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Mari Carmen Ramírez argues that exhibitions of Latin American and Latino art in the United States during the 1980s have promoted false, colonial representations of these cultures by championing the paradigm of this art as the “fantastic other.” Analyzing three exhibitions, Ramírez explains how the ideology of the modernist museum and its emphasis on the formal development of art has perpetuated a colonialist attitude towards Latin American art that continues to see Latin America under the aegis of Surrealism, the irrational, as well as the rudimentary. Because of this, exhibitions have misrepresented both Latin American and Latino art and culture by omitting works that did not fit this primitive and biased idea of Latin America as the “fantastic other.” For example, Mexican muralism and geometric abstraction has been excluded from these exhibitions in favor of Frida Kahlo’s suffering halo and Francisco Toledo’s native-rooted imagination; and the highly politicized prints and activist art of Chicano and Puerto Ricans has been overlooked in favor of both sanctioned painting and sculpture. In the end, the solution that Ramírez proposes is that, curators must abandon their role as “arbiters of taste” in favor of assuming that of “cultural broker.” According to these much more active parameters, they act as facilitators allowing Latino and Latin American artists and communities to represent themselves in an effort to organize better exhibitions that reflect the historical and cultural complexity of the many diverse Latin American contexts.
U.S. based, Puerto Rican curator and art historian Mari Carmen Ramírez (b. 1955) wrote this text in response to problems with how Latin American and Latino art was represented in three exhibitions presented at major U.S. museums during the late-1980s: Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-1987 (1987), Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to Twentieth-Century Art (1988), and Hispanic art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors (1988). While this text invigorated the debate about cultural representations of “minorities” at the time of the rise of multiculturalism in U.S. museums during the late- 1980s and early- 1990s, it also raises fundamental theoretical problems about Latin American modernism and the representation of identity, bringing key theoretical debates about modernism and cultural representation to bear on the practice of organizing exhibitions. In this sense, Ramírez draws on Néstor García Canclini’s theories about how modernism and modernity occurred in overlapping and unevenly paced ways in Latin America. And she evokes Gerardo Mosquera’s call for the development of a “horizontal” network of exchange among Latin American and Latino artists, curators, and critics, to counter the “vertical” way that Latin American and Latino art has been co-opted by U.S. museums and curators.