“Libertad de Expresion,” a new collection exhibit opened Feb. 19 at the Art Museum of the Americas, brings to light numerous rifts in art, geography and policy that raise questions about the state of the world.
Curated by Mark White, director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, the exhibition traverses the Iron Curtain, the Panama Canal and the Caribbean Sea to parallel the Cold War.
The exhibit spotlights art collected by José Gómez Sicre, who was at the helm of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) art collection during the Cold War era. A body of scholars, diplomats, art-lovers and members of the general public came together for a panel on the exhibit.
The audience was an eclectic, committed, wonderful crowd; handshakes, multilingual greetings and dual-cheek kisses abounded. But during the question and answer period, sharp divisions quickly became evident.
The AMA has not had enough money to acquire new works in about 20 years, said Andres Navia, director of the museum. Visitors discussed Sicre’s exclusion of Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and Frida Kahlo, three of Mexico’s greatest artists, due to their communist views.
The small crowd’s most hotly debated subject was politics.
Some visitors lamented the abolition of the United States Information Agency, which funded numerous pro-United States art exhibits around the world, and the transfer of most of its programs to the State Department in 1999.
The contemporary nature of the art on the walls, and the occasionally strained discussion, raised questions as to whether the Cold War attitude immortalized in the artworks is truly a thing of the past.
These political issues accompanied with numerous geographic and cultural topics create an exhibition suitably dichotomous to chronicle the Cold War.
The art itself, and the man who collected it, follow a similar network of contradictions.
Sicre was virulently anti-communist, notably disliking and therefore overlooking artists Rivera, Kahlo and Siqueiros.
Yet, when it came to Roberto Matta, a Chilean communist artist whose work was in the collection, Sicre “was willing to make exceptions for leftists whose art he liked,” panelist Dr. Claire Fox, a University of Iowa professor, said.
Sicre also approached dichotomy in the artists he supported and collected, notably a group of São Paulo-based Japanese-Brazilian artists, bridging two very different cultures in their work.
The transatlantic divide between Latin America and Europe is bridged and breached by the influence of continental artists on the works shown. Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is the undisputed inspiration for Jose Luis Cuevas’ “Tribute to Picasso: The Real Ladies of Avignon.”
A triptych by Virgilio Guardiola presents the European post-Impressionists Vincent van Gogh and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec beside distinctly Latin palms and parrots.
Another blends the seeping orange color and aged look of ancient Greek amphorae with the abstract, strongly tactile aspects of modernity.
The painting that has served as the symbol of the exhibition, Hector Poleo’s “Scream by the Sea” is composed of two distinct forms, yet another set of two.
This subconscious duality (sun and moon, black and white, light and dark, etc.) shown through the prism of Sicre’s bifurcated politics, reminds viewers that he was a man who most certainly understood art.
A final example of this consistent theme of duality is “Physicromie No. 965” by Carlos Cruz-Diez, a piece with two distinct halves that are positioned such that only one is visible from each side. It is practically holographic, switching colors by angle, like the moving-image toys of childhood.
The lesson, then, rests with the piece’s look head-on. While only one color is visible from each side, a gradient-based shape incorporating both comes to view from the front.
Politics present this concept as well. There is left, and there is right. There is north, and there is south.
But put them together, looking straight on with the eye of an artist or of a committed collector named Jose Gomez-Sicre, and there is the world: multilingual, multicultural and whole, an entirely enviable view.
The exhibit will run until June 7.
Evan Berkowitz is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.
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