El Paso Museum of Art

left: El Paso Museum of Art, exterior view of entrance and reflecting pool, photo by Christian Chapman

El Paso, TX




Arte Latino: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

September 16 - November 12, 2000


The El Paso Museum of Art will host the exhibition Arte Latino: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum through November 12, 2000. Arte Latino highlights more than 200 years of Latino art from across the United States. The exhibition's 66 paintings, sculptures, and photographs represent many different cultural traditions created by Latino artists from throughout the U.S. An extensive series of public programs will be held in conjunction with Arte Latino, including a national symposium on Latino art October 6-7 and numerous gallery talks, lectures, and films.

Many of the artists in Arte Latino explore personal identity through their cultural heritage. They include both U.S.-born and immigrant artists, among them Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans and Chicanos, Cuban-Americans, and Latin Americans, all of whom `have created art throughout the United States. Luis Jiménez, a native of El Paso, is featured in the exhibition along with a number of other Texas-based artists, including Angel Rodriguez-Diaz, Carmen Lomas Garza, Jésus Bautista Moroles, and Kathy Vargas. The Smithsonian American Art Museum began actively collecting Latino art about a decade ago. The current exhibition is a sampling of these rich traditions -- though not a comprehensive survey -- selected from almost 500 Latino artworks now in the Museum's collection. (left: José Campece Y Jordan, La Nativitad, c. 1799, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The earliest works on view are from Puerto Rico, which became a territory of the United States in 1898. José Campeche, the son of a black slave in the 18th century, became an accomplished painter without ever leaving the island. Classical engravings inspired the figures in his religious paintings such as San Juan Nepomuceno (Saint John Nepomuk), painted about 1798. Many wood representations of religious figures, or santos, were also made by self-taught artists on the island. Carved around 1875-1900, Los Reyes Magos (The Three Magi) celebrates the kings' visit to the newborn Christ child. These figures are secured to a base cut from a wooden packing crate. In Puerto Rican depictions, the kings ride horses, animals introduced to the island by Spanish explorers.

Two works in the exhibition have the distinction of being the oldest in the Museum's collection -- Santa Barbara (Saint Barbara) from about 1680-90, and Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) from about 1675-1725. Scholar and author Teodoro Vidal donated this rare group of early Puerto Rican artworks to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1997.

Another large group of artworks in Arte Latino highlights the long and varied cultural traditions of the Hispanic Southwest, ranging from an 18th-century carved devotional crucifix to a 20th-century painted altarpiece. Agueda Martínez, whose family has been in northern New Mexico for hundreds of years, inspired the area's weavers through her vibrant work. In her textured, geometric Tapestry Weave Rag Jerga (1994), Martínez used T-shirts torn into strips, sewn together end to end, and twisted into yarn. George López's expressive, unpainted, wood carvings were a creative outlet for his religious faith. His work, such as Saint Michael the Archangel and the Devil (about 1955-56), continued the carving style his family developed in northern New Mexico.

Contemporary artists often combine popular American culture and their Latino experience in their artworks. The Chicano Movement in particular inspired artists to address social and political issues. One of the treasures in this exhibition is a painted mahogany altar by Chicano artist Emanuel Martínez from 1967, a key symbol of the nonviolent farm labor movement. Cesar Chavez, who founded the United Farm Workers Union in 1963, marked the end of his 25-day hunger strike in support of the farm workers' struggle in Southern California by celebrating Mass with Robert Kennedy in front of the Farm Workers' Altar. (left: Jesse Trevino, Mis Hermanos, 1976, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Patssi Valdez was born in East Los Angeles and grew up during the turbulent days of the Chicano Movement, participating in an urban performance group, ASCO, in the 1970s. Since 1988 she has worked primarily as a painter. In The Magic Room (1994), bouncing balls and swinging gymnastic rings seem to have a life of their own. Charles "Chaz" Bojórquez adapts the graffiti of East Los Angeles Chicano gangs for his monochromatic abstract painting from 1992, Somos la Luz (We Are the Light). The title appears among the phrases, numbers and names in this tribute to the achievements of tenacious urban youth.

