In recent years scholars and the art viewing public have been increasingly aware of the need to look at art history more carefully, to examine and appreciate historical periods not with just a magnifying glass but a with a microscope. In their townhouse gallery on the Upper East Side, Colnaghi has on view an exhibition of Latin American art that embraces a broader view, spanning the relationship between Spain and the countries it began to colonise in the 16th century. While much of the work in Discovering Viceregal Latin American Treasures comes from the 17th and 18th centuries, the exhibition is peppered with context by pieces that were created hundreds of years before and after the Viceregal period.
A Pre-Columbian limestone carving of an angry, strong-jawed sun deity sits next to a delicate enconchado made around 1690. The enconchado, an oil-on-wood painting into which mother-of-pearl has been inlayed to give the work an other-worldly shimmer, especially when viewed by candlelight, shows the influence Oriental art had on Spanish viceroyalties and the lasting impression of the trade route that led from Japan and China to the Philippines to Mexico and finally to Spain. Across the room, a mid-century Modern painting of celebratory flags against an urban landscape by the Brazilian artist Alfredo Volpi made around 1970, plays with blocks of colour and rhythm. There is a lot of art history in that room, works having a conversation in a surprisingly natural way.
“It’s a time period that hasn’t had much attention, that hasn’t been considered much, especially in the United States. To activate and look at art across the times and see the way that threads are pulled is part of Colnaghi’s mission,” says LeeAna Wolfman, an associate director at the gallery.
Discovering Viceregal Latin American Treasures is the largest commercial exhibition of its kind to appear in the US, with some of the work being sourced over the past five years by Colnaghi and the gallery’s partner in the exhibition Jaime Eguiguren. The show is accompanied by a compressive, silk covered, illustrated catalogue that details the breadth of viceregal work, from enconchados to free standing sculptures to decorative folding screens that would have been used to hide an orchestra during a party in someone’s home.
The show originally opened on 2 June and was scheduled to end 10 September, but has been extended thanks to the amount of interest it has had from museum curators and collectors. Originally on view in both New York and London, it will now run though 22 October, with the addition of around 30 pieces, in the New York townhouse.
“As we march forward everything is becoming more and more about context, about the history and about the lineage of how we got here and how visual language is used,” says Lily Snyder, managing director of modern and contemporary art, “All of that has become so interesting for people, and this exhibition is just an incredible look into a specific moment.”