While Los Angeles often represents the vanguard of contemporary culture in the United States, it is at the same time a Latin American city of long duration. Nearly half of the population of Los Angeles has roots in Latin America, contributing to Southern California as a lively center of artistic production and a natural nexus of cultural creativity between North and South. The Getty Foundation initiated an ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art across Southern California institutions as part of the initiative called Pacific Standard Time LA/LA.
As part of this initiative, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition featuring sixteen U.S. Latino and Latin American artists and collaborative teams who work across a range of media and adopt methodologies from diverse disciplines, including anthropology, history, linguistics, and literature.
Titled A Universal History of Infamy, the exhibition spans three venues - Charles White Elementary School, an artist residency complex at the 18th Street Arts Center, and an encyclopedic museum, LACMA - offering different perspectives, approaches, and scales in each location.
To find out more about the show, we had a chat with Rita Gonzalez, curator of special acting department head of contemporary art at LACMA.
In an exclusive Widewalls interview, Rita talks about the collaboration with Pacific Standard Time LA/LA initiative, the curatorial process behind the show, Jorge Luis Borges’s book by the same name, the dialogue between Latin America and Los Angeles, and much more.
Widewalls: The exhibition "A Universal History of Infamy" spans three venues and it will be on view until February 2018 as part of the Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980. Could you tell us something about the museum’s collaboration with the initiative and how this exhibition came to be?
Rita Gonzalez: AUHoI is a collaboration between 18th Street Arts Center and LACMA. A central platform within the project included a series of artist residencies in partnership with 18th Street Arts Center through which research-based residencies were undertaken by nine participating internationally based artists.
Tapping into the range of programs offered by the Art Center, including live/work studios, a gallery-based Artist Labs residency series, and a curatorial residency, LACMA’s curatorial team established long-term commitments with the artists to situate this project within the dynamic of exchange between Los Angeles and Latin America.
This exhibition, which reframes the survey exhibition model, highlights the evolving practices of contemporary artists, and emphasizes process and collaboratively developed scholarship. The backdrop for the exhibition is LA/LA and LACMA is presenting five exhibitions that have distinct approaches to displaying art from the Americas.
Widewalls: The show gathers sixteen U.S. Latino and Latin American artists and collaborative teams who work across a range of media. Could you tell us something about the underlying ideas that drove the curatorial process?
RG: A Universal History of Infamy favors artistic process through the privileging of recent work and the inclusion of dialogically based practices. The exhibition seeks to foster creative and reciprocal sites of exchange and to provide opportunities to respond to local conditions.
We consider the exhibition to have begun with the first artist in residency in 2015 and to continue through the gallery presentations, public installations, and performances in 2017. The underlying ethos of transdisciplinarity within A Universal History of Infamy is not to state that this impulse is particular to Latin American or Latino artists but that the research and production of this grouping of artists reflects the dialogical nature of a globalized contemporary art practice.
The strategies behind the exhibition production and its circulation engage with the transcultural emphasis of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA and the potential of what this exchange can yield.
Widewalls: Most of the works have been created during two-month residencies at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. Could you tell us something about this process?
RG: The residencies varied for each artist, but all were open-ended. They could focus their time as they wished. Some developed new projects in relation to ongoing research or new areas of interest spawned by their responses to being in Los Angeles.
Angela Bonadies responded to the history of Siqueiros's murals done in Los Angeles in the early 1930s by returning to the sites of two of the murals--one is barely visible and the other is heavily mediated by an interpretive center.
MAPA Teatro responded to the proposed change to LACMA with the upcoming Peter Zumthor buildings by doing an homage to the Bing Theater where many important films, lectures, and music programs have occurred over the years.
Widewalls: The title of the show is borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges’s story collection "A Universal History of Infamy". How does the concept of the show relate to this book?
RG: The exhibition’s title, drawn from a series of stories by famed Argentinian writer and poet, Jorge Luis Borges, works as a disclaimer and resonates particularly within the context of a general museum.
