As I have commented many many many times, close study of the reception of art from Latin America and the Caribbean in this country during the 20th and now 21st century is premised on a series of tropes and binaries that recur each decade. Foremost among these is the notion of "discovery" and "re-discovery" obviously related to our colonial history. Related to this is the financial metaphor of the "boom." What strikes me is the ways in which some of us market ourselves as US-based Native informants and Cultural brokers who take (usually sole) credit for "putting Latin American art on the map" as we compete with fellow curators and scholars in the global artworld market place. This is very very much in evidence in the NYTimes article. On the one hand, sadly Ramirez has fed this dynamic herself by a very combative manner of presenting her extremely useful, and highly intelligent exhibitions, articles and projects as completely unique, while attacking her colleagues. Clearly, some kind of "tipping point" has been reached in order to allow people to go on the record with their grievances against her. What used to be provincial bochinche is now public knowledge.
Aside from the fact that often she insults people, do we want our so-called field to be represented in the mass media in this way? Maybe I'm being too much like Rodney King "Why can't we all get along?" But we are now witnessing a situation where people who should be working together collegially to promote these artists are in some kind of an ego-tripping, capitalist-emulating, neo-Colonial dynamic that apes the worst types of US global corporate culture. The latter of course, are, I believe, all features of our supposed "insertion" or "inclusion" within US museums.
And Lubow's framing of the story as that of Ramirez as someone who "puts Latin American art on the map" is, of course, another clearly problematic colonial metaphor. Journalists reinforce these tropes each and every time they are assigned or propose an article about this geographic construct known as "Latin American art." And this is the way in which the conveniently packaged region has been promoted by dealers, curators, art historians and collectors within the US, as many people have rightly observed ad nauseum.
Lubow (as do many of us in the artworld) also reaffirms another rather tired stereotype - the binary of abstraction versus political figuration. This binary plays into the hands of so-called mainstream US museum curators as well as allows rich right-wing collectors to suppress art with political content. Of course this paves the way for certain Native Informants and Cultural brokers to gain entry into prominent US museums. Paulo Herkenhoff's use of the term "Manifest Destiny" in relation to MoMA was especially apt. And Edward Sullivan's observation that a new canon is being formed in reaction to an older one is also very prescient. He rightly underscores the ways in which such US-driven binaries impair the study and proper understanding of the full intellectual, formal, political complexities of the works of individual artists, of the kinds of modernities that developed in specific areas. And, I would add, it implicitly denies the fact that figuration can be a form of modernity and experimentation, and that form and content are not by nature opposing terms. Such ideas are now commonplace in art historical discourse, yet they seem to be ignored in the so-called Latin American art field as elaborated by some Native Informants and Cultural Brokers.
Finally, a few observations:
Ramirez did her PhD thesis on Mexican Muralism but, like intellectuals tarred as enemies of the people during the Cultural Revolution, she now has to perform the requisite public renunciation of Frida Kahlo, the new bogeyman.
She invokes her Puerto Rican origin repeatedly to claim a marginal status of some kind. Yet in Puerto Rico many criticize her for her renunciation of her earlier interest in Puerto Rican artists. Looking at her history, we see how these artists gradually disappear from her exhibitions or acquisitions in favor of the Southern Cone. And, by the way, Puerto Rico is NOT the last remaining colony in the Caribbean, as a friend who works for the State Department pointed out to me.
The misogynist schadenfreude that pervades much of the artworld is much in evidence as some men attack a powerful woman who expresses herself in forthright ways that, were a man to adopt them, would pass unremarked upon or be a source for congratulation. And of course, to me it is a sad irony to see a female Latina curator using an attack on a Mexican woman artist as a strategy to buttress her position in the male-dominated artworld.
NOTE: SEE COMMENTS FOR ADDITIONAL DEBATE AND SOME ADDED CLARIFICATIONS FROM PETITE MAOISTE - this story is really tormenting me, you see.
THE ARTICLE - Note the cliched title "After Frida"
MOVERS & SHAKERS
By ARTHUR LUBOW
Published: March 23, 2008
How the curator Mari Carmen Ramírez has helped put Latin America at the center of the international art world.