“Its 2013 now, it’s the 21st century—it’s a good time for us to look seriously at the field,” Cecilia Fajardo-Hill says of Latin American art. By example, Fajardo-Hill, a British-Venezuelan art historian and curator, is a specialist in Latin American art, whose former posts include Director and Chief Curator of the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection in Miami and Chief Curator of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach—both ventures strongly promoting art from Latin America. It makes sense then to find Fajardo-Hill on the bill of PINTA New York, the United States’ premier art fair devoted to Latin American art, where she’ll curate the Modern section. As the fair opens its doors to New York City—and the international art world—Artsy spoke with the curator on the importance of a dedicated fair to Latin American art, how such fairs are not pigeonholing the region but instead, contextualizing the work in an international dialogue, and why it’s important that we broaden our lens to explore new countries and artists—off the beaten path of what we think of when talk about “Latin America”.
Artsy: What is the place of Latin American art in the art market?
Cecilia Fajardo-Hill: Since the 1990s, Latin American art has been quite strong. We’ve had ups and downs but Latin American art hasn’t had the speculation that other markets have had, [for example] in China. So, for example, even through the financial crisis, the Latin American art market has maintained its position because there wasn’t the kind of inflation that may have happened with Chinese art. If you don’t manage the demand well, the prices skyrocket, and then there’s a situation of inflation, which is not desirable.
Artsy: Can you single out any moments in recent history that have contributed to the increase in collecting and exhibiting of Latin American art?
CFH: One of the big moments for Latin American art was in 1992-3, the quincentennial of the so-called discovery of America, when many museums held very important exhibitions [devoted to Latin American art]: The MoMA opened “Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century”, at [the Royal Museum of Art of Antwerp] there was “The Bride of the Sun” exhibition, and “Ante América: Cambio de Foco” which changed the approach to Latin American photography, which came out of the Biblioteca Luis-Ángel Arango in Colombia. There was a very significant moment of [evaluating] where the field was and thinking critically about how [the colonial past] defined what Latin American art had been this far. I think there was a kind of before and after 1992. In 2000 came a second wave of important exhibitions such as “Heterotopías” at the Museo Reina Sofía.
In the ’90s, we were coming out of the big multicultural trend, which had somehow pigeonholed a lot of Hispanic artists, especially in the U.S. and in England, and that segmented art of Latin American origins into these parallel histories. I think after the ’90s, there was a very strong attempt for things to change. Museums and curators started to participate in broader, more international arenas and that became a more interesting way of looking at Latin America in a broader picture.
Artsy: Are there commonalities or characteristics among work from this region?
CFH: There have been so many polemics around the idea of Latin America as this kind of unified concept, but really, what we have in Latin America are very particular qualities in every country. For example, contemporary art in Colombia is different from that in Argentina or Mexico. The MoMA, the MFA in Houston, and the Tate museums for example, for a while now, have had specialist curators in Latin American art in the curatorial departments—because unless you build knowledge of the region, you won’t buy any Latin American art. There are ways of thinking of the regions strategically and there are ways of thinking in very specific ways within a region.
Artsy: As an advisor, what countries/regions do you tend to look to most when building a collection?
CFH: Traditionally Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have been very strong, and in recent years, countries such as Peru. Chile and Colombia have been become strong as well. How can you compare Central American countries, like Guatemala—where the infrastructure is so minimal, with no good art schools, or strong museums, or a collecting base—to somewhere like Mexico, where there are strong museums, strong universities, art galleries, and good art schools? Both countries have very good artists but we do not know what is happening in Guatemala because of the limited art system there. That is one of the roles of curators and people like me: We need to expand and look at places such as Guatemala or Ecuador. I believe that we need to construct strong collections of Latin American art as they will end up in the public arena and in museums, shaping our vision of Latin American Art. Private collections also inform our understanding of the field, differently from the museums. We need good art fairs, biennials, galas, and events that show what Latin American art really is. The art market and the art system are many different things.
Artsy: You built a significant part of the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, which essentially solidified a market for several of the artists. Can you explain this?
CFH: We were not only trying to promote artists who were up-and-coming or established but not well known in the States, but also to put them in a dialogue next to other artists that were better known. For example, I curated a couple of shows at the time where you could see Olafur Eliasson next to Cildo Meireles and José Damasceno and then Damien Hirst next to Mateo López, a young [emerging] Colombian artist, trying to break down this barrier and hierarchy of importance and creating a dialogue where you see that these artists, no matter where they come from or what stage of their career they’re in, are wonderful. By showing them in the context of an international collection, we confirmed how international and contemporary these artworks are, contrary to the traditional stereotypical notions of Latin America art, as provincial and primitive as is somehow persistent in people’s heads. We decided we were not going to talk about Latin American art, we were going to talk about art from Latin America, from Brazil, etc., and that we’d be non-hierarchical and focus on showing dynamic art from Latin America. With CIFO’s Grants and Commissions Program, we focused on promoting and collecting Latin American artists and helping them produce their work.
Artsy: Can you tell us briefly about the PINTA Modern section?
CFH: In Latin America, from around the ’90s, there has been a very strong interest in Geometric Abstraction. But there are so many other areas of Latin American that haven’t really been explored by the market. For example I am working on a big project with Andrea Giunta on women artists that we are going to present at the Hammer Museum in L.A. in 2017—about women from the 1960s to 1985—and many of these artists have not been explored in the market. I wanted to show more women artists, and then show some good conceptual and abstract art at PINTA. The idea is to try to present something that is not always the same, to slowly develop new areas and promote other artists.
Artsy: Which Latin American artists are most commonly collected at present?
CFH: I did a little market research about a year ago, and I looked at the artworks that were being collected the most in museum institutions throughout the States. I found that there were about 10 artists that were basically in all of the collections: Gabriel Orozco, Ana Mendieta, Jac Leirner from Brazil, Rivane Neuenschwander, Felix Gonzales-Torres (who from an American point of view, is already considered an American artist), Francis Alÿs (who really is Belgian but has been in Mexico for so long that he is considered a Mexican artist), Guillermo Kuitca, Fernando Botero from Colombia (who, despite that many people think he is out of fashion, still continue to collect him).
Artsy: Have PINTA and other specialized Latin American art fairs influenced the collecting of Latin American art?
CFH: The reason I’m involved with PINTA is because I’m hoping that’s exactly what they will do. I think a high-quality boutique art fair dedicated to Latin America makes a lot of sense. Some people say, “Oh, you’re just pigeonholing the art market,” but I don’t believe in that. I strongly believe that you shouldn’t pigeonhole Latin America in the sense to see it as something limited, like a side market—and I don’t feel like that at all—but I do see it is a special field. I vote for specificity, but a specificity that is contextualized in the broader world, to be part of an international dialogue. But it has to be done well and there has to be knowledge. It makes sense to have art historical departments [at museums] that devote themselves to Latin America, with curators like Luis Enrique Pérez-Oramas at MoMA, Mari Carmen Ramírez at the MFA Houston, or José Roca at the Tate. You need these people, who are all wonderful curators, to develop conversations to broaden our idea of what art history is and what art is by having all of the different points of view brought together. You need someone who has studied it to say, “let’s buy that piece for the collection, let’s present it together with these other artists because it creates an interesting dialogue.” Even though the art market is more and more international, the concept of the international is to be respectful and knowledgeable about specificity as well.
Artsy: What advice would you give to collectors who want to collect Latin American art?
CFH: The way that any collection begins is by being interested, looking at art and studying. There are some key publications out there—for example the books that the MFA Houston is publishing are important, MoMA, MOCA in L.A., LACMA, The Patricia Cisneros Collection in the States, and many more. You can also look at important museums in each country, like MALBA or Fundación Proa in Argentina, or the Pinacoteca in Sao Paulo. Every country is producing inside or independently from institutions great publications. Catalogues for biennales such as the Sao Paulo Biennale or Bienal de Mercosur, or Cuenca are all important. For the art market are the catalogues of art fairs, like PINTA and Art Basel in Miami, the auction houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips, which produce specialized catalogues on Latin American art. At galleries, ask as many questions as possible regarding the art and the artists and request written information and a bibliography. There are advisors who work in Latin America who are wonderful. So it’s like a puzzle; it can come together if you look at the different parts: publications, art fairs, museums, auctions, galleries, alternative spaces, artists studios. Latin American art is an extremely exciting and interesting field; and it’s an opportunity for discovery and collecting.
Cecilia Fajardo-Hill is a British-Venezuelan art historian and curator in modern and contemporary art, currently based in Southern California. Fajardo-Hill has a Ph.D in Art History from the University of Essex, England, and an MA in 20th Century Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, England. Fajardo-Hill was the Chief Curator and Vice-President of Curatorial Affairs at the Museum of Latin American Art, MOLAA in Long Beach, California Between 2009 and 2012. At present she is co-curating with Andrea Giunta the exhibition “The Political Body: Radical Women in Latin American Art 1960-1985”, a survey of radical artistic practices by women artists in Latin America for the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles to open in 2017 under the umbrella of the Getty initiative PST LA/LA. Fajardo-Hill is currently also curating the Sayago & Pardon initiative, Abstraction in Action, a multi platform project on contemporary abstraction in Latin America. Fajardo-Hill is the general curator of the XIX Bienal Paiz in Guatemala to open in June 2014, together with Anabella Acevedo, Rosina Cazali and Pablo Ramírez.