Symposium Speaker Bios and Abstracts - “A line that birds cannot see”

E. Carmen Ramos

E. Carmen Ramos has been Curator of Latino art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum since 2010, and Deputy Chief Curator since 2017. Her exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art (2013) traveled to eight venues across the United States and its catalogue received a co-first place Award of Excellence by the Association of Art Museum Curators. Recent exhibitions include Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography (2017), which explored how Latino photographers working largely between the 1960s and 1980s represented the urban crisis as it unfolded in the neighborhoods where they lived and worked. Her fall 2017 exhibition Tamayo: The New York Years considers the shape and impact of Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s significant New York tenure during the first half of the twentieth century. Ramos is also currently writing a monograph about the Dominican American artist Freddy Rodríguez as part of the A Ver: Revisioning Art History book series produced by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Previously she was an assistant curator at the Newark Museum in New Jersey. She received her BA in art history from New York University and her MA and PhD in art history from the University of Chicago. She currently serves on the Board of the Association of Art Museum Curators.

 

Karen Cordero Reiman

“Changing Paradigms and Politics in Anita Brenner’s Writing and Promotion of Mexican Art in the United States, 1920s–1970s”

Karen Cordero Reiman is an art historian, curator, and writer. She taught for many years at the Universidad Iberoamericana and the UNAM in Mexico City and is the author of numerous publications on modern and contemporary Mexican art, focusing on the relationship between the so-called “fine arts” and “popular arts”; the historiography of Mexican art; body, gender, and sexual identity; and museological and curatorial discourses. She has continuously served museums as curator, advisor, and researcher. As part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative by the Getty, she co-curated Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico (2017–18) at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, and contributed an essay on Mexican women artists between 1960 and 1985 for the catalogue Radical Women (2017).

 

“Changing Paradigms and Politics in Anita Brenner’s Writing and Promotion of Mexican Art in the United States, 1920s–1970s”

While Anita Brenner’s work as a critic and promoter of Mexican art in the United States is most widely associated with her 1929 volume Idols Behind Altars, she continued to promote Mexican art in the US as a writer and editor through the early 1970s. Her vast journalistic contributions include The Nation, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the New York Times, Art News, The Arts, Harper’s, and Atlantic Monthly, as well as the magazine Mexico/this month, which she edited from 1955 to 1972. She also advocated for Mexican art through a variety of activities as a cultural broker with a broad network of contacts and friendships on both sides of the border.

A desire to promote a positive vision of Mexico through its art was conceived—in anthropological fashion—as a synthesis of cultural values and processes that underlies much of Brenner’s work. And yet, the evolving historical and geopolitical dynamics of both Mexico and the US—together with the transformation of aesthetic paradigms and their interrelation to social factors over the fifty years in which she was active—reveal a complex negotiation with these aspects as an interpreter and translator of Mexican art, as well as a shifting political position from a combination of personal, political, and cultural factors.

This paper explores the terms of this negotiation through the analysis and comparison of several of Brenner’s key texts on Mexican art and culture over the course of these years, their contextualization in relation to the publications in which they appear and their readership, and the broader political and personal context in which they can be inserted. The result is a nuanced interpretation of the strategies deployed by Brenner as an active cultural agent, considering not only her eloquent and incisive writings, but also the extensive correspondence and documentation available in her archives and its analysis in relation to a variety of contexts. Among the factors considered are her consciousness of gender dynamics, the changing position of overtly political art as a result of Cold War politics, changing aesthetic paradigms and their social insertion both in Mexico and the US, the impact of immigration, and her unique transnational position on what Gayatri Spivak might term a “planetary” vision of the role of intertwined culture, religion, history, and geopolitics. The paper will thus compare the underpinnings and argumentation in Brenner’s treatment of the art of the immediate post-revolutionary period (including Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco, and Charlot, among others) to the terms of her increasing dialogue with the postwar avant-garde, which included many émigré artists of non-Mexican origin, including Mathias Goeritz, Pedro Friedeberg, Vlady, Myra Landau, Kati Horna, and Leonora Carrington.

Fabiola Martínez Rodríguez

“Between Figuration and Abstraction: The Cultural Cold War and Tamayo’s Art in the 1950s”

Martínez Rodríguez received her PhD from Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London, in 2005. Her current research centers on the debates between figuration and abstraction in Mexico, as well as the cultural politics of inter-American and Hemispheric projects during the Cold War. She is a member of the research group Decentralized Modernities: Art, Politics, and Counterculture in the Transatlantic Axis during the Cold War, where she is developing a project titled “No hay mas ruta que la nuestra: Art, politics, and identity in Mexico during the 1950s.” She was awarded the Terra Foundation Senior Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where she worked on the project The Mexican Connection: Shaping American Modernism in New York (1920–1945). Last year co-organized an international conference and doctoral seminar at the Museum Reina Sofía and the University of Barcelona titled Cold Atlantic: Cultural War, Dissident Artistic Practices, Networks and Contact Zones at the Time of the Iron Curtain, which received a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. She is the co-editor of Modernidad y vanguardia: Rutas de intercambio y diálogo entre España y Latinoamérica (2015) published by the Museum Reina Sofía, and has been the coordinator of the art history program at Saint Louis Univesity in Madrid since 2007.

