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Refined Material:
Petroculture and Modernity in Venezuela

Venezuela’s turbulent twentieth century saw boom and bust as the former Spanish colony transformed into a major postwar cultural player. In this sweeping study of visual and material production, Sean Nesselrode Moncada explores the integral relationship between the global oil industry and the celebrated rise of geometric abstraction, kinetic art, and modern architecture in midcentury Venezuela. Oil provided the crucible for national reinvention, ushering in a period of dizzying optimism and bitter disillusion as artists, architects, graphic designers, activists, and critics sought to define the terms of modernity. A groundbreaking, transdisciplinary reevaluation of Venezuelan modernism, Refined Material reveals how the logic of refinement conditioned the terms of development and redefined our relationship to nature, matter, and one another. 

Published by University of California Press as part of the series Studies on Latin American and Latinx Art.

Recipient of the 2024 ALA
A–Arvey Foundation Book Award by the Association of Latin American Art, College Art Association.

“Refined Material is a groundbreaking study that situates Venezuela’s midcentury art and architecture in light of the modern nation-state’s myriad ties to petroleum extraction, processing, and petrodollars.” ⏤Rachel Price, Princeton University

“There is no study in the English language to date that analyzes and contextualizes petroculture in midcentury Venezuela, certainly not with the rigorous research and keen analysis of Refined Material. I would venture to say that there is no such book available in any language that so thoroughly contextualizes artistic production in Venezuela within this high-stakes historical moment and global economic interests.” ⏤Ana María Reyes, Boston University, author of The Politics of Taste: Beatriz González and Cold War Aesthetics

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