On Monday, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York received a gift of 102 works of modern art from Latin America, a major boost to its holdings from the region. The trove of works, a mix of promised and outright gifts from the New York- and Caracas-based Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC), will be the focus of a major exhibition at MoMA in the coming years. The gifted works — which include pieces by 37 artists, 21 of whom are entering the MoMA permanent collection for the first time — reflect a focus on the evolution of geometric abstraction in particular in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela. They join 40 works previously donated to MoMA by Patricia Cisneros and her husband Gustavo.
“It could be argued that the history of geometric abstraction is inherently Eurocentric, and that Latin America, like the United States developed the language in an international network,” Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, the director and chief curator of the CPPC, told Hyperallergic. “Many of the artists in the gift studied or worked in Paris, where they often met many US artists too. So for example we can see a strong personal and artistic connection between Alejandro Otero and Ellsworth Kelly in Paris in the early 1950s, or between Joaquín Torres-García and Mondrian in the 1930s. Then there are the other connections, like Calder’s presence in Venezuela and Brazil, or the impact of Tomás Maldonado in the design school at Ulm in Germany. What I mean by all this is that the map of modern art was complex and interrelated, and since the Cold War we have tended to think of Latin America as somehow foreign to this history, when it was in fact an integral part.”
The gift includes works by many artists already considered integral to telling the story of modern art, including Gego, Hélio Oiticica, Jesús Rafael Soto, and Lygia Clark (who was the subject of a MoMA retrospective in 2014). But the 102 gifted works also include works by less familiar artists who offer a fuller picture of artistic production in Latin America, like the US-born Venezuelan painter and performance artist Antonieta Sosa, the Venezuelan painter and sculptor Elsa Gramcko, and the Brazilian painter Judith Lauand.
“I like that there are so many women artists in this collection, including fascinating figures like María Freire from Uruguay, or Lidy Prati, who I personally think was the finest painter of her generation,” Pérez-Barreiro said. “The history of art from Latin America is unthinkable without women artists such as Anita Malfatti, Tarsila do Amaral, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Mira Schendel, and so many others, and I’m very pleased that this collection and this gift reflect that. I think that is one of the ways in which this collection can shift the story that we are used to hearing.”
The gift will also be accompanied by the establishment of a new center at MoMA devoted to the study of modern and contemporary art from Latin America, the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Research Institute for the Study of Art from Latin America.
“I think it’s important to resist the idea that just because we all know a handful of artists from Brazil and Argentina who show in New York and at international biennials, that we somehow ‘know’ art from Latin America,” Pérez-Barreiro said. “There is amazing production in Ecuador, Venezuela, Central America, and elsewhere that doesn’t circulate in the contemporary art world the same way, and I think it’s vital to not buy into the idea that the art world is fully global and seamless. There is still a lot of work to be done, and questions to be asked, and it’s exciting to see that many people are asking them to challenge the status quo. The creation of a permanent research institute at MoMA was intended precisely to ensure that there is, along with the works of art, a structure that allows for these questions to be asked as an integral part of the life of the museum.”