10 Latin American Artists at the Forefront of Abstraction
What is Latin American art? In a new anthology, Latin American Artists: From 1785 to Now, Brazilian art critic and curator Raphael Fonseca argues that discussions about what can be labeled as Latin American art generate more questions than answers. There is no consensus on which exact characteristics make an oeuvre Latin American, nor those that make art abstract. Still, in recent times, there has been a significant surge of artists at the intersection of these categories, working across a wide range of mediums, and producing fascinating oeuvres worth spotlighting.
One of the most biodiverse and culturally heterogeneous regions in the world, Latin America informs the works of numerous abstract artists pushing the boundaries of mediums and materials to beckon viewers to engage with art beyond what meets the eye. And while this is, by no means, a comprehensive list, here are 10 Latin American artists at the forefront of abstraction today.
B. 1970, Mexico City. Lives and works in New York and Oaxaca, Mexico.
Portrait of Bosco Sodi by Spencer Wells. Courtesy of Kasmin.
Mexican artist Bosco Sodi relies on a wide range of materials to create his vivid paintings, ceramics, and clay sculptures. His textured canvases are brought to life with a mixture of elements such as sawdust, glue, and cellulose, combined with pigments usually derived from nature, like indigo, lapis lazuli, or cochineal. He then applies the thick blend directly onto the canvas with his bare hands, forming unexpected surfaces that honor the imperfections and peculiarities of the materials chosen to create the work.
“l believe in embracing the accident, embracing no control. Letting the process of the organic materials take their course. Letting the passing of time shape each painting and each sculpture. It is what makes each work unique,” he once said in an interview.
In line with this philosophy of relinquishing control, Sodi is also known for leaving his works untitled to remove bias and allow viewers to simply enjoy each piece. Sodi has a solo show of painting and sculpture currently on view at Kasmin in New York, entitled “Solo Para Revivir.”
B. 1963, Bogotá, Colombia. Lives and works in Sydney, Australia.
Portrait of Maria Fernanda Cardoso by Jillian McNalty. Courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf.
A multifaceted artist whose oeuvre includes installations, sculptures, videos, and performance pieces, Maria Fernanda Cardoso creates artworks that investigate nature, culture, and science by using unexpected materials such as plants, shells, and animals. She is particularly intrigued by the concept of “worlds within worlds” and microscale phenomena.
Cardoso is most known for The Cardoso Flea Circus (1994–2000), an astonishing piece with real, live fleas she trained to perform tricks such as pulling chariots, jumping through hoops, walking on tightropes, and dancing tango. She represented Colombia at the 2003 Venice Biennale with Woven Water (2003), an installation of dead starfish assembled together into a mesmerizing bleached submarine landscape. She holds a PhD from the University of Sydney’s College of the Arts.
B. 1961, São Paulo, Brazil. Lives and works in São Paulo.
Portrait of Paulo Monteiro. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM São Paulo, Brussels, New York.
A founding member of Brazil’s Casa 7 group—a collective of artists started in the 1980s, who sought to enliven Brazilian painting—Paulo Monteiro blurs the boundary between two- and three-dimensional works with minimalist yet gestural works. Often rendered in vivid colors, the artist’s paintings showcase dynamic lines, shapes, and textures, as do his sculptures, which he first made using found wood and now creates using materials such as cardboard, aluminum, bronze, and rope.
Some of Monteiro’s earlier drawings, which incorporate graphic details, evidence his background as a comic strip artist. Moreover, his spirited works are said to be influenced by his years-long classical ballet practice. Indeed, the artist’s canvases and sculptures are imbued with a unique physicality that seems to mimic the movements of a dancer.
B. 1981, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lives and works in Milan, Italy.
Portrait of Alex O. by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy of Martina Simeti.
To create her stunning tangram pieces, Alek O. takes apart parasols and uses the resulting shapes to construct minimalist, geometric animals, as is customary in the eponymous Chinese puzzles. Formally trained as an industrial designer, many of the Argentine artist’s pieces draw on painting, craft, and embroidery to reinvigorate found objects that would otherwise be considered trash.
In transforming everyday elements that carry personal meaning, such as sweaters, tables from her family home, curtain fabrics, or umbrellas from a vacation, the objects themselves are destroyed, yet used as materials to conserve memories.
“I see beauty in things that have a previous life. I’m attracted by the aura of things that have a past and find it really difficult to transform something that is brand new. Somehow the transformation is a way to preserve what I feel has a value,” she said in an interview.
B. 1978, San José, Costa Rica. Lives and works in San José, Costa Rica.
Portrait of Federico Herrero. © Federico Herrero 2023. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York.
Influenced by Costa Rica’s rich cultural and natural environment, Federico Herrero’s kaleidoscopic and expansive practice, which includes painting, installations, and public works, invites viewers to revel in the presence of color. “There’s something I absorb from the Central America region,” he said in an interview. “People are just so confident with color—it fascinates me.”
By juxtaposing bright shapes in multiple scales that clash and embrace on canvases, street curbs, and walls, he studies duality—the connection between public and private spheres, the relationship between the viewer and the work—in a playful and humorous manner.
