Orlando Museum of Art

Orlando, FL





Arte Latino: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum


The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) presents "Arte Latino. Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum," from December 23, 2000 through February 18, 2001. The Smithsonian American Art Museum began actively collecting Latino art about a decade ago. This exhibition includes a sampling of these rich traditions selected from almost 500 Latino works of art in their collection.

Arte Latino highlights more than 200 years of Latino art from across the United States. These paintings, sculptures and photographs represent many different cultural traditions developed by mostly Spanish-speaking artists who have settled in America. Many of the artists explore a wide range of expression through cultural heritage. Included are both U.S.-born and immigrant artists who have created art throughout the United States. The artists in Arte Latino were chosen for their ability to convey the vitality of Latino artistic traditions and innovations. (left: Caban Group, Los Reyes Magos, ca. 1875-1900, painted wood with metal and string, 8 1/8 x 11 7/8 x 6 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Teodoro Vidal Collection)

The earliest works on view are from Puerto Rico. José Campeche, the son of a black slave in the 18th century, became an accomplished painter without ever leaving the island. Classical engravings inspired the figures in his religious paintings such as San Juan Nepomucena (Saint John Nepomuk), painted around 1798. Self-taught artists on the island also made many wood representations of religious figures. Carved around 1875-1900, Los Reyes Magos (The Three Magi) by the Caban group, celebrates the kings' visit to the newborn Christ child. These figures are cut from a wooden packing crate. In Puerto Rican depictions, the kings ride horses, animals that were introduced to the island by Spanish explorers.

Two works in the exhibition by unidentified artists have the distinction of being the oldest in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's collection - Santa Barbara (Saint Barbara) circa 1680-90, and Nuestra Scñora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) circa 1675-1725. This wood sculpture is so fragile that a special climate-controlled case was designed to house it while it travels and while it is on view. Scholar and author Teodoro Vidal donated this rare group of early Puerto Rican art to the American Art Museum in 1997.

Contemporary artists often combine popular American culture and their Latino experience in their works. In particular, the Chicano Movement inspired artists to address social and political issues. One of the treasures in this exhibition is a Chicano-painted mahogany altar by Emanuel Martinet from 1967, a key symbol of the nonviolent farm labor movement. Cesar Chavez, who founded the United Farm Workers Union in 1963, marked the end of his 25-day hunger strike in support of the farm workers' struggle in Southern California by celebrating Mass with Robert Kennedy in front of the Farm Workers' Altar. (left: Patssi Valdez, The Magic Room, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 119 5/8 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, purchase through the Smithsonian Collection Acquisition Program, 1997.70)

Patssi Valdez was born in East Los Angeles and grew up during the turbulent days of the Chicano Movement, participating in the 1970s in an urban performance group, Asco. Since 1988, she has worked primarily as a painter. In The Magic Room (1994), bouncing balls and swinging gymnastic rings seem to have a life of their own. Charles "Chaz" Bojórquez adapts the graffiti of East Los Angeles gangs for his monochromatic abstract painting from 1992, Somos la Luz (We Are the Light). The title appears among the phrases, numbers and names in this tribute to the achievements of tenacious urban youth.

Several of the artists featured in this exhibition have transformed classical fine art traditions using new, modern materials for their work. Luis Jiménez uses lightweight fiberglass for his monumental Man of Fire (1969). ?his sculpture pays homage to Cuauhtémoc, an Aztec ruler who was burned after he resisted Spanish conqueror Cortéz in 1522.

Pepón Osorio created installations with layered meanings using five-and-dime store objects. In El Chandelier (1988), the artist encrusted a crystal chandelier with such everyday objects as costume jewelry, dolls, fringe, AstroTurf and plastic saints. The elaborately decorated cakes his mother made for him when he was a child in Puerto Rico inspired El Chandelier.

Arte Latino is one of eight exhibitions in Treasures to Go, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, touring the nation through 2002. The Principal Financial Group® is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people. Treasures to Go, launched in January 2000, is perhaps the most extensive art tour ever. Its goal is to stimulate interest in American art among new audiences as well as art lovers by touring the nation's foremost collection to communities across the country. Additional information and full itineraries for Treasures to Go can be found on the Smithsonian American Art Museum's web site at http://www.AmericanArt.si.edu/

Readers may also enjoy our earlier article Over 500 NMAA "Treasures to Go" to 70 Museums Nationwide (8/6/99)

rev. 8/26/99

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

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