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How Los Angeles Can Make PST Stick
How Los Angeles Can Make PST Stick
Come September, all of Southern California will be in the thrall of Latin American / Latino art. Why? Because after years of research and hard work by museums, alternative spaces, university galleries, and many other institutions, Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles / Latin America (PST: LA / LA) will be officially inaugurated. This massive effort, spearheaded and mostly funded by the Getty Foundation, is unprecedented in its ambition and scope. Comprising seventy-four exhibitions, PST LA / LA covers the history and culture of a region that extends from the United States to Tierra del Fuego, and goes back thousands of years.
However, many questions remain that are pivotal to the future of Latin American / Latino Art in Los Angeles—and by extension in the United States—once PST: LA / LA comes to a close in early 2018. What will PST’s legacy be? Will art professionals acknowledge that Latino / Chicano art is inherently part of United States’ art history? Will the scholarship collected in exhibitions and catalogs be enough to rewrite the canon, so Latin American and Latino / Chicano artists are more visible in the future? And what will institutions and individuals do to carry this mission forward?
Initially, PST: LA / LA centered around art made in Latin America. Then, after discussions with participants and the Getty Foundation, it expanded to showcase Chicano / Latino artists alongside their Latin American peers. Idurre Alonso, Getty Research Institute’s Associate Curator, and co-curator of Photography in Argentina, 1890-2010: Contradiction and Continuity hopes their inclusion will “recover artists and movements that have been ‘hidden or forgotten.’” Left out of the mainstream, Chicano / Latino artists had to invent their own institutions—like New York’s El Museo, founded over forty-five years ago by artist and educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz to create a sense of identity for New York’s Puerto Rican community, or LA’s Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), which has been advocating for Latino / Chicano artists since 1976. PST will be a remarkable opportunity for Chicano / Latino artists to receive the attention they long deserved: at last count, more than thirty PST exhibitions include the work of Chicano / Latino artists.
“Over the course of the planning leading up to PST: LA / LA, there has been a welcome and positive shift towards greater emphasis on the Latin American diaspora in the United States” says Tatiana Flores, associate professor at Rutgers University and the curator of Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. For some local institutions, it is also the first time they are engaging with Latin American and Latino themes. The Chinese American Museum (CAM) and the California African American Museum (CAAM) teamed up for Circles and Circuits: History and Art of the Chinese Caribbean Diaspora, which examines the contributions of artists of Chinese descent in Cuba, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and other islands. This exhibition, along with Flores’s show on Caribbean art, also considers the art of non-Spanish and non-Portuguese speaking artists, a gesture that Flores says “marks a real shift in consciousness” and “questions the continental bias of the concept of ‘Latin America.’ ”
Although unanticipated, PST: LA / LA also offers a number of exhibitions devoted to women artists or involving substantial representation of women. The Hammer Museum’s Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, for example, includes work by artists hailing from Argentina, Brazil, Caribbean, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and the curators later added work by Chicana and Latina artists living in the US, though they did not amend the show’s title. Here, visitors will have a rare opportunity to see a broad cross-section of inter-generational work by known and under-known, contemporary and modern women artists.
The magnitude of PST: LA / LA and the way numerous institutions have embraced this initiative could give Latin American and Latino art curators a false sense of acceptance. Alas, many Southern California institutions have seen PST: LA / LA as an opportunity to get financial aid from a powerful institution like the Getty Foundation. “Without it, it would have been impossible to put together some of these comprehensive exhibitions…especially small and midsize museums that commonly have very limited budgets” says Alonso. If so, it is not expected that all participating institutions will show Latin American / Latino Art more frequently or ever again.
Posing these queries to some of the curators whose exhibitions are part of this initiative, their responses varied. Miki Garcia, the chief curator and director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara and organizer of Guatemala from 33,000 km: Contemporary Art, 1960–Present believes that “the breadth and depth that this initiative is supporting will both add new thinking as well as re-write former positions on the field.” Alonso contends that PST: LA / LA will not “rewrite or generate a new canon” but “may help ‘discover’ new significant artists and make the Latin American art field more visible in Southern California.” What would it take for Los Angeles art institutions to actually match in their programing the impact Latino artists and Latino people have had on art history and our city itself?
Collaborating with Latin American museums may be one lesson already learned. Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time is the latest example of LACMA’s collaboration with Mexican museums. Organized by LACMA and the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, the exhibition compares two giants of twentieth century art, tracing their similar academic training and shared interest in antiquities. By teaming with a Mexican museum and Mexican curators, LACMA was able to access scholarship and documentation that would have been out of reach for a monolingual curator or those less familiar with Mexican art. LACMA was also able to secure financing offered for cultural cooperation between nations.
For PST: LA / LA, LACMA has organized five exhibitions, making it the largest among institutional contributions. With this magnitude of programing, the museum is addressing two irreversible facts: the city’s increasing Latino presence and the growing importance of art made in Latin America and by Chicanos and Latinos in the United States. More, it builds on LACMA’s desire to see local Latinos as museum goers and art patrons—a commitment that Michael Govan, LACMA’s director, publicly expressed even before PST.
History tells us that powerful, wealthy individuals make a difference in the art that’s shown and discussed. Many private collectors helped fund the exhibitions and acquisitions of Latin American art at the Museum of Contemporary Art organized between 1996 and 2015, but the consistent support of entrepreneur Eugenio López, a MOCA trustee, made it possible for the museum to build a program on Latin American art before many other US institutions. With the opening of his own museum in Mexico City in 2013, his support declined and so did MOCA’s commitment. Who will step up to fill the gap?
In New York, notable collectors like Estrellita Brodsky and Patricia Phelps de Cisneros have endowed curatorial chairs of Latin American art, donated numerous artworks to local museums, served on museum boards, and funded scholarly publications and libraries of Latin American art. To match these efforts in building collections, exhibitions, and public respect for Latin American art, it would take Latin American / Latino philanthropists living in Los Angeles to offer their time and resources, and join museum councils and boards.
Institutions can become more open to art from Latin America by hiring specialists, as some major US museums have already done. According to Arteinformado, there are about twenty-five women curators of Latin American art working in large and small institutions across the United States. Often US and Latin American-born, these art professionals are making a difference by organizing well-informed exhibitions, adding to permanent collections, and cultivating donors, and several are involved in PST: LA / LA. Their first-hand knowledge helps eliminate some of the stereotypes long identified with curating Latin American and Latino art, and offers more accurate—that is, more complex—representations.
The Getty Foundation has made an extraordinary intellectual and financial investment to bring Latin American / Latino Art to Southern California. I applaud their vision, and I challenge Los Angeles: Will we let PST be a one-off curiosity, or will we embrace Latin American art / Latino art as a regular and vital part of the cultural fabric of our city?
The five exhibitions are: Home—So Different, So Appealing; A Universal History of Infamy; Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985; Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz; and Painted in Mexico, 1700–1790: Pinxit Mexici.