In Borges’s Universal History of Infamy, the author drew from disparate literary traditions, ranging from Mark Twain to ancient Japanese tales, to devise a series of re-written stories. Borges himself was a polymath who, rather than sticking to traditional boundaries of disciplinary thinking, utilized his writing to blur the lines between poetry and history, fiction and research.
Contemporary artists in a global context take on research methodologies to produce sites of engagement with various forms of knowledge production outside the confines of academia. This penchant for artistic research is not unique to Latin American or Latino art practices, but the artists in this exhibition use research to engage with aspects of the history, culture, and politics of the Americas.
Widewalls: Which preconceived ideas about Latin America and its diaspora and the art that can be associated with this region the show aims to challenge?
RG: During the planning phases, the Getty planned a number of symposia bringing experts in the fields of Latino and Latin American art to meet with the many curators and scholars involved in PST LA/LA exhibitions.
We heard from them that since most of what has been presented about Latin American and Latino art has focused on a few movements, artists, or themes (like the "fantastic," for example) that we should consider new curatorial ideas to break down these limited views of art in the Americas.
I think that has been accomplished with new perspectives on underrepresented artists like Juan Downey and Carlos Almaraz, as well as new presentations on feminist art, conceptual art, art and politics, etc.
Widewalls: How do you think this show will contribute to the mutual enrichment and dialogue between Latin America and Los Angeles?
RG: I am not sure, but the planning phase certainly reinforced the connections that we had to colleagues all over the Americas, and led us to new relationships.
A number of the curators at different institutions have mentioned that we feel that more could have been done to create an exchange after these shows go up and run their duration. We are not able to tour enough of these exhibitions because of lack of funds for museums in Latin America to take these shows, with notable exceptions, of course.
And it will be difficult to distribute publications since there are no solid art distributor networks connecting U.S. and Latin America, not to mention most publication costs would be out of reach to the artists, students, and others we hope would be interested in this new collaborative scholarship.
We still have much to process about the outcomes of PST LA/LA but hopefully, these many exhibitions have exposed new publics to the range of art from Latin American and Latino artists.
Featured images: Installation photograph, A Universal History of Infamy, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 20, 2017–February 19, 2018, art © Michael Linares, photo © Museum Associates:LACMA; Zinny & Maidagan - Studies for Word for Word: Décor for Distance/Estudios para Palabra por palabra: décor por distancia, 2015–17, drawings and collages, courtesy of the artists; commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for A Universal History of Infamy; NuMu (Nuevo Museo de Arte Contemporáneo), 2017, courtesy of the artists © NuMu, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA; Zinny & Maidagan - Studies for Word for Word: Décor for Distance/Estudios para Palabra por palabra: décor por distancia, 2015–17, drawings and collages, courtesy of the artists; commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for A Universal History of Infamy; Vincent Ramos - Ruins Over Visions Or Searchin’ For My Lost Shaker Of Salt (Ante Drawing Room) (Ruinas Sobre Visiones O Buscando Mi Salero Perdido [Antecámara Del Salón]), 2017, detail, mixed-media installation, Thanks to Alan Nakagawa, Chris Ellis, Patricia Valencia, Emmett Walsh, Nikkolos Mohammed, and Sonia Ramos, courtesy of the artist; Oscar Santillan - Afterword/Epílogo, 2014–15, The spirit of Nietzsche, stolen paper, HD video, slide projection, and ink-jet prints; Oscar Santillan - Afterword/Epílogo, 2014–15, The spirit of Nietzsche, stolen paper, HD video, slide projection, and ink-jet prints; Michael Linares - Museo del palo/Museum of the Stick, 2013–17, mixed media installation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Contemporary Art Acquisitions Fund; Mapa Teatro - production still for Project 24- Variations on Casa Tomada, 2017; Fernanda Laguna - Plano (expandido) de mi corazón para entenderme/(Extended) Map of My Heart to Understand Me, 2017, installation with wall drawings and audio guide, courtesy of the artist. All images courtesy of LACMA.