The Crocker Museum in Sacramento will showcase Hispanic artists in the upcoming exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art from September 21 through January 11, 2015. This major collection of contemporary and modern Latino art offers the rich and diverse contributions of Latino artists throughout the U.S. from the mid-20th century when “a collective Latino identity” started to surface.
The Latino art on display is drawn from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection. It will include 72 prominent contemporary and modern artists. The exhibit examines how Latino artists fostered the artistic movements of their era and reshaped central themes in American art and culture. Artistic styles will include conceptual and performance art, abstract expressionism and classic American genres including portraiture, landscape and panoramas of daily life.
Spurred by the civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s, Latino artists across the U.S. produced new imageries of their communities and examined bicultural encounters. Many artists judiciously delved into American history and popular culture, exposing the prospects along with the conflicts of progression and resettlement. Other artists chose to dedicate themselves to experimentation, pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. The exhibit studies the perception that we are a populace of émigrés and provides a representation of developing a national culture that tested the beliefs of what was expected as “American and Latino.”
Not only did activists such as César Chávez build on Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy during the 60s civil rights movement, but so did Latino artists. Many of the artists represented in the “Our America” exhibition grew up when the movement was flourishing and it had a profound impact in Latin American communities across the nation. The Latin American artists set out to create pieces that tested “traditional racial hierarchies that undergirded American society.”
Artists found stylistic approaches to meld their art and actions including printmaker-painter, Xavier Viramontes, poster artist, Malaquias Montoya and visual artist, Ester Hernandez, along with the Royal Chicano Art Force. They created posters for marches and supported the activities of the United Farmworkers (UFW). Montoya carried his activism through the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) in California.
Latino artists such as Puerto Rican, Jorge Soto Sánchez participated in racial equality and elements of Black Pride that were relevant to Latino history and culture. Sánchez was a prominent member of the Nuyorican Movement in East Harlem and the Bronx. He strived to uphold the Puerto Rican experience and created many pieces in his reverence for Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean faith.
The connection between American art in the post-war period and Latino art is multifaceted and complex. The Latino civil rights movement impelled some artists to withdraw “from a pure formalist discourse to tackle the pressing issues of the day,” according to E. Carmon Ramos, curator of Latino Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Likewise, there were Latino artists who unequivocally supported abstraction. Furthermore, there were Latino artists that occupied numerous realms, “infusing avant-garde modes with politically and culturally engaged themes,” noted Ramos.
With deep roots in the United States, the artists represented in the “Our America” exhibition include a diverse medley of Latin American groups from different generations and regions. The exhibition highlights artists such as Olga Albizu, Jesse Amado, Myrna Báez, ADÁL, Emilio Sánchez, Margarita Cabera, Guillermo Bejarno and Hector González among others.
The mid-20th century was a vital era in Latino art in America. At that time, Latinos were attending art schools and starting to challenge their current place on the periphery of American society. The Latino artists in Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art were forerunners who tackled archetypal American themes to become contemporaries who exchanged ideas with other American artists and in the cultural setting.
By Dawn Levesque