Martina López, a Mexican-American who grew up in Seattle, Washington, incorporates figures from vintage photographs into surreal, computer-generated landscapes. In Heirs Come to Pass, 3 (1991) a young girl in a Victorian lawn dress holds a Brownie camera, alluding to the artist's own personal path. López's dreamlike photographs contain a quality of magic realism associated with Latin American literature. Carmen Lomas Garza draws on a rich folk art tradition and on her childhood in Kingsville, Texas, to create paintings filled with real-life observations as well as universally shared experiences. In Camas para Sueños (Beds for Dreams), painted in 1985, the artist and her sister appear as children seated on the roof of their home. They look at the stars and dream about their future as their mother turns down their beds. (left: Martina López, Heirs Come to Pass, 3, 1991, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Several of the artists featured in this exhibition have transformed classical fine art traditions. Luis Jiménez uses lightweight fiberglass for his monumental Man on Fire (1969). This sculpture pays homage to Cuauhtémoc, an Aztec ruler who was burned after he resisted Spanish conqueror Cortés in 1522. Carlos Almaraz invests his painting Homage to Still Life (1986) with unexpected contemporary elements such as cars on the freeway, talking heads on television, and, in the lower right, the artist himself observing the world he has created,.

While living in New York City's South Bronx, Pepón Osorío created installations of layered meanings using five-and-dime store objects. In El Chandelier (1988), the artist encrusted a crystal chandelier with such everyday objects as costume jewelry, dolls, fringe, AstroTurf and plastic saints, inspired by the elaborately decorated cakes his mother made for special occasions when he was a child in Puerto Rico. Angel Rodriguez-Diaz, also born in Puerto Rico, painted the powerful portrait of Chicana author Sandra Cisneros in The Protagonist of an Endless Story from 1993.

Many Cuban-American artists have expressed a divided identity, reflecting their feelings about leaving family and their own past behind. Carlos Alfonzo immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1980. His painting, Where Tears Can't Stop (1986), incorporates many stylized personal and religious symbols from Cuban Santería, a Caribbean religion that combines Roman Catholic and African spiritual traditions, to suggest life's difficult passages. Ana Mendieta's untitled photograph from her 1980 Silueta series documents her site-specific sculptures that explore her attempts to reconnect with her past, using elemental nature such as earth and healing symbols from Santería.

Latin American-born artists also grapple with the culture they left behind after moving to the United States. In the satirical Señor Presidente's Wake (1988-93), Alfredo Ceibal comments on political corruption and intrigue in his painting of a deceased Guatemalan president lying in state. Vik Muniz, born in Brazil, speaks to the legacy of the sugar trade in both the subject matter and the material he uses in his 1996 series of photographs Sugar Children. He constructs these images of sons and daughters of sugar cane workers using refined sugar on a black background.

Arte Latino is one of eight exhibitions in Treasures to Go, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, touring the nation through 2002. The Principal Financial Group® is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people. In El Paso, this exhibition is sponsored in part by the City of El Paso, Texas Commission on the Arts, Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives, Time Warner Communications and Bravo, and NewsChannel 9. "For the past decade, the El Paso Museum of Art has been a leader in collecting and exhibiting the work of Latino artists," remarked Becky Duval Reese, director of the El Paso Museum of Art. "We are pleased to be the premiere venue for this important exhibition of Latino art from the distinguished holdings of the Smithsonian American Art Museum." "These artists present human stories that are at once culturally specific, but also universal," said Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. More information and full itineraries for Treasures to Go can be found on the Smithsonian American Art Museum's web site at http://AmericanArt.si.edu.

In conjunction with Arte Latino: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the El Paso Museum of Art is organizing a special exhibition of Latino art from its own extensive holdings. This installation will be showcased in the Museum's Peter and Margaret de Wetter Gallery and the Tom Lea Gallery and will feature works by such artists as Manuel Acosta, Max Aguilera-Hellweg, Carlos Callejo, Gaspar Enriquez, Carmen Lomas Garza, Luis Jiménez, Willie Varela, Kathy Vargas, and many others.

Arte Latino: Traditions and New Contexts, a national symposium organized by the El Paso Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives, will be held at the Museum on October 6-7, 2000. This symposium explores the past, present, and future of Latino art, with a particular focus on how artists and institutions are addressing current issues and trends in the visual arts. Speakers will include artists, art historians, curators, and art collectors. Topics to be discussed include: the history of Latino art and its changing interpretation; the regional and cultural diversity inscribed within the broad definition of Latino art; how new media and globalism have influenced Latino art; and the role of museums and art collectors in fostering appreciation for the work of Latino artists.

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