Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
It had been ages–probably more than a decade–since I’d been to the Guggenheim for a show, and once I left the museum after seeing “Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today” yesterday, I remembered why: I have never experienced art in a place that is less suited for it than the Guggenheim.
But first, let’s talk about the propósito of “Under the Same Sun,” which opened last week and runs through October 1 before it moves on to Brazil and Mexico.
The show, curated by Pablo León de la Barra, is important to the extent that it attempts to introduce viewers to contemporary Latin American art. On its face, that effort seems absurd: Latin America is so vast, both territorially and culturally, that its art is similarly diverse; efforts to gather it together thematically may be fruitless. Holland Cotter, writing about the show for The New York Times is a bit more pointed in this review, which is not off the mark one jot.
And yet… the problem here is not so much the work the curator has selected for “Under the Same Sun,” nor the admittedly predictable categories into which he has organized the pieces– “The Tropical,” “Conceptualism,” “Political Activism,” “Abstraction,” Emancipation/Participation,” and “Modernities”– but the setting in which they are presented. Spread out over two floors and one film room, the show sounds ambitious in size, but there are only 50 works total. The installation of the pieces over such a seemingly large portion of the museum is misleading, then; the exhibit itself is not large. The space is small. It is also, for the most part, cramped and uncomfortable, with little, if any, intuitive sense of where the viewer should be going if he or she wants to see the entire show.
Having seen several of these works in other settings, it’s not the art that disappoints, but the context in which it’s being seen. Tania Bruguera’s video “Tatlin’s Whisper #6″ needs more sound (or a set of headphones), especially since it’s in the same room as a mobile made of cymbals, which viewers are invited to strike at their leisure. And Regina Jose Galindo’s powerful, provocative work, which I first saw at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo at UNAM in Mexico City several years ago, can really only achieve its maximum impact in a space that is larger.
Still shot from one of Regina José Galindo’s works, which I first saw in Mexico City.
The argument can be made, of course, that seeing these works in this setting compared to the spacious halls of, say, the MUAC, is neither better nor worse, but simply different. That argument can be extended by saying that the experience gives those of us already familiar with these works a better sense of how they can incite a broader register of emotions. Neither argument would be false. That being said, it’s a shame that an idea so grand in scope fails to deliver simply because the works selected for this space don’t seem to fit comfortably within it. The goal of introducing viewers to contemporary Latin American art isn’t fully met in this show, which is too bad, since so many seminal pieces are included in it.