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b. 1937, Lübeck, Germany
Luis Camnitzer was born in Lübeck, Germany, in 1937 and moved to Uruguay when he was a year old. In 1953, he studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, Universidad de la República, Montevideo, and in 1957 received a grant to study sculpture at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich. He has completed residencies and fellowships with the Guggenheim Foundation (1961 and 1982); Creative Arts Program Services for Sculpture, New York (1978); and Art Matters Foundation, New York (1991).
Camnitzer has had a long career as an artist, critic, educator, and theorist. He began working in parallel with the American Conceptualists of the 1960s and ’70s, and in 1964 founded the New York Graphic Workshop (1964–70) with artists Liliana Porter and José Guillermo Castillo. In 1971, he helped establish New York’s Museo Latinoamericano, and a splinter group, Movimiento de Independencia Cultural de Latino América (MICLA). His 2007 book Conceptualism in Latin American Art is widely considered one of the most influential texts on the subject.
The international nature of Camnitzer’s biography makes him well placed to challenge received ideas of center and periphery, and his work across a range of media has a strong political tenor. Leftovers (1970) is a wall of boxes wrapped in bloody gauze, erected in honor of the casualties of the liberation movements in Latin America. The Journey (1991) is an installation that features three wall-mounted knives engraved with the names “Pinta,” “Ni and “Santa Maria.” Such questioning of colonialism and capitalism charges nearly all of Camnitzer’s work.
Through collaborative endeavors, Camnitzer has popularized his own reading of Latin American Conceptualism. He argues that it is not a style but rather a strategy that developed independently of North American and European influence, and has roots as deep as the nineteenth-century teachings of Simón Rodríguez, the philosopher best known for tutoring Simón Bolívar. At the New York Graphic Workshop, Camnitzer worked to democratize art, separating it as much as was possible from the market. And in the Museo Latinoamericano and MICLA, the group established an alternative to the Center for Inter-American Relations (now the Americas Society), which, while it hosted a number of progressive exhibitions in the 1970s, was also linked to U.S. interests associated with Latin American dictatorships. One of his own first Conceptual works, from 1966, consists of a text: “This is a Mirror, You are a Written Sentence.” In this homage to writer Jorge Luis Borges and René Magritte, Camnitzer explores the reflective quality of language.
A major anthological exhibition of Camnitzer’s work traveled from Daros Latinamerica, Zürich, to museums in Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, the United States, and Uruguay from 2010 to 2013. Camnitzer has also had solo exhibitions at Casa de las Américas, Havana (1983); Lehman College, New York (1991); and El Museo del Barrio, New York (1995). He represented Uruguay in the Venice Biennale (1988), and participated in 500 aos de represión, Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires (1992); Whitney Biennial, New York, (2000); Documenta, Kassel, Germany (2002); The Disappeared, El Museo del Barrio, New York (2007); and América Latina 1960–2013, Fondation Cartier, Paris (2013). He received the Mercosur Konex Award, Visual Arts, Uruguay (2002); the Frank Jewett Mather Award, College Art Association (2011); and the Skowhegan Medal for installations and interdisciplinary work (2012). He was also the United States Artists Ford Fellow, Visual Arts in 2012. Camnitzer lives and works in Great Neck, New York.