• Phases of Happiness—Chilean Art ca. 1980
    Edward A. Vazquez

Alfredo Jaar, Public Interventions (Studies on Happiness: 1979–81), 1981. Courtesy of the artist.

Between 1979 and 1981, a young artist and architecture school dropout named Alfredo Jaar asked Chileans a question: “Are you happy?” Including private interviews, sidewalk polls, and video-recorded forums, among other interventions, Jaar’s two-year and seven-phase project, Studies on Happiness, addressed a country in transition, as a newly adopted constitution remade Chile through privatization. Jaar’s first major artwork, Studies on Happiness is imprecisely discussed in the literature and rarely mentioned in studies of Chilean art after 1973. This research contextualizes Jaar’s Studies on Happiness within his early production and places his practice within the Chilean art world. The work’s marginality is a strength—its minor status in the period and in Jaar’s oeuvre allow it an historical freedom in engaging Chilean culture under Augusto Pinochet and provides a wedge to realign current interpretations of Chilean art and hemispheric conceptualism with the openness central to Jaar’s project.

Edward A. Vazquez is associate professor in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Middlebury College. A scholar of modern and contemporary art, he is principally interested in the terms of artistic materiality and everyday processes of art making in the wake of conceptual art in Europe and the Americas. He is the author of Aspects: Fred Sandback’s Sculpture (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and his writings have appeared in Art Journal, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics,, and in edited volumes and exhibition catalogues. In addition to various grants from Middlebury, Vazquez’s work has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Henry Moore Institute.