Interviews

A Museum Director in Buenos Aires Aims to Reconnect Latin American Art

Curator Gabriela Rangel, now leading the Buenos Aires Museum of Latin American Art, sees an opportunity to bring submerged connections between Latin American nations to light.

Leandro Erlich, “Invisible Billboard” (2019) at the Buenos Aires Museum of Latin American Art (MALBA) (image courtesy of MALBA)

BUENOS AIRES — After having led the Americas Society in New York for 15 years, Venezuelan curator Gabriela Rangel is now leading the Buenos Aires Museum of Latin American Art (MALBA) into the next decade. When we met at a café in the Palermo neighborhood to discuss her new position as artistic director and her plans for the museum, Rangel noted that this new step made her rethink many things, such as the notion of Latin America itself, which “is a construction, you know,” she explained, “invented by a French Colombian diplomat.” “Latin America is connected though,” she continued, “but subterraneously — on a different level. It’s like an archipelago; you have the islands and the connection is not at the top, but at the bottom of the ocean.”

Among other projects, Rangel plans to work on Robert Rauschenberg’s ROCI project in Latin America. ROCI, pronounced as “Rocky” for the name of Rauschenberg’s turtle, was the artist’s initiative to engage with freedom of expression around the world — between 1984 and 1991, he traveled various countries in Latin America, including Mexico, Cuba, and Chile. Rangel is also planning on showing Brazilian artist Leda Catunda together with Alejandra Seeber from Argentina, another example of artists across Latin America in conversation with one another. Learn more about Rangel’s ideas in the interview below.

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Gabriela Rangel (photo by Guyot Mendoza, courtesy of MALBA)

Silvia Rottenberg: What can you tell us about your program at MALBA?

Gabriela Rangel: Everything is going to be mixed. It will be pretty much interdisciplinary. But I am also going to mix the past with the present, because I cannot separate them. I think it is necessary in order to have a little bit of grounding. I mean, we live in a country in crisis right now — well, it seems like it is a faculty of Latin America to be in perpetual crisis.

SR: You mean, we choose to be in crisis?

GR: I don’t know, but that’s what we have. You know, you have five years of wealth and then five years of disasters. It’s the condition of Latin America. I think you have to consider that when you program. Not to always think about flashy things, but something more organically woven into the fabric.

SR: The fabric of?

GR: Of the crisis. … I come from Venezuela, which is in a state of emergency. And there are many emergencies in the region. There are refugees going to the US. The US threatening with a wall. And those issues have to be considered in programming, because contemporary art is like a thermometer of what’s going on.

José Leonilson: Empty Man, co-curated by Cecilia Brunson, Gabriela Rangel, and Susanna V. Temkin. On view at Americas Society, New York, September 27–February 3, 2018 (photo by OnWhiteWall.com/Americas Society)

SR: So, the art we can expect will reflect the current state of affairs?

GR: No. What I am trying to say is that the content of a museum should show that we are in Latin America. We are not in New York. We are not in Paris. We are not in Berlin. We are in Latin America.

SR: And how can you show that?

GR: Conceptually. There was a room here [at MALBA] that was dedicated to women, right? Yes. Well, I want to integrate that, not separate it. That’s the next step. Thanks to the previous director [Agustin Perez Rubio, who initiated a focus on a woman artist every new exhibition round], I can do that.

Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges: The Art of Friendship, curated by Gabriela Rangel with the collaboration of Lila Zemborain and the assistance of Christina De León and Anya Pantuyeva. On view at Americas Society, New York, April 18–July 20, 2013 (photo by Americas Society)

SR: Will you have equal representation in the exhibits?

GR: It needs to fit into the narrative. But, if so, yes, that’s my goal.

SR: What will be your mark?

