Kenyon College

Luis Camnitzer (Uruguayan, b. Germany 1937)


Luis Camnitzer (b.1937) is a German-born Uruguayan artist and writer who moved to New York in 1964. He was at the vanguard of 1960s Conceptualism, working primarily in printmaking, sculpture, and installations. Camnitzer’s artwork explores subjects such as repression under systems of power, pedagogical norms, and the deconstruction of familiar frameworks. His humorous, biting, and often politically charged use of language as art medium has distinguished his practice for over four decades.

In 1964, he co-founded The New York Graphic Workshop, along with fellow artists Liliana Porter and José Guillermo Castillo (1941–1999). For six years until the end of the workshop in 1970, they examined the conceptual meaning behind printmaking, and sought to test and expand the definition of the medium. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Camnitzer developed a body of work that explored language as a primary medium, printing text on paper or walls, such as in his Dictionary etchings and room-size installation, Living Room (both 1969). As his interest in language unfolded, so did his aim to identify socio-political problems through his art. Camnitzer responded to the growing wave of Latin American military regimes taking root in the late 1960s, but his work also points to the dynamic political landscape of his adopted country, the United States.

During the 1970s, Camnitzer created a key body of work that blended both language and humor—producing a series of Object Boxes that placed ordinary items within wood-framed glass boxes with text printed on brass plaques. In many ways, these boxes anticipate one of Camnitzer’s most important works, the Uruguayan Torture Series (1983–84). This photo-etching series epitomizes Camnitzer’s ability to question the social and political roles of an individual in society, while also examining a dimension of human psychology by pairing images and text to create new meaning.

Though Camnitzer never left New York, his practice remains intrinsically connected to his homeland and the whole of Latin America. This consistent dedication cements his place as a key figure in shaping debates around ideas of postcolonialism, Conceptualism, and pedagogy.

A retrospective of Camnitzer’s work, Luis Camnitzer: Hospice of Failed Utopias, was on view in 2018 at El Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain. Camnitzer’s work has been shown at important institutions since the 1960s, including solo exhibitions at El Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago, Chile (2013); Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (2011); El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY (1995); Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico (1993); and List Visual Arts Center at M.I.T., Cambridge, MA (1991). Retrospectives of his work have been presented at Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, NY (1991); Kunsthalle Kiel, Germany (2003); Daros Museum, Zurich, Switzerland (2010); El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY (2011); and Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá (2012). His work has appeared in numerous group exhibitions, including HOME—So Different, So Appealing, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA, which traveled to Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (2017); I am you, you are too, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2017); Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2014); and Information, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1970). He has been featured in several international biennials, including the Bienal de la Habana, Cuba (1984, 1986, 1991, 2009); Pavilion of Uruguay, 43 Biennale di Venezia, Italy (1988); Whitney Biennial (2000); and Documenta 11 (2002).

Camnitzer’s work is in the permanent collections of countless institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Tate, London, UK; Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich, Switzerland. He was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowships on two occasions, 1961 and 1982. A highly regarded critic and curator, Camnitzer is a frequent contributor to contemporary art magazines. He has authored the publications New Art of Cuba (University of Texas Press: 1994, 2003), Conceptualism in Latin American Art: Didactics of Liberation (University of Texas Press: 2007), translated as Didáctica de la liberación: Arte conceptualista latinoamericano (Hum, Montevideo, Uruguay, CENDEAC, Murcia, Spain and Fundación Gilberto Álzate Avedaío, IDARTES: 2012). From 1969 to 2000, he taught at the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Old Westbury, and is professor emeritus.

Image: Luis Camnitzer, 2018. Photo: Ross Collab.

Bio: Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates.