Antonio Caro (1950–2021)

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Antonio Caro, who was known as the father of Conceptualism in Colombia for his works placing iconic logos in the service of political and social commentary, died of heart failure in Bogotá on March 29 at the age of seventy-one. The news was announced by Bogotá’s Casas Riegner gallery, which represented him. Through a multivalent practice embracing painting, scultpture, xeroxing, public installations, lectures, posters, and materials, such as salt and achiote, relating to indigenous cultural practices, Caro critiqued commercialism in his home country, as well as political and corporate collusion.

Born in 1950 in Bogotá, where he would live all his life, Caro developed an interest in art in high school after seeing the exhibitions “Tribute by Colombian Artists to Dante” and “Espacios ambientales” (Environmental Spaces), both in 1966. After graduating, he enrolled in the fine arts program at the Universidad Nacional de Bogotá but dropped out and began making work under the mentorship of Bernardo Salcedo, whose work he had discovered at the Dante tribute. He began working with salt, notably creating Cabeza de Lleras (Head of Lleras), 1970, a bespectacled bust resembling former Colombian president Carlos Lleras Restrepo, out of the white crystals, exhibiting it inside a glass box within which it melted, sending salt water cascading onto the floor. That work and Sal (Salt), 1971, a text-based piece featuring the titular substance, were conceived as a salute to the workers in the salt mines of Zipaquirá.

Increasingly displeased with what he saw as rampant consumerism in his country imported from the US, he began his “Colombia-Marlboro” series in 1973, in which he variously replaced the cigarette maker’s logo with the word Colombia or with his own name. In 1976 he created what is perhaps his best-known series, “Coca-Cola/Colombia,” in which he presented the country’s name in the familiar looping script of the popular soft drink, typically in the red-and-white scheme characteristic of the brand, but in at least one instance in the colors of the Colombian flag.

Described by artist Luis Camnitzer—who included Caro’s work in the groundbreaking 1999 exhibition “Global Conceptualism” at the Queens Museum, New York—as a “visual guerrilla,” Caro worked steadily throughout the ensuing decades, his practice evolving around 1990 to incorporate public workshops, which became his primary focus later that decade and would remain so going forward. His work is widely held, including in the collections of the Queens Museum; Tate Modern, London; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin; and Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogotá.

“I have a secret weapon,” he told Bomb magazine in 2010. “The elements of my discourse are valid, real, and concrete in society, specifically in Colombian society. My work counts because the discourse that I use to disguise it as art is still valid without art. . . . The artistic value of my art,” he concluded “comes from outside of art.”

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