Latin American Art Collections Worldwide

The Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires ...

The Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The topic for discussion is “Latin American Art Collections Worldwide” and will be discussed historically on a global front. Yet to understand the topic, it is necessary to first understand what a collection is.  A collection is group of objects or works to be seen, studied or kept together (American Heritage dictionary).  However, there is still another aspect to a collection.  A collection is the act of collecting (Random House dictionary). The act of collecting involves a collector, the person or organization responsible for deciding what will be included and represented in the collection.  Every collection is grouped by a common theme, highlighting similarities between the objects and influencing viewers to see the objects as a definition of this theme.  What a specific collection defines and how, depends on the collector’s understanding of the field.  This knowledge is then passed on to third component of a collection: the viewer. A collection is built for an audience, which can be the collector himself or the greater public.  For the audience, a collection serves as an educational tool, visually conveying information and theories/discourses.

The same concepts that pertain to the word “collection” apply to an art collection. However, an art collection can have greater significance than other collections. Scholar, Arjun Appadurai, confirms this statement by defining “the work of art, as a hierarchical and hierarchy-assigning product, (which) has since the eighteenth century been a tool for constructing identities, an instrument reflecting legitimacies and differences” (Pacheco, 103).  Latin American art collections have been used worldwide for just this purpose.  They have been used to construct cultural identities, and state their legitimacies and distinction in the art world.  A Latin American art collection also operates as any other collection, educating an audience on a particular theme.  Over time, the grouping and organization of Latin American art collections, as well as what they have included and/or excluded has changed the perception of Latin American art.

In order to understand how perceptions toward Latin America have changed on a global scale, it is necessary to give a brief history on the collecting of Latin American art.  Latin American art collections were first notably assembled in Latin America. The initial goal of a Latin American art collection was to construct a national identity and promote pride in a nation’s distinctiveness. Art historian, Luis Perez Oramas, explains that art collections were built by traditional state-run museums who, curator, Olivier Debroise, describes to have been focussed on collecting artwork that reflected the “pure” culture of their nation (Oramas, 151)(Debroise, 67).  This self-focussed nature also meant that initial collections were not generally open to artworks that reflected foreign art practices (Debroise, 67). Thus, the first art collections generally separated Latin America from the global art world. Furthermore, Latin nations only collected art from within their own borders, which led to ‘self-contained’ ‘exclusive’ collections (Debroise, 83). This means that the first art collections in Latin America weren’t really collections of Latin American art, but rather art collections of specific nations, and lacking in sufficient diversity. Oramas also indicates traditional state-run museum collections were/are made to be “an art history without text” standing the absence of written accounts (151). Consequently, collections were systematically collected more to provide an historical account than produce discourse and subjective meaning as seen in later collections. Another implication of state directed collecting was the individual economic and political issues each Latin country faced indirectly affected the maintenance of their collections. As economic prosperity decreased and political agendas changed, funding to continue collecting was cut and these collections were significantly neglected (Sullivan, 7-329). Overall these collections needed improvement.

The collecting of Latin American art has since moved to the United States.  With the help of Nelson Rockefeller in 1942, the (MoMA) Museum of Modern Art’s “collection initiated the field both in and from the perspective of the United States” (Adams, 163).  America has since owned the most comprehensive collections of Latin American art (Ramirez, 15) and has been the only country that has taken such a strong vested interest outside of South America. Yet Jacqueline Barnitz (curator) establishes that there was initial prejudice in the United States that Latin American art was inferior that had to be first overcome (20).

Maria Carmen Ramirez (a curator) reports that the idea to collect art on a continental scale began in North America (15).  Unfortunately, this action had some drawbacks with regards to how Latin American art was publicly perceived.  Latin America is not a ‘monolithic’ entity, but is diverse with no uniting culture or art practices (Ybarra Frausto, 41). Yet Latin American art was inaccurately grouped together as inherently the same. Beverly Adams, a scholar in the field, further concludes that by North America “publicly designating Latin America as a separate category, it has historically not been recognized as an integral part of a larger “universal” or “global” culture” (169).  In the end, Latin American collections throughout the world started out by separating Latin American art from the rest of the art movements worldwide.  These initial collections define Latin American art as its own genre separate from the rest of the art world’s artistic practices.

