Marta Minujín: Meet Argentina’s answer to Andy Warhol

The creator of documenta 14’s ‘Parthenon of Books’ is as vibrant, dynamic and effervescent as her oeuvre

Argentine conceptual artist Marta Minujín. Courtesy of the artist.

by Sooni Shroff Gander

One of Argentina’s most prominent conceptual and performance artists, Marta Minujín, turned 75 earlier this year. ‘I am still creating art because it is my way of living, and I can’t stop. I cannot. I will die working,’ says the flamboyant Argentine, who shows no signs of slowing down.

A pioneer of pop art, performance art, happenings, ‘living’ sculptures and installations, Minujín deconstructs art only to reconstruct it again, irreverently and often ephemerally, seeking to use her mediums as the message and to make artworks in real time.

Minujín’s career began in Paris and New York (she was a friend of Warhol’s), and from the mid-1960s she became one of the most energetic proponents of pop art and public art scenes in Buenos Aires. Her award-winning seminal work, ¡Revuelquese y Viva! (1964), was a construction of hand-painted mattresses that invited audience participation; her famed La Menesunda (1965), a visual labyrinth of 16 environments, saw over 30,000 visitors flocking to participate; and Minuphone (1967) was an interactive telephone booth.

Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books, 2017,
 steel, books, and plastic sheeting
. Friedrichsplatz, Kassel, documenta 14. Courtesy of the artist.
But it was her Parthenon of Books (1983) a recreation of the renowned edifice made entirely out of newly ‘unbanned’ books erected in central Buenos Aires, that became a symbol of Argentina’s awakening from the nightmare of repression. More recently, she revisited this theme, installing her Parthenon of Books again, this time with 100,000 banned books on a Nazi book-burning site, as part of the documenta 14 art festival in Kassel, Germany. She invited viewers to participate in this embodiment of confiscated cultural knowledge by bringing a book of their own to add to her creation. ‘They brought Solzhenitsyn, Thomas Mann, the Satanic Verses, Harry Potter, the Tropic of Cancer and so many more,’ says Minujín.

Minujín’s work has always tackled such complex themes and issues, from politics to the definition of public art and the way art should be perceived and felt. In 1985, a series of photographs of her with Andy Warhol famously shows her symbolically paying off the country’s debt with corn. She has won awards and accolades and declares that she will always abide by her true belief that ‘everything is art.’ Her studio, in the leafy San Cristóbal suburb of Buenos Aires is where she lives and breathes this sentiment. It is flooded not only with sunshine, but also with sculptures, artworks, posters, acrylics, fabrics, and many other mediums that are a testimony to her continuous experimentation with materials and techniques. Kitted out in a fluorescent jumpsuit and her trademark aviators, Minujín indicates a recumbent Statue of Liberty holding a hamburger: ‘It is a sculpture, a symbol of how all the universal symbols are falling down,’ she asserts. ‘I felt that the United States is falling down – that all the cities are falling down – so I’ve made all the monuments lying down. Each work that I have done, the Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower – all down.’

When asked if these represent the end of the world or the collapse of politics, Minujín answers without hesitation: ‘The collapse of politics. But art is above religion and politics because all humans are capable of creating, and we are all artists.’

So what is the purpose of her own art? ‘Art is too elevated and it shouldn’t be. Art should be about doing; it is not about people buying it. You don’t need to understand art; you only have to live in art. I live in it,’ she says simply.

Marta Minujín, Encuentra a tu igual (Find your Match), 2015. Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Courtesy of the artist.
This brings Minujín to her favorite topic: public art and its meaning: ‘All my work is for everyone; all my sculptures are designed for the outside, not for galleries. That is why I did documenta 14 and the Performance Biennale - BP.15. It was called Encuentra a tu igual (Find your Match) so you could encounter your soulmate, which I made happen.’ Constantly reinventing how she uses art, Minujín made use of mobile technology and a drone for this work: Encuentra a tu igual (Find your Match) started with an app, which, through a series of questions, invited audiences to find their soulmates. It was broadcast in real-time to four museums and concluded with an encounter at the Puente de la Mujer in Buenos Aires, where the artist dropped thousands of flower petals from a helicopter onto the crowds gathered there.

‘People need this,’ she says. ‘The energy made me cry. We had 600 pounds of flower petals that rained on the crowds. This was about love. About colors. About the soul. But above all, it was about art. About instantaneous art, which I believe in. Art is everywhere.’

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