This essay overviews how Canadian museums and universities have historically accessioned Latin American visual culture and identifies potential ways of sustaining interest, streamlining initiatives, and promoting access. The larger project aims at contributing to a hemispheric and transnational understanding of the history and growth in Canada of the field of Latin American art and its subfields of Pre-Columbian, colonial, modern, and contemporary art. While the study of art history among Canadian museums and universities has kept up with the decades-long interest in Latin American art and visual culture, there remain considerable challenges in bringing Latin American art to the forefront of public consciousness. Despite the pioneering efforts of Canadian museums and universities, Latin American visual art remains largely unknown and underutilized. This essay advocates for better collaboration among institutions involved in Latin American visual art initiatives across Canada, and dialogue among these disparate stakeholders to establish underlying narratives.
RESUMEN Este ensayo busca ofrecer una visión general de cómo los museos y universidades canadienses han accedido históricamente a la cultura visual latinoamericana para identificar formas potenciales de mantener el interés, racionalizar iniciativas y promover el acceso. El objetivo del proyecto es contribuir a una comprensión hemisférica y transnacional de la historia y el crecimiento en Canadá del campo del arte latinoamericano y su subcampo del arte precolombino, colonial, moderno y contemporáneo. Si bien el estudio de la historia del arte entre los museos y las universidades canadienses ha seguido el paso del interés que ha habido en el arte y la cultura visual latinoamericanos durante décadas, sigue habiendo desafíos considerables para hacer que el arte latinoamericano ocupe un lugar de primera línea en la conciencia pública. A pesar de los esfuerzos pioneros de museos y universidades canadienses, el arte visual latinoamericano ha permanecido en gran parte desconocido e infrautilizado. Específicamente, este ensayo aboga por una mejor colaboración entre las instituciones canadienses que participan en iniciativas relacionadas con el arte visual de América Latina, y pretende alentar el diálogo entre estas diferentes partes interesadas para establecer narrativas comunes.
RESUMO Este ensaio procura fornecer uma visão geral de como os museus e universidades canadenses historicamente acessaram a cultura visual latino-americana a fim de identificar formas potenciais de manter o interesse, simplificar iniciativas e promover o acesso a ela. O projeto visa contribuir para uma compreensão hemisférica e transnacional da história e do crescimento no Canadá do campo da arte latino-americana e seus subcampos – arte pré-colombiana, colonial, moderna e contemporânea. Embora o estudo da história da arte entre os museus e universidades canadenses tenha acompanhado o interesse de décadas na arte e na cultura visual da América Latina, ainda existem desafios consideráveis para levar a arte latino-americana à vanguarda da consciência pública. Apesar dos esforços pioneiros dos museus e universidades canadenses, a arte visual latino-americana permaneceu em grande parte desconhecida e subutilizada. Especificamente, este ensaio defende uma melhor colaboração entre instituições envolvidas em iniciativas de arte visual latino-americanas em todo o Canadá, e o incentivo ao diálogo entre esses diferentes atores para estabelecer narrativas subjacentes.
In 1941, when Elizabeth Wilder extended “A Call for Pioneers,” she was raising important issues in relation to the establishment of the study of Latin American art in the United States: only four colleges and universities, out of four hundred, reported courses dealing specifically with the subject.1 Why, she asked, are faculties of arts not urging their students into this field that is clearly in need of pioneers? She advised on the foundation of Latin American studies in arts departments, recommended the training of scholars, and advised institutions on the necessary materials for study, books for libraries, and photograph collections on the topic.
More than seventy years later, the panorama is quite different: the field of Latin American art is well established in the United States. Yet its growth was not constant. In 1988 Luis R. Cancel recalled his frustrations as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, when he first wanted to learn more about his Puerto Rican heritage and contemporary Latin American art in general, and was unable to find any courses at the institutions he attended. As he emphasized, the implications were serious: if the most prestigious and influential art history departments in the country offered little, if any, exposure to artistic traditions south of the Rio Grande, this would affect the organization of museum exhibitions and publications on visual culture from this part of the world, and in turn would compromise “the ability of U.S. citizens to understand Latin American culture and society and to promote hemispheric cooperation.” He thus embarked on a passionate mission, one he admitted was perhaps “too evangelical at times,” to eliminate some of the obstacles he confronted.2
Fortunately there is now in the United States an abundance of scholars, museums, academic institutions, and fellowships dedicated to studying, collecting, exhibiting, researching, publishing, and educating audiences regarding the art of this region. But the situation is hardly comparable in Canada.3 Few Canadian museums with collections of Latin American art have studied them extensively. Insufficient scholarship has been devoted to analyzing the complex ideology behind temporary exhibitions of Latin American art in Canada. And nothing has been said so far about the pioneers of Latin American art in Canadian universities.