Herrero studied painting at Pratt Institute in New York during the late 1990s. He first received international attention when he won the Young Artist’s Prize at the 49th Venice Biennale (in 2001) at just 21 years old, and has since cemented his position as one of the most celebrated Latin American artists working today.
B. 1990, São Paulo, Brazil. Lives and works in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Portrait of Igi Lola Adeyun by Wallace Domingues. Courtesy of the artist.
Igi Lola Ayedun’s expansive practice, which includes painting, photography, video, sculpture, and sound, affords color a prominent place. Ayedun has said that she sees colors as “testimonies of social transactions in the history of humanity.” She believes investigating them is a profound way of understanding this history. Most recently, the Brazilian artist has focused on incorporating the color blue in works that explore the global routes of indigo and the historical legacy of lapis lazuli. The hue holds a personal meaning for her: Through it, she has found a profound connection to her African ancestry.
A multifaceted creative with a previous career in fashion, in 2020, she founded HOA, a São Paulo–based gallery dedicated to Latin American contemporary art, which is also the city’s first Black-owned gallery. “I wouldn’t be the gallerist I am without being an artist, and vice versa,” she stated in a recent interview.
B. 1926, Havana. Lives and works in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Portrait of Zilia Sanchez in her studio, 2014. Photo by Raquel Perez Puig. © Zilia Sanchez. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co., New York.
A master of abstract minimalism, Zilia Sánchez creates sensuous works that play with curves and soft colors evoking the form of the female body. In works such as Antígona (1970) and Moon (1985), she creates intriguing topography by using acrylic on canvas stretched over wooden frames that provide volume and dynamism, while in more recent works like Concepto II (2019) and Concepto I (2000–19), the artist paints bronze to create her undulating sculptures.
Sánchez attended the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts in Havana, and moved to San Juan in 1971, where she has been based ever since. Despite her decades-long career, she first received significant international attention in her late eighties after Artists Space in New York presented a retrospective of her oeuvre in 2013.
B. 1993, São Gonçalo, Brazil. Lives and works in Rio de Janeiro.
Portrait of Laís Amaral. Courtesy of the artist and M+B, Los Angeles.
Co-founder of the Trovoa group, a Brazilian women’s collective that honors artistic production beyond the confines of specialized training and academic degrees, Laís Amaral creates works that investigate environmental collapse and its effects on modern society. In particular, she sees the widespread desertification of Brazilian land as a metaphor for the “whitening” of its population, which severely affects the country’s social fabric. In response to this phenomenon, water arises as a central theme in her works, which, she says, seek to “wet the ways of existing.”
A self-defined “artist-artisan,” Amaral paints with acrylic on canvas, though she also incorporates craft and manual labor into her pieces by adding materials such as beads and straw to the surface of her canvases. In this way, she enhances the texture and depth of her spirited works.
B. 1971, Sheroana, Venezuela. Lives and works between Caracas and Pori Pori, Venezuela.
Portrait of Sheroanawë Hakihiiwë. Courtesy of ABRA gallery / Eloísa Arias Peña.
Born in the Venezuelan Amazon, Yanomami artist Sheroanawë Hakihiiwë began making paper from plant fibers in the early 1990s while studying with Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata. In this practice, he found an ideal medium to draw and paint elements from his Indigenous ancestry that have been passed down from generation to generation by relying solely on oral traditions.
Still today, Hakihiiwë—who participated in the 2022 Venice Biennale—illustrates Yanomami symbols and signs on delicate paper handmade using local plants. For instance, works such as Watoshe (Corona) (2022) are made using acrylic on cotton paper, while pieces like Untitled (2018) are crafted on paper made from rice. His rhythmic works, frequently riddled with repetition, present abstract lines, shapes, flora, and fauna that reference his community’s culture. They include themes such as rituals and cosmogenic stories, and above all seek to preserve its memory.
B. 1965, Medellín, Colombia. Lives and works in Medellín.
Portrait of Beatriz Olano. Courtesy of the artist and Rafael Pérez Hernando Arte Contemporáneo.
Beatriz Olano’s geometrical pieces meld drawing, sculpture, and installation to modify the viewer’s perception of space. In works such as Despliegue (2021), the Colombian artist assembles a mixed-media collage to reconfigure simple objects within a cardboard base. Meanwhile, acrylic on wood paintings such as Precipicio (2021) and Detenido (2021), showcase Olano’s brilliant use of color to transform a given area. Speaking about this subject, Olano—who holds an MFA from the Milton Avery School of Arts in Bard College—has said it’s purely intuitive and deeply personal: “When I lived in New York, I worked in ochre and dark green colors, but when I returned to Colombia, color exploded.”
Her site-specific installations ignore walls, corners, and boundaries to defy the public’s gaze. “I like to change people’s perception of art, to move them so they see other shapes. That’s why I like diagonals: With them, we distort and disorient the gaze,” as she’s put it in interviews. Olano’s works will be part of Rafael Pérez Hernando Arte Contemporáneo’s booth at Untitled Miami later this year.
Thumbnail: Portrait of Sheroanawë Hakihiiwë. Courtesy of ABRA gallery / Beatriz Fernanda González; Portrait of Igi Lola Adeyun by Wallace Domingues. Courtesy of the artist.