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The McCann Time Capsule: Carlos Cruz-Diez, Kinetic/Op Art Pioneer

The McCann Time Capsule: Carlos Cruz-Diez, Kinetic/Op Art Pioneer

Our “art director is one of the country’s best-known young artists, and winner of several exhibition prizes.” 

So wrote the manager of McCann Venezuela in a 1950 description of the 13-person Caracas agency, one in a series of internal newsletter stories designed to help all McCann employees “become better acquainted with their co-workers in other countries.”

Although not named, it’s very likely that the artist referred to was Carlos Cruz-Diez, the world-renowned Venezuelan-born artist who died this week at 95 years old in Paris, where he has lived for the last six decades.  As ARTnews noted this week, Cruz-Diez’s “multilayered, eye-popping works challenged conventional notions of perception, color, and light, helping to define what became known as Kinetic Art and Op Art.”

Cruz-Diez joined McCann Caracas in 1946, shortly after it was founded, and for a while pursued his twin careers. As his CV states, in 1947 he traveled to New York for an advertising training course, but also that year had his first solo exhibition at the Instituto Venezolano-Americano in Caracas. He stayed with McCann in that creative role until 1951, according to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Latin American and Caribbean Cultures.

McCann Venezuela itself had started as a one-person operation in December 1945 so Cruz-Diez was there in the earliest days. That agency became one of the pillars in McCann’s expansion throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, which had begun in 1935 in Argentina and Brazil, and then quickly expanded in the 1940s to include Puerto Rico (1942), Cuba and Colombia (both 1944), Chile and Venezuela (both 1945), and Uruguay and Peru (both 1946), and grew both by winning local and global accounts. By 1950, the Venezuelan agency’s list of clients had grown to include soft drinks, petroleum products, dentifrices, drug products, cosmetics, milk, maritime transportation, kitchen stoves, paints, pens, flashlight batteries, and gift articles. And the blue-chip list of international network clients it worked with included American Chicle, American Home Products, Bristol-Myers, International Harvester, Lehn & Fink, Smith Kline & French, Standard Oil/Esso, and Tampax.

Cruz-Diez, who moved permanently to Paris in 1960, rose to international prominence as an artist in 1965 when his work was included in “The Responsive Eye” exhibition at MOMA in New York, according to ARTnews. Responding to criticism of his work, ARTnews said that he explained the origins of his approach in a 2010 interview: 

“Painting bored me. So I started to do something else. What I tried to create is a dialectical relationship between the viewer and the work. When you’re in front of a Rembrandt, you see what Rembrandt created. With the kind of art that I [make], you see a situation—an instant. It constantly changes because light constantly changes.”

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