The purpose of this study is to overview the history and current state of Latin American art and art history in Canadian museums, galleries, and universities. Information on museum collections, exhibitions, and interest in Latin American art history at Canadian universities was gathered from numerous sources. I seek to contribute to a hemispheric and transnational understanding of the history and growth in Canada of the field of Latin American art and its subfields of Pre-Columbian, colonial, nineteenth-century, modern, and contemporary art. Some projects that claim to be transnational in nature overlook the Canadian situation, generalizing circumstances in the United States as “North American” without even questioning if things are different north of the border, exacerbating the “relative invisibility” of Canada in North American cultural circles.4 My hope is to address and begin to fill this void. My project has an ambitious scale, but it is not intended to be definitive; rather it aspires to stimulate further research and indicate directions for it. Although much new material is brought forth here, there still exists a substantial history worthy of continued investigation. Hopefully this study will serve as an incentive, and further research through individual case studies will provide a more definitive description of the state of Latin American art in Canada.
I invoke the term “art” in a totalizing way, including temporal and national fields, movements, and to some extent popular and ethnographic material.5 Although my usage might seem uncritical or monolithic, the idea is to encompass objects of visual and material culture from Latin America in Canada as a starting point. It is premature to establish the currency of the term in Canada—if it has its own contour or if the field has migrated north as conceptualized from the United States. I am not saying that Latin American art in Canada was conceived as isolated from the United States, but that Canada, like the United Kingdom, might have its own particular ways of understanding Latin American studies. Luis Rebaza-Soraluz refers to the British situation as an “ambiguous and sometimes conflictive interdependent relationship between the university systems on both sides of the Atlantic and their own particular ways of understanding Latin American Studies.”6 Further compilation of data and analysis, case studies, and extensive dives in museum archives are necessary to ascertain whether there are trends or patterns peculiar to the Canadian situation in relation to Latin American art. Only then will we be able to consider the particularity of Latin American art’s presence in Canada while acknowledging, as mentioned by Natalie Alvarez in relation to Latinx Canadian theater and performance, the “cross-border travels of cultural and critical traditions, as well as the transnational impacts of neocolonization, that require a framing of Canadian latinidad in a more expansive hemispheric topography.”7
I am aware of the limitations and problems that can arise from the totalizing term “Latin America,” which “pretends to encompass a multiplicity of stories within the singularity of the name.”8 I certainly do not aspire to undermine Latin American cultural complexity. I use the concept instrumentally, to encompass with one umbrella term common historical and cultural affinities. There are many differences, but also sufficient points of contact to justify this approach.
In the first section of the essay I provide some general notions, challenges, and factors faced by Canadian museums and universities in improving the visibility, collection, and study of Latin American art and visual culture. I then briefly address the Latin American population in Canada and Canadian multiculturalism. Next I examine collections of Latin American art in Canada, temporary exhibitions of Latin American art in Canadian museums, and Latin American art history in Canadian universities. Lastly I offer some recommendations for the future of the field in the country.
CANADIAN PERSPECTIVES ON LATIN AMERICAN ART
Latin American art and visual culture have been part of the imaginaries of cultural institutions across Canada since the early twentieth century. The first donations to museum collections were at the beginning of the century; the first temporary exhibitions were organized in the early 1940s; and universities started hiring specialists in the field in the 1970s. Over the years, these institutions seeking to promote and present Latin American art to their respective audiences have enjoyed varying degrees of success. Canadian museums and universities have administrated the collection, study, and public presentation of paintings, ceramics, and textiles from the Pre-Columbian period to contemporary times in ways that reflect their efforts to negotiate the historical and cultural complexity of those countries bound by a common past and categorized under the instrumental term Latin America.
The first factor that has made the study of Latin American art and visual culture in Canada challenging is its relatively late and decentralized beginnings. This put initial efforts toward its formal study at a disadvantage relative to other, more established fields in art history departments across the country, especially when compared to the thriving situation of the field in the United States.9 Art history departments in Canada already operate at the crossroads of many academic traditions: French and English, due to the nation’s colonial past, but also the US one, due to its geographical proximity.10 Despite the existence of a few well-known works and artists, Pre-Columbian and Hispanic art have mostly remained beyond the established canon of art history in Canada.
The second factor was the specific circumstances surrounding the arrival of Spanish-speaking immigrants to Canada. In the same way that the arrival of Spanish immigrants in Canada due to the Spanish Civil War had a strong impact on language and literature departments but not on art history departments, the first important wave of Latin American immigrants to Canada in the 1970s was meaningful to other academic disciplines but not to visual culture.11
The first exhibitions of Latin American art held in Canada in the 1940s treated the work mostly as a tool to strengthen political relations among nations. However, the increasing presence of Latin American people in Canada over the years became an impetus to reconsider those collections and exhibitions more positively. Just as the children of the first and second generations of Latin Americans in Canada now want to study and master the Spanish language, they also want to know more about their cultural roots. This shift in attitude reflects how promoting Latin American art for its aesthetic and cultural value can be beneficial to younger generations who are exposed to globalization now more than ever.
While Latin American art and visual culture have gained traction in several respects thanks to the efforts of Canadian museums and universities, Latin American art history has only a precarious foothold as a field of study. According to data gathered through the Art History in Canada Project, African, Islamic, and Latin American art remain the least represented among art history departments.12 This essay argues that the relative decentralization of collection efforts, the lack of an overarching narrative framework to guide visibility, and unstable stakeholder support are key challenges arising from the previously discussed factors that need to be addressed in order to secure the future of Latin American art and visual culture in Canada. I firmly believe that museums and universities must engage the current complexities of the Latin American art tradition in order to adequately address the continued rise of global immigration and desperately needed shifts away from the traditional Western canon. Limitations in institutional and material support cannot be allowed to impede improvement in the accessioning, institutionalization, and dissemination of Latin American art in Canada.
LATIN AMERICANS IN CANADA
Compared to the situation of its southern neighbor, the Latin American population in Canada is far less numerous, more recent, more diversified in terms of origins, and much less affected by aggressive discourse. As Victor Armony acknowledges, scholarship on the Latin American diaspora has enjoyed a long trajectory in the United States, whereas in Canada the situation tends to remain invisible, despite the proximity of the countries in question.13 And the US dynamics do not necessarily apply to the Canadian reality in terms of its offering to migrant populations social, political, economic, and cultural spaces in which integration and majority-minority relations evolve. In both countries, the situation is different in big cities versus smaller cities and rural areas, but in Canada there is the additional variable of the Anglophone provinces versus the French-speaking province of Québec. For example, Québec attracts twice as many Latin American immigrants than the rest of Canada, presumably for reasons of “cultural affinities” such as the romance languages spoken and the importance of Catholicism.
Latin Americans in Canada have settled over several decades, since the late 1950s, in distinctive waves that correspond to different historical moments, reasons, and conditions of migration.14 The first important wave was from the 1970s to the 1990s, when most Latin American immigrants came to Canada for political reasons, such as military dictatorships and civil wars, from South and Central America respectively. Since the mid-1990s most of the Latin American population admitted to Canada has arrived under the “economic category,” that is, on the account of their prospective employability as skilled workers, a condition evaluated according to their level of education, work experience, and sufficient knowledge of Canadian official languages.15 A smaller number have come under the family reunification and refugee categories.
Several previous censuses from Statistics Canada have presented information on Latin American populations in Canada in a confusing way, in that the categories were not consistently comparable: sometimes under the rubric of “visible minority” (2006, 2001, 1996) or by place of birth (1986, 1981), while data from the 2016, 2011, and 1991 censuses reframed the demographic question by taking into account the language spoken at home.16 Given the data, a correspondence appears to exist between an increasing number of people who identify Spanish as their mother tongue and the positive engagement with Latin American art in provinces with bigger Spanish-speaking populations.17 This correspondence is evident in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta, which are not only the provinces with the highest concentrations of people of Latin American origin but also the provinces that tend to hire more Latin American specialists in art history departments, collect more Latin American artifacts, and host more Latin American art exhibitions. While there are many more conflating variables that go beyond the scope of this essay, these recent statistics highlight the undeniable impact of the presence of Latin American populations in Canada on cultural globalization at both the national and the regional level.
Although the national contexts are quite different, and the way of quantifying the diverse aspects of the populations on both sides of the border also reveals peculiar approaches and social realities, the diaspora’s composition must be seen from a transnational perspective. By this I mean that the Latinx Canadian population should not be constructed in an isolated manner; it is not fashioned only through its interaction with Canadian society, but is part of a hemispheric situation. It has even been speculated by Victor Armony that the Latinx reality in the United States is so massively important that Canadian Latinxs will eventually gravitate toward the “US model of panethnicity” instead of creating a “different mode of diasporic identity.”18 In particular, Armony addresses a divergence among Latin Americans in Quebec and the rest of Canada, hence the dualistic linguistic nature of Canada must be taken into account.
In the early 2000s, Luisa Veronis noted in her research on Latin American communities in Toronto that people referred to this immigrant population as an “orphan community” suffering from “social and spatial invisibility.”19 The situation seems to have evolved since, at least on the art scene. A few galleries, such as Espacio Mexico in Montreal, Sur Gallery in Toronto, and initiatives by associations such as LatinArte have opened a necessary dialogue with the Latin American population through art, taking into account the artistic input of Latinx Canadian artists. At least one scholarly volume has been published that examines the presence of Latin American populations in Canada, specifically in Quebec, from different artistic disciplines.20
Furthermore, the Canadian model of multiculturalism, adopted as federal policy in 1971, valorizes cultural heritage and offers a welcoming context for identity affirmation. Respect for cultural diversity, equality, and antidiscrimination are core principles of multiculturalism, and were legally consolidated in 1988. Initially the goal was to ease French-English tensions—hence multiculturalism works within a bilingual framework to recognize both as equal “founding nations”—but it rapidly evolved to recognize and commend Canada’s increasingly diverse ethnic groups and their contributions to national development. It eventually led to extensive facilities for the installation and integration of immigrants, and resources for the preservation of diverse cultures through festivals and language programs.21 In this sense, Canadian multiculturalism benefits Latinx Canadians, and art from Latin America has been an important tool in the equation.
COLLECTING LATIN AMERICAN ART IN CANADA
In general, major Canadian museum collections of Latin American art include abundant artifacts from the Pre-Columbian period, especially ceramics and textiles (Figures 1–6).22 Various university museums across the country also hold smaller collections of Pre-Columbian artifacts, as is the case at the University of Alberta Museums, where the archaeological collection includes pottery and other material artifacts from past societies, while the ethnographic collection contains objects that relate to today’s world and explore societies’ beliefs and ways of living. Another example of a university collection with a strong Pre-Columbian art focus is the Redpath Museum, attached to McGill University in Montreal, which has approximately six hundred South American objects such as basketry, beadwork, ceremonial objects, gourds, preconquest pottery, textiles, and weapons, and more than 160 objects specifically from the Gran Chaco region of Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay.23
The early modern and colonial periods are generally underrepresented in Canadian collections (Figures 7–9). The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has a few items from the era, such as silver, ceramics, textiles, and paintings. There is also a small, nearly forgotten collection of early modern Latin American paintings that belonged to Lionel Roy (1905–1967), a former diplomat who worked for two years at the Canadian embassy in Mexico City.24 His collection, exhibited in 1966 at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, comprised nineteenth paintings, mostly of different religious topics (see Figure 9). The collection was later purchased by the Musée du Séminaire à Québec (currently Musée de l’Amérique francophone), where it is now preserved. Some of the works were erroneously attributed to European schools but have since been identified as Latin American colonial works (a phenomenon that also occurs in the United States and many European countries).25 Proper identification and analysis of the colonial art that does exist in Canadian collections would help solidify its representation and improve the overall visibility of Latin American art.
Modern and contemporary Latin American art enjoys a relatively more robust presence in Canadian collections (Figures 10–14) despite the general lack of specific expertise in this field among Canadian museums. In terms of attentiveness to contemporary Latin American art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts appears to have the most extensive program, followed by the Art Gallery of Ontario, with its interesting focus specifically on Cuban and Brazilian art.
Many Latin American museum collections in Canada were made possible by private collectors with close ties to the institutions. For example, in the case of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, collectors’ interest in Pre-Columbian art was part of a more general interest in non-Western art, while interest in modern and contemporary Latin American art is often linked to the individual collector’s personal interest in, and perhaps business connections to, Latin America.26 This may be where further inquiries on collections of Latin American art in the country should start, because this dynamic may have contributed to the late beginnings of collecting in Canada as well as the uneven efforts toward the works’ exposure. Furthermore, the interests of donors do not always align with those of museums, which may explain why Latin American art in Canada is housed in different collections that vary widely in size and content, and as such are given unequal visibility. While some of these collections are part of museums’ permanent exhibits, most Latin American art collections remain in storage and are displayed only on special occasions. The generosity of donors has contributed to the building of some wonderful Latin American art collections in Canadian museums, yet there has been no equivalent to, say, the Rockefeller family in the United States. The donations tend to be multiple and modest, and their particular, individual stories have largely remained untold; these should be elaborated and consolidated to offer a more complete vision of the situation.27
Starting with the West Coast and moving to the eastern parts of Canada, the following paragraphs consider some important Canadian collections of Latin American art and visual culture.
The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia has an extensive and wide-ranging Latin American collection. Although the MOA is very clear about its ethnographic (as opposed to art historical) mission, its collection of approximately 4,300 objects from Central and South America contributes to a wide-ranging understanding of Latin American visual culture in Canada.28 The objects represent artistic expressions from the Pre-Columbian period (see Figure 1) to contemporary ceramics, textiles, silver, musical instruments, secular and religious sculptures, paintings (see Figure 14), masks, toys, jewelry, baskets, handicrafts, and beyond. The collection has been assembled by academics and specialists closely connected with the university.29 The museum claims that its gallery “of Central and South American, Caribbean and Iberian art and artifacts is the only permanent one in Canada dedicated to this part of the world.”30 The museum is also very active in curating special exhibitions (see appendix 1 for a full list of special exhibitions of Latin American art in Canadian museums).
Meanwhile, in Toronto, the contemporary Latin American collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) comprises forty-five artworks by artists of different nationalities.31 Among the gallery’s notable pieces is its first purchase back in 1968, a piece by the Venezuelan kinetic artist Jesús Rafael Soto. Brascan Limited, a natural resources company with holdings in Canada and Brazil, enriched the AGO Latin American collection in 1976 with its important contribution of seventeen Brazilian artworks, including sculptures by Yukata Toyota, assemblages by Osmar Dillon, and paintings by Tomie Ohtake, Arcangelo Ianelli, and Rubem Valentim (see Figure 11). The company’s donation amounted to half of the works shown in the exhibition 10 Brazilian Artists/10 artistes brésiliens, which was organized by and presented at the AGO in April 1975 and then circulated throughout Canada.32 In the late 1990s, a volunteer committee contributed acquisition funds that led to the purchase of works by Doris Salcedo (Colombia), Guillermo Kuitca (Argentina), and Eugenio Dittborn (Chile). Then in 2004, Ron Benner, an artist based in London, Ontario, donated four drawings by Cuban artist José Bedia. Rounding out this diverse collection is Sherritt International corporation’s important 2017 donation of Cuban art totaling eight pieces, including installations by Wilfredo Prieto, Los Carpinteros, Reynier Leyva Novo, Carlos Garaicoa, Rodolfo Peraza, and Lázaro Saavedra. The most recent acquisition was an anonymous gift of an installation by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. The AGO’s collection of Cuban art, currently the largest in Canada, was exhibited for the first time in As If Sand Were Stone: Contemporary Latin American Art from the AGO Collection in summer 2017.33
The AGO also holds photographs by Gabriel Orozco, Tina Modotti, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and Lola Álvarez Bravo. The impressive Lola Álvarez Bravo collection, which mostly illustrates archaeological sites, artifacts, and ruins, was an anonymous gift; meanwhile, the Modotti and Manuel Álvarez Bravo photographs were partly donated and partly purchased, and exhibited in 2014 to mark the AGO’s acquisition of the Harry and Ann Malcolmson Collection.34 Finally, a group of thirty-four photographs of the 1973 Ezeiza massacre in Argentina complements the Latin American photography collection. Again, in this case, there is not a clear collecting strategy: the items were partly donated and partly purchased, depending on opportunities.
The leading ceramic museum in Canada, Toronto’s Gardiner Museum, has an important collection of Pre-Columbian earthenware. The ancient Americas collection is divided into the American Southwest, Andean, Intermediate Area, and Mesoamerica subsections, encompassing many separate cultures that date back as far as 3500 BCE until shortly after the arrival of the Spanish in 1550 CE.35 The collection’s few US Southwest examples correspond to the Aridoamerican culture, living in what is now Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Of the four subsections, the Mesoamerican collection is by far the most extensive, comprising numerous objects from the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala (see Figure 