Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Latin American Art:From Ghetto to Global Stage

Adios, ghetto! Latin American art is finally a prime-time player in the Brave New Digital World.

“We have passed through some kind of threshold culturally in which artists of Latin America or Latin origins are no longer reduced to as much homogenizing,” says Olga Viso, director of Walker Art Center, via e-mail. “More complex and nuanced interpretations…now seem to have more mainstream appeal.” But, she adds, “it feels like it has been a brutally long haul and that there is still a long way to go despite recent progress.”

The boldness of Latin American art was once crammed into a ghetto-like niche where people babbled about “art of the fantastic.” It was a North American and Euro-centric place. Art historians thought gringos knew best.

“This prejudiced and limited understanding of the art of the region wipes out most of the diverse and complex art production in the continent since the beginning of the 20th Century, including abstract geometry and conceptual art,” says Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, chief curator of Museum of Latin American Art , via e-mail.

Gringos missed symbols animating grids in forward-minded Constructivist paintings of Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949). Born in Uruguay, he fused pre-Columbian art with major 20th Century forms: a brilliant synthesis of Old and New Worlds. In Miami ’s Wynwood Arts District, find his painting at Sammer Gallery. You can also see his art in “Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s -50s,” now at the Newark Museum. Though a recessionary sea change shrinks world economies and transforms journalism, pioneering artists and curators offer new perspectives. Latin American artists, curators, and scholars reveal diverse ways to interact with the 21st Century global stage.

Miami has a front-row seat to this performance. “America has become the first universal nation on this planet,” Robert Farris Thompson, noted scholar on the African diaspora, once told me. “Particularly in Miami. Miami is teaching the world what it will be like to live in the 21st Century.”

He cited diversity in art by José Bedia, one of Miami ’s famed artists. “Bedia’s right at the forefront of contemporary art and culture…José is teaching us how to move into this multi-ethnic situation. He is at the very least trilingual.” Miami is more than the multilingual city vexing to the rest of the country for its flow of immigrants and proximity to troubled Caribbean, Central and South American countries . This is true despite corrupt politics—hence sly jokes about the city’s “Cuban mafia”—and vulnerable location during hurricane season.

This cultural mix—with vibrant ties to Latin America as well as the Caribbean —has much to show the world. Miami ’s cultural connections, in a word, rock!

“If you look at exhibitions that have dealt with Latin American artists, it’s as if the Caribbean is not part of Latin America,” says Elizabeth Cerejido, artist and curator from Miami who’s seen art in Cuba and Haiti. “We don’t hear a lot about artists who are coming out of Santo Domingo or Haiti, or even Jamaica. Or how the Caribbean affects countries in Latin America."

The Caribbean has often been ignored by art history, just as Latin America was. In Miami , their cultures converge.

In 2009, Cerejido left her home in Little Haiti for Texas. Now assistant curator of Latino and Latin American art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, she told me, “I will be working very closely with Mari Carmen Ramírez, who has single-handedly built the Latin American collection there.” Ramírez has long defied those limiting, “fantastic” views of Latin American art.

In so many ways, the global promise of Latin American art can be clearly seen in Miami.

Miami Art Museum presents “Carlos Cruz Diéz: The Embodied Experience of Color.” Put together by MAM adjunct curator Rina Carvajal, the exhibition looks at Cruz Diéz with new eyes. At long last, this exhibit concentrates on the artist’s early experimentation with color and sensory environments. It highlights his contributions to interactive concerns so vital to artists today. One of Venezuela’s most revered artists, Cruz Diéz has long lived in Paris, and is best known in Europe and Latin America for his pioneering art in the 1960s and 1970s.

A curator for the São Paulo Biennial, Carvajal says, “I think we are in a very different moment.” In this game-changing moment, Latin American artists now show their work everywhere, part of a broad, international art network.

Will Miami soon play a much grander role in that network? Don’t hold your breath. Missed opportunities litter our landscape.


  1. Miami has always and will be an art capital for Latin America and the Caribbean. Edge Zones has always been a platform for exhibiting emerging Caribbean artists. Although we do not intent on being a ghetto, we still bring the Caribbean into the Miami mix. Nevertheless, Miami in general is not aware of its full potential as the center and how it can play more of a leadership role by creating opportunities for art professionals from these countries to meet and discuss future possibilities here in Miami. Its time that people in power in Miami become aware of this and fund projects which seek to create this opportunities.

  2. I think the issue at stake is that of equality. not only in a socio-political context but also in terms of forms and discourses.
    We are seeing boundaries becoming obsolete in abstract painting-figurative painting, performance and painting, sculpture and design, to name a few... The problem of equality is that of addressing all issues and all components with equal focus. Rather than a democratic approach, democracy implies conflict while equality in some way levels all down to a place where all factors hold the same weight. Henceforth conflict is addressed not as separation but as an a-priori factor in the relationships. From here, you will consider, North or Latin American discourses, Asian etc, as equally valid, equally different, equally relevant, contamination being a MAJOR player. Latin American artists, Asian artists, African artists, etc, are labels that at some point worked to try to determine certain interests, approaches, political positions in relationship to the perceived centers of culture. Right now identities are in crisis, and boundaries obsolete thanks to major factors in the distribution of information. While is important to protect the individuality of diverse cultural strata, it is also somehow imperative to abolish critical cliches and market-driven comfortable niches in order to move forward.
    From the vantage point of equality, all variables are viable, all doors remain open, all questions alive. Segregation, division, separation all fail to address the flux of information that makes different arenas permeable and 'impure'. A condition very clear today.