“It’s a very simple phrase, but [coming] from a choreographer, it makes a lot of sense,” Kuitca says. Brushstrokes made in tandem with the movement, he found, created faceted marks harking back to cubism. As he experimented, he discovered that, depending on how he played with the shadows, the marks could also look like slashes, which alluded to the Argentine painter Lucio Fontana, though he says no nationalism was intended. “I thought, Okay, this is funny,” he recalls.
As a young man, Kuitca made the very conscious decision to stay in Buenos Aires but not to be classified as a Latin American artist. Under those circumstances, his ascendance is all the more noteworthy. Kuitca’s distance from contemporary art hot spots like New York, London and Berlin has not always been easy for him. It wasn’t the Chelsea openings and parties that he missed, nor did he have trouble finding a dealer—he has long been represented by Sperone Westwater in New York and Hauser & Wirth in London, both prestigious galleries—but he did yearn for a simple collegiality. “I thought that my life was a limbo,” Kuitca says. “I mean, I live here, [but] my work was never shown here, never sold here, and I lost contact with my colleagues here. I needed to create something that would somehow put me back in contact with other artists.” In 1991 he founded the Studio Program for the Visual Arts, colloquially called the Kuitca Fellowship, for 20 young artists. He’d wanted to operate the workshop through an art school, but since he’d never attended one himself—the Buenos Aires options were far too traditional, particularly in his day—he was deemed unqualified to teach. Instead, he teamed with a local foundation. The fellowship, for which Kuitca typically spends one day a week in a workshop setting with the artists, now attracts hundreds of applicants from Argentina.
He has also taught in the U.S. at Skowhegan, where no one seemed to mind that he has no degree. Linda Earle, Skowhegan’s former executive director of programming, describes Kuitca as both a rigorous and open-minded teacher who helped students shake free from their entanglement with theory. “He has a kind of ironic distance from it, a sense of humor about some of it, that was very refreshing,” Earle says. “Theory can be inhibiting. He also wasn’t as interested in autobiography. He starts out with the object and talks from there.”
Kuitca was a gentle critic, by Earle’s recollection, which doesn’t come as a surprise, considering how he talks about friends occasionally dropping by his studio. “I know by their faces whether they like a work or not, and I will get moody because I didn’t get the approval I was looking for. I mean, I can’t take rejection, because it’s not human,” he admits good-humoredly. In words that would shock some of his provocateur peers, he adds, “Indifference is fine.”