At the last gasp of the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the Western hemisphere, "Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century" arrives in New York this month. Having commenced in Seville, moved to Paris (The Art Newspaper, No. 24, November 1992, p.14), and subsequently Cologne, the show runs until 7 November at MOMA.
The exhibition is the largest show of modern Latin American art to be presented in the United States. Its organiser, Waldo P. Rasmussen, who directs the International Program of the Museum of Modern Art, says the exhibition seeks to correct some of the injustices that Latin American artists have suffered in this century. The principal injustice, Rasmussen says, has been the lapse of a half-century since the Museum of Modern Art presented its last retrospective of Latin American art. Another has been the straitjacketing of Latin American artists into "contexts". "I haven't been interested in imposing any concept on the show. I have tried to deal with the work based on what the art is, rather than deciding that the most interesting art looks exotic, that it's surreal or that it's political. I'm not assuming that there is a simple Latin American identity that's shared by all these artists" says Rasmussen. Critics however have their doubts about the show's conception. The artists selected represent the status quo, they say, and countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador have been ignored, as have many young Cuban painters whose works have been shown widely in Mexico City and Miami. Rasmussen responds that he has not intended to represent countries, but artists. Other critics think that the show's reluctance to examine the various contexts for Latin American art is simply the lack of any organisational vision. This is the first exhibition Rasmussen has curated for MOMA. He is not a curator at the museum, nor is he part of the Department of Painting and Sculpture. Rasmussen's International Program organises special exhibitions outside the United States. Now, however, Rasmussen seeks to reach what he calls the growing public for Latin American art in the United States itself. "Our whole country is becoming aware that Latin America is within our borders, not just outside it", he said, "the Hispanic public in this city should be encouraged to see the show, it's part of their heritage". In France, the show's organisers did not make that kind of direct overture to Paris's large Spanish and Portuguese-speaking populations. Moreover, Latin Americans who attended a symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition at the Pompidou Centre were shocked to find that the event was conducted only in English and French.
The exhibition in New York will contain one hundred fewer works than in Seville, plus some special works that MOMA was able to borrow for the New York venue. Among them are two Frida Kahlo paintings from the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, as well as works from the MOMA collection that the museum considered too fragile to travel: Diego Rivera's Zapata fresco; Rivera's "Flower Festival"; Orozco's "Divebomber Tank" fresco; "The Jungle" by Wifredo Lam; and others. However, pictures loaned to Paris by the Rivera collector Dolores Olmedo will not be coming to New York. Rasmussen says Olmedo has given no explanation why she will not let the pictures to go MOMA. Other lenders may have similar misgivings, since vandals slashed several paintings just before the Paris show closed. At least one of those works, Francisco Toledo's "Woman persecuted by fishes" has been withdrawn from the exhibition. Ironically, Toledo had refused to lend any works from his own collection to the show, for fear that they might be damaged. The vandalised painting came from the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Reaching out to the Hispanics within'