The Florence Biennale confers to Marta Minujín the “Lorenzo il Magnifico” Lifetime Achievement Award 2015 as a tribute to her outstanding artistic research, aimed at bringing ideas into reality through a continuous experimentation of materials and techniques. All this with a view to engage the audience in the process of creating ephemeral works such as happenings, installations, and performances, so that everyone involved could experience the essence of art.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1943, Marta Minujín lives and works in the capital of Argentina. To orient herself in her artistic path she has always kept looking at an ideal “fixed star”, the encounter with the audience through her work, regardless of the medium to employ. All this with a search of perfection, which is a value in performing arts, and which is a trait that Marta Minujín has in common with excellences such as Sylvie Guillem, for instance.
Marta realised to have an artistic flair at the age of ten, and started studying fine arts two years later. In 1959, while she was still a student at the Istituto Universitario de Arte, she debuted at the Teatro Agón in Buenos Aires, and was awarded the 1st Prize from the Sociedad Hebraica Argentina. In 1960 she met Alberto Greco (1931-1965), painter, poet, and founder of the Argentinian Informalism. That current allured Marta, and yet induced her to set painting aside. That same year, thanks to a grant received from the Fondo Nacional de las Artes, she was one of the thirty young Argentinian artists taking part to the exhibition “Pablo Curatella Manes et trente argentines de la nouvelle génération” at the Galérie Creuze in Paris. In the French capital Marta got involved in the avant-garde art scene, and was influenced by Neorealism. Nonetheless, she developed her own mode of artistic expression – encompassing different materials, themes, and bewildering environments with elements having a strong impact on perception and emotion – aimed at triggering an immediate response from the audience. A striking example of that approach is the Chambre d’amour (Love Room), created with Mark Brusse in 1963. That year marks the end of Marta’s three-year sojourn in Paris and La Destrucción (The Destruction) of the works that she had made during period (“to create by destroying”). From that “action”, which she carried out with the aid of a group of artists invited to destroy her works (Christo, Élie-Charles, Flamand, Lourdes Castro, Mariano Hernández and Paul Gette), Marta Minujín conceived her notion of happening. Thirty years later, remembering La Destrucción, which that ideally brought together birth and death within a cycle of life and creativity, Marta would affirm that “the work of art is the instant in which a person lives, and not the thing. It is the happening in its development rather than forms, which keep being accessorial. By no way can the art of a society that is constantly changing be a static image”.
At her return to Argentina, in 1964, Minujín was awarded a prize by the Instituto Torquato di Tella in Buenos Aires, where she created her Colchones in presence of the audience. Furthermore, she set up different happenings: La cabalgada (in the TV studio of Canal 7), Eróticos en technicolor, and Revuélquese y viva. Another happening, Sucéso Plastico, took place at the Estadio Club Atletico in Montevideo (Uruguay). In 1965, once more at the Instituto Torquato di Tella, Marta presented El Batacazo, which she defined as “a work of art and an experience… in which the audience and I lie in the same creative plan. There is no dichotomy, but a dynamic, changing, hallucinating, and infinite unity…”. Soon after, with Rubén Santantoní, she created unseen synesthetic works imbued with pop influence within La Menesunda (The Challenge), which she defined as “the most fantastic work that I made in my life”. In 1966 she gave breath of life to Simultaneidad en Simultaneidad, a TV happening with connections via satellite between Marta Minujín from Buenos Aires, Allan Kaprov from New York, and Wolf Vostell from Berlin (an event that was re-proposed at the MoMA in 2015).
In 1966 Marta Minujín obtained the Guggenheim fellowship, which allowed her to go to New York, where she would spend ten years. In New York she met Andy Wharol and experimented psychedelic art by creating works like Minuphone, the experiential telephone booth presented at the Howard Wise Gallery in1967; and Minucode, an installation with video and audio for immersive experience that foreran the Cinema verité when it was presented at the Center for Inter American Relations (CIAR) on 27 May 1968. Those two works, along with La Menesunda (The Challenge), appear to have stemmed from an idea that Marta Minujín would further elaborate in later years for her Minujinda Labyrinth (1985).
