As well as being a writer, critic and curator, German-born Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer is one of the pioneers of Conceptual art and one of Latin America’s foremost artists of the post-war era.
Born in Lübeck in 1937, Camnitzer and his family fled Nazi Germany to settle in Uruguay in 1939. In 1964, he moved from Montevideo to New York originally as a printmaker and political caricaturist, but soon began to experiment with language as a medium and as a model. Text-based works such as This is a Mirror You Are a Written Sentence (1966) or the series Sentences (1966), which Camnitzer considers as his first Conceptual pieces, reflect upon the arbitrariness of meaning and explore issues around language also raised in the work of Conceptual artists like Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner.
Living Room: Model for an Environment (1968) best exemplifies Camnitzer’s exploration of the power of words as a means to define and produce space. Camnitzer first made a small-scale model for a living room that consists solely of the words for the objects that are found in that space. When closed Living Room appears as a thin cardboard folder or portfolio. However, once the flaps unfolded and tied together, it becomes an architectural model. A year later, Camnitzer realised a large-scale version of Living Room based on the original model in an installation at the Museo de Bellas Arte, Caracas. Photocopied words placed throughout the exhibition space marked the location of the real items that form the domestic environment of the living room. The use of linguistic denotation not only fostered the viewers’ imagination but also produced a spatial network of relationships that had a direct impact on their behaviour within the space. After having made Living Room, Camnitzer recalls that he “immediately discovered that logic taken to the extreme of its possibilities can lead us to something akin to magic, and that being in an architectural plan could cause a more profound experience that being in a real architectural space.”