GR: I was struck by what Okwui Enwezor said a long time ago: that we have to provincialize modernism. I think that’s what I will try to do. To find the nooks and cracks of modernism. Argentina is a very productive country for doing that, because it has a very strong modern foundation. Other countries in Latin America have instances, but Argentina had a will and a programmatic idea of modernism and modern art, in several eras — not just in the ’20s, but also in the ’60s. So, it’s very interesting to talk about that. To provincialize that. To not just talk about Europe and the US, but about how we dealt with that. How it is developed here. And is still there as a dream and as a practice.

SR: Did it develop here differently?

GR: Absolutely. And different also in Brazil and in the other countries. There are probably some common paths, but their modernisms are very different. It reminds me of something [artist Jesús] Soto said, after he made these beautiful, disorganized, corrosive Leños Viejos series in the beginning of the 1960s: We need structure! He lost it to get back to it.

Installation view of Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant: Trembling Thinking at the Americas Society, New York, curated by Gabriela Rangel, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Asad Raza (courtesy Americas Society)

SR: How do you feel about leaving the Americas Society?

GR: Well, it is the end of a cycle after 15 years. I achieved a lot there: many important exhibitions and publications. One of the last exhibitions I did there together with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Asad Raza was on Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant on the archipelagic thinking, which is what I want to do here. Beyond the poetic metaphor, it is a reality.

Latin America is a construct from the 19th century, but it is also a reality, as a subcontinent. And we have a very strong culture that, right now, is isolated. And has isolations within it, different cells that are not connected as they used to be in the 19th century, or the 20th century even.

SR: Should it be connected?

GR: The connection is there, but subterraneous, on a different level. It’s like an archipelago: you have the islands and the connection is not at the top, but at the bottom of the ocean.

SR: How do you get there?

GR: Working with artists, digging into history, looking at patterns; there are many ways to navigate from the bottom of the sea. 

Leandro Erlich, “Swimming Pool” (1999), metal structure, wood, plexiglass, water, metal stairs, dimensions vary (© Photo: Keizo Kioku, courtesy: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan). Swimming Pool was also installed at MALBA.

SR: Do you have an idea of what you will find?

GR: I think we will find interrupted dialogues that we can reconnect. At arteBA , I was asked about Latin America as a market. […] I answered: When you walk five blocks through New York’s Upper East Side, you not only have the Americas Society, but also two Argentine artists at the Met Breuer, Kuitca at Hauser & Wirth, three galleries from São Paulo, Henrique Faria, and then 60 blocks down, Mariana Castillo Deball at the New Museum. That is not an emerging market. It is organically installed there. It has become part of the narrative. But getting there, to this international status in the global market, paths or information along the journey are lost, which should be reconnected. The localities are important.

SR: Information is forgotten reaching an international level?

GR: I don’t think it is a matter of memory; I think it is a matter of ignoring some of the particularities of the localities. There are singularities in every locality. In Buenos Aires there are singularities that you don’t find in São Paulo, Caracas, Bogota, or Tegucigalpa. There are differences. And that’s the thing we have to reconnect. That’s what Okwui called the provincialization of modernities.

Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant: Trembling Thinking, co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gabriela Rangel, and Asad Raza with the assistance of Diana Flatto. On view at Americas Society, New York, October 9, 2018–January 12, 2019. (photo by Arturo Sanchez/Americas Society)

SR: How do you reconnect differences?

GR: You can compare situations and you can juxtapose situations. Take, for example, Estridentismo, which is like a Mexican version of futurism, and compare that to the Argentine art of the 1920s. I am using modernism in this example, but you can do it with contemporary art perfectly.

SR: So, from the artists’ points of view, not from society’s?

GR: It takes longer with society at large, even though people now are well informed. With the aestheticization of reality, art is brought closer to the people. Everybody knows Ai Weiwei. Or Tania Bruguera.

SR: How does this effect of digitalization (where everyone knows everything) connect with this loss of locality that you mentioned? 

GR: You need an index. If you don’t have an index you don’t know anything. It becomes very superficial. That’s why I said you have to go underneath and dig deep in the ocean.

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