The Wall Street Journal reviews the “blockbuster exhibition” that celebrates the reopening of El Museo del Barrio after 17 months of renovations. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the full review below.
Despite its venue, “Nexus New York: Latin/American Artists in the Modern Metropolis” isn’t an exercise in Latino flag-waving; instead it celebrates the interdependence of artists and a sense of community that today’s celebrity-artist world generally tends to ignore. Ms. Cullen’s exhibition, and its excellent scholarly catalog, returns us to a cosmopolitan New York less concerned about asserting itself as the epicenter of the world’s art, and more a place of collegial relationships among artists who cared for each other. It’s exciting to be led back into that kind of New York art world.
Even before World War I, the Art Students League had served as a magnet for Latin American artists. They ranged from F. Luis Mora, a native of Uruguay, who taught there (and was a member of the National Academy of Design) to Celeste Woss y Gil, a Dominican student of George Luks, whose gritty sensibility had an almost overbearing influence on a generation of League students. Some of these artists returned to their home countries and started art schools, which then had their own generational influence.
The work produced via the League ranges from Mora’s unabashedly late-Romantic city scenes to the gentle modernism so characteristic of early 20th-century American art, still grappling with the radical art of 1913’s Armory Show. The Puerto Rican artist Miguel Pou y Becerra, who studied with Robert Henri, maintains ties to Impressionism in his paintings and essentially ignores the avant garde, while the Puerto Rican graphic designer and League alumnus Lorenzo Homar designed very traditional jewelry for Cartier. What’s most remarkable about these little-known artists is how much both their work and career trajectories mirror those of so many of their New York contemporaries. That’s one of the exhibition’s most forceful points: We need not view this in a Latino or Latin-American or Caribbean context, because this is very much a story of New York as a venue for cultural exchange in which only a few reach the pinnacle of fame.
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Even if it’s very much a part of Museum Mile, El Museo del Barrio nevertheless wants to retain its identity as a neighborhood institution. What other museum has a reduced-price membership category for people who live in its zip code? (Disclosure: That includes me.) A spiffy new entrance and cafeteria come with the territory, but more significantly so does a quite credible collection of Latin-American art that moves from early Taino work (the native world Columbus “discovered”) through a range of folk-art traditions to an impressive group of modern and contemporary artists, including Rufino Tamayo, Myrna Báez, Alfredo Jaar and Pepón Osorio, whose “Bed” (1987) spectacularly dominates the “Voices and Visions” inaugural collections exhibition. This is a brilliant return for a 40-year-old institution that shows itself well able to handle maturity.
For the complete review go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703906204575027601540452676.html?mod=WSJ_hp_editorsPicks
Image: Joaquín Torres-García’s ‘New York Street Scene,’ 1920.