Juan Downey

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Juan Downey
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| birth_place = Santiago, Chilemf=yes6}}| death_place = New York, NY| nationality = Chilean| field = | training = Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile| movement = Video Art, Kinetic Art| works = | patrons = | influenced by =| influenced =| awards = }}Juan Downey (May 11, 1940 – June 9, 1993) was a Chilean artist who was a pioneer in the fields of video art and interactive art.

Early life and education

Downey was born in Santiago, Chile.Juan Downey, 53, A Pioneer Of Video as a Medium for Art - NYTimes.comBOOK, Juan Downey, Gabriela Rangel, Nohra Haime Gallery (New York, N.Y.), Juan Downey: drawings from Las Meninas, and The looking glass,weblink 2005, Nohra Haime Gallery, His father David Downey V. was a distinguished architect in Chile, and following in his father's footsteps Juan Downey studied and completed a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1964 from the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile.BOOK, Stanton Loomis Catlin, Terence Grieder, Art of Latin America Since Independence,weblink 1966, Yale University, BOOK, Biennial Exhibition,weblink 1987, Whitney Museum of American Art, In 1961, to further his studies and develop his artistic practice, Downey traveled to Europe. He spent a few months in Barcelona and Madrid, followed by Paris where he lived for a period of three years during which he studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter's legendary Atelier 17. During this time, he befriended the artists Eugenio Téllez, Roberto Matta, Julio Le Parc, and Takis.BOOK, Juan Downey: Chile : La Biennale di Venezia,weblink 2001, publisher not identified,weblink Thomas Riggs, Association of Hispanic Arts (New York, N.Y.), Association for Latin American Art, St. James Guide to Hispanic Artists: Profiles of Latino and Latin American Artists,weblink 2002, St. James Press, 978-1-55862-470-2, In 1965 Downey traveled to Washington DC at the invitation of The Organization of American States to have a solo show of his work.BOOK, Organization of American States, Contemporary Latin American Artists: Exhibitions at the Organization of American States 1965-1985,weblink 1993, Scarecrow Press, 978-0-8108-2644-1, It was there that Downey would meet his wife Marilys Belt.BOOK, Qué pasa,weblink 1986, Segunda Editorial Portada, He stayed in Washington for a couple of years before moving with his family to New York City in 1969. Downey was an associate professor of art at the Pratt Institute in New York from 1970 until 1993. He died in New York City on June 9, 1993 as a result of cancer.BOOK, Umbrella,weblink 1992, Umbrella Associates,


In New York City he would become involved with the groups Radical Software and Raindance collective, both early proponents of using video for artistic and political means.BOOK, A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1950-1975,weblink 31 March 2016, BRILL, 978-90-04-31050-6, 89–, Juan Downey - Exhibition at Tate Modern | TateBOOK, Johan Pijnappel, World wide video,weblink December 1993, Academy Editions, He is recognized as pioneer and early adopter of video art,BOOK, Linda Frye Burnham, High Performance,weblink 1987, Astro Artz, BOOK, Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll, Art in the Time of Colony,weblink 5 December 2016, Taylor & Francis, 978-1-351-95707-6, 208–, however, during his artistic career Downey created an extensive body of work that also includes electronic and video sculptures, photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, performance, installation and writing. Downey's drawings are especially remarkable and remained a constant practice for the artist.BOOK, Mari Carmen Ramírez, Edith A. Gibson, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, Re-aligning vision: alternative currents in South American drawing,weblink 1997, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, 978-0-935213-07-2, All of his major works were accompanied by drawings. They not only reflect his “sureness of hand” as the curators David Ross and James Harithas noted,(Juan Downey: With Energy Beyond These Walls, p. 329) but also his compelling ideas and visions, and reveal this sustained practice of drawing over a lifetime.The early period of Juan Downey's artistic practice consisted of painting, drawing, writing and printmaking. After moving to the United States in 1965, he began to experiment with numerous forms of art that included creating interactive electronic sculptures, performances, happenings, and in the late 1960s video art. He wrote, “The universe is not an assemblage of independent parts, but an overlapping, interrelated system of energy. All my work relates to this vision.”BOOK, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Ceremony of Spirit: Nature and Memory in Contemporary Latino Art,weblink 1993, Mexican Museum, 978-1-880508-02-2, These media permitted Downey to investigate ideas about invisible energy as well as invite for active participation of the viewers with his work.Two seminal series in Downey's career were Video Trans Americas, begun in 1971Social Media: Juan Downey’S Video Trans Americas |BOOK, Kathy Rae Huffman, Long Beach Museum of Art, Video: a retrospective : Long Beach Museum of Art, 1974-1984,weblink 1984, Long Beach Museum of Art, and The Thinking Eye, begun in mid-1970s. Video Trans Americas (V.T.A.) is often divided into two groups: the first group was developed between 1973 and 1976, and the second between 1976 and 1977. The two series stress his preoccupation with political discourse, the self, history of art, western civilization, and Latin American identity.


