Grey Room

Toward a Reappraisal of Comparative Studies: The Case of South American Modernism

María Amalia García

View of the exhibition Arte moderno en Brasil (Modern art in Brazil), with works by Firmino Saldanha and Tarsilado Amaral, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, 1957. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes archive.


The comparative method is currently making a comeback in the literature on Latin American art: as a way to avoid a singular focus on local histories and as a response to the urgency of thinking globally in the field of contemporary art history. In addition, many curatorial practices use comparative strategies as a conceptual means of organizing exhibitions, even though the basic pattern of interrelation among artworks might not always be fully clear. A substantive reflection on what constitutes the core of a comparative method is needed to give this method a solid foundation and continuing effectiveness. Only a comparative analysis that considers its own shortcomings and its criticisms can function as the basis for a “thick description” of regional stories, as well as for a plural and open reading of their possible entanglement or interdependence. This article therefore reevaluates the appropriateness of a comparative methodology for the study of modernist art on the South American continent.