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An Abundance of Latin American Art in Los Angeles, Wall Street Journal

A mammoth, multi-exhibition project in southern California explores Latin American and Latino art and artists throughout the hemisphere, including the U.S., by Susan Delson

In La La Land, the second “La” can stand for Latin America.

It certainly does this season, as “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” a mammoth, multi-exhibition project, unfurls across the city and region. “Los Angeles has a deep connection to Latin America,” said Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation, which initiated and largely funded development of the project. The city was “born in the 18th century as part of New Spain,” she added, noting that today, “approximately half of our population identifies as Latino or Latin American.”

Exploring Latin American and Latino art and artists throughout the hemisphere, including the U.S., “PST: LA/LA” encompasses more than 70 venues throughout Southern California, from San Diego to Santa Barbara and east to Palm Springs. Participating museums range from modest institutions like the Pasadena Museum of California Art to heavyweights like the Getty Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or Lacma.

“PST: LA/LA” marks the third “Pacific Standard Time” organized under the Getty’s aegis. The first, presented in 2011–12, explored art in Los Angeles from 1945 to 1980, while the second, in 2013, focused on modern architecture in Los Angeles. This year’s version features work from more than 50 countries and 1,000 artists, from colorful Cuban movie posters to tough-minded protest art from Colombia to 18th-century Mexican paintings.

Although the official launch is Sept. 15, one exhibition opened at Lacma in June and more will open this summer. “Hollywood in Havana: Five Decades of Cuban Posters Promoting U.S. Films,” opening Aug. 20 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, explores a side of the island nation rarely seen in this country: its passion for American cinema.

“What? Cubans watch U.S. films?” joked guest curator Carol Wells, executive director of the L.A.–based Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Despite an embargo that has limited distribution of American films on the island, that love has persisted and includes an enduring affection for Charlie Chaplin. His silent comedies were among the first films ever seen by many rural Cubans, thanks to traveling “mobile cinema” units set up soon after the 1959 revolution. The 44-poster exhibition opens with a section devoted to Chaplin.

Made by hand on silk-screen presses, Cuban film posters are more akin to fine-art prints than mass-produced U.S. versions, with a visual wit that has long characterized graphic design on the island. Unlike their American counterparts, Cuban posters put less focus on the movie stars and instead playfully hint at plot and theme. A 2009 poster for the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Rope” positions an ominously thick length of the stuff as a necktie. The poster for Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” depicts a child’s tricycle leaving blood-red tracks in its wake.

Several designers have international reputations. One of Eduardo Muños Bachs’s specialties is his inventive use of Chaplin’s head and derby hat. Antonio Pérez, known as Ñiko, created a black-and-white design fantasia surrounding a cherub hefting submachine guns for “The Godfather.”

The works in “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985” take on darker subjects. Opening Sept. 15 at the Hammer Museum, the exhibition gathers more than 100 artists from 15 countries to weave a history of experimental art focused on the female body. Much of it was created under harsh political and social conditions.

“You have to think about the coups d’état in Chile, in Peru, in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay” taking place in the era covered by the exhibition, said Andrea Giunta, professor of Latin American art at Buenos Aires University and co-curator of the show. In this context, art-making was a form of political resistance as well as a place to break creative ground.

Several artists ferociously depict the violence and repression they experienced. Photographs document a powerful 1980s performance in which the Colombian artist María Evelia Marmolejo cut her feet to leave a trail of blood as she walked on white paper laid through a public square in the city of Cali. “Sal-si-puedes” (“Get Out if You Can”), a 1983 installation and projected photographic performance by the Uruguayan artist Nelbia Romero, refers to a massacre of indigenous people in Uruguay in 1831 and establishes a parallel with the 1980s dictatorship then in power.

Other artists explored notions of gender, motherhood and mainstream traditions. In the late 1970s, the Mexican artist Mónica Mayer staged “The Clothesline,” an interactive performance in which women shared their thoughts about sexual harassment on slips of pink paper, hanging them like laundry on a line.

Next April, “Radical Women” will head to the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. But the complete “LA/LA” experience will happen, as they say, only in L.A.

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