This exhibition is one of the most extensive on Latin American art seen to date in Spain. At the Palacio de Velázquez over four hundred works have been displayed showcasing the artistic wealth in Latin American regions starting from the Wars of Independence against Spain (c. 1800-1821) until 1980.
Throughout the pieces, common themes emerge that come from the complex history of Latin American colonisation, the struggle for independence and the pursuit of artistic and cultural identity. On the margins of the art that was considered official from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is a popular art that blossoms with different contexts and materials, ceramics and village carvings to prints and satirical documents of the cities. Indigenous art is sometimes mixed with popular art, but it retains links with pre-Hispanic traditions: the ancient shapes of the masks, the textiles or ceramics, like the official art, respond to events from the period of independence in the same way as before the conquests.
The exhibition is structured historically and thematically, through the sections and rooms. Some exhibit subjects with a relatively broad chronology and others focus on an artist, a group of artists or a significant moment in the history of Latin American Art.
The section “La independencia y sus héroes” (Independence and its Heroes) presents portraits of the leaders and martyrs of the independence movements. Throughout these pieces there are influences of earlier portrait traditions and of representations of saints in the service of republican idealism, they contrast with the Neoclassical Art in vogue in the National Academies during that period. Also included are portraits of postcolonial society and those of new Brazilian Imperial Court of Jean-Baptiste Debret and Rodriguez de Sá.
The room “Las academias y la pintura histórica” (Academies and historical painting) focuses on works that reflect the struggle between the national conscious and "great culture" dependent on Europe, with works by Uruguayan Juan Manuel Blanes, the Brazilian José Correia de Lima or Mexico's José María Obregon.
“La naturaleza, la ciencia y lo pintoresco” (Nature, science and the picturesque) addresses the indigenous artistic tradition, often anonymous and based on descriptions of daily life. Traditional works are also displayed by artists of European origins and education, representing the "new world", such as John Maurice Rugendas, Thomas Egerton and Emeric Essex Vidal.
The Mexican painter José María Velasco has a room dedicated to him, which exhibits his work of great value within the nineteenth century landscape tradition in Latin America. Following this is the room titled “Posada y la tradición gráfica popular” (Posada and popular artistic tradition) which showcases the work of José Maria Posada, Manuel Manilla and Gabriel Vicente Gahona (Picheta).
Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Tarsila do Amaral and Roberto Montenegro are the protagonists of “El modernismo y la búsqueda de las raíces” (Modernism and the search for origins), focusing on cultural nationalism and Latin American avant-garde. “El movimiento de muralistas mejicanos” (Mexican muralists’ movement) is in the room dedicated to Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, but there are also other lesser known artists such as Jean Charlot and Fernando Leal. A continuation of revolutionary art and propaganda is "El taller de gráfica Popular" (Popular art’s workshop) a section where Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua are the protagonists. Followed by “Indigenismo y realismo social” (Indigenous and social realism), a room where the representatives of Latin American landscape gather, such as the revolutionary Gerardo Murillo. “Mundos Privados y mitos públicos” (Private worlds and public myths) uses as reference the International Exhibition of Surrealism (Mexico, 1940) and Chile’s Grupo Mandrágora. Added to this is Argentine Roberto Aizenber, Cuban Wifredo Lam and others such as Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington.
Argentine Madi art and Brazilian Concrete art meet up in one single room and is followed by “Un salto radical” (A radical break), with the work of artists from the late fifties and sixties who were important in the development of international Constructivism and Neoconcretism, like Alejandro Otero, Sérgio Camargo and Hélio Oiticica.
The exhibition concludes with “Historia e identidad” (History and identity) which displays contemporary artists such as Fernando Botero, Claudio Bravo and Francisco Toledo, which has a different approach to the recurring themes throughout the show.
The Hayward Gallery, London (May 18 - August 6, 1989); Nationalmuseum and Moderna Museet, Stockholm (September 16 - November 19, 1989)