Latin American art has often been overlooked within the dominant historical narratives of modern and contemporary art, but the tide is gradually shifting. While Latin American avant-gardes in the twentieth century have historically been depicted as merely derivative of European modernist movements, this does not account for the radical experimentation and specific contexts that exist within Latin America. As active participants in global art networks, Latin American artists have founded innovative movements and experimented with new media, while also responding to specific circumstances of their regions.
The recognition of Latin American art within the mainstream art world has been steadily increasing over the past several years. Many major U.S. museums have recently organized significant exhibitions of modern and contemporary Latin American art, which have included both historically overlooked moments and artists, as well as contemporary practices.
In 2014 and 2015, the Guggenheim in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston both held exhibitions of contemporary Latin American art, featuring work in diverse media that included video, installation, and performance. The Museum of Modern Art’s Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980 in 2015 traced several decades of modern architecture in the region, and last year MoMA announced a major acquisition of over 100 works by Latin American artists, gifted by the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. This year, large exhibitions of Mexican modernism were shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Dallas Museum of Art. While these shows highlighted works by the most famous figures of this movement, they also featured works by lesser known artists, creating a more comprehensive history of this moment in Mexican art.
Additionally, the second iteration of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time initiative, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA focuses on Latin American and Latinx art and connections to Southern California. The program includes over seventy exhibitions, on view throughout Los Angeles and Southern California for five months ending in January 2018, with extensive concentrations and themes — from Mesoamerican to colonial to contemporary art, from craft to architecture to film, from historical revolutions to mid-century activism to contemporary political conversations. Overall, this ambitious initiative critically contributes to the recognition of Latin American art, while also serving as a reminder that there are still more historical moments and contemporary practices to be explored.
Within the art world, the market has also picked up on the expanding awareness of this genre. In 2016, Christie’s set the record for the most expensive work sold at auction by a Latin American artist for Frida Kahlo’s Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma). This November, Sotheby’s is incorporating Latin American artists into their contemporary sales in addition to their Latin America: Modern Art sale, reflecting a broader interest in the category.
Several upcoming auctions taking place this fall include works by important Latin American artists, many of whom are featured in PST: LA/LA and other recent exhibitions. A sample of these pieces is highlighted below.
Lygia Pape (1927-2004) was a central figure in the avant-garde movements Grupo Frente and Neoconcretism, which were active in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s and 1960s and included seminal figures such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica. Grupo Frente artists used simple geometric shapes to create dynamic, abstract works that focused on optical effects. In 1959, several artists from this group founded the Neoconcrete movement, which rejected the notion of artworks as passive, static objects, instead emphasizing sensual experiences and demanding the participation of the viewer. This print from Pape’s Tecelares series comes from a pivotal period in the artist’s career, when she was shifting toward Neoconcrete ideas and exploring ambiguity within the picture plane. Several other prints from this series were featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s major exhibition of Pape’s work earlier this year, and the Getty currently has an exhibition of Concrete and Neoconcrete art as past of PST: LA/LA.
Jesús Rafael Soto
Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto (born 1932, Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela; died 2005, Paris, France) was a pioneering figure of optical and kinetic art. He began his career as a painter and developed interests in the works of Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, whose interest in dynamic musical rhythms he shared. Soto’s early striped paintings gave way to three-dimensional works that emphasize motion, like this piece. As the viewer moves in front of the work, the thin metal bar interacts with the painted planes of grey, black, white, and stripes to create a dynamic optical effect. Soto later took his interest in movement and viewer participation further, creating immersive installations called Penetrables which have recently been shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
Mendieta (born 1948, Havana, Cuba; died 1985, New York City) was sent to the United States by her family when she was 13 and spent her teenage years in orphanages in Iowa. In 1972, she completed a BA and an MA in painting at the University of Iowa then enrolled in the university’s new, innovative “intermedia” MFA program. This piece comes from a pivotal year in her career, when she began inserting her body directly into her art. In these photographs, Mendieta presses body parts against a glass plate, manipulating her body into bizarre contortions. These experiments would lead to Mendieta’s performance and body art, such as the Silhuetas of 1973, and her use of organic materials such as blood, dirt, and fire in provocative works that address feminist themes such as violence against women and gender stereotypes. Mendieta’s work, including a photographic piece similar to this one, is featured in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 at the Hammer Museum as part of PST: LA/LA.
Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco’s (born 1962, Xalapa, Mexico; lives and works in Mexico City, New York City, and Paris) conceptual practice incorporates photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, and installation. He explores everyday objects, materials, and situations that are often overlooked, altering them to create surprising and humorous circumstances. In this piece, Orozco deconstructs and reconstructs a commercial phone book, transforming this mundane object into a geometric layering of materials. From the late 1980s to early 1990s, Orozco led a workshop for artistic exchange and production in Mexico City called Taller de los Viernes, along with Abraham Cruzvillegas, Damián Ortega, Gabriel Kuri, and Dr. Lakra. Orozco has had solo exhibitions at MoMA, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and more recently at the Aspen Art Museum.
Doris Salcedo (born 1958, Bogotá, Colombia; lives and works in Bogotá) presents sculptures and installations that explore loss, absence, and trauma, particularly as related to victims of political violence whom she interviewed throughout her career. This work comes from a series of sculptures that spanned nearly twenty years of Salcedo’s career, in which she filled domestic furniture with concrete. With the furniture rendered useless and hauntingly solid, the sculptures evoke the disruption of daily life caused by repressive and violent politics. Salcedo was the subject of a major solo exhibition in 2015 organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, which also traveled to the Guggenheim in New York and the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Her sculptures were recently featured in Home—So Different, So Appealing, one of LACMA’s exhibitions for PST: LA/LA.
Interested in exploring more? Below is a list of recommended Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibitions in modern and contemporary art:
- Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, Hammer Museum
- Photography in Argentina, 1850-2010: Continuity and Contradiction, The Getty Museum
- Making Art Concrete: Works from Argentina and Brazil in the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, The Getty Museum
- Anna Maria Maiolino, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles
- Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985, Los Angeles County Museum of Art