Latinizing Culture: Art, Museums, and the Politics of U.S. Multicultural Encompassment

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Essay Excerpt

In what follows I explore some of these dynamics and their possible impact both on El Museo's transformation and on the diverse reactions ensuing from the institution's change in scope and mission. To this end, the debate over El Museo's transformation will be analyzed within two larger contexts: first, the categorization, promotion, and exhibition of Latin American art and, second, U.S. multiculturalism.2 In particular, this debate will be placed against the inclusions and exclusions generated by what has become known as the "Latin art boom," involving an emphasis on and renewed popularization of Latin American art and culture since the 1980s.3 Since that time, Latin American art, while still shunned and excluded in comparison with mainstream "non-ethnicized" art, has become the subject of more attention and exposure, although, as we shall see, this interest has neither benefited nor profited all "Latin American artists" in an equal manner (Gomez-Peiia 1996; Yiidice 1996).

In particular, I will suggest that central to these disparities in the representation of Latin American art are the nationalist dynamics sustained by multiculturalist discourse and triggered by the variety of agents involved in the promotion and representation of Latin American art within the context of museums and cultural institutions. On the one hand, by promoting a nessentialized view of identity, multiculturalist discourse perpetuates a concern over origins and concrete determinations of culture, triggering distinctions about who and what can be considered a more appropriate representation of "Latinness." Such determinations,in turn, will be shown to become translated and implicated in nationalist concerns in representations of Latin American art in the context of museums and cultural institutions whose reliance on objects and concrete representations bring such issues to the forefront. Accordingly, representations of Latin American art are not solely the media whereby curators, nationalist elites, and other interests produce, contest, and ultimately legitimate the category of "Latin American art"; they are also contests over the value and ranking of particular artists, cultures, and countries. In this context, Puerto Rican and Latino/Latina artists, who are more likely rendered as minorities rather than "national" artists and positioned at the periphery of the institutionalized category of "Latin American art,"prove to be particularly disadvantaged. (Dávila, 181)

About the Author

Davila is a Professor at New York University. 

Her areas of research are as follows: race and ethnicity; nationalism; media studies; political economy, globalization; the politics of museum and visual representation; urban studies; consumption; Latinos in the U.S.

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