Solo exhibitions

Solo exhibitions featuring Juan Downey's work include:
  • Juan Downey: Audio-Kinetic Electronic Sculptures, The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, (1968);Project MUSE - Electronically Operated Audio-Kinetic Sculptures, 1968
  • With Energy Beyond These Walls, Howard Wise Gallery, New York, NY, (1970);BOOK, Arts Magazine,weblink March 1970, Art Digest Incorporated,
  • Video Trans Americas, Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, TX, (1976);BOOK, Emmis Communications, Texas Monthly,weblink August 1976, Emmis Communications, 20–, 0148-7736,
  • Juan Downey: Video Trans Americas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, (1976);BOOK, William Kaizen, Against Immediacy: Video Art and Media Populism,weblink 5 July 2016, Dartmouth College Press, 978-1-61168-946-4, 153–,
  • Video Trans Americas, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY (1977);
  • Juan Downey: New American Filmmaker Series, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (1978);BOOK, Whitney Museum of American Art, Bulletin of the Whitney Museum of American Art,weblink 1979, Whitney Museum of American Art.,
  • Juan Downey, Matrix/Berkeley 16, University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA (1978);BOOK, Juan Downey: University Art Museum, November-January 1978,weblink 1978, The Museum,
  • Une Forêt 'Videoformes': Retrospective Juan Downey, Festival de la Création Vidéo, Clermont-Ferrand, France (1993);BOOK, La Biennale di Venezia,weblink 2001, Premiato Stabilimento C. Ferrari,
  • Juan Downey: Instalaciones, Dibujos y Videos, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago (1995), Chile;BOOK, Juan Downey, Con energía más allá de estos muros,weblink 1998, IVAM Centre del Carme, Generalitat Valenciana, 978-84-482-1580-4,
  • Juan Downey: Con energía más allá de estos muros, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Centre del Carme, Valencia, Spain (1997–98);BOOK, Olvidando a Velázquez: Las Meninas : Barcelona, Museu Picasso, 15 de mayo-28 de septiembre de 2008,weblink 2008, Ajuntament de Barcelona, Institut de Cultura, 978-84-9850-089-9,
  • Retrospectiva de Video Arte de Juan Downey, Museo de Arte Moderno de Chiloé, Castro, Chiloé, Chile (2000);
  • Plateau of Humankind, Honorable Mention: “Excellence in Art Science and Technology,” 49th Venice Biennale Chilean Pavilion, Venice, Italy (2001);
  • Juan Downey: El ojo pensante, Sala de Arte Fundación Telefónica, Santiago, Chile (2010);
  • Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY (2011-2012)

Group exhibitions

His work was included in numerous group exhibitions including:
  • Some More Beginnings: An Exhibition of Submitted Works Involving Technical Materials and Processes, organized by Experiments in Art and Technology, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum, Brookly, NY and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1968);BOOK, Antonio Sergio Bessa, Beyond the Supersquare: Art and Architecture in Latin America After Modernism,weblink 2014, Fordham University Press, 978-0-8232-6079-9, 136–, BOOK, Brooklyn Museum (N.Y.), Museum of Modern Art (N.Y.), Some More Beginnings: An Exhibition of Submitted Works Involving Technical Materials and Processes Organized by Staff and Members of Experiments in Art and Technology,weblink 1968,
  • New Learning Spaces & Places, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (1974);
  • Whitney Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (1975, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991);Video Artist Juan Downey, 53 - tribunedigital-chicagotribune
  • Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany, (1977);
  • Venice Biennale, US Pavilion, Venice, Italy, (1980);
  • Sydney Biennale, Sydney, Australia, (1982);BOOK, Vision in Disbelief: The 4th Biennale of Sydney, 7th Apr.-23rd May 1982,weblink 1982, Biennale of Sydney,
  • II Bienal de La Habana, Havana, Cuba, (1986);
  • The Thinking Eye, International Center for Photography, New York, NY, (1987);
  • Passages de l’image, Musée national d'Art moderne- Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, (1990);
  • Video Art: The First 25 Years, The Museum of Modern Art, and The American Federation of Arts, New York, NY, (1995);
  • Info Art ’95, Kwangju Biennale, Kwangju, Korea, (1995);
  • Electronic Highways, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, (1997);
  • Rational/Irrational, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany, (2008-2009)
  • VIVA ART VIVA, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, (2017);WEB,weblink La Biennale di Venezia - Artists,, 2017-02-22, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 2017-06-29,

Selected works

Interactive art

  • Against Shadows, 1968, is an interactive artwork that uses a grid of photo sensors to translate shadow thrown by the human body to a matching grid of wall-mounted light bulbs.BOOK, Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise, Second Edition: Perspectives on Sound Art,weblink 29 January 2015, Bloomsbury Publishing, 978-1-62892-353-7, 313–, BOOK, Frank Popper, Art, Action and Participation,weblink 1975, Studio Vista, 978-0-8147-6563-0, BOOK, Shifra M. Goldman, Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the United States,weblink January 1994, University of Chicago Press, 978-0-226-30124-2, 361–, Juan Downey | Frieze
  • In Invisible Energy Dictates a Dance Concert, 1969-1970, readings taken by geiger counters are sent by walkie-talkies to dancers in different rooms of the gallery.BOOK, Salvatore Bizzarro, Historical Dictionary of Chile,weblink 20 April 2005, Scarecrow Press, 978-0-8108-6542-6, 230–,
  • Three-Way Communication by Light, 1972, used video, super 8 film and laser beams to join the actions of three performers painted in white face.BOOK, Arts/Canada,weblink 1973,
  • Plato Now, 1973

Performance art

  • Imperialistic Octopus, 197weblink
  • Energy Fields, 1972
  • Video Trans Americas Debriefing Pyramid, 1974

Video art

Early works

Video Trans Americas

The Video Trans Americas (V.T.A) Series was a video-installation composed of videos recorded with a Sony portapak during Downey’s travels from North to Central and South America between 1973 and 1976.BOOK, John Robshaw, John Robshaw Prints: Textiles, Block Printing, Global Inspiration, and Interiors,weblink 29 April 2014, Chronicle Books LLC, 978-1-4521-3949-4, 81–, MoMA | Juan Downey. Map of America. 1975 The first complete screening of the V.T.A video-installation was in the exhibition Landscape Studies in Video curated by David Ross at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 1975. The V.T.A video-installation in subsequent exhibitions at other museum institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art (1976) was exhibited differently. This was largely due to the spatial component entailed in the presentation of the work, a key concern for Downey, as well as his own artistic liberty to make changes or integrate other components in the installation. Therefore, there are a number of different versions in the way the V.T.A video installation was exhibited. The following videos were included in the installation:{{Citation needed|date=May 2017}}
  • Rumbo al Golfo, b/w, 27 min., 1973
  • Zapoteca, b/w, 27 min., 1973
  • Yucatán, 1973
  • Chile, color, 13 min., 1974
  • Guatemala, b/w, 27 min., 1973
  • New York/Texas I & II, b/w, 27 min., 2 channels, 1974
  • Nazca I & II, b/w 11 min., 2 channels, 1974
  • Lima/Machu Picchu, b/w, 27 min., 1975
  • Cuzco I & II, 1976
  • Inca I & II, 1976
  • Uros I & II, 1975
  • La Frontera I & II, 1976
Additional videos that are part of the V.T.A series:
  • Moving, b/w, 27 min., 1974
  • Publicness, b/w, 30 min., 1974
  • Central Zone, b/w, 27 min., 1975
  • Videodances, b/w, 30 min., 1975
  • Inca Split, 1976
  • Bi-Deo, 1976
  • In the Beginning, 1976
  • Guahibos, color, 26 min. 1976
  • Yanomami Healing I, b/w, 1977
  • Yanomami Healing II, b/w, 1977
  • The Circle of Fires, 1978 (video installation comes in 2 versions)The 2017 Venice Biennale's Neo-Shamanism | artnet Newsweblink
  • More Than Two, 1978 (installation)
  • The Abandoned Shabono, 197weblink
  • The Laughing Alligator, 197weblinkweblink
  • Chiloe, color, 18 min., 1981
  • Chicago Boys, color, 16 min., stereo, 1982–83
  • About Cages, 1986 (installation)
  • The Motherland, 1986
  • The Return of the Motherland, 1989

The Thinking Eye Series


Downey’s work can be found in private collections and in the collections of major museums. Selected museum collections include:


Downey was a Guggenheim fellow in the area of Fine Arts in 1971.John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Juan Downey

Selected bibliography

  • Valerie Smith, ed. Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect. Leipzig: MIT List Visual Art Center & The Bronx Museum, 2011.
  • González, Julieta, Nicolás Guagnini, Carla Macchiavello, and Valerie Smith. Juan Downey: el ojo pensante. Santiago: Fundación Telefónica, 2010.
  • Arévalo, Antonio, Marilys Belt de Downey, Juan Downey, José Goñi Carrasco, and Luisa Ulibarri Lorenzini. Juan Downey: La Biennale di Venezia, 49 Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte. Milan: Rodrigo Figueroa Schirmer, 2001.
  • Bonet, Eugeni, Douglas Davis, Juan Downey, Nuria Enguita, Coco Fusco, Juan Guardiola, John G. Hanhardt, James Harithas, and David Ross. Juan Downey: With Energy Beyond These Walls (Con energía más allá de estos muros). Valencia: Institut Valencià d’Art Modern and Centre del Carme, 1997-98.
  • Hanhardt, John G., and Ann D. Hoy. Juan Downey of Dream Into Study. Santiago: Editorial Lord Cochrane, 1987.


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