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Inspiration From South of the Border Moves Center Stage in Houston

Hilarie M. Sheets para New York Times, em 13/11/2020.
Inspiration From South of the Border Moves Center Stage in Houston

The opening of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Nancy and Rich Building reveals works by 250 Latin American and Latino artists. Left, Alessandro Mendini, “Monumentino da Casa,” 1974, wood and tape; right, Fanny Sanín’s “Acrylic No. 5,” 1973, acrylic on canvas.

A new building at the Museum of Fine Arts showcases works by Latin American and Latino artists, many of whom are rarely shown in the United States.

From the perspective of the artist Amalia Mesa-Bains, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Mexico, Chicano art — the affirming political expression of Mexican-Americans’ experiences — is “often overlooked,” she said, despite its tenure in America’s West and Southwest for more than a century.

“There haven’t been a lot of people in the museum world that have taken on a commitment to this vastly underrated area of art history, ” she said.

Ms. Mesa-Bains’s own site-specific installations, which pay tribute to Mexican home altars, or ofrendas, did not easily find collectors, and as a result many never survived. But on Nov. 21, when the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, unveils its new building for modern and contemporary art, visitors will discover her mirrored altar, “Transparent Migrations.” It reflects the experience of working-class immigrants, particularly women invisible to society — one of 250 acquisitions of Latin American and Latino artists, many of whom are rarely shown in this country.

In a city where Hispanics now approach 45 percent of the population, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has spent more than $60 million over the last two decades to build from scratch a collection and research center reflecting the city’s position as a gateway between north and south. “It allows us as Latino or Latinx artists to be seen within the broader understanding of world art,” Ms. Mesa-Bains said, using the gender-neutral alternative to Latino.

The museum’s efforts were led by its curator of Latin American art, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and they are writ large across the inaugural installation of the new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building — the final piece of a multiyear campus expansion designed by the architect Steven Holl.

Latin American and Latino work represent 24 percent of the art on display there, shown in lively exchange with European and American art, photography, prints and drawings, design and craft.

Visitors will encounter a futuristic city by the Argentine Gyula Kosice, his constellation of floating light-boxes in conversation with immersive installations by James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama. Pioneering wire constructions by the Venezuelan artist Gego anchor a thematic display called “Line into Space” that includes a calligraphic painting by Brice Marden and a kinetic sculpture by the midcentury Swiss artist Jean Tinguely.

“There’s a seamless transition from the gallery of European and American modern abstraction to Brazilian Concrete art, from Mondrian to Mira Schendel,” Gary Tinterow, the museum’s director, said, noting that many leading artists in Latin America in the mid-20th century came from Europe or went to school in Paris or at the Bauhaus in Germany. Here, in the only permanent collection galleries in North America devoted to Brazilian, Argentinean, Uruguayan and Venezuelan modernism, “Mari Carmen has created a canon,” he said.

Since arriving at the museum in 2001, when she established the International Center for the Arts of the Americas, the first research center devoted to Latin American and Latino art, Ms. Ramírez has tracked down significant works, sometimes in closets or under beds, from some 20 countries south of the border and by artists of Latin American descent in the United States.