- Latino Art and the Immigrant Artist:The Case of Sandra C. Fernández
Within the past year, two exhibitions ventured into territory that had been avoided by museums for some time: exploring, in each case, the nature of Latino art, and of Latin American art. Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art was curated by E. Carmen Ramos for the Smithsonian A merican Art Museum (SAAM) and presented in Washington, D.C. from October 25, 2013 to March 2, 2014. It is now touring the country, to be shown in at least five venues in the United States. Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today, curated by Pablo León de la Barra, was on view at New York’s Guggenheim Museum from June 13 to October 1, 2014, with subsequent stops in Mexico City and São Paulo. The exhibitions showcased contemporary art by artists in Latin America, and of Latin American descent living in the U.S., with SAAM featuring objects dating from mid-20th century to the 2000s, and the Guggenheim focusing on works from the late 1970s to the present. Coincidentally, both were based on collection building. The art in Our America was drawn exclusively from SAAM’s permanent collection of Latino art, over two thirds of which was acquired since 2011. Under the Same Sun brought together close to fifty art works recently purchased by the museum through the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.
Since the early 1990s, institutions and curators had shied away from exhibitions that purported to categorize the art of Latin America and/or Latinos in the U.S. Among visual artists, the topic of classification is almost always sensitive territory, and critics and curators have significant differences of opinion in regard to defining and presenting Latin American art.1 Given the history of stereotyping and marginalization of Latin American and Latino cultures, creating categories risked new possibilities for othering. Nevertheless, at the heart of these recent exhibitions were transactions which guaranteed inclusion into major museum collections, and in many cases provided a financial reward to artists and/or their galleries; the exhibitions thus promised to be more than a display of tokenism, signaling instead a commitment to a broader, more inclusive vision of art beyond the mainstream Euro- and U.S.-centric narratives in the long term.
Inclusion is always a pertinent issue with exhibitions. For those attempting to define an aesthetic around the subject of identity, the question of why a particular artist or group is left out invariably comes up. In the case of the SAAM and Guggenheim exhibitions, the differences in curatorial criteria as to who could fit the category of Latin American/Latino were striking. The borders of the Guggenheim show were porous, open to artists who had any relationship with Latin America, such as the French video and installation artist, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster,2 who has undertaken several projects in Brazil. Under the Same Sun also included Latino artists born in the United States, such as Paul Ramírez Jonas from California, Puerto Ricans Rafael Ferrer and Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, and numerous artists who reside permanently in New York. “Latin America” was in this case a loose framework under which to explore pressing issues with global resonance. In the words of the curator,
Demonstrating that Latin America cannot be reduced to a single, homogeneous entity, Under the Same Sun considers the diversity of creative responses to shared realities molded by colonial and modern history; repressive governmental politics; economic crisis; and social inequality; as well as by periods of economic development and social progress. Despite financial growth and increased stability in most of the continent over the past decade, Latin America remains divided by class and ethnic difference, and marked by political and economic upheaval. Under the Same Sun presents recent art that addresses the past and present of this subtle and complex situation, and which explores possible alternative futures.3 [End Page 167]
The wall text describing Paul Ramírez Jonas’ new media work, Another Day (2003), also gave insight into the curator’s perspective. Consisting of monitors counting down to the next sunrise in ninety cities...