Feb 10, 2022 - Economy & Business

Latina curators disrupt the art world

From left, Latina curators Margaret Salazar-Porzio, Elizabeth Ferrer and E. Carmen Ramos. Photo Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art, Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Latina curators are making their mark in America's most prominent art museums.

Why it matters: They are highlighting the voices of artists who have long been excluded from the art scene.

Driving the news: A new exhibit at the Denver Art Museum co-curated by art historian Terezita Romo is the first centered on La Malinche, a multilingual Indigenous woman who left a complicated legacy after interpreting for Hernán Cortés and giving birth to the Spanish conquistador's son.

Latina and Latino curators and art historians have founded and led important Hispanic institutions in the past, but lately they have also been making strides at mainstream cultural organizations.

  • E. Carmen Ramos was designated chief curator and conservation officer at the National Gallery of Art last year, the first person of color and woman in that role.
  • Guerrero was promoted to associate curator at the Whitney Museum of Art in July. She’s organizing upcoming exhibitions from Puerto Rican artists and performance artist Martine Gutierrez.
  • Ferrer, curator of contemporary art at the arts and media nonprofit BRIC, published “Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History” last year.
  • It’s the first overview of its kind, profiling over 80 photographers and delving into their aesthetic similarities through the centuries.

Ramos tells Axios Latino she’s optimistic as more people of Latin descent are getting major roles at cultural institutions “to create change from within.”

  • But she adds: “We are not near parity.”
  • 80% of the leadership in American art museums — curators, directors or education program heads — was white non-Hispanic in 2019, a survey shows.

The intrigue: NYU professor Arlene Dávila lays out how creators and artists of Latino origins have been waysided in the book “Latinx Art: Artists/Markets/Politics.”

  • Works from established Latin American artists smash records in auctions or are centerpieces at fairs, which creates the impression that most Latin art gets recognition, Dávila writes.
  • Yet pieces from younger and lesser known Latinos in the U.S. are institutionally ignored, Dávila says.

What to watch: The upcoming National Museum of the American Latino could bridge the gap, experts like Dávila say.

  • Cuban-American Jorge Zamanillo was named the museum’s permanent director on Friday.

What they're saying: "Latinx art is for everyone,” Ramos says, adding that artists' “work and ideas help us understand our world and society, past and present.”

  • Cultural institutions “need to realize that our sense of reality or what is important is incomplete without Latinx representation”.

Go deeper: The unsung Chicana photographer of the Civil Rights Movement

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