Sue Benner_Wearing Plaid_MGMA

I recently read David Byrne’s post, “Cultural Spaces: No Separation Between Art and Life” on MADI art (which I was unfamiliar with), and the Museum of Geometric and MADI Art in Dallas; some say that MADI stands for “movement, abstraction, dimension and invention,” but apparently that hasn’t been confirmed. The movement was founded in Argentina by Carmelo Arden Quinn and continues as a global art movement; yet, despite this “global” aspect, at least one article claims that “no one knows what [MADI] is, or really why it is what it is.” Well, we do know that the early MADI artists’ focus was on abstraction and the concreteness of the art object, but it also seemed to branch out expressively into other dimensions, such as dance,  sculpture, and architecture, and even poems. Arden’s impetus for the movement was subversive — to escape or undermine the censoring and/or propagandistic machinations of the dictator Peron’s government.

One of MADI’s characteristics is an emphasis on beauty of form—curious, given that “beauty,” is often utilized as propaganda to lure the vulnerable into its fold. In fact, MADI’s proponents claimed in their journal Arturo‘s only issue, that they were all about “Jubilation. Denial of all melancholy” as well as “invention,” and by breaking out of the square frame and focusing on the concreteness of the art, they hoped to shed all symbolism, i.e., anything that could be taken up and used as propaganda. Counter this with older (say, George Grosz, Kathe Kollwitz) and some of the newer of today’s art, including popular art, that aims to disturb, to be political, and to draw attention to the horrors of modern life, with its invasive technologies, its racism, and authoritarianism. For example, Childish Gambino’s recent video, This is America.

There is a lot of disturbing and strongly symbolic art around these days, and–given recent successful attempts to polarize the U.S. population, I sometimes wonder if such strategies help or hinder real solutions to our problems. In many ways, such art of protest seems like the obvious way to express our conflict or resistance — but is it now becoming (or has it always been?) a tool for propaganda? What is the role of beauty and abstraction in art today?

To learn more about MADI, see “An Archival Trail: Concrete Art in Argentina” by Zanna Gilbert, Collecion Cisneros.

*The featured image is a quilt by Sue Benner, in the Museum of Geometric and MADI Art.