Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this text, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. introduces the catalog of the collection of Latin American art of the Museum of Modern Art with remarks reviewing the history of the museum’s involvement with Latin American art and recent efforts to expand its collection. Barr begins by noting how the inaccessibility of Europe during the war has thankfully motivated nations in the Western hemisphere to begin to learn more about other art of that geographical region. The museum has exhibited Latin American art frequently over the past decade. Since Diego Rivera’s 1931 solo show, exhibitions and concerts have featured pre-Columbian and Mexican art, and the work of Brazilian painter Candido Portinari, among other artists and architects. Latin American art has also been collected since Mrs. John D. Rockefeller donated [José Clemente] Orozco’s Subway, in 1935. At that time, because of rising interest in the region, an anonymous donor established the Inter-American Fund with the aim of substantially enlarging and diversifying the collection of Latin American art. With this fund, during the summer of 1942, Barr and Lincoln Kirstein traveled independently to Mexico, Cuba, and South America, purchasing some 200 hundred works of art. Barr closes his assessment of the Latin American collection by inventorying its areas of weakness and reminding viewers that the museum’s collection is “. . . not a static but a dynamic affair, continually changing.”

Annotations

Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (1902-81), the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wrote this foreword to the catalog The Latin-American Collection of the Museum of Modern Art by Lincoln Kirstein. Funded by the Inter-American Fund (established by Nelson Rockefeller), Kirstein—the museum’s “Consultant in Latin American Art” at that time—and Barr spent the summer of 1942 traveling, respectively, in South America, Mexico, and Cuba, purchasing the some 200 works that were added with this fund to the museum’s collection. As Barr notes in his foreword, Mexican and Brazilian art represented the core of the museum collection before 1942. Mexican artists were well-known in the United States during the 1930s and works by the muralists had been given to the collection by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, among others. On the occasion of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, the museum purchased and had been given works by Candido Portinari (whose mural decorated the Brazilian pavilion). The Inter-American Fund was established to expand the museum collection (especially in South America) in 1942, at a moment when the United States Department of State was becoming involved in promoting cultural exchanges with Latin America as part of the mission to expand influence and stop the spread of fascism in the region. While Barr was no doubt aware of the politics of the museum’s Latin American collection, this text show how he was primarily focused on the question of how the addition of such a large number of Latin American works changed the character of the museum’s collection as a whole and how it indicated a new direction and a burst of dynamism for the encyclopedic collection of modern art he was working to shape.

Researcher
María C. Gaztambide; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
Team
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Credit
Alfred H. Barr, Jr., foreword to The Latin-American Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, by Lincoln Kirstein (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1943) © 1943 The Museum of Modern Art, New York