In 1973, a military junta led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power from Chilean president Salvador Allende. Opposition parties were banned, thousands of dissidents were “disappeared,” and tens of thousands more were imprisoned, tortured and exiled.
All of this came as a shock to Alfredo Jaar. Born in Santiago, Jaar had been raised on the Caribbean island of Martinique but returned home with his family just a year before the coup. In college, he studied architecture but was disillusioned by the ugliness of government-sanctioned buildings. His hopes to study film were dashed when Pinochet closed Chile’s only film school.
So instead, Jaar began “Studies in Happiness” (1979-81), a conceptual art project for which he asked random passers-by whether they were happy — at the time, a risky, subversive question.
Today, Jaar is one of Latin America’s foremost contemporary artists, known for installations and public interventions that investigate war, corruption, social justice, media desensitization and the global balance of power.
The talk comes in conjunction with “In the Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations,” on view at WUSTL’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum through April 20. The exhibition features “May 1, 2011,” Jaar’s exploration of images and their absence in the post-9/11 war on terror.
Bunny and Charles Burson Visiting Lecture
“The Bunny and Charles Burson Visiting Lecture will have a tremendous impact on our students, providing meaningful opportunities to engage with some of the most influential artists from around the world,” said Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts.
“These distinguished practitioners are known for tackling the social and political issues of our time,” Colangelo added, “and their work will stimulate vital conversations focused on the impact of art, architecture, and design in addressing the future of our complex, rapidly changing environment.”
Colangelo notef that Bunny Burson is herself a widely exhibited printmaker known for addressing contemporary social and political issues. A native of Memphis, Tenn., she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Memphis College of Art in 1981 and a master’s in fine arts from the Sam Fox School in 2005.
“As an older student, I was aware of the importance of listening to the commentary and advice of my younger classmates,” Burson said. Conversely, “by sharing my own life experiences, I engaged them in conversation about the importance of understanding the social and political context in which they worked — hoping that awareness would impact their art and their lives.
“Charles and I are pleased that the school is bringing an artist of Alfredo Jaar’s stature to campus,” Burson added. “By providing access to him and to his work, this first lecture combines and reinforces that cross-generational and cross-disciplinary experience can inspire students to see their work as part of the larger national and global conversation.”
Now based in New York, Jaar has, over the last three decades, realized more than 60 interventions around the world. Subjects range from the Rwandan genocide and the export of industrial pollution to Brazilian mining practices and border tensions between Mexico and the United States.
Recent projects include “The Geometry of Conscience,” a memorial to victims of Pinochet’s regime, located next to Santiago’s new Museum of Memory and Human Rights; and the similarly elegiac “Park of the Laments,” adjacent to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Jaar has presented major exhibitions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, among many other venues. In 2012, a retrospective of his work took place at three institutions in Berlin: Berlinische Galerie, Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst e.V. and the Alte Nationalgalerie.
More than 50 monographs about Jaar’s work have been published to date. In 2013, he represented Chile at the 55th Venice Biennale.
Public Lecture Series
The Bunny and Charles Burson Visiting Lecture will begin at 6:30 p.m. in Steinberg Hall Auditorium. A reception for Jaar will precede the lecture, at 6 p.m., in the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
Steinberg Hall and the Kemper Art Museum are located adjacent to one another near the intersection of Skinker and Lindell boulevards. For more information, call 314-935-9300 or visit samfoxschool.wustl.edu.