Capturing Our Essence

Hispanic Heritage Month offers many ways to appreciate Latino culture. So why not take advantage of this and head to your local art museum to see how artists have captured our essence? This year, museums across the country, including the Smithsonian, will showcase the work of contemporary Latino artists. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find.

In Texas, two exhibits reflect a modern view of the Latino lifestyle while demonstrating how a community can support Latino artists. Opening September 22, the El Paso Museum of Art presents An Expansive Regard: Selected Works from the Collection of Juan Sandoval. For artists, patronage is critical but in the Latino community, it’s still an emerging concept. Local art collector Juan A. Sandoval II has spent 30 years developing a diverse collection of artworks spanning different media and cultures. His collection includes contemporary artists like Manuel Acosta, Francisco Delgado, Gaspar Enriquez, and Luis Jiménez.

Sandoval began collecting as a young boy, starting with rocks that he found in his hometown of Monte Vista, Colorado. The desire to collect hasn’t waned but the focus eventually changed to Latino art. Unlike more famous art collectors like Cheech Marin, Sandoval is not a celebrity but a reference librarian at the University of Texas at El Paso, with a subject specialty in art and Chicano studies. His story proves that anyone who loves art can own it and support artists in the process. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

In Austin, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center will showcase its recently enacted artists in residence program with an installation exhibit by Luis Gutierrez in the main gallery, Dreamers Todos Installation y Fotoprints. According to the artist: “I continue to work in multi-media but my greatest preoccupation is in photography. The advent of the digital world makes photo based printmaking a very exciting and dynamic genre.” In the community gallery, sculpture takes the stage in The Watchdog and the Thief, by Hector Hernandez and William Hundley. Hernandez creates lifelike silhouettes from colored foam, while Hundley’s installations use elements that are created from found objects.The exhibits are free and run through August 31.

New York’s Museo del Barrio features work by 37 emerging artists who live and work in the NYC metropolitan area, in Here is Where We Jump, on display through January 4, 2014. Part of its seventh biennial exhibition, this installation of La Bienal provides a platform for emerging artists while addressing two of the key challenges for emerging artists---venues and visibility. Celebrating the experimental and experiential aspects of contemporary art, La Bienal showcases artists like Julia San Martin from Chile, and Puerto Rican artist and Bronx native Manny Vega. The featured country this year is Brazil. Since its inception in 1999, La Bienal has been a significant means for creating ties between institutions and artists, while building networks and opportunities for a wide variety of talented Latino artists.

Opening October 25 in the nation’s capital, the Smithsonian American Art Museum presents Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. With more than 90 works of art across all media, the exhibit celebrates significant mid-century Latino artists whose work reflects their broader American experience. Drawn entirely from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection and organized by Smithsonian curator E. Carmen Ramos, it presents an evolving picture of our national culture that challenges expectations of what is meant by “American” and “Latino.” Highlights include an installation altar by Amalia Mesa-Bains, the “recycled” films of Raphael Montañez Ortiz, and a 1960 geometric painting by Carmen Herrera. It’s on display through March 2 and admission is free.

On the opposite coast, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art looks at the Mexican culture as it has been reflected in film with Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa, Art, and Film. Over a span of 50 years, Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (1907–1997), who spoke of creating “un imágen méxicana,” captured a unique vision of Mexico. The exhibition features film clips, paintings, photographs, posters and documents many of which are drawn from Figueroa’s archive. It also includes works by contemporary artists and filmmakers associated with Figueroa’s cinematography.

Among the most important cinematographers to emerge during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, Figueroa worked with leading directors from Mexico, the U.S. and Europe. Like his contemporaries, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Edward Weston, Figueroa sought to convey the symbolic significance of the country’s transformation after the scarring battles of the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910. Later, he adapted his approach to work with directors like Luis Buñuel and John Huston, among others. Opening September 22, the exhibit will be on display through February 14, 2014.

Valerie Menard