The collecting process for Latin American art has changed in the more recent Latin American art collections, producing a new type of collector and art collections. The new collector is the private collector instead of a state-run museum.  Although being independent of the museum to make decisions and accumulate artworks, most of these collectors work with professionals in the field and assemble collections for a museum.  This new collector does not follow the grain of traditional collecting, but focuses on creating a new interpretation for artwork, is educated, and media-savvy. Prime examples of private collectors are Eugenio Lopez, Tamayo, and Barbara Duncan. Tamayo and Eugenio Lopez (responsible for the Jumex collection) offer “an alternative to the country’s state-run museum tradition” with the assistance of professionals (Debroise, 75, 87, and 89).  Their collections go against the traditional ways of collecting previously mentioned by creating an international context for Latin American art (Debroise, 89).  They juxtaposed Latin America art with non-Latin art, in order to produce a new understanding of how Latin American art belongs to an international setting (Debroise, 73). Tamayo and Lopez move away from a national focus to an international focus.  Both assembled collections for a museum that now presents their work and have been media-savvy in promoting their concept (Debroise, 89). Barbara Duncan, like Tamayo and Lopez, was a private collector who assembled a private collection with the help of professionals that is now housed in Jack S. Blanton Museum, Texas (Adams, 173-177). Duncan travelled and invested in what was going on artistically in L.A and conducted research to successfully collect art (Adams, 173). Duncan exemplifies the educated new collector, who is focussed on collecting new artworks based on research and surveying. Tamayo, Duncan, and Lopez, all wished to further this field, legitimize Latin American art (Adams, 173-177), stir attention and raise discussion on Latin art (Debroise, 91).  All these initiatives are characteristic of the “new collector” and new trends in collecting.

Through research it is evident there are three more Latin American art collecting trends that are appearing worldwide. The new focus of more recent prominent collections is modern and contemporary art.  Some of the collections that confirm this pattern are: Marcos Curi Collection, Helft Collection, Jumex Collection, University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art (UECLAA), Halle Collection, Museum of Fine Art Houston’s Collection, The Museum of Latin American Art’s Collection and Jack S. Blanton Museum’s Collection.  Also, public accessibility to these collections is growing as virtual galleries of permanent collections are becoming available. UECLAA and Art Museum of the Americas, for example, now have impressive virtual galleries available online. Moreover, collections are currently focussed on educating and producing intellectual debate as much as possible, as stated in the mission statements of many museums. This desire has led to the tendency for Latin American art collections worldwide to team their collections with written archives and information on Latin American art.  This tendency can be seen at:  The Jack S. Blanton Museum, UECLAA, and Art Museum of the Americas, among others.

The new emerging trends are starting to produce what Adams defines as a good collection: one that educates a large public, incorporates Latin American art into an “international context,” desires to enhance its field, and contains a large varied assemblage of appropriate artists (157-177).

It is clear Latin American art collections have grown and transformed worldwide. These collections help define and provide understanding of Latin American art. They also establish valued recognition for the art field worldwide, and hopefully will continue to do so.

Christine Maier

Spring 2010

Works Cited

“About UECLAA.” University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art. University of Essex, Web. 16 Nov 2009. <http://www.ueclaa.org/ueclaaOnline/About.jsp&gt;.

Adams, Beverly. “The Challenges of collecting Latin American Art in the United States: The Diane and Bruce Halle Collection.” International Center for the Arts of the America: Collecting Latin American Art for the 21st Century. Ed. Mari Carmen Ramirez. Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 2002. Print

Barnitz, Jacqueline. “The Blanton Museum’s Latin American Collection as an Educational Resource.” Blanton Museum of Art Latin American Collection. Ed. Gabriel Perez-Barreiro. Austin: Blanton Museum of Art, 2006. Print.

“collection.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 21 Nov. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/collection>.

“collection.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 21 Nov. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/collection>

Debroise, Olivier. “From Modern to International: the Challenges for Mexican Art.” International Center for the Arts of Americas: Collecting Latin American Art for the 21st Century. Ed. Mari Carmen Ramirez.  Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2002. Print.

“El Museo del Barrio Launches First Galleries Exclusively Dedicated to its Permanent Collection as Part of its Reopening.” El Museo del Barrio. 2009. El Museo del Barrio, Web. 16 Nov 2009. <http://64.150.182.211/sites/default/files/El_Museo_Voces-y-Visiones_Press_Release.pdf&gt;.

“Mission and History.” The Museum of Latin American Art. MOLAA, Museum of Latin American Art, Web. 23 Nov 2009. <http://www.molaa.org/About-MOLAA/mission-and-history.aspx&gt;.

Oramas, Luis Perez. “The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection: An Enlightened Collection?.” International Center for the Arts of the Americas: Collecting Latin American Art for the 21st Century. Ed. Mari Carmen Ramirez. Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 2002. Print.

Pacheco, Marcelo. “New Art Collecting Trends in Argentina: The 1990s.” International Center for the Arts of Americas: Collecting Latin America Art for the 21st Century. Ed. Mari Carmen Ramirez. Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 2002. Print.

“Permanent Collection.” Art Museum of the Americas. Art Museum of the Americas, Web. 18 Nov 2009. <http://www.museum.oas.org/permanent.html&gt;.

Ramirez, Mari Carmen. “Introduction.” International Center for the Arts of Americas: Collecting Latin America Art for the 21st Century. Ed. Mari Carmen Ramirez. Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 2002. Print.

Sullivan, Edward. Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. New York, NY: Phaidon Press Limited, 2000. Print.

Ybarra-Frausto, Tomas. “Latin American Culture and the United States in the New Millennium.” International Center for the Arts of the Americas: Collecting Latin American Art for the 21st Century. Ed. Mari Carmen Ramirez. Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 2002. Print.

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