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Twisty Loyalties

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It has a long and onerously intricate title: "Turns and Directions: Changes in the Arts of Central America's Spanish-Speaking Nations and Panama During and After the 1950s." But the ambitions inherent in this new exhibition at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Cultural Center speak to many larger concerns, not to mention an even grander future endeavor.

It's one of a number of smaller exhibitions on Latin American art in the second half of the 20th century on view at various D.C. venues that are part of a much larger project called "About Change." Organized by the World Bank Art Program in collaboration with the IDB Cultural Center and other institutions, "About Change" culminates in a big exhibition in 2011 that examines Latin American and Caribbean art produced over the last decade by artists 35 years old or younger, exploring the impact of economic globalization and information technology.

"Turns and Directions," meanwhile, features 27 paintings and other works from the

"Turns and Directions

collection as well as the Organization of American States. All of the pieces focus on a number of "newer" artists from Central America and Panama who rose to real prominence after the end of World War II — signifying a change in the direction of art in that region.

In a sense, the exhibition serves as a kind of jumping-off point, a roadmap if you will, to the eventual climax of contemporary art featured in "About Change." The art on display here connects to the past and present while also paving a road to the future.

One thing that's always been a mark of Latin American art — from Mexico to Central America to the Caribbean to South America — is that evades categorization, although particular influences are often plain to see. Certain consistencies always crop up — such as the remnants of ancient, pre-Columbian civilizations, the effects of colonization, the search for identity, the attempt to move past poverty and dictatorship legacies. Yet one can never say this painting or that sculpture is Costa Rican, or Argentinean, or El Salvadorian — a fact that remains true in this small exhibition of works by artists from Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Even if there's nothing to indicate this is painting was done in a Guatemalan style, for instance, the exhibition is full of rich, vivid and highly individualistic works. Some of the artists — the great Guatemalan Carlos Mérida or Costa Rican Francisco Zúñiga — are instantly recognizable, as are some of the works, such Zúñiga's peasant naturalism in "Maternidad (Motherhood)" or Benjamín Cañas Herrera's surreal "Kafka, cartas a Milena (Kafka, Letters to Milena)."

Mérida in fact stands alone in some ways because of his international reputation, especially for his series of color lithographs in "Popol Vuh," the Mayan creation book.

Although not household names, the other artists all resonate with familiar influences that have been tailored to their individual talents. Costa Rican artist Lola Fernández, for example, looks straight back at expressionism with her industrial-strength works that seem to speak to power, its uses and how it's wielded, in a very modern way. And power in this region has been wielded in vastly different, and destructive, ways over the years.

As a result, the region's artists were often playing catch-up when it came to artistic "isms" or formal schools of work. When U.S. artists, and in particular New York artists, began to outshine Paris and Europe in the forward movement of their art, many Central American artists where still shaking off the habit of the figurative and representational. So in the 1950s, you still found artists like Robert Ossaye of Guatemala using strong overtones and edges reminiscent of Pablo Picasso from the early 20th century. You also had no doubt as to the influence of Norwegian Edvard Munch on Nicaraguan Rodrigo Peñalba's untitled work, with its haunted, feverish-eyed woman in the foreground.

Like Peñalba's tortured woman, the diversity on display here is visually striking — and an exciting precursor to "About Change." But you don't need to wait until 2011 to see the phenomenal evolution of Latin art. Change already abounds in all its twisty enlightenment in "Turns and Directions."

"Turns and Directions: Changes in the Arts of Central America's Spanish-Speaking Nations and Panama During and After the 1950s" runs through Nov. 19 at the Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center, 1300 New York Ave., NW. For more information, please call (202) 623-3774 or visit www.iadb.org/cultural.

TurnDirection
PHOTOS: ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES ART MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAS
From clockwise top, Margot Fanjul's "Joya Baj (Baj Jewel)," Rodrigo Peñalba's "Los Brujos de Nonimbo (The Sorcerers from Nonimbo)," Ezequiel Padilla Ayestas's "La Vida (Life)," and Julio Augusto Zachrisson's "Figurina (Figurine)" are part of a small but hugely eclectic show at the Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center.

