Crossing Boundaries, Crossing Disciplines

Garrido - Argentina - Stoppani by Copi
Drawing by Argentine writer, actor and cartoonist Copi in homage to his close friend Juan Stoppani -materials like this give as a hint of the links and the fruitful exchanges among these Argentine exiles in France.

My second interview during my stay in Buenos Aires was with Juan Stoppani, another relevant artist from the Instituto Di Tella who moved to Paris by the end of the sixties. As a member of Groupe TSE, created by Alfredo Arias, Stoppani started a career as a costume and stage designer. Throughout the seventies and the eighties, Stoppani continued to work in theater under the direction of Jean Louis Barrault, Jerôme Savary, Roland Petit, and Jorge Lavelli, among others. The curtain he designed for the play Le frigo by his close friend Copi, in 1984, attracted a great deal of interest.

After many decades of living abroad, Stoppani returned to Buenos Aires and lives now in a sort of Mundo Stoppani, an old beautiful house in the neighborhood of La Boca, fully renovated according to his personal style and peopled by works of art -all of them his own creations- dispersed in every single room, in every single wall.

In the past two decades, while continuing his work as a costume designer in Paris, Stoppani has become a more active figure within the local art scene in Buenos Aires, where he has consistently showed his most recent works at several galleries such as Galería del Infinito, Centro Cultural Recoleta, and Galería Alvaro Castagnino.

The years of interdisciplinary and collective work seem far behind, as well as the vanguard at the Di Tella. Notwithstanding, some of the interests that shaped Stoppani’s previous work seem to have pervaded his paintings and sculptures during the past two decades. Namely, the exploration on the female body, the utilization of inexpensive materials imitating those more refined, the references to fashion (shoes seem to be one of the artist’s most recurrent obsessions). Furthermore, the sense of humour that characterized Stoppani’s Di Tellean works continues to be a trademark of these playful, often ironic later creations.

From the 1990s onwards, Stoppani appears to have embraced more clearly the label of “pop lunfardo” employed by Pierre Restany to define the distinctiveness of the Argentine pop artists from the sixties. While “lunfardo” alludes to the popular dialect of the porteños, Stoppani revealed in a recent interview that his works intend to integrate “un punto de vista etnológico y urbano a la vez. En todo caso resumo en todas mis cosas la mayoría de las tradiciones del arte popular. Ya vengan de Africa, China, el imperio maya, azteca o inca.” The recurrent presence of forms and motifs indirectly reminiscent of various indigenous traditions seem to pursue that aim. However, Stoppani’s geometric faces and animals, as well as his decorative abstractions, do not allude to a single, specific ethnic tradition. His work stands as a series of recurrent elements pulled out from a singular, coherent world created by the artist. A world made of many colors, squares, rounds, and triangles, always infused with an omnipresent sense of humour.

Garrido - Argentina - 1986 espiando a la serpiente
Espiando a la serpiente, work from 1986.

Sitting on his sofa, surrounded by his paintings and sculptures, Stoppani shared with me his views about the Di Tella years, his life in Europe, and his relation with Alfredo Arias, especially regarding their recent collaboration in Patria Petrona at Fundación Proa, the exhibit I referred to in my last post. Here are some excerpts from the long interview I had with him.

Después de muchos años volvés a colaborar con Arias…

Yo siento un gran respeto por la obra de Alfredo. Desde los comienzos en Di Tella yo ya sabía que él quería hacer teatro. Hizo cerámica, hizo muchas cosas, pero siempre de alguna manera hacía teatro. Es un personaje del teatro, y a la vez es muy diferente de todos los otros directores que yo he conocido. Es uno de los raros que por ejemplo se preocupa por la ropa que la gente usa en escena. Cada vez que he trabajado para él como vestuarista, a comienzos de los años setenta, tuve críticas hermosas. Además es muy trabajador. Empezamos haciendo cerámica en el 63… Por eso para mí es natural trabajar con él.

Decías que a veces te ponés a pensar qué habría pasado si te hubieras quedado en la Argentina… ¿Tenés alguna respuesta?

Nos hubieran cortado la cabeza por alguna boludez. A mí me metieron preso dos veces, incluso tres. A Alfredo lo metieron preso conmigo. Por qué, no se entendía. Nosotros no hacíamos política. Estábamos marcados porque estábamos en el Di Tella. Pensaban que era un centro no sé de qué, de comunistas… Y al revés: éramos lo más superficial que podía haber en la tierra.

¿Puede que hubiera una persecución de género?

Sí. Era la religión contra todo. Contra la homosexualidad y contra toda esa vida que tenía que ver con una revolución sexual que estaba ocurriendo en todo el mundo. Nosotros nos confesamos homosexuales, Alfredo y yo. No teníamos ningún problema. Muchos otros sí, no lo dijeron o lo dijeron más tarde. Yo puedo decir que fui una loca del Di Tella y nunca me dio vergüenza. Y mirá que estuve cinco años en el liceo militar, al igual que Arias. De todos modos no era del Frente de Liberación Homosexual, con la banderita. Simplemente no tenía vergüenza de ver a alguien y decir “qué lindo hombre”. En el Di Tella lo podíamos hacer. Y con eso Romero Brest se supo manejar bien. No se metía para nada.

Arias dice que su interés por Petrona hizo que su madre notara sus inclinaciones hacia un universo considerado como femenino. El llevar tortas o muñecas enormes a las galerías ¿fue uno de los componentes de esa controversia que rodeó a algunos de los artistas del Di Tella?

Yo no hago nada para provocar a nadie. Lo hago para dar placer. Alfredo iba siempre camino al teatro. Pero respecto de mí mismo o incluso lo de Edgardo (Giménez), yo digo que no parábamos de hacer juguetes. Somos mas hacedores juguetes. Yo miro todo y les digo juguetes porque no los puedo mirar de otra forma… No es una escultura de la Louise Bourgeois.

Posted by Germán Garrido — PhD candidate in Spanish and Portuguese at NYU

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