The heart of Latin art
It's not just folk, it's fusion. Exhibitions nationwide spotlight a bold and visionary tradition.
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"This was promoted by the muralists of Mexico [who] put a large focus on indigenous people," says Luke.Skip to next paragraph
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But, he says, this misreads the sophistication and worldliness of these artists. Throughout the 20th century, many Latin American artists traveled to Europe, where they absorbed the lessons of modernism as well as the old masters, alongside artists such as Picasso and Matisse. They created their own vision of those styles. The contemporary Latin American artists on display at the Naples (Fla.) Art Museum vividly carry forward many of the characteristics that have traditionally defined Latin art. "Vibrant colors, figurative imagery, and a joyful embrace of everyday objects," says director Michael Culver.
He points to such artists as Marco Tulio, whose work "The Bullfighter's Hat" offers a contemporary spin on traditional elements of Latin American art. "He paints like the old masters with layers on layers that create a fine, wonderful surface that looks immaculate – almost like a photo – but also almost surreal in the way he places the object," says Mr. Culver, adding that it also evokes another traditional Latin theme — magical realism, in which simple objects take on meaning.
The breadth of these exhibitions shows that Americans are moving beyond what one curator has dubbed "the Ricky Ricardo effect," an attitude that considers only the exotic primitive works as "authentically" Latin. "Historically, there has been a hunger and a market for things that seem exotic and picturesque," says Ilona Katzew, curator of Latin American Art for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "but that has been reassessed by specialists and many serious collecting museums who are trying to do away with that and present a more complex picture of what has happened in this hemisphere."
Back in Santa Ana, Christian Galindo, a horticulturist from Guatemala, pauses in front of a Frida Kahlo painting. He is "moved," to see so much attention being drawn to Latin American artists. "This is something when I was younger, I did not see," he says, adding as he turns to the airy rooms brimming with oversize canvases and sculptures. "I made the trip to give myself the confidence that our art means something to the rest of the world."
Mexican art critic Berta Taracena echoes this assessment. "This exhibition shows that Latin American culture is strong," she says by phone from Mexico City. These masterpieces clearly demonstrate that although these artists had a dialogue with European traditions, she adds, "they clearly had their own vision."