The Heart of Latin Art

By Goodale, Gloria | The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Heart of Latin Art


Goodale, Gloria, The Christian Science Monitor


Latin American art is hot. Just ask the enthusiastic patrons of the Bowers Museum. Tucked away 30 minutes south of Los Angeles, this medium-sized art center has managed to make a name for itself bringing shows that say something about where the public's cultural heart is headed. And these days, increasingly, that is toward creativity from south of the US border.

"This is a story of growing social, political, and economic awareness between the world's remaining superpower and its intimate neighbors," says Richard Townsend, director of the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in nearby Long Beach, "one that is being told through the language of art." The twin shows at the Bowers (LATITUDES: Latin American Masters from the FEMSA Collection and "The Baroque World of Fernando Botero"), are part of what curators and critics from all over the hemisphere are calling an important flowering of interest in art from Chile to Puerto Rico, Cuba to Colombia.

"There appears to be an unprecedented number of major shows about Latin American artists right now," says Ramon Cernuda, owner of Cernuda Arte in Coral Gables, Fla. Latin American art is showing from coast to coast: Florida's Naples Museum of Art ("Latin American Painting Now"); Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Conn., ("Ajiaco: Stirrings of the Cuban Soul," "Ancestors of the Passage"); University of California, Berkeley, Art Museum (Fernando Botero's controversial Abu Ghraib works); Indianapolis Museum of Art ("Sacred Spain: Art & Belief in the Spanish World"); and The Menil Collection in Houston ("Joaquin Torres-Garcia: Constructing Abstraction with Wood").

Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 through Oct. 15) has helped promote interest. But as numerous culture watchers observe, the story is much deeper than that. As Mr. Townsend points out, the market began to take off in the 1980s, when prices for many big names, such as Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and fellow Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, began to soar.

Now, social and economic pressures are pushing the US and Latin American countries ever closer, says Lyman Allyn guest curator Gail Gelburd. "The shifting demographics of today are making it more important than ever that we find ways to understand other cultures, and art is a vital tool for that," she adds.

As cultures grow increasingly global, artists are reaching across boundaries to frame the global human experience for all nations. Witness Colombian Fernando Botero's response to news of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. "This generation will understand the Abu Ghraib reference," says Berkeley curator Lucinda Barnes, "but this art transcends this moment and place to become timeless works for all people...."

This wealth of imagery paints a vivid picture of where Latin American art has come and where it is headed. The survey of Latin masters at the Bowers includes Cubism, portraiture, landscapes, muralism, Surrealism, and Abstraction with such artists as Frida Kahlo, Wilfredo Lam, Roberto Matta, Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jesus Soto, and Rufino Tamayo.

"Latin America is the only continent in the world where you have a fusion of cultures in the most radical manner," says curator at- large Gregorio Luke, who lectures about Latin American art around the world.

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