A group of about 10 doctorate students from this university ventured to D.C.’s Art Museum of the Americas in September 2014, to visit the little museum’s collection, which included some works never shown publicly before.
Led by assistant professor Abigail McEwen from the Department of Art History and Archaeology, the students, one-by-one, peered into the museum’s extensive archive of modern and contemporary Latin American art.
Now, the works that group chose, curated and wrote scholarly essays about is on view at The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland in “Streams of Being: Selections From the Art Museum of the Americas,” which opened March 25.
“It was a very long process in which [the students] developed the final checklist [of works now being exhibited],” AMA curator and educator Adriana Ospina said.
“Dr. McEwen wanted a teaching exhibition in which the students could have direct contact with the pieces and put together the exhibition,” Ospina said.
Art Gallery administration manager Taras Matla said undergraduate students were also involved in works selection.
Later, a second group of graduate students under McEwen developed educational materials for the exhibition, including videos, viewing cards, expanded wall text and a currently work-in-progress, blog and website.
“The educational and technological aspects of the exhibit are very important,” Ospina said. “It’s extremely helpful and cool.”
“It was frankly really exciting to have the students come here for research,” added AMA director Andres Navia.
This partnership – which has its roots in a Summer 2012 exhibit that put McEwen on the AMA’s radar – is part of a larger process the AMA is undertaking, Navia said.
A relatively small museum with an incredibly focused collection, the AMA is an arm of the Organization of American States, a diplomatic organization of which the U.S. is a member. Navia explained the AMA’s desire to allow it’s extensive collection to make an impact outside of the constricting museum walls.
“We want our collection to be a key element for education [and] research on modern and contemporary Latin American art,” Navia said. “This type of partnership with an academic institution is ideal in terms of making our archives more useful for research and the academic community.”
While nothing is at all formal, Navia said the partnership of “Streams of Being” with The Art Gallery “could guide us in [the] direction” of a more permanent partnership with the University of Maryland. Other regional university art programs that are being informally considered for permanent partnership by the AMA are Georgetown University and George Mason University, Navia said.
Matla said The Art Gallery was similarly interested in pursuing a more permanent relationship with the AMA, but it is “difficult to commit.”
“If the success of this exhibition is any indication of what a partnership with the AMA means, then we’re definitely headed in the right direction toward bigger and better things,” Matla said.
Matla explained the broad goals of the exhibit from The Art Gallery’s perspective.
“We’re trying to raise the profile of The Art Gallery a little bit and tap into larger global issues and how they pertain to the arts,” he said.
“We’re really trying to broaden the horizon … and bring a slice of the world art scene [to Maryland],” Matla said.
Streams of Being
As well as being founded on an academic curatorial process, the exhibit is specifically intended for an academic audience, Ospina said.
“I think that it targets a really specific audience. The content is actually highly theoretical; it’s not something you would find in a public museum,” Ospina said. “The student community is the best community to absorb that content,” she said. “It’s a nice challenge.”
The group of doctorate. students worked in groups and as a class to develop the exhibition around subtopics: “Bestiary,” “Bodies in Exile,” “Topologies” and “Cosmos.”
“It’s all about the different extremes of being … in each detail of the works,” Ospina said.
“Bestiary” is a zoo of animalia, with images of birds, beasts and bushy fur, including Angela Bonadies’s “The Ghost of Ornithology,” which hearkens back to an exhibit last year at the Smithsonian American Art Museum of birds in contemporary art.
“Bodies in Exile” shows pieces of humanity exiled from their human forms and their dignity. In an untitled piece by Cecilia Mattos, a fetus is about to be crushed by a printing press as the umbilical cord slowly transmutes into the screw of the press, which has handles resembling ovaries.
Agustin Fernandez’s “Las Tres Gracias (The Three Graces)” shows a set of six brass buttons on a leather strap that double as three pairs of brazen breasts. Antonio Berni’s “Ramona,” which portrays a prostitute-turned-socialite character, looks almost Olmec in a black-and-white xilo-collage relief, a printing process of Berni’s own invention.
A solitary banana left on the bunch in Antonio Henrique Amaral’s “Banana” leaves the leftover stubs looking like teeth in a rotted, yellow gum whose emptiness can be evocative of South American countries’ struggles against oppressive fruit syndicates.
The works by Raquel Forner are playfully abstract with aspects of reality that ground them strongly in the Spanish-influenced architecture of Forner’s native Argentina.
Work by Mexican artist Jose Luis Cuevas is also present in “Bodies in Exile.”
“Topologies” presents ideas of geography through art, a common trope in the collection of the AMA, evidence of its diplomatic roots. “Cartographic Figure” by Octavio Blasi is a human face modelled from collaged topographic maps.
An untitled photograph by Victor Vazquez presents “a lone woman caught between land and sea [that] speaks evocatively to the political status of Puerto Rico,” according to an exhibition placard.
Mathias Goeritz’s “Homage to Paper” is the type of piece art critics pretend to understand and visitors pretend to enjoy looking at: a blank sheet of paper and matte labeled with measurements and whimsically marked “O.K.” in bright orange at lower left.
Finally, “Cosmos” shows large, abstract works that present reality like a large ship coming through fog, peering out just enough to suggest form, but not enough to show it.
Rafael Soriano’s “Floating Ship” exemplifies this feat, and Roberto Matta’s “Nuit Courve” confirms it.
Manabe Mabu, a Japanese-Brazilian artist, is also on view.
The exhibit, in the Art-Sociology building on campus, runs until Maryland Day, April 25.
Evan Berkowitz is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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