 

“Between Figuration and Abstraction: The Cultural Cold War and Tamayo’s Art in the 1950s”

The institutionalization of muralism in Mexico during the 1930s and ’40s cemented the connection between realism and national identity. Through his art and writings, Siqueiros led the battles against abstraction and the cosmopolitan trends that many believed threatened to corrupt national art. Artists aligned with him and the National Front of Plastic Arts (NFPA, founded in 1952) used words like treason and malinchismo to attack the work of those seeking to break from the constraints of narrative figuration. The difficulty of embracing international trends that championed formal experimentation can be seen through the work of Rufino Tamayo, who left Mexico for New York in the mid-1930s looking for a more open and experimental art scene. During the 1950s, however, the government began to promote his work in national and international exhibitions, presenting him as the “fourth great muralist” (a title which he strongly opposed). The rising prominence of Tamayo in Mexico during the 1950s and ’60s reflects the ascendency of abstract art and the gradual displacement of the Mexican School, signaling the defeat of social realism and its concomitant communist utopia. Tamayo’s first important international recognition came in 1950, when his work was chosen to represent Mexico at the Venice Biennale next to that of Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros. Alongside their work, Tamayo’s paintings presented a more nuanced Mexicanidad, expressed through forms, colors, and textures rather than the more explicit nationalism of his peers.

This paper will look at the work of Tamayo during the 1950s, when he spent most of his time between Mexico, Paris, and New York, in order to explore his responses to the political and aesthetic debates generated by the cultural Cold War. As an artist who shared the formalist approaches advanced through the schools of Paris and New York in the postwar years, Tamayo’s art became central to these debates in Mexico where Cold War politics was entangled with deeply rooted issues of identity. This study will also consider the two Inter-American Biennials that were organized in Mexico City in 1958 and 1960. While Tamayo declined the invitation to participate in the first, he accepted the most prestigious prize in painting in 1960 when he was given a solo exhibition. His work contrasted with the social realism of Jack Levine, who was also honored with a solo exhibition in 1960 and given an important prize in 1958. These exhibitions present an interesting case study to examine US-Mexico cultural relations, and the way in which Tamayo’s art and international presence participated in the debates that shaped the cultural Cold War in the Americas.

Jennifer Josten

“Beyond the Official Circuits: Alternative Networks of Postwar-Era US-Mexico Exchange”

Jennifer Josten is Assistant Professor of modern and contemporary art in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, where she holds a secondary appointment in Hispanic Languages and Literatures and is core faculty in the Center for Latin American Studies. Her book Mathias Goeritz: Modernist Art and Architecture in Cold War Mexico is forthcoming from Yale University Press in 2018. Josten’s research on twentieth-century artistic exchanges between the Americas and Europe has been supported by fellowships from the Getty Research Institute and the Fulbright-Hays Program, and has been published in Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2017); Lucio Fontana: Ambienti/Environments (Milan: Pirelli HangarBicocca, 2017); Ida Rodríguez Prampolini: La crítica de arte en el siglo XX (Mexico City: Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, 2016); El retorno de la serpiente: Mathias Goeritz y la invención de la Arquitectura emocional (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2014); and Defying Stability: Artistic Processes in Mexico, 1952–1967 (Mexico City: Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM, 2014).

 

“Beyond the Official Circuits: Alternative Networks of Postwar-Era US-Mexico Exchange”

In the 1950s, Mexico’s official cultural apparatus, led by Fernando Gamboa, organized a series of international exhibitions that asserted the relevance of figurative paintings by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo for the Cold War era—often by positioning them in strident opposition to works by their peers in the US and Europe. Parallel to these state-sponsored initiatives, however, artists and critics in Mexico City and New York were forging independent networks; their correspondence, exhibitions, and publications reveal a set of far more nuanced dialogues and discourses. The Mexico-based German émigré Mathias Goeritz was a key protagonist of many of these efforts; this paper focuses on the contributions of members of his circle, including artists Bruce Conner, José Luis Cuevas, and Sheila Hicks, as well as critics Dore Ashton, Anita Brenner, and Ida Rodríguez Prampolini, to extra-official exchanges that enriched the artistic landscape on both sides of the US-Mexico border in the decades following World War II.

