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Exhibition catalogue for the “Gulf-Caribbean Art Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston,” which was on display from April 4th through May 6th 1956. It was a touring exhibit, circulated under the auspices of the museum exhibitions association to The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, The Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, The Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, and The Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. The text includes a foreword from the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston’s Director, Lee Malone and an introduction by Dr. José Gómez-Sicre, Chief of the Visual Arts Section of The Pan American Union in Washington, D.C., Lee Malone, who also curated the exhibition, emphasizes in his text the importance of this exhibit and its purpose to “deepen and extend knowledge of contemporary art in the countries circling the Gulf and Caribbean waterways.” The works included in this exhibition come from 160 different artists from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Surinam, Trinidad, and Venezuela. An interesting aspect about the exhibit is that some of the pieces were being sold, with the printed text at the bottom of the catalogue “Many of these works of art are for sale. Price on request.” Dr. José Gómez-Sicre’s introduction to the exhibit makes an argument for the importance and development that has occurred in Latin American art, addressing its lack of acknowledgment in the North American discourse of modern art. “The fault lies,” argues Gómez-Sicre, “in the fact that during the late 30’s and early 40’s only the more superficially picturesque aspects of Latin American artistic output (tourist art) received attention in the United States.” The exhibitions, such as this one, that he put together were made in an effort to demonstrate the potential and the success that existed among Latin American artists, unbeknownst to North America. He addresses certain artists that demonstrate great talent in their work, such as Tamayo, Matta, Lam and Frasconi, and states that “these four great citizens have won acceptance… but not altogether independently of conditions which bear little relation to their intrinsic value.” Gómez Sicre strongly believed that there had been important progressive artists in Latin American and that their work was capable of competing on the international plane in the art world, and would demonstrate it with such exhibitions. He clarifies that his principle in selecting the works was to do so with works of high rank, judged by international standards, disregarding if it was “typical” from its place of origin.
Known as a writer, museologist, Cuban and Latin American cultural promoter and Cuban art critic and curator, José Gómez Sicre studied law at the University of Havana, and took classes in art history at New York University and Columbia University. His career consisted of the promotion of Latin American artists in the United States as well as internationally. Gómez-Sicre served as the director of exhibitions at the Institución Hispanocubana de Cultura, organizing exhibitions of Latin American art that traveled throughout the continent. Gómez-Sicre was crucial to the dissemination of Latin American art in the United States in the 1940s due to the political interest of North American in having consensus throughout the continent through the concept of “pan-Americanism.” In 1944, Gómez Sicre became an advisor to Alfred H. Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, and organized an exhibition of Cuban art that traveled throughout the United States. In 1946, he became a specialist working in the Visual Arts Unit of the Pan-American Union, which later became the Organization of American States. From 1948 to 1976, he served as chief of the Visual Arts Unit. He convinced the Organization of American States to create an acquisitions fund in 1957, and an art museum in 1976 - where he became the Founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America until his retirement in 1983 and was made Director emeritus in 1985. Gómez Sicre’s publications include: Mario Carreño (1943), Cuban Painting Today (1944), Spanish Master Drawings XV to XVIII Centuries (1951), Four Artists of the Americas (1957), Guide to Public Collections in Latin America (1956, 1968), Leonardo Nierman (1971), and Jose Luis Cuevas: Self-Portrait with Model (1983). He was one of the first art critics to conceive of Latin American art as a field of study, and he is also responsible for establishing a canon of Latin American artists, and propelling the careers of such artists as Rodolfo Abularach, José Luis Cuevas, Armando Morales, Alejandro Obregón, and José Antonio Velásquez, among others. This introduction to the exhibition Gulf-Caribbean Art exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston in 1956 reflects Gómez Sicre’s promotion of a select canon of Latin American artists based mainly on the formal properties of their work, intentionally disregarding political or social aspects affecting the art, and with an effort to place these artists within the context of modern and contemporary art.