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Why Latin America is hotter than ever

How a group of curators, collectors and scholars put a continent on the art-world map

Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco’s Cats and Watermelons, 1992. Photo: © 2010 Gabriel Orozco

The growing interest in Latin American Art over the last decade has been impossible to miss. Among recent initiatives to propel Latin American artists into the mainstream is the Guggenheim’s UBS MAP Global Art Initiative which focuses on three regions—South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa—which started its Latin America phase this year. The deputy director of the Guggenheim, Nancy Spector, says: “Our sponsor [UBS] approached us to create an initiative that would allow us to research areas that are under-represented in our collection. We did not want to do ‘helicopter curating’, where one of us arrives and does quick research without any expertise on the art. We wanted to create a dialogue with the region, build networks with institutions, collectives, archives and curators.”

In August, the Mexican-born curator, Pablo León de la Barra, was appointed as the Guggenheim’s UBS MAP curator, Latin America, for a two-year curatorial residency. He will work with the museum’s curators to identify works that reflect the region’s most significant ideas and practices.

“The idea is that [the curator] buys a certain critical mass of work that will enter the collection,” Spector says. “The other curators [and I] are meeting regularly with [de la Barra], working with him on honing down a list. That exchange is really important because we have a fully integrated collection, we don’t have departments devoted to regions and we want works that can live on in the collection.

“We will organise a travelling exhibition which will support their thesis on how to best represent the region. But all the works acquired will not necessarily be in the exhibition.”

The show is still in the very early planning stages, Spector says, “although the initiative is really about younger artists, I know that [de la Barra] is interested in the precursors to the very contemporary moment and he could connect some dots with our own collection. He is also thinking about works that comment on the phenomenon of Latin America, how it is perceived inside and outside.” The exhibition will travel to a city in Latin America, then a city in Europe, and includes “a very ­robust educational budget” for the venues to create educational programmes that are tailored to their audiences.

This is a very new area of development for the Guggenheim. Spector says: “The engagement [with Latin America] has been sporadic at best, unfortunately. There was a time, in 1964, when our then-­director Thomas Messer conducted a great deal of research and [staged] an exhibition called ‘The Emergent Decade: Latin American Painters and Painting in the 1960s’. He made acquisitions at the time, but that was the last fully funded attempt to understand the art coming from that part of the world.”

Since the early 2000s, at least six similar projects have developed special funding dedicated to supporting Latin American Art in major museums in the US and Europe.

The first Latin American art ­patrons group in a US museum, the Latin Maecenas, was founded in 2001 to support the Latin American art department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and its research institute, the International Center for the Arts of the Americas, both led by the museum’s curator of ­Latin American art, Mari Carmen Ramírez, a pioneer in promoting Modernist and avant-garde art from Latin America. As well as amassing one of the largest Latin American art collections (more than 400 Modern and contemporary works in the first ten years), a rigorous publishing programme and many research-based exhibitions, the institute has recently launched a monumental digital archive, Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art, the product of a ten-year-long project that provides free access to primary sources and documents, and is due to be published as a 13-volume book series.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern do not have separate art departments but have term-based curatorial posts for Latin American art. Estrellita Brodsky, the New York-based patron of Latin American art, who has endowed the curatorial posts at both institutions, says: “With all these museums and groups, it is important to have an advocate in-house, and even though José Roca [at Tate Modern] is not in-house, he is a conduit and a brilliant curator who is out there in the field, who can asses what is going on and is the go between the museum and the collector’s group.”

Last year, Brodsky worked with the Los Angeles-based Centre ­Pompidou Foundation to support the Paris museum’s acquisitions of ­Latin American art. Brodsky says: “I was very happy, we held a very successful meeting. I invited a few Latin American art collectors to join me, and we were able to acquire over $250,000 of Latin American art, through either donations of works or funded acquisitions.”

Brodsky, a curator as well as a patron who holds a PhD in art ­history, is currently working on finishing a new private space for her collection and archives on ­Latin American Art. She expects to open around April 2014 in Chelsea, New York. Brodsky says: “Thanks to really committed collectors and curators across the board, there is so much interest now in Latin American art. It has come a long way from where it was ten years ago, and has had an incredible ripple effect, especially in the United States, but we have a long way to go. People such as Mari ­Carmen Ramírez in Texas are critical players that push for the field ­academically or institutionally.”

Who’s who: collectors and patrons

Estrellita Brodsky, born: New York

Independent curator, philanthropist and art historian; started collecting Latin American art more than 25 years ago

Endowed the Latin American curatorial posts at Tate Modern, London and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. On the board of trustees of the Tate Americas Foundation, New York and, since 2006, serves on the Latin American and Caribbean Fund at MoMA. Previously was the co-chair of the board of trustees of El Museo del Barrio, New York and the vice-chair of the Centre Pompidou Foundation, Los Angeles.

Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, born: Cuba, based: Miami

Started collecting in the 1970s and founded the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in 2002

Serves on the board of trustees of the Tate Americas Foundation, as a trustee of New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. Previously served on the boards of the Miami Art Museum, the Cintas Foundation and the International Women’s Forum.

Mauro Herlitzka, born: Argentina

Argentine businessman and art collector, and co-director of the Pinta Art Fair, founded in 2007

A member of the International Council of MoMA, and member of its Latin American and Caribbean Acquisition Fund. Chairman of Fundación Espigas and its Documentation Center for the History of the Visual Arts in Argentina, second vice-chairman of the Asociacion de Amigos del Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires. Former chairman of arteBA Fundacion, Buenos Aires. Former member of the council of the Frick Collection, New York.

Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, born: Venezuela, based: New York

Started collecting and founded Fundación Cisneros in the 1970s

A founding member and chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Fund and, since 1992, a trustee of MoMA. A founding patron of the International Council of Museums’ (Icom) International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, an active member of the International Council and the Latin American Acquisitions Committee of Tate Modern, an ­international trustee of the Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid and a founding patron of Fundación Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid.

Juan Carlos Verme, born: Peru, based: Lima

Peruvian businessman and collector, director of Creditcorp ­and the Atlantic Security Bank

On the board of trustees of the Tate Americas Foundation since 2006, and a member of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee at Tate Modern, chairman of the board of the Museo de Arte de Lima since 2005, and a founding patron of Fundación Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, were he served as vice-president of the board.

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Comments

13 Mar 14
19:29 CET

BERNARD HOYES, PALM SPRINGS, CA.

I notice there is no mention of Artists.

9 Dec 13
16:38 CET

ALBERT, MIAMI, FL

extremely comprehensive review of the recent developments in the Latin American modern art scene....makes one want to visits the exhibits....!

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