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In this text, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. considers how scholars could expand the interest in Latin American art in the United States, prompted by the politics of World War II. Barr begins by acknowledging that the “necessity of establishing closer relations” with Latin American countries during the war motivated a hasty involvement by the Museum of Modern Art with Latin American art. He stresses the difficulty of exercising “objective judgment” in selecting and studying art under these circumstances, and generally, the difficulty of establishing standards of judgment for Latin American art. Difficulty is caused by differences between “national reputations” and “international standards,” as well as the need to find works that are “exportable” to the United States. Research and scholarship are areas that also need considerable development and Barr calls for the publication of a dictionary of artists, histories of national schools, and monographs. He also calls for studies that examine special issues, such as the conflict between internationalism and nationalism, and the economics of art production. Barr ends by reminding United States scholars of their responsibility to “justify what we did then in a state of emergency by continuing interest now that the emergency [caused by the war] is past.”
Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (1902-81), the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art of New York, delivered this paper at the Conference on Studies in Latin American Art at the Museum of Modern Art on May 28–31, 1945. At this conference, leading curators, museum administrators, and scholars in the United States spoke on their recent experiences exhibiting and studying Latin American art. In his paper, Barr considers the difficulty United States scholars have in determining the quality of Latin American works of art, calling on scholars to take action in order to provide more published information on Latin American art. He also acknowledges that aesthetic judgment is muddled by what he calls “a chronic confusion between national reputation and international standards,” and that works must necessarily be “exportable” in order for them to be valued by viewers in the United States. This does not mean, however, that Barr does not still hold great faith in the possibility of objectively judging the “quality” of Latin American art. He exercises such judgment when he deems a painting in a local naïve style and of local subject by Antonio Ruiz (1897-1964) as far superior and much more “exportable” than a Cubist painting by an unnamed Chilean artist.