent retirement, long hosted Marysa Navarro, remembered by some outside her field of study for presiding over a memorable gathering in her home to view Barbara Walters' inane 1976 television interview with Fidel Castro.  Castro was visibly amused at Walters' insistent questions about his private life, rather than interrogation about his politics.  Now Professor Biron, and the international colleagues whose work she has collected in City/Art, admirably aid in the effort to move nortamericanos' view of Latin America from the trivial to the substantial.

Last Updated 4 January, 2010

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