Cecilia Vicuña: “I have been hiding my paintings for almost 40 years”

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Cecilia Vicuña. "History of the Red Thread". 2017. Photo: AP Photo/Jens Meyer/TASS

At the opening of the Venice Biennale, Cecilia Vicuña was awarded the honorary Golden Lion, and in the autumn her exhibition will be held at the Tate Modern. We want to talk about her ephemeral sculptures, woolen thread installations, and paintings.

For 40 years, Cecilia Vicuña has been creating conceptual works that are inspired by ancient rituals and touch upon political, environmental, and gender differences. But her art has only recently gained international attention.

In 2017, she showed her performances and installations at Documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel. Her works have appeared in the collections of the Tate in London and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

And in 2019, her first major retrospective, “Cecilia Vicuña. It’s About to Happen”  took place at the Museum of Modern Art in North Miami. According to the artist the curators sought to present her work as a fusion of ecological, feminist, and immersive practices.

The work of Cecilia Vicuña from the very beginning was an interaction of fine art and poetry. But as it`s known, in the world of poetry there is no place for artists, and in the world of art – for poets. The first exhibition of the artist at the Museum of Fine Arts in Chile in 1971 was an artistic and poetic event but it went completely unnoticed in the art world.


Retrospective “Cecilia Vicuña. It’s About to Happen” at the Museum of Modern Art in North Miami.
Photo: Daniel Bock/Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami.

Most people have never seen Cecilia Vicuña’s paintings because she hid them for almost 40 years. As a teenager, she began to create whimsical abstract compositions that were designed to look like her future sculptures. The artist exhibited sculptures and paintings together, but the paintings were ignored, and she had to somehow survive.

After the military coup in Chile in 1973, life became very difficult, and there was no place in the world for these paintings. But in 2013, the British art historian Don Ades, a prominent expert on surrealist artists, accidentally found out that she had these paintings, and asked to show them to her.

Cecilia Vicuña. Portrait of Gabriela Mistral, Chilean writer and diplomat. 1979.
Photo: Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin

Then the work was exhibited in London and at Documenta 14 in 2017. Paintings by Cecilia Vicuña aroused great interest. The artist started painting again because it was a shame that so many of her works just ended up in a landfill.

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