NEW PERSPECTIVE ON LATIN AMERICAN ART
Burned Map, Horacio Zabala (Argentinian, b. 1943)1974
Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria Fine Art, New York
Cecilia Fajardo-Hill wants people to stop thinking of Latin American artists in a special way.
But even though she argues that they aren’t different from artists in other countries, she’s devoted to getting them more attention.
The chief curator of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach sees no conflict in her twin missions. She’d rather revel in stimulating paradox than wallow in boring consistency.
“It’s possible to be different and to be the same at the same time,” she said during a recent interview in her small office at the museum. “I can be a woman, and I can be at the same time a weirdo, and that doesn’t make me any less of a woman.”
What gets Fajardo-Hill worked up is people who prejudge Latin American art. “The characteristics that are assigned to Latin American art are `beautiful, mostly painting and very colorful,”‘ she said. “People don’t see that there is a lot more to it than that. And this is actually the side that doesn’t interest me.”
Fajardo-Hill is currently the guiding force at the museum, which parted ways with its director, Richard Townsend, in January.
Neither Townsend nor the museum’s officials are talking about the circumstances surrounding his leaving or the selection of a successor.
Fajardo-Hill said Townsend, who hired her a year and a half ago, felt he had done what he intended at MoLAA and wanted to move on to other opportunities. She said he didn’t leave for another position.
She’s not applying for Townsend’s job, she said, because she prefers curating to “fundraising and socializing.” Her interest is in such projects as this weekend’s international symposium on contemporary Latin American art, a collaboration with the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
Called “Between Theory and Practice: Rethinking Latin American Art in the 21st Century,” the symposium was conceived by Fajardo-Hill and will take place in two parts. Today through Sunday it will be at the Getty and MoLAA, and the second session is scheduled Nov. 2-4 in Lima, Peru.
focuses on the role of museums in engaging with Latin American art, how to get the art better represented in art histories and how best to present it. Experts from Europe and both North and South America will participate this weekend, and all the proceedings will be open and free to the public.
The themes of the symposium were her personal themes in the interview about what direction she’s charting for MoLAA. “I’m saying that the Latin American art stereotype is a construct, an invention that’s simplistic and nonfactual,” she said. “The reality is there was a very influential exhibit in the 1970s called `The Art of the Fantastic,’ and somehow that label stuck to us like paste.
“It takes a long time to dispel something like this. And I think even this museum played a role in perpetrating that.”
The current exhibit at MoLAA, “Mexico: Expected/Unexpected,” fits into her mission. It originated in Paris in 2008 and then was exhibited in Schiedam, Netherlands, in 2009 before coming to Southern California, where it’s been split between MoLAA and San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
Though the curators of the exhibit are Argentine and Venezuelan, the installation includes artists from China and South Africa juxtaposed with Mexican artists. “What you do is you create an intercultural dialogue, as opposed to a dialogue in a little corner of Mexican art that people are used to seeing,” said Fajardo-Hill.
Her life could be a definition of cultural diversity. Her father was a Venezuelan sculptor, and her Welsh mother is a poet, English literature teacher and translator. She was born in New Zealand but soon after moved with her family to Italy, where she grew up in Florence and remembers running with her brother through the corridors of the Uffizi Gallery, where her mother worked as a guide. She considers Italian her mother tongue.
When she was 11, the family moved again, to Venezuela, where she lived for many years, and she later lived a long time in England. Now she and her daughter, 11, and son, 5, live in Belmont Heights.
To further open eyes to the fact that Latin American artists are just as diverse as artists from any other country, she’s working on an unusual exhibit of women’s art for MoLAA to show next year.
“It’s bringing together an experimental tradition in Latin America from 1945 to the beginning of the 1980s from women who did – many of them in difficult conditions – the most incredible experimental and cutting-edge art. But nobody knows about them,” she said.
Then there’s an exhibit scheduled for July of Colombian artist Johanna Calle. “A lot of her work has been dealing with women’s issues and poverty in Colombia,” said Fajardo-Hill. “But she does it in such an incredible way that it really becomes a universal statement.
“Her work isn’t relevant only to the shantytowns in Bogota. First of all, she’s an extraordinary draftsman, extremely creative in her drawing. And then she has an interesting approach to political issues, not narrative journalistic things. You have to stand in front of one of her pieces and think, `What’s happening now?’
“There is a whole process that comes across that is not easy to pigeonhole as `Oh yeah, it’s Colombian, and Colombia’s a poor country, and there are all these poor women there.’ You could never do that with her work.”
Fajardo-Hill’s crusade to make the image of Latin American artists from the 20th and 21st century less exotic to gallery visitors does not mean she wants to bring them into the art establishment. “I’m not out to be mainstream,” she said. “I just don’t want the artists to be excluded because they happen to be from Venezuela. You just have to look at the work first and then think that it’s an interesting artwork to analyze in the same way that you would any artist. The reality is that there is no difference.”
Yet, she does want the viewer to see a difference. “The difference is that we decided to be a museum that is devoted to this continent,” she said, “because Dr. Gumbiner’s (the late Robert Gumbiner, MoLAA’s founder) idea was that there is this great art, it’s coming from Latin America, not enough people see it and our mission is to make sure more people see it.
“At the end of the day, we’re the children of our age and the result of the knowledge we have at the moment and also the prejudices that we have accumulated over time.
“And I think our role in this museum is to revise that. That’s why I’m doing the symposium. That’s why I want to do the show of the women artists.
“Because I don’t want us to be a little nation in Long Beach of exotic art. I would like to dialogue in an intercultural way with the rest of the world.
“I just don’t buy that we have to perpetrate this idea of Latin American art being this realm of magical, decorative floating clouds and pretty buttons and stuff like that.”
Al Rudis 562-499-1255