Monica Bravo

“What’s Popular About Modernism? Mexican Arte Popular and US Folk Art in the 1920s”

Monica Bravo, PhD, is Lecturer in the History of Art Department and Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale University. She specializes in the history of photography and the modern art of the Americas. Her dissertation and current book project examines exchanges between US modernist photographers and modern Mexican artists working in painting, poetry, music, and photography resulting in the development of a greater American modernism in the interwar period. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), the Center for Creative Photography, the Georgia O'Keeffe Research Center, the Harry Ransom Center, the Huntington Library and Art Collections, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.

 

“What’s Popular About Modernism? Mexican Arte Popular and US Folk Art in the 1920s”

Arte popular emerged as modernism’s Other in Mexico City of the 1920s, nearly concurrently with the rise of decorative and folk art in New York. Exhibitions were a primary means of “elevating” folk art to the status of fine art in the public’s imagination, in addition to exposing a generation of modern artists to popular art’s aesthetic values. For example, painter and writer Dr. Atl’s 1921 Exposición de Arte Popular and related two-volume catalogue helped spur admiration and a market for Mexican folk art that has not yet abated. For Atl, popular art represented the Mexican people’s most authentic expression. As such, Mexican folk art became a powerful means of cultural diplomacy: writer Katherine Anne Porter adapted Atl’s exhibition for a Los Angeles presentation and catalogue in 1922. Photographer Edward Weston first saw Mexican folk art there, and would continue to treat the subject while living and working in Mexico in the mid-1920s. His attitude toward popular art would be further influenced by that of his friends among the Mexican modernists, including Atl himself, Diego Rivera, and Jean Charlot.

Meanwhile, US folk art was beginning to attract attention outside of a small circle of antiquarians and groups like the Ogunquit Modernists. Painter Henry Schnakenburg’s 1924 exhibition of “Early American Art” at the Whitney Studio Club drew on the collections of club director Juliana Force and painters including Charles Sheeler, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Charles Demuth. Modernist painters and photographers in the 1920s—including Atl, Weston, Rivera, Charlot, Sheeler, Kuniyoshi, Demuth, as well as Rufino Tamayo—shared with folk art a preference for flattened space, strong color, and schematized, streamlined forms. Yet the modernists’ investment in popular art went beyond formal qualities to include an affinity for everyday subjects, its so-called primitivism, its popular (rather than elite) appeal, and its indigeneity to the Americas. In addition to tracing exhibition histories in both Mexico and the US, this paper’s analysis compares modernists’ varied responses to folk art and considers how objects made by unknown craftsmen, widely believed to be the purest expression of a nation’s people, were transmuted into individualized expression by cosmopolitan artists.

Breanne Robertson

“Pan-American Palimpsest: US-Mexican Diplomacy and Debate in “Good Neighbor” Mural Art”

Breanne Robertson’s research focuses on issues of race, national identity, and cross-cultural exchange between the United States and Mexico in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American art. Her dissertation “Forging a New World Nationalism: Ancient Mexico in United States Art and Visual Culture, 1933–1945” elucidates US artists’ appropriation of pre-Columbian themes in relation to the Latin American foreign policy initiatives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Robertson previously taught American art history at Wesleyan University and has held fellowships at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Dumbarton Oaks Library and Museum, and Smithsonian American Art Museum. Essays drawn from her research have appeared in American Art, Annals of Iowa, and Hemisphere: Visual Cultures of the Americas. Her current book projects include a monograph on Pan-Americanism and art under the Good Neighbor Policy and an edited volume examining the history and cultural meaning of the Iwo Jima flag raising.

 

“Pan-American Palimpsest: US-Mexican Diplomacy and Debate in “Good Neighbor” Mural Art”

Between 1933 and 1945, the United States government worked to form an inter-American alliance to safeguard the Western hemisphere from the political and economic crises in Europe. Pan-Americanism, or the reconfiguration of US identity and culture in a hemispheric context, formed a significant component of the US plan for national defense. No longer divided into North/South or Anglo/Latin dichotomies, the United States and Latin America appeared as a singular territorial body whose origins and ideologies established a uniquely American heritage distinct from European culture.

The specifics of history demonstrate that American and Mexican artists both set out to invent a visual rhetoric suited for this task. While the motivations and philosophical charge of Pan-Americanism differed for artists north and south, the resulting exchange of ideas—a dynamic system of reflections, rebuttals, and reinterpretations—disrupts the simpler notion that the United States developed and exported one set of ideas to Latin America, which in turn resisted US overtures as cultural imperialism. Seeking to restore inter-American dialogue and debate, this paper investigates mural depictions of hemispheric unity by artists from Mexico and the United States to elucidate how competing notions of Pan-Americanism shaped US-Mexican relations during World War II. It treats Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists working in the United States as participants in a transnational political and artistic conversation, contrasting their conception and presentation of indigenous art against those of their US counterparts including Kenneth Adams, Lowell Houser, and Charles White.

