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MFAH and ICAA to Launch Landmark Project in January 2012: A Digital Archive of 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art and A Companion Book Series

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and its research institute, the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), have devoted ten years and $50 million to initiatives in 20th-century Latin American and Latino art. In January 2012, the MFAH and ICAA will reach a milestone in these efforts: the initial launch of a digital archive of some 10,000 primary-source materials, culled by hundreds of researchers based out of 16 cities in the U.S. and throughout Latin America. The online archive will be available worldwide, free of charge, and is intended as a catalyst for the future of a field that has been notoriously lacking in accessible resources. The phased, multi-year launch begins with 2,500 documents from Argentina, Mexico and the American Midwest. Documents from other countries and communities will continue to be uploaded and made available. The first volume in a companion series of 13 annotated books will be published with the archive launch, with subsequent volumes in the series published annually.

The online archive is rich in artists’ writings, correspondence and other unpublished materials, as well as in texts published in newspapers and period journals by artists, critics, scholars and others who have played a vital role in shaping the cultural fabric of the countries and communities in which the Documents Project has had a presence. The material brings to life the ferment of international cultures, ideas and personalities that swept across 20th-century South America, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and the North American Midwest, as artists, writers and intellectuals sought to define or challenge notions of a national art; art movements emerged in response to changing local political regimes, as well as to what was perceived as the onslaught of North American culture; and the contribution of Latin American artists to the early stages of avant-garde global movements that resulted in highly original artistic manifestations. The archive also highlights the common interests and affinities shared by Latin artists working in North and South America, allowing for first-hand comparative studies of these broad-based, highly heterogeneous groups. Documents from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the United States will continue to be added to the website over the next three years, with the entire selection of holdings to date available by 2015. As the ICAA research initiatives progress, the website will continue to develop in perpetuity, making it an indispensable provider of Latin American and Latino primary-source documents.

A series of 13 books to be published over the next dozen years, Critical Documents of 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art, will accompany the digital archive initiative. Selections from the archive will be translated into English and organized by theme, rather than country or chronology. The general, non-Spanish speaking reader will have access to Latin American primary-source materials in English, while the specialized reader can cross-reference the books with the archive, accessing both the original and the translated versions of the texts. Co-published by the MFAH and Yale University Press, the series is the most ambitious editorial venture of its kind. The release of the first anthology, Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?, by Mari Carmen Ramírez with the late Olivier Debroise, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, and Héctor Olea, is timed for the Documents website launch.

“The ICAA Documents archive and book project is unprecedented in its scope and depth,” said MFAH interim director Gwendolyn H. Goffe. “The research teams have included the artistic production from countries that have been overlooked, opening up whole new avenues of scholarly investigation to as broad an audience as possible.”

“This project is just the beginning of the effort to recover the intellectual production of 20th-century Latin American artists, critics and curators and to further research and awareness of this production in the United States and elsewhere,” said Mari Carmen Ramírez, MFAH curator and ICAA director. “It will be up to future scholars to really make something out of this project and to continue to build what could truly be an amazing resource for the long-term development and consolidation of the field.”

“Latin American art can now fully become part of the worldwide discussion of Modernism. For graduate students especially, this project will be of immense use and interest,” commented Dr. Edward Sullivan, The Helen Gould Sheppard Professor of the History of Art, New York University and advisor to the Documents project. “The access to material written at the moment when the art was happening is a major tool to understand the development of artistic movements in Latin America. This project has the potential to integrate the lost chapter of Latin American art into the discipline of art history as it is taught at Western universities.”

The editorial board for the Documents of 20th-Century Latin America and Latino Art project consists of 16 scholars based throughout the United States and Latin America, and the Project’s steering committee is composed of 12 Latin American and Latino art scholars based in various locations throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Argentina team: based at Fundación Espigas (Buenos Aires).

“MADÍ appears in order to found a universal art movement which is to be the aesthetic counterpart to our industrial civilization and contemporary dialectical thought. MADÍ destroys the TABOO of the PAINTING by breaking with the traditional frame.” Gyula Kosice and others, ―MADÍ (fliers),‖ reprinted in Revista arte Madí universal 0-1 (1947).

The documents recovered here reflect the emergence of early Modernism in the Southern Cone in the 1920s; the embrace and unique interpretations of European Cubist and Surrealist trends; the development of Concrete Art in Buenos Aires in the 1940s; movements toward abstraction from the mid-1950s to the mid-’60s; as well as the rise of Conceptualism and post-Modern art in the region. In addition, these documents provide insight into the intellectual process of key Argentinean artists, since the archive is rich in published art criticism written by or about artists, letters exchanged between artists and their friends, responses to artist lectures, and news coverage of installations and exhibitions.

Major caches of documents by important Argentine artists, or artists working in Argentina, include those by: Antonio Berni, León Ferrari, Kenneth Kemble, Gyula Kosice, Julio Le Parc, Tomás Maldonado, Hugo Monzón, Luis Felipe Noé, Aldo Paparella, Aldo Pellegrini, Liliana Porter and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Extensive texts written by or about artist collectives operating in Argentina in the 1960s include writings and manifestos of the Centro de Arte y Comunicación (CAyC), which was founded as a multidisciplinary workshop but later turned to Pop art and culture; the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, which promoted the international exchange of ideas; and the Tucumán Arde (Tucumán is Burning) collective, which sought to use art as a means for social change through mass communication in response to military dictatorship.

Mexico team: based at CURARE, Espacio crítico para las artes (Mexico City).

“We are in the land of convulsive beauty, the land of edible delusions. Place for the mutable, the disturbing, the other death, in short, a land of dream, unavoidable by the surrealist spirit.” –Guatemalan poet/writer Luis Cardoza y Aragón describes Mexico to French Surrealist André Breton in a letter published in El Nacional: Diario Popular, September 19, 1936.

The documents from Mexico are primarily from the first half of the 20th century, with further research on the second half of the century planned. The intellectual production of Mexican artists, from the Mexican Muralists to Cubist and Surrealist artists, is documented—much of it extensively, including some 200 texts written by or about Diego Rivera alone. Some documents detail the flight of artists, such as Mathias Goeritz, from Nazi Germany. Manifestos for a range of artists’ groups, including the Estridentistas, Grupo de los ¡30-30!, and Los Hartos, are available, as are documents that chart the rise of Mexican Muralism, the influence of japonisme, the founding of the Mexican Open-Air Schools of Painting, and more.

Major caches of documents by important Mexican artists and intellectuals include those by Manuel Maples Arce, Fernando Gamboa, Alfredo Best Maugard, Gerardo Murillo (aka Dr. Atl), José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Juan Tablada, Rufino Tamayo and José Vasconcelos, among others.

In addition, documentation of important European and American artists and intellectuals who spent time in Mexico are available. They include Guatemalan poet and writer Luis Cardoza y Aragón, French Surrealist André Breton, French painter and illustrator Jean Charlot, German sculptor Mathias Goertiz, Guatemalan artist and critic Carlos Mérida, Italian photographer Tina Modotti, Spanish critic Margarita Nelken and American photographer Edward Weston.

The American Midwest team: based at the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana)

“The Hispanic or Latin American barrio in Chicago is quite distinct from areas contiguous to it, and markedly influences the content the mural artist will choose to convey and that which the audience might anticipate or demand. The environment will predicate to some degree the emotional and intellectual directions that both artist and viewer will take.” Victor Sorell, “Barrio Murals in Chicago: Painting the Hispanic-American Experience on „Our Community‟ Walls,” in Revista Chicano-Riqueña IV, no. 4 (1976): 51.

Latino art and cultural expressions that emerged in the American Midwest have been vastly overlooked by scholars, who have focused typically on such centers of Latino culture as New York, Los Angeles and Miami. The Notre Dame/ICAA research team has recovered and charted the spread of the Midwestern Muralist movement in the 1960s and ’70s, anchored by the legacy of Diego Rivera in Detroit and David Alfaro Siqueiros in Chicago. The documents in this section also highlight the engagement of Latino and Chicano artists in the Civil Rights movement, document actions of university student groups and collectives across the region and the importance of the graphic tradition established by Argentinean artist Mauricio Lasansky, who was one of the first artists to develop a printmaking workshop at a university (the University of Iowa).

Texts included in the archive are by or about important art critics and historians, like Victor Sorell; artists such as Mario Castillo, Raoul Deal, Mauricio Lasansky, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, and Paul Sierra; artist collectives such as Movimiento Artístico Chicano (MARCH), Association of Latino Brotherhood of Artist (ALBA), and the editorial staff of the journal Abrazo; and activists/organizers like Carlos Cortez Koyokuikatl.

About the Latin American Art Department and the ICAA at the MFAH

Since its inception in 2001, the Latin American Art Department at the MFAH has acquired more than 400 works of modern and contemporary Latin American art, including a pivotal private collection of 100 works: the Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art, first exhibited in 2007. In addition, major works by Lygia Clark, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gego, Gyula Kosice, Hélio Oiticica, Xul Solar, Joaquín Torres-García, Cildo Meireles, Luis Jiménez, Daniel Martínez, and Teresa Margolles, among many others, have entered the MFAH collection. Significant exhibitions include Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America (2004); Gego, Between Transparency and the Invisible (2005); Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color (2006); Constructing a Poetic Universe: The Diane and Bruce Halle Collection of Latin American Art (2007); and Carlos Cruz-Diez: Color in Space and Time (2011). The department has also established the Partners in Art program with the Fundación Gego in Caracas, the Cruz-Diez Foundation in Paris, and the Brillembourg Capriles Latin American Art Collection in Miami, all of which provide long-term loans to the MFAH for use in exhibitions, research, and publications.

The International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) was established with the Latin American art department. The center’s mission is to pioneer research of the diverse artistic production of Latin American and Latino artists—from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the United States—and to educate audiences, in order to transform the understanding of Latin American and Latino visual arts while opening new avenues of intercultural dialogue and exchange. Since its inception, the ICAA has organized four international symposia and published 14 books and catalogues.

About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Established in 1900, the MFAH is the largest cultural institution in the region. The majority of the museum’s presentations take place on its main campus, which is located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District and comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, the Caroline Wiess Law Building, the Glassell School of Art and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. The Beck and Law buildings are connected underground by the Wilson Tunnel, which features James Turrell’s iconic installation The Light Inside (1999). Additional resources include a repertory cinema, two significant libraries, public archives and a state-of-the-art conservation and storage facility. Nearby, two remarkable house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens and Rienzi—present collections of American and European decorative arts. The encyclopedic collections of the MFAH are especially strong in pre-Columbian and African gold; Renaissance and Baroque painting and sculpture; 19th- and 20th-century art; photography; and Latin American art. The MFAH is also home to the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art.

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