In 1968 the twentysix-year-old Marta was fascinated with the hippie counterculture movement, and transposed the experience of travelling between the United States and Mexico at the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar in her Importación – Exportación. In 1972, at the MoMA, she presented Interpenning, a work designed to engage “the spectators in order to turn them into interpreters of invisible rules, which can be adapted to codices yet to be discovered by the audience”. In 1973, once again at the MoMA, Marta presented Kidnappening, a kind of tableau vivant inspired by Picasso. That same year, together with Richard Squires, she created The Soft Gallery at the Harold Rivkin Gallery in Washington D.C. In 1974 she popped back to New York with Imago Flowing, inspired by the Living Theatre and staged at Central Park, The Mall.
That year Marta returned to her native town, where she would give breath of life to the Academia del Fracaso (1975) just before the advent of the military dictatorship that would wreck Artentina for seven years. Dating to that period are some works bearing witness to Marta’s struggle for harmony with nature as a basic principle underpinning sustainable living and equality. An example is Arte Agricola en Acción (1977-1979), a happening that was replicated three times, each time with a different produce – Repollos (Cabbages), at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (Brazil); Toronjas (Grapefruits) at the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Artes in Ciudad de México, DF; and Naranjas (Oranges) at the CAyC in Buenos Aires. Mention should also be made of the sweet bread Obelisk that Marta realised in Buenos Aires in 1979, which was echoed one year later by The James Joyce Bread Tower in Dublin, University College, Earlsfort Terrace. In 1981, in Medellin (Colombia), set on fire her giant iron-and-cotton statue of Carlos Gardel, thus transforming into a stunning figure of flames.
In 1982 Marta Minujín received the Platinum Konex Award (for “experiences”). She would obtain the same prize (for “installations and performances”) from the Fundación Konex thirty years later.
In 1983, as the military regime was over, Marta gathered thirty thousands “prohibited books” and built her Parthenon of books in Buenos Aires, in Avenida 9 de Julio (to be dismantled after three weeks). That ephemeral “monument to the freedom of expression” anticipated to the Tower of Babel, erected in 2011 in Plaza San Martin to celebrate UNESCO’s selection of Buenos Aires as World Book Capital City, and also to reaffirm the value of cultural diversity and its plurality of languages. Still in the mid-eighties, the artist set eyes on the present of her day and foresaw a future in which indebtedness would not only threat Argentina: within the happening El Pago de la Deuda Externa con Choclos Marta Minujín symbolically delivered maize to Andy Warhol to pay off the Argentinian foreign debt with corn. Ten years later the maize spikes would reappear in Resolviendo el Conflicto Internacional con Maiz, el Oro Latinoamericano y Arte (1996), performed in London at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
In 1986 Marta Minujín obtained the Award from the Asociación Argentina de Críticos de Arte.
At the dawn of the new millennium Marta Minujín’s career would be constellated with recognitions: in 2000 she received the “Arlequin de Oro” Award from the Fundación Emilio Pettoruti, the “Tributo al nuevo millenio” Award from the Colegio de Martilleros y Corredor Públicos di Mar del Plata, and the “Cincuentenario” Award from the Asociación Argentina de Críticos de Arte, who also conferred the “Jorge Romero Brest” Award to her in 2001. In 2002 Marta Minujín was awarded the Platinum Konex for the second time in her life.
In 2009 the artist left her mark once more on Avenida 9 Julio in Buenos Aires, which she virtually turned into a stage for her Rayuelarte, “a metaphysic play that takes us from the ground to the sky” – she said. That juego metafisico was also played in Paris, in Place du Palais Royal (2014); and Madrid, at the Palacio de Cibeles (2015). In 2013 Marta Minujín celebrated her 70th anniversary by performing her Casamiento con el arte (Marriage with Art) in Buenos Aires, where she also set the installation El Agora de la Paz (The Agora of Peace) in Plaza Alemania. In 2015, still in the capital of Argentina, she completed the reconstruction of La menesunda at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAMBA).