El Museo del Barrio Reopens with a Message on Latinx Power

El Museo del Barrio reopens its doors. (Photo by Jesús García via El Diario)

The phrase that empowered the feminist movement in the 1960s and ’70s, “the personal is political,” takes on new meaning during the reopening of El Museo del Barrio, where a cluster of artists explore public spaces turned private and the way they empower Hispanics in the United States.

(…) [Argentinean artist] Liliana Porter’s retrospective “Other Situations” is being shown at the museum along with exhibits featuring the work of other renowned female Hispanic artists.

“For the reopening, it is crucial that we take a close look at memory and, especially, at the spaces where Latino communities usually move,” said El Museo Executive Director Patrick Charpenel. He highlighted Porter’s exhibit and the “Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography,” a collection of images by diverse artists, organized by Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) deputy chief curator and curator of Latino art E. Carmen Ramos.

El Museo Director Patrick Charpenel spoke about the institution’s collaborations with other museums. (Photo by Jesús García via El Diario)

“Liliana Porter is one of those artists who really developed here. She arrived in the seventies,” said Charpenel. “She has an unusual connection, a peculiar sense … always blending fiction and reality.”

After almost a year of renovations, El Museo will reopen in sections, as the auditorium – which seats 600 – is still under construction. Its spirit is being preserved, including its murals. However, said Charpenal,  “we will bring it to the 21st century.” The date for the ribbon-cutting is still pending, but he said that the event will include “all artistic expressions.”

For El Museo’s 50th anniversary,  a bilingual publication is being prepared which will narrate the story of Latino art not just in New York but across the U.S.

The first shows will include works borrowed from other museums because, Charpenel pointed out, while institutions must promote their own artists and nurture their own collections, they “should not limit themselves.”

Curator E. Carmen Ramos explains a portion of the exhibit, which features 10 Latino artists. (Photo by Jesús García via El Diario)

Everyone’s streets

The photo exhibit “Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography” features artists from California, New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Texas whose lenses captured public spaces.

Ramos, the exhibit’s curator, said that its name was taken from a book by [East Harlem author] Piri Thomas, in which he narrates his difficult childhood in Harlem. The photographs were borrowed from the Smithsonian.

“We have been augmenting our Latino collection since 2010, when I began working there. Most of the images [in this exhibit] are part of that collection we started many years ago, and it gathers 10 Latino artists from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and today in one place,” explained Ramos.

In the photographs, viewers will find everyday spaces such as Harlem bodegas and the diverse faces of Hispanics. Some of them are shown as they were captured by the camera. Others, however, such as those in New Jersey native Manuel Acevedo’s work, have been “modified.” Ramos explained: “He took the photograph and then made an intervention on it: He placed it in the space and then took it again. That is, he manipulated the space without altering the image.” (…)

Artist Liliana Porter uses works from years ago to unite them with the present. (Photo by Jesús García via El Diario)

Porter’s “Situations”

Artist Liliana Porter, born in Argentina and a 30-year resident of New York, reinvents her work in the “Other Situations” exhibit, in which microworlds easily missed by the viewer’s eye turn into large-scale elements.

“[These are] different points of view and attitudes regarding who we are, the context… I think the world of the artists, their work, helps us think,” said Porter. She admitted that one of her favorite pieces is a drawing of a hand from the 1970s, which she integrated into a recently-drawn perfect circle.

Humberto Moro, curator at the SCAD Museum of Art, led the integration of different pieces with a collection of videos co-directed by Ana Tiscornia, who will present a drama alongside Porter at The Kitchen.

“These are [Liliana’s] ideas regarding art, space, situations, performance, disruption,” explained Tiscornia. “Each video is a new piece. They explore the work she has done since the seventies.”

El Museo’s reopening and exhibits are made possible thanks to important contributions made by the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, former Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Bernie Stadiem Endowment Fund.

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