Anna Indych-López

“Baca after Siqueiros: Redefining Collaboration and Activating Space”

Anna Indych-López's work investigates Latin American and US modernisms as well as Latinx contemporary art, focusing on trans-American exchanges, the polemics of realisms, and public space. Her book on Judith F. Baca, which will be published in early 2018 by The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and The University of Minnesota Press, probes the public artist’s aesthetic strategies to activate the contested sociopolitical, spatial, and racial histories of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s. She is the author of Muralism without Walls: Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros in the United States, 1927-40 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009) for which she received CAA’s Wyeth Foundation for American Art Publication Grant, and Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art (2011; co-authored with Leah Dickerman for the exhibition of the same name at The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Indych-López is Associate Professor of Art History at The Graduate Center and The City College of the City University of New York, where she teaches courses on Latin American and Euro-American modernisms as well as US Latinx art, and is a frequent contributor to exhibition catalogues on Modern Mexican and Latin American art.

 

“Baca after Siqueiros: Redefining Collaboration and Activating Space”

This paper dissects the aesthetic innovations of The Great Wall of Los Angeles (1976–1983) based on Judith F. Baca’s dialogue with David Alfaro Siqueiros’s dynamic realism, focusing on her strategic engagement with the Mexican muralist's method of polyangular perspective. It elaborates the ways in which Baca reconsidered the process of collaboration and the project of collective authorship with teams of artists and at-risk youth as a result of taking up Siqueiros’s model from the 1930s. Even though Baca pioneered significant modes of collaboration that came to define the social aims of her project, she also deliberately exerted aesthetic control, precisely as a means to ensure the most effective visualizations of the teams’ collective ideas. The experience of working on The Great Wall revealed the negotiated and self-conscious nature of all communities. After visiting the Taller Siqueiros, Baca invented formal and visual vocabularies that provoke destabilized subject positions, enabling her and the teams to explore historical tensions rather than seamless narratives.

Julia Fernandez

“Radical Changes: Mexico’s Taller de Gráfica Popular in the US”

Julia Fernandez is a fifth year PhD student in Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the University of California, San Diego. She focuses on Latinx and Latin American art history. She has curated and co-curated exhibitions at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles, California, and UC San Diego’s University Art Gallery in La Jolla, California. She was a 2014 Smithsonian Latino Museum Studies Program fellow,working alongside Taína Caragol at the National Portrait Gallery for the exhibition One Life: Dolores Huerta (2015–16), and is a current Ford Predoctoral Fellow.

 

“Radical Changes: Mexico’s Taller de Gráfica Popular in the US”

The first exhibition by Mexico’s Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) in 1938 at the Artists’ Union of Chicago was a pivotal moment for the group’s transnational collaboration with US artists and activists. From then on, the Taller artists would visit the US, exhibit there, and work with US artists in Mexico. The transnational alliance between the TGP and certain segments of the US were connected by populist, emancipatory objectives. Artists that worked together from both countries were active in anti-fascist and anti-racist movements. The first half of the paper will focus on the presence of artists from El Taller de Gráfica Popular in the US prior to the 1960s, as well as transnational artists within the TGP that were born in the US but lived and worked in Mexico, and subject matter and common themes that flowed between the two countries. This will build a historical framework for the second portion of the paper, which focuses on a specific case study in 1965, when the TGP prints reappear and influence subsequent Chicano artists.

This paper takes a global modern art approach in analyzing the transnational influence of Mexico’s Taller de Graficá Popular on Chicano graphic art, beginning through the reproductions of TGP prints in El Malcriado, the newspaper for the United Farm Workers. Through a historical and visual analysis of the TGP in the early twentieth century, this paper argues that the graphic work from the Taller resists the categorization of social realism through complex visual and populist strategies, which are continued through the works of Chicano artists in the 1960s and ’70s.

Josh Franco

Josh T. Franco completed his PhD in art history at Binghamton University in 2016. His research focused on the coproduction of the town of Marfa, Texas, through the aesthetics and attendant cultures of so-called minimalism and rasquachismo. Franco has presented scholarly and critical work at Marfa Book Co., Stanford University, Dartmouth College, HEMI Graduate Student Initiative (Hemispheric Institute), The Frick Collection, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Joan Mitchell Foundation, and Independent Curators International, among others. He served as Latino collections specialist at the Archives of American Art prior to his position as National Collector. Before joining the Smithsonian, he was an Artist Guide at 101 Spring Street, Judd Foundation. As an artist, Franco has produced and exhibited one artwork annually since 2009.