Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Exhibiting Identity: Latin America between the Imaginary and the Real

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Exhibiting Identity: Latin America between the Imaginary and the Real

Article excerpt

The place where art is exhibited affects the perception of an artwork as it implicitly speaks about who selects and supports the display. The exhibition space can legitimize or discredit the artifacts it is exhibiting; it can establish or deny their artistic value. In this sense, it is a constitutive part of the artistic process itself.

Today it is still common to associate the exhibition of Latin American art in the U.S. with political intrigue. What has been lost, however, is the ways in which this perception is bound to how Latin American art was introduced in the United States, and the politics of place - imaginary and institutional - that introduction involved. Latin American art appeared in the U.S. in the twentieth century in universities and museums, but when various political organizations - the Office of the Coordinator of Inter American Affairs (OCIAA); the Organization of American States (OAS); and, especially, the Center for Inter-American Relations (CIAR) - made use of it for political aims, they ended up discrediting its aesthetic value. These organizations did so primarily in relying upon and promoting a fixed imaginary place of the region rooted in a pre-Columbian past. Throughout the twentieth century, and particularly in the 1960s and '70s, this vision clashed with the changing reality: the growing political, economic, and social struggles in the region, between the U.S. and Latin America, and within the U.S. as immigration from Latin America increased. A mythical place promoted by the exhibition of lyrical abstraction most often resulted in a frozen image, one unable to encompass and speak to the changing developments of the region. Institutions such as CIAR promoted a visual art that created an imagined Latin America detached from its artists, regional and international politics, and the Latin American community in the U.S.

Mexican artworks were the first objects from Latin America that received attention in the U.S. In the mid 1920s, reviews in American an magazines such, as The Art News and The Art Digest reported that in Mexico a new School of Painting had been born along with the National Revolution. Leading American art institutions stimulated that interest through continual exhibitions. MoMA, in particular, played a large role in promoting Mexican art because of the personal interests of the Rockefeller family. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, founder of the museum along with two friends, donated an extensive collection of paintings, drawings and prints by Diego Rivera. In 1931, MoMA offered Rivera a solo exhibition, the first for a Latin American artist (and only the second solo exhibit in the history of the museum), which started a long-lasting, if contentious, relationship between the artist and the Rockefeller family.

Most of the artworks shown in the U.S. pictured the history of Mexico, the political vindications of the Mexican Revolution, along with the harsh rural life of their inhabitants. Some artists, like Rivera, incorporated characteristic features of popular crafts into their paintings - like plain colors and simple design - in order to favor better communication with large audiences and to modernize the style. These features gave the paintings a distinct visual configuration; they were inextricably linked to the typical life and customs of Mexico. These pictures became the first artworks in the U.S. to be understood as truly authentic representatives of a Latin American nation. Along with the stories and descriptions brought by the first American travelers regarding the backwardness of life in the region, (1) they created an imaginary place, untouched by modern progress, only inhabited by indigenous people that based their sustenance on traditional agricultural activities: an image that has been pervasive throughout the 20th century.

Murals became the most notorious medium of Mexican art. Many Mexican modernists chose this technique as the best one to reach more people because of a mural's public location. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.