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Contemporary Latin American Art and Roller Skates?
A Hip, New Museum Is Hot For Mexican Artists

by Beverly Imman Field

Mexican contemporary art has found a vigorous new supporter
in the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) located in Long Beach, California. From their opening exhibition in November, 1996, Diego Rivera: Of Time And Color, mounted by the Museum of Art of the State of Veracruz, to their current exhibition, Pinturerias: The Art of the Bullfight, fine artists from throughout Mexico are represented.
Both young and established artists will find opportunities to show their work at the only museum in the Western United States dedicated to contemporary Latin American art. Artists may submit photos of their work to the Artist's Registry, which provides exposure among curators, galleries, scholars and patrons.
The museum's permanent collection focuses on artists who have "lived or worked in Latin America since World War II and whose work is representational and reflects an indigenous or regional direction." Exhibitions at MoLAA are drawn from a variety of sources besides the Registry, including international and domestic private collections and traveling exhibitions. The museum presents educational programs and events which provide a cultural context for the art on display.
Historic Diego Rivera Opening
During the summer of 1996, a fortunate chain of events enabled the new museum to open with an exhibition of 20 rare and insightful drawings and paintings by Diego Rivera.
The story begins in Washington, D.C., when Patricia House, then director of MoLAA, saw this jewel of an exhibit at the Organization of American States building, displayed in conjunction with a major exhibition of Olmec art at the National Gallery of Art. When asked whether the newly organizing museum could be on it's traveling schedule, she was told that this is a one-stop event. But the Veracruz State Museum of Art decided to let the exhibit travel west to Dallas, Texas for several months, in the Federal Reserve Bank's gallery there.
Remembering House's desire for an exhibit at MoLAA, the Mexican Consulate paid them a visit. The following day the call came back with the good news, "You can have the show," and the bad news, "You have to take it immediately." The small staff went into high-gear; setting show dates, making logistic arrangements, planning a reception, educational events, and getting the word out.
Rivera's works shown here were not his trademark images, but ones that helped to create a more complete atmosphere of Mexican art. Among them were a traditional 1906 landscape that won the then 20-year-old artist a scholarship to study in Europe. Other pieces included demonstrated his experimentation with European styles of Impressionism, Cubism and Futurism. Instead of images of Rivera's celebrated third wife, painter Frida Kahlo, portraits of his mother, Maria Barrientos, his first wife, Russian artist Angelina Beloff, and his second wife, actress Guadalupe Marin, were included. Also displayed were portrayals of Mexican workers and peasants, revealing Rivera's interest in the subject matter of his homeland.
Current Exhibit Features
Mexican Artists
Pinturerias: The Art of the Bullfight, featuring the work of 85 artists, mostly from Mexico, organized by the Fundación Cultural Artención, A.C., is captivating museum patrons through June 27. The signature painting used to publicize this traveling exhibit is a whimsical gauche entitled, "El Torro" by Mexican artist Victor Manuel Gochez. The variety of two-dimentional works shown are the culmination of a competition using the traditional bullfight poster as a point of departure. The idea was to encourage artists to explore the relationship between the art of the bullfight and fine art. In the words of the great Spanish writer, Ortega y Gasset, "The bullfight forces man to think and explain himself, to look at his own origins, his development and his future."
Throughout history, from the cave paintings in Altamira and Lascaux to the traditional posters in Spain, Mexico and Latin America, men have depicted the battle between the forces of nature (the bull) and the strength of man (the bullfighter). The works that make up this exhibition speak about the many facets of the bullfighting experience, from the joy and humor it contains to the awe and often repugnance which it evokes.
In addition to the competition, several Latin American artists were invited to send in work based on the theme of the bullfight. Artists such as José Luis Cuevas, Rafael Cauduro, Alberto Gironell and Oliverio Hinojosa are among those represented. The exhibit provides a rare opportunity for artists and viewers to get in touch with their thoughts and feelings regarding the bullfight, a practice deeply entrenched in Hispanic culture.
Newly Renovated Space
Several years ago the city of Long Beach, California made an award winning feasibility study, the result is the East Village Arts District. MoLAA anchors one corner of this area, which is currently undergoing redevelopment as an arts community with studios, galleries, restaurants and other arts related businesses.
The personal vision of Dr. Robert Gumbiner sparked the establishment of the museum twenty months ago. Gumbiner says, "Why Long Beach and why the old Hippodrome Skating Rink? My answer is very simple, because I own that particular piece of property and I'm a firm believer in the cost-effective reuse of existing resources. The building, with it's wooden floor and high trussed ceilings, lends itself architecturally to reconfiguration as a great exhibition space."
Gumbiner began collecting Latin American art in the 1960's. He felt it was still somewhat obscure and under appreciated in the United States. "It occurred to me that a museum whose focus would be the study and exhibition of contemporary Latin American art was an institution long overdue and one that would be exciting to develop," he said. The RGF Collection is the cornerstone of the museum's permanent collection.
The Robert Gumbiner Foundation was instrumental in funding the museum's multi-million dollar renovation, expanding the 2,000 square foot gallery space to 12,000 square feet. An additional 10,000 square feet are allocated for the retail sales gallery, restaurant and lecture halls for films, dance performances and hands-on workshops.
Future exhibitions schedule
for MoLAA includes:
*Caribbean Visions: Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, July 1998 - August 23
*OMNIA: Laura Hernandez, September 5 - November 8
*Saints and Patrons: Popular Devotions in Latin America, an invitational from the Artist's Registry, November 21 - January 31, 1999
*Vento Sul: Art from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazilian Political Cartoons, February - April, 1999
For further information call (562) 437-1689
Note: Beverly Inman Field, retired in Guadalajara, is the former Director of the Downey Museum of Art, Downy, California, from 1969-1976. Downy is the Sister City of Guadalajara, Jalisco, México.