Education Update's MUSEUM MILE
El Museo del Barrio Spotlights
For those unfamiliar with El Museo del Barrio, the exciting Latino cultural institution on Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets in Manhattan, now is a great time to become acquainted. For those who are already fans, the current show, El Museo’s Bienal: The (S) Files, which runs until January 6, will reward a return visit. Featuring the work of 51 emerging Latino/Latin American artists who currently reside in the New York area, the Bienal is brimming with ideas and talent. (S) Files means “the selected files” and alludes to the choice of most of the work from unsolicited submissions to the museum’s Artists’ Archive. In addition, a “guest country,” Ecuador, that does not get much exposure in the New York art world, has contributed the work of five of its artists. The art is contemporary and wide ranging in medium, subject, and style. Curator Elvis Fuentes explains, “People tend to think there is a style of Latino art.” The show “is not about denying traditional Latin American art, but about showing variety. Artists look for new ways to express traditional subjects.” Three themes emerge. “A Wild Eye” encompasses nature and global warming. “Adrenaline” includes the cult of hyper-masculinity, violence, and war. “Agora” addresses current “hot” political and social topics.
Florencio Gelabert (Cuba) constructs an eight-foot long plywood and resin replica of the island of Manhattan filled with artificial plants but no buildings. It sits on the floor and will be moved to various locations during the exhibit. Having no space of its own, it becomes a “nomadic sculpture.” Dulce Pinzon (Mexico) photographs ordinary working people doing their jobs dressed in super-hero garb in order to question our definition of hero and our indifference to those laboring around us. Melissa A. Calderon (New York City) explores the stereotype of Latina emotions as “dramatic and over exaggerated” with a large cascading arc of white, cried-on tissues shooting out of a silver box. A large golden rocket standing tall on the floor illustrates “the beauty of horror,” in the words of Jesus Rivera (Cuba). Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu’s (Spain) photos of women in Spanish Harlem capture conflicted roles in a machista, dominant white society. An installation of a floor-based Calder-like mobile that resembles an oil field infrastructure together with pertinent documents is Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck’s (“Venezuela) bitter commentary on the Iraq war. Fernando Falconi paints himself into large-scale copies of illustrations in popular children’s textbooks in his country (Ecuador) to reread his nation’s image of itself. Some work utilizes video, light, sound, and interactive elements and others are site-specific installations.
El Museo del Barrio director Julian Zugazagoitia speaks of “the Latin American contribution to defining the cultural landscape of New York” and his goal of “strengthening support of Latino artists” in the city. Rodolfo Kronfle Chambers, curator of the art from Ecuador, explains his nation has “mostly traditional art which is a problem because artists have to go outside the country to become known.” Participating artists, several being shown for the first time, are clearly appreciative of the opportunity. Reflecting sentiments of many of his colleagues, Augusto Zanela (Argentina), whose outsized black and white wall graphic frames entry to the exhibit, speaks of the show as “very important, the most important show in my career so far.”
El Museo del Barrio was founded in 1969 in response to concern in the local community that Puerto Rican culture was not represented in New York museums. In 1994, because of local and national demographic changes, the museum extended its representation to all Latin American and Latino communities in the United States. Thanks to the MetLife Foundation, admission to the museum will be free during the run of the Bienal. Tours are given on Saturdays at 1 pm (English) and 2 pm (Spanish).