UMFA celebrates history and culture of Latino art with “Our America” exhibit

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Katherine Ellis

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On Thursday, Feb. 5, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts celebrated the opening of its latest exhibit, Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, a collection on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The collection of more than 60 artworks is scheduled to tour a select group of museums across the nation. As the largest art museum in the Intermountain West, the UMFA will be housing the exhibit from Feb. 6 to May 17.

The pieces on display range from photographs to sculptures to altars and everything in between. The works aid in the portrayal of the changing Latino identity throughout America’s history and are showcased through different art movements. A variety of artists of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican and other Latin American groups descent attempt to narrate their parts of a diverse story, and the vibrant culture of each artist is present in every one of their works.

Last week, a community party from 5 to 7 p.m. allowed the public to view the exhibition and enjoy live music and food provided by Red Iguana. Art lovers, community members and students alike were greeted by contemporary DJ Che’s Latin pop beats upon entering the museum and while snacking and socializing. The event catered to people of all ages and backgrounds and invited them to step into the stories told by each of the artists.

Approaching the entrance of the exhibit prompts the viewer to take a look at the journeys represented by the different mediums and discover what the artist contributed to the documentation of America’s Latino history. While perusing the exhibition, the viewer will see all descriptions in both English and Spanish and will also notice that the art pieces span a wide range of time periods. Closely following the patterns of art progressing through the postwar American art movements, viewers will be subject to abstract expressionism, conceptual and performance art, as well as classic American landscape and portraiture scenes of daily life.

“This exhibition is a really important conversation to bring to our community here in Utah as our community continues to evolve, diversify and grow,” said Gretchen Dietrich, UMFA’s executive director. “This is an important conversation to have, to look at Latino ‘identity’ — whatever that means — and really celebrate the work these artists have done.”

The exhibit has been in the making for about 40 years, beginning in 1977, when the Smithsonian organized the first touring exhibit of Latino Art in the U.S., which was enormously successful.

Some of the major works displayed at the UMFA are from that time period or earlier and depict the progression of the Latino presence in the art world. In 2010, the Smithsonian hired the first full-time curator of Latino art, E. Carmen Ramos, to put together the traveling showcase of these incredible works. Her charge was to build this collection and express this aspect of art history that was missing.

Whitney Tassie, curator of modern and contemporary art at the UMFA, said, “The exhibition is less about defining the word ‘Latino’ but challenges it and shows that Latino art can address erroneous perceptions … this is a first step in that conversation, suggesting that [Latino art] is significant in its own right and not because it is ethnically diverse.”

The UMFA has housed many incredible exhibits throughout the years, which have opened up different conversations in the surrounding community about what it means to be a part of one. This year it is proud to showcase Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, as it transforms the museum into a place where all Americans can see their history reflected in great art.

The UMFA is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with late hours on Wednesday until 8 p.m. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free for students with their UCard. For more information about family events and artist talks, visit umfa.utah.edu/ouramerica.

k.ellis@chronicle.utah.edu
@ChronyArts

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