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In this introduction, Luis Cancel explains the logic behind how he and his colleagues organized the exhibition The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970. He also explains, at length, the curatorial team’s larger educational and social goals in formulating the exhibition. Cancel describes the goals of the exhibition and catalog as 1) to document how Latin American artists participated in the development of U.S. art and culture; 2) to show how prevalent this participation has been; and 3) to feature the history of Puerto Rican artists on the Island and in the U.S. The exhibition is organized according to six “art historical” categories: 1) “constructivism and geometric art,” 2) “socially concerned” art, 3) “New World Surrealism,” 4) “abstraction,” 5) “figuration and Realism,” and 6) the “art of the 1960s.” Cancel elaborates on how he wants the show and the book to prompt further study of Latin American art, on both academic and mainstream levels. The curator also describes how he has attempted to address the problem of Puerto Rican art falling within the purview neither of Latin American nor U.S. art history by examining it as a participant in both. Cancel ends by affirming that the overall goal of this exhibition is “. . . to redefine the way Latin American art is viewed and discussed in this country. . .”


Luis Cancel wrote this introduction for an exhibition he conceived (with a team of curators) at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in 1988 entitled The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970. Organized by a Puerto Rican curator at a grass-roots institution, this show should be understood as a response to the dissatisfaction Latinos and Latin Americans felt with how mainstream institutions in the U.S. were exhibiting Latin American and Latino art during the late 1980s. Cancel is arguing for a paradigm shift: Instead of thinking about Latin American art as exotic and Other, we should think of it as something constitutive of our (U.S.) culture. As Cancel states in this introduction, among the many aims of this exhibition are countering U.S. stereotypes about Latin American art and culture, they bring to the fore a more complex history than has been presented by exhibitions of the usual suspects. (These include the Mexican muralists, Joaquín Torres-García, Roberto Matta, Wifredo Lam, Rufino Tamayo, Fernando Botero, and Frida Kahlo.) Instead of emphasizing Latin American culture as different and exotic, by means of this exhibition, Cancel argues that Latin American artists should be considered vital participants in the development of mainstream art movements in the United States. As an example, he cites how the Brazilian sculptor Amilcar de Castro was unfairly criticized as “derivative” of minimalism when he showed his sculptures in New York during the 1960s. Cancel is also interested in expanding the history of mainstream U.S. art by claiming a special place for artists who have resisted assimilation, such as the group of Puerto Rican printmakers who, during the 1950s, defied mainstream art of New York by embracing Puerto Rican nationalism. 

María C. Gaztambide; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Courtesy of Luis R. Cancel, Brooklyn, NY