 

It has a long and onerously intricate title: “Turns and Directions: Changes in the Arts of Central America’s Spanish-Speaking Nations and Panama During and After the 1950s.” But the ambitions inherent in this new exhibition at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Cultural Center speak to many larger concerns, not to mention an even grander future endeavor. It’s one of a number of smaller exhibitions on Latin American art in the second half of the 20th century on view at various D.C. venues that are part of a much larger project called “About Change.” Organized by the World Bank Art Program in collaboration with the IDB Cultural Center and other institutions, “About Change” culminates in a big exhibition in 2011 that examines Latin American and Caribbean art produced over the last decade by artists 35 years old or younger, exploring the impact of economic globalization and information technology. “Turns and Directions,” meanwhile, features 27 paintings and other works from the IDB collection as well as the Organization of American States. All of the pieces focus on a number of “newer” artists from Central America and Panama who rose to real prominence after the end of World War II — signifying a change in the direction of art in that region. In a sense, the exhibition serves as a kind of jumping-off point, a roadmap if you will, to the eventual climax of contemporary art featured in “About Change.” The art on display here connects to the past and present while also paving a road to the future. One thing that’s always been a mark of Latin American art — from Mexico to Central America to the Caribbean to South America — is that evades categorization, although particular influences are often plain to see. Certain consistencies always crop up — such as the remnants of ancient, pre-Columbian civilizations, the effects of colonization, the search for identity, the attempt to move past poverty and dictatorship legacies. Yet one can never say this painting or that sculpture is Costa Rican, or Argentinean, or El Salvadorian — a fact that remains true in this small exhibition of works by artists from Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Even if there’s nothing to indicate this is painting was done in a Guatemalan style, for instance, the exhibition is full of rich, vivid and highly individualistic works. Some of the artists — the great Guatemalan Carlos Mérida or Costa Rican Francisco Zúñiga — are instantly recognizable, as are some of the works, such Zúñiga’s peasant naturalism in “Maternidad (Motherhood)” or Benjamín Cañas Herrera’s surreal “Kafka, cartas a Milena (Kafka, Letters to Milena).” Mérida in fact stands alone in some ways because of his international reputation, especially for his series of color lithographs in “Popol Vuh,” the Mayan creation book. Although not household names, the other artists all resonate with familiar influences that have been tailored to their individual talents. Costa Rican artist Lola Fernández, for example, looks straight back at expressionism with her industrial-strength works that seem to speak to power, its uses and how it’s wielded, in a very modern way. And power in this region has been wielded in vastly different, and destructive, ways over the years. As a result, the region’s artists were often playing catch-up when it came to artistic “isms” or formal schools of work. When U.S. artists, and in particular New York artists, began to outshine Paris and Europe in the forward movement of their art, many Central American artists where still shaking off the habit of the figurative and representational. So in the 1950s, you still found artists like Robert Ossaye of Guatemala using strong overtones and edges reminiscent of Pablo Picasso from the early 20th century. You also had no doubt as to the influence of Norwegian Edvard Munch on Nicaraguan Rodrigo Peñalba’s untitled work, with its haunted, feverish-eyed woman in the foreground. Like Peñalba’s tortured woman, the diversity on display here is visually striking — and an exciting precursor to “About Change.” But you don’t need to wait until 2011 to see the phenomenal evolution of Latin art. Change already abounds in all its twisty enlightenment in “Turns and Directions.” Turns and Directions: Changes in the Arts of Central America’s Spanish-Speaking Nations and Panama During and After the 1950s through Nov. 19 Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center 1300 New York Ave., NW For more information, please call (202) 623-3774 or visit www.iadb.org/cultural.

About the Author

Gary Tischler is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on June 25, 2014