• 04/19/2013
  • Terelle Jerricks

MoLAA Re-imagines the Permanent Collection
By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Columnist

The Museum of Latin American Art owns more than 900 pieces of contemporary Latin American Art. Its collection represents one of the most significant collections of this field in the United States. At the time of the museum’s inception, the art collection of the Robert Gumbiner Foundation was the basis of the museum’s effort. Within the past decade, the collection has grown to represent more than 350 Latin American artists from 20 Latin American countries.

This year MoLAA has returned to its roots with exhibitions curated to present a fresh look at an under-appreciated asset. Nudged into a corner by a tight budget, deprived of the funds to bring in traveling shows, the curators have unearthed a treasure trove of newly interpreted works from their own collection.

The exhibit Lotería is prime example of the newly populist practice of curation, not always executed with this much imagination and talent. Curator of Education, Gabriela Martinez has married the Mexican game of Lotería with images from the permanent collection in a warm, poignant, humorous and thought provoking presentation.

The game of Lotería may be a mystery to those of us who grew up on this side of the border. A bingo-type game that uses images instead of numbers, Lotería made its way from Italy to Latin America during the colonial period, eventually establishing itself in Mexico. Most people are probably familiar with its images, including La Sirena, The Mermaid, or El Corazón, The Heart.

For this current interpretation of the permanent collection, the curators matched up works

of art from MOLAA’s Collection to corresponding Lotería symbols. Some matches, like El Nopal (The Cactus) are literal, some like La Dama (The Lady), are conceptual while others like El Cazo (The pot) are based on formal qualities.

Works from many of the most respected Latin American artists are included in the show, and it provides an insight into the symbology that has always existed within Latin American Art.

Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam gives us La Garza, The Heron. Francisco Toledo of Mexico represents La Rana, The Frog, with his playful dancing frogs, a popular subject for the artist.

It is sometimes jarring to see the Lotería cards paired with topics of gender identity, civil war or social upheaval, but this gives the exhibit the power intended by the artists and sometimes lost on museum walls.

La Dama, The Lady,  meant to be an elegant lady taking a stroll down the city sidewalk is paired with a cracked and broken porcelain doll, a digital photograph by Costa Rican artist Pricilla Monge. The doll wears a gaudy gold gown with the smeared lipstick of a child playing in her mother’s wardrobe. Two completely separate attempts at femininity, with neither representing an attainable image.

Dávid Alfaro Siquieros jars us with “The Heroic Voice,” paired next to the card El Valiente, The Brave. Siquieros speaks against state oppression with his statement on the killing of Ruben Salazar during the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. The local community has never forgot the protest, and the violent police response, which took place here in Southern California. Led by the Chicano Student Movement it gained worldwide attention and was an important piece of the American civil rights movement. The female image of Democracy breaks the chains of oppression in a classic Siquieros pose.

Moving through the galleries, a reminder of the importance of this collection greets the visitor at every turn. The museum has worked over the years to inch into the 21st century, away from a provincial reputation, and toward modernism. Criticism for the removal of the chief curator, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill was the topic of controversy at the end of the past year. But this exhibition, along with exhibit Intersections, in the front gallery, proves that there is still much to be discovered in the museum vault. Founder Robert Gumbiner stamped MoLAA with an image they are not always comfortable living within. Now it seems the curatorial staff has picked up the challenge to recreate their mien with success.

This is good news for us all. MoLAA is one of only a handful of museums nationally addressing the art and culture of the exploding Latino community.

“MoLAA is distinguishing itself through compelling exhibitions, outstanding educational programs and exciting cultural events,” MoLAA CEO Stuart Ashman, states. “Our expanding permanent collection includes work by important modern Latin American masters as well as by emerging contemporary artists, making MoLAA the place to see the latest trends in artistic expression from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.”

More than 40 pieces are included in this show, exhibiting artists from across Latin America. A large number of Cuban artists are included. If you are curious to experience the fine art of Cuba, you can avoid the trouble created by Jay Z and Beyoncé. MoLAA can take you to Cuba, as well as the rest of Latin America in the same day.

Exhibition runs through May 12.
Details: (562) 437.1689;  www.molaa.org
Venue: Museum of Latin American Art
Location: 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach






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