Iván Navarro’s work reflects the social and political turbulence that he experienced growing up in Chile during the brutal regime of dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
Early Life and Education
Iván Navarro was born in Santiago, Chile in 1972, just a year before Pinochet took over the government and administered harsh punishment to political dissidents, resulting in Navarro’s constant fear of being “disappeared.” Navarro’s parents came from working class families and were the first of their families to attend university. His father was director of the graphic design department at Universidad Tecnica del Estado in Santiago when the coup took place.
Based on entrance exams that students were required to take to attend university, Navarro was accepted only to the art school at the Catholic University of Santiago, where his older brother, Mario, was a student. Navarro was disappointed with this, his only option, because he was interested in carpentry and set design and not the fine and visual arts that the Catholic University offered. He planned on spending six months to a year at the school, then retaking the exams and transferring to another school.
What he learned, during his first year, was that visual arts was not limited to just painting, and that he could work in many medium and use his design skills. He found that he enjoyed the school, and remained there for his entire university career.
A major influence on Navarro was Chilean artist Eugenio Dittborn. Navarro began working as Dittborn’s assistant during his junior year and then became his student when Dittborn was invited to teach at the university. One of the assignments that Dittborn gave to his students, was to think about what they could create in a room without bringing in any outside materials. That assignment was the catalyst for Navarro’s use of lights and electricity, all that was available in the room.
Career and Personal Life
After graduating from the university in 1995 with a BFA, Navarro moved to the United States and set up a studio in Brooklyn. He uses neon lights and mirrors to construct works that reflect the political unrest that was so pervasive in his homeland and that still exists around the world today. Navarro’s minimalist sculptures and designs are often based, and pay homage to, artists whose work he admires.
His neon Red and Blue Electric Chair sculpture is a nod to Gerrit Rietveld’s Red and Blue Chair from 1918 that was part of the De Stijl Dutch art movement that reduced objects to their simplest form. Navarro sends his messages of protest in both sculpture and print, using Snellen eye charts…which test one’s ability to see clearly. He has collaborated with the Polígrafa print shop in Barcelona, which was founded in 1964, and used by such influential 2oth century artists as Joan Miró, Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell, John Cage and Ed Ruscha. Navarro lives and collaborates with sculptor Courtney Smith at their Brooklyn studio.
He represented Chile at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. Navarro’s works are in the permanent collections of major museums and galleries around the world, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Guggenheim in Museum, New York, the Fonds National d’Art Contemporain in Paris, the Caldic Collection in Rotterdam, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and the Saatchi Collection in London.