New York

Ante-America

Queens Museum

Ante-America,” translated in the catalogue as “Regarding America,” is a group show of Latin American art curated by Gerardo Mosquera, Rachel Weiss, and Carolina Ponce de Leon; it originated in Bogotá, Colombia and is currently at the Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Alongside the more ambitious show at the Museum of Modern Art, “Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century,” and the related show, “Space of Time: Contemporary Art from the Americas,” at the Americas Society, it offered New York an extraordinary opportunity to attempt to come to terms with a cultural presence that to white Americans has always seemed less interesting than Europe.

The very category of “Latin American art” has recently been criticized as a stereotype on the grounds that it ignores the diversity of Latin American societies and traditions. This show, however, is not very vulnerable to such criticism, as the curators have consciously attempted to broaden the scope of this category. The show mixes European-derived, African-derived, and Native American works with works from Chicano and other displaced Latin American communities, with the aim of dealing, as the curators put it, “with problematized perspectives, which contest and reject convention.” Part of the purpose of the show, in other words, is precisely to critique stereotypes that some other recent shows have been perceived as reinforcing. As a result, there is a post-Modern looseness or openness to the exhibition, which combines several different kinds of energies.

Some works directly address political conditions and relations of dominance in the hemisphere. Luis Cruz Azaceta’s Latin American Victims of Dictators, Oppression and Murder, 1987, is a stark and tragic image of human sacrifice. The witty paintings of Enrique Chagoya show comic heroes with Mickey Mouse heads or Superman cloaks relating in various ways to what appear to be Latin American victims of enslavement or genocide. The conceptualist paintings of Arturo Duclos ironically combine magical realist motifs—a Latin American stereotype at this point—with surrealistically Other motifs from Western technology and philosophy. Many of the works in this show achieve a happy balance between the demands of form and content, though some seem too vain about their politics; Luis Camnitzer’s piece referring to Uruguayan government torture, for example, somehow manages to be both thin and pretentious.

Other works approach these issues with a vaguer, more poetic aura. The complex conceptual installation of Carlos Capelan, Mapas y Paisajes (Maps and landscapes, 1992) combined books, bottles, images on walls, lamps, and other elements in a room-sized environment that looked, as Weiss remarks in the catalogue, like a site where a ritual has lately been performed, and which involves a generalized meditation on the potential remapping of boundaries. Maria Fernanda Cardoso’s arresting sculpture, Tusas de maiz (Corn cobs, 1986), a long coiled-up rope or necklace of stripped and strung corn cobs, combines the simplicity of Minimalist sculpture with the atmospheric suggestiveness of a question mark. In terms of the strictly contemporary, this exhibition was more interesting to many than the larger and differently conceived show at MoMA, providing a more focused view of the present moment.

Thomas McEvilley