How the Whitney’s Top Latino Curator Is Shaking Up the Art World

[Many thanks to María Acosta Cruz for bringing this item to our attention.] In the “Transforming Spaces” column—The New York Times series about women driving change in sometimes unexpected places—Robin Pogrebin brings attention to the first Puerto Rican curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Marcela Guerrero. Pogrebin writes, “In her five years at the museum, Marcela Guerrero has helped broaden the scope of artists and audiences as the Hispanic population continues to grow and museums try to reflect more diverse audiences.”

Marcela Guerrero had just started as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised. “I was thinking, ‘How can I help?’” she recalled in a recent interview. “I have an important platform. There is something I can say.’”

The result is “no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria,” which opened Nov. 23 at the museum, in New York, and bills itself as “the first scholarly exhibition focused on Puerto Rican art to be organized by a large U.S. museum in nearly half a century.”

Five years after becoming the Whitney’s first curator specializing in Latino art, Ms. Guerrero has made a meaningful impact on the field as the nation’s Hispanic population continues to grow and museums try to reflect and attract more diverse audiences.

“As the first Puerto Rican curator at the Whitney, she is at the right place at a time when Latinx art is emerging as a force to be reckoned with,” said Mari Carmen Ramírez, who in 2001 became the first curator of Latin American art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, when it established a department of Latino art. “We all expect her to contribute to this transformation in a significant way.”

That transformation has been noteworthy, though much of the attention around diversity has been focused on Black artists and curators in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. [. . .]

The Smithsonian is in the early stages of planning a National Museum of the American Latino for the National Mall, a location that members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had urged President Biden to support.

And in 2021, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation established the Latinx Artist Fellowships, awarding 15 artists $50,000 each.

The changes that Ms. Guerrero has helped advance at the Whitney are evident throughout the museum — bilingual wall text and catalogs; new marketing techniques to reach diverse audiences; acquisitions and exhibitions that integrate Latino artists.

Last year, she was promoted from an assistant curator to an associate curator, an endowed position.

“She is a real visionary,” Scott Rothkopf, the museum’s senior deputy director and chief curator, said. “She’s had a truly transformative impact on the museum in terms of the program, how we think about Latinx, around translations, around audience, around our partnerships and around who we consider our community to be.”

Ms. Guerrero — who is 42 and holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison — came to the Whitney from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where as a curatorial fellow she was involved in the 2017 exhibition “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985.” [. . .]

At the Whitney, Ms. Guerrero in 2020 helped organize “Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945.” She also curated the 2018 exhibition “Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art,” which featured the work of seven emerging Latino artists. [. . .]

Ms. Guerrero said she felt the support of curators at other institutions, such as Susanna V. Temkin at El Museo del Barrio, Carmen Hermo at the Brooklyn Museum, and Vivian Crockett at the New Museum. [. . .]

Other curators, in turn, say they have been inspired by Ms. Guerrero. Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, an art historian and curator who organized the “Radical Women” show at the Hammer, said Ms. Guerrero’s role “has been one of serious research and commitment to the fields of Latin American and Latinx art.”

“Her contribution to ‘Radical Women’ was key, as we worked together to research Latina and Chicana artists, and she single-handedly researched Puerto Rico,” Dr. Fajardo-Hill added. “Her work at the Whitney thus far has been important for promoting an expansive conceptualization of what Latinx art means today.”

At the same time, Ms. Guerrero acknowledges the burden shared by many curators of color: shifting business as usual in an entrenched operation. “It means asking all the departments in an institution to do things they haven’t done before, understanding what marketing to a Latinx audience means, not just doing Latinx shows,” she said. “People in the Bronx also want to know about Edward Hopper or Andy Warhol.” [. . .]

She wants to share the joy she has long taken in experiencing art with a wider population, to help people who might feel intimidated by museums to feel welcome and to see themselves represented on the walls. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/19/arts/whitney-museum-latino-art-marcela-guerrero.html

[Shown above, photo by Sabrina Santiago for The New York Times: Marcela Guerrero, an associate curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, is leading the way in the field of Latino art. She stands in front of a favorite painting, Robert Henri’s “Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney” (1916).]

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