The last two decades have seen an expanded version of the art world, both in terms of the commercial sphere of contemporary art galleries and collectors and also in terms of museum exhibitions. Art beyond that produced by European and North American artists, almost entirely male and white, is getting long overdue attention, from South Asian modernism to major African American solo retrospectives. While Latin American art has benefited from this attention, Latinx art has largely been overlooked. In LATINX ART anthropologist and critic Arlene Dávila explores why. She argues that Latinx art is neglected for reasons of race and class by Latin American art institutions, with their largely wealthy and white-identified patrons aspiring to be seen like Europeans on the world stage, rather than confused with Latinx artists whom they see as too poor or insufficiently white. In the US, reparative efforts have focused more along the perceived Black/White binary, and curators are happier engaging the formal experiments of Latin American artists rather than dealing with the political issues raised by Latinx artists in their own country. Efforts that start as centers for Latinx communities, like El Museo del Barrio in New York, have brought in elite curators from Mexico, whose ambitions are quite different from the communities that founded the centers. Dávila interviews artists, gallerists, and curators, identifying the problem and what needs to be done.
The book takes the form of a long essay over five chapters and the introduction, with the ethnographic reporting integrated into the overall argument. Chapter 1 draws out the implicitly raced and classed way that Latinx art is seen, including by curators from Latin America. Even Puerto Rican artists distance themselves from Nuyorican artists, with the exception of those most identified with the island. Here and in the succeeding chapters, Dávila points out the role of the national and the national aspirational, and the way Latinx artists are marginalized both within the US and by their nation of origin or descent. Chapter 4 looks at the lack of gallery representation and undervaluing of even major Latinx artists, along with the additional challenges for artists who are both Black and Latinx. Chapter 5 looks at how galleries present the Latinx artists they do show, including the way artists such as the late Fâelix González-Torres have their identities whitened as they become commercially successful. In the conclusion Dávila points to the interconnection of collectors, museums, and galleries, and she calls for change.
The book hits issues that will make it important to the broad contemporary art readership, as well as to scholars in Latinx studies, art history and theory, anthropology, museum studies, American studies, and critical ethnic studies.
By Arlene Dávila
Softcover, 6 x 9 in.
Duke University Press