JUAN DOWNEY

Born in Santiago de Chile (Chile), 1940
Very active in: 60s, 70s, 80s


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The Alchemist.
By Antonio Arevalo

Downey starts magnetically manipulating video images at the end of the sixties, at the same time as the massive launching of video equipment, although his work predates that.

At the beginning of 60's, in Paris, he connects with the kinetic-art promoters establishing an intimate relationship with them.

His constant query of the ''object of art'' brings him to privilege the process more than the objective result. Since his first sculpture and electronic projects Downey has let us perceive the invisible systems of energy, as well as the investigation of the different ways of transmission and communication. In 1965 he settles in the US where his art develops and queries the utopian visions of the architecture ideal, connecting it to a humanistic vision of the union between art and technology which was supported in this period by his New Yorker contemporaries of avant-guards.
His pieces of Performance Art would later be the central point of his work. He transforms the narrative order achieving a ''say what the images by themselves couldn't say''.
His electronic sculptures use circuits such as invisible energy transistors that need the viewer?s participation or at least their presence to work. His first solo exposition of electronic sculpture is in 1969 at The Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington D.C. first, and at the Howars Wise Gallery in New York later. He then starts to be seen as one of the first pioneers of video art and video installation together with Nam June Paik and Peter Campus.

With the series ''Video-Transamerica'' he shows different cultures of the Americas discovering a way of facing his own contradictions.
In 1973 after the military coup in Chile, his homeland, Downey suffers moments of restlessness, which do not interfere with his intense clearness and maturity. During this time the artist combines a huge gamma of technological expedients with his art, starting a symbolic trip through the territories of several native American tribes. He was widely renowned for evocating a visionary and world wide recognizable work, where he was combining autobiography and anthropology and, on the other hand, he was tensioning sociological and political aspects with the aesthetic. This is how he gets to live in the Amazon forest for one year with the Yanomami culture, the biggest and most primitive tribe existing. Downey enters in the daily ritual starting from his own culture shock. This is the weapon he will use and that will definitely mark him during all his artistic path. ''I've been devoured by nature myths and language structures (...) only then I turned creative and in multiple directions (...) and I converted in a true fruit of my land less intellectual and more poetic?.
He is an artist with a Latin American conscience who handles a not European intimacy, capable of sublimate an ethic language, who by stopping the menace of the new throws us in a hunt for knowledge about this cosmic helplessness.

Since his beginnings as an artist Juan Downey gives us a discourse totally contemporary, multidisciplinary and transcultural which defines him as an important artist, promoter of vanguard artistic development of 20th century. We are looking at an artist who formulates the model of a cultural attitude, memory of an exile; let me clarify this, an exile not reducible to some contingency, ethic and essential to get through the world contemporary art scene.
Juan Downey studied design at the Pratt Institute, New York; later he was teacher at the same institute, until his death in 1993. He was part of the group Perception, to the review Radical Software and he had a contract with the gallery Leo Castelli. Juan Downey obtained more than 30 grants, receiving twice the Guggenheim, the Rockefeller and the OEA. He had more than 46 solo expositions and participated in more than a hundred group expositions in very important galleries and museums.
After his death the installation About Cages, was presented at the Venice Biennale in 2001, and obtained an honourable mention.

Antonio Arévalo Poet and curator Roma July 2007

Copies of the works of Juan Downey can be purchased and rented for exhibition in EAI, Montevideo, VDB