This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on Latin America’s armed forces.
There is a new MoMA and it has a global soul. The exhibitions inaugurating New York’s newly renovated Museum of Modern Art include a notably multicultural selection of modern and contemporary works. The museum’s new permanent collection will enable it to present a richer and more inclusive view of 20th-century culture, refreshing the eyes of local and foreign visitors who will still see iconic works by Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso, in renewed dialogue with artists from other latitudes, such as Argentine León Ferrari and the Puerto Rican duo Allora & Calzadilla.
There’s an added bonus for Latin America enthusiasts: A large new space has been dedicated to a temporary exhibition housing collector and philanthropist Patricia Phelps de Cisneros’ gift to the museum, with works spanning decades of abstract art in South America.
Titled Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction, the exhibition demonstrates the importance MoMA has placed on Latin American art with its reopening. Organized by Inés Katzenstein and María Amalia García along with Karen Grimson, the show includes work by artists from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, including heavy hitters like Lygia Clark, Raúl Lozza, Hélio Oiticica and Joaquín Torres-García. Painting, sculpture, works on paper, design and architecture are all on display.
Abstraction in Latin America is a familiar topic. South American artists in the post-war era helped redefine the limits of art by investigating the creative and democratic possibilities of form. Sur moderno’s curators have deftly integrated narratives of South American abstract thought with touchstones from the established canon of MoMA’s existing collection of European modernists. Dialogues such as those between Aleksandr Rodchenko and the Brazilian Constructivists, and between Jean Tinguely and Piet Mondrian and Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto, mark the exhibition.
The pairing of indigenous crafts alongside work from modern artists like Gertrud Louise Goldschmidt is particularly enlightening. Original catalogues, posters, letters and sketches from the museum and library’s collections add depth to a narrative of transformation put forth throughout the show. In this way, Sur moderno offers a welcoming introduction for newcomers to Latin American art, while also posing new questions for those already familiar with the scholarship. Not an easy task.
Iglesias Lukin is the director and chief curator of visual arts at Americas Society. Flatto is assistant curator at Americas Society.