Aviso: Tell me something about Latino art in the Smithsonian’s collection of American Art and what are some of the gaps that you are hoping to fill? ECR: The Latino collection is very broad in terms
of chronological span and media. It includes important examples of colonial paintings and sculpture from the southwest and Puerto Rico that speak to the Hispanic origins of life on this continent and in the Americas. Actually, the oldest work in all of American Art’s collections is a small religious painting, Santa Barbara, created sometime between 1680 and 1690 by an unidentified Puerto Rican artist, which was given to us by Teodoro Vidal. Thanks to a gift from the Chicano scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, we have an excellent collection of Chicano graphics from the 1960s and on. The collection is also strong in work by artists who rose to prominence before and during 1980s and 1990s such as Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, Pepón Osorio, Ana Mendieta, Carlos Alfonso, Amalia Mesa-Bains, and Luis Jiménez.
As I consider new works for the collection, I’m eager to challenge audience expectations of what is considered Latino art. Along these lines, we recently acquired works by three exciting East Coast-based artists: several film-based works from the late 1950s by Rafael Montañez Ortiz, who was a key member of the international avant-garde movement known as Destructivism, and several paintings by Freddy Rodríguez and Paul Henry Ramirez, two artists from different generations that both engage notions of the body through hard-edged, geometric and abstract
imagery. What I’m seeking to do is to capture the diverse vitality of Latino art.
Aviso: Are there any artists or pieces not in the collection that you would like to be a part of the collection? ECR: Oh yes. Owning a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres would
be a dream come true. And there are many others. Overall, I’m trying to balance our collection. Latino art does not begin in 1968 and is not solely about civil rights. Over the past year, I perused works by pioneering artists that have not received their due and established mid-career artists who are tackling questions that reverberate with our existing collections of Latino and American art broadly defined. I believe we have made some impressive headway. We acquired a major painting by Carmen Herrera, the pioneering Cuban-born abstractionist who was part of the New York avant-garde at mid-century, Western landscape photographs by Ken Gonzalez-Day and Delilah Montoya, as well as monumental portraits of everyday people by Sophie Rivera.
Aviso: How do you identify a work that you want to acquire? ECR: It’s a long process that starts with following and studying an artist’s career and thinking about how their work relates CONTINUED ON PAGE 11
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Amalia Mesa-Bains, An Ofrenda for Dolores del Rio.
| Fall 2012 el AVISO
1917, Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States. And this is the tip of the iceberg; every group encompassed by the category “Latino” has its own nuanced history. And we haven’t fully broached the art part of your question.
A Publication of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures. Learn more at www.nalac.org