Reframing History with the Blanton’s New Modernist Latin American Art Exhibit

What was that? I can’t hear you,” is the refrain on a crackling telephone line intermittently cutting out only to have the sound return as an echo. We’re trying to connect three cities on two continents—New York City; Lima, Peru; and Austin—but one would think that in 2020, it should be easier than this. 

When the line does connect, it’s with Beverly Adams, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art—and former curator of Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art—and Natalia Majluf, PhD ’95, director and chief curator of the Museo de Arte de Lima. The two are longtime friends who met in the 1990s while completing their PhDs at UT Austin.  

Recently, the pair reconnected to create the Blanton’s latest exhibit The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta: Argentina, Mexico, and Peru in the 1920s, an ambitious look at Latin American art, culture, science, and politics of that decade. Over the past year, the show has traveled across the world, stopping in Madrid, Lima, and Mexico City before concluding with a run at the Blanton from Feb. 16 to May 17.  

Using a short-lived but highly influential Peruvian publication called Amauta—which is a Quechuan word for “wise one”—as inspiration, the exhibition features pieces ranging from paintings and sculpture to tapestries, etchings, and even the written word. Where possible, pieces in the show are displayed alongside correlating articles from Amauta. “We always wanted to do a project together, but never really landed on anything,” says Adams, BA ’87, MA ’92, PhD ’00. “We were talking about how we thought there really needed to be a serious look at modernism in Latin America.”   

Rather than create a giant survey show of popular work—what Adams refers to as a “greatest hits” exhibition—Adams and Maljuf wanted to dive into parts of Latin American history that have been overlooked.  

“We saw exhibitions in which entire countries of South America were not included,” Maljuf says. “There had to be a way for including [countries] that had been marginalized. And this show is trying to compensate for that.”  

As part of their research, the pair combed through magazines produced in Central and South America during the 20th century. Unlike today’s glossies, weighed down by ads and often owned by huge media conglomerates, these magazines were usually produced by individuals or a small group. Subversive in both subject and style, publications highlighted avant-garde, artistic movements and leftist politics—subjects largely overlooked by the mainstream media at the time.  

“We discussed the magazines of the period and how artists used them as exhibition spaces and to exchange ideas,” Adams says. “Even though many of them were short-lived or devoted to specific causes, they were these great organs of interconnection between people across the continent.”  

Maljuf eventually suggested they turn their focus to Amauta, founded in Lima by intellectual and activist José Carlos Mariátegui in 1926.   

“In a way it was obvious choice,” Maljuf says of Amauta. “It certainly was a very important reference, both the journal and the man who directed it, José Carlos Mariátegui, were very important figures for Latin America.” 


The magazine’s run coincided with a time of political and social upheaval across the globe, a point of great interest to the two curators. And though it was only produced from 1926–30, it showcased the work of some of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists, thinkers, writers, and politicians: notables such as Norah Borges, Pablo Neruda, Diego Rivera, Emilio Pettoruti, and Sigmund Freud.  

But even with its relatively short lifespan, transforming five years of Amauta into a traveling art exhibition was a daunting task. To create it, the pair combed museum collections, including the Blanton and Mueso de Arte de Lima, as well as the Mariátegui family archive, to find materials that either originally appeared in the magazine or could help shape the narrative of the time period.   

“The magazine was a road map. We tried to stick really closely to the things that were reproduced, the artists that were included,” Adams says of the final show, which encompasses more than 300 pieces on display, many for the first time ever in the U.S.  

When it finally ends its world tour on campus, The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta will include what the Blanton describes as an “expansive range of media and styles including painting, sculpture, poetry, traditional crafts, publications, and ephemera.”   

As visitors journey through Amauta, Adams says she hopes they take away more than a history of the publication, but a lesson in how history has altered, and in some cases abandoned, Latin American art. “I hope visitors get away from that idea that modern art comes from Europe and that there are no other places involved in these projects,” Adams says. [“There are] important questions about art and culture and meaning being developed in different locations around the world with a lot of really interesting and brilliant thinkers and doers and makers.” 

From top: Julio Codesido, Indigenous Market, 1931, oil on canvas. Private Collection, Lima; cover of the magazine Amauta. Courtesy of the Archivo José Carlos Mariátegui, Lima; Agustin Lazo, Men on Horseback or Revolution, ca. 1928, colored ink on paper. Blanton Museum of Art, Gift of Thomas Cranfill, 1977; Gabriel Fernández Ledesma, Sculpture and Direct Chiselling, 1928, woodcut. Colección Andrés Blaisten, Mexico City, courtesy of Olinca Fernández Ledesma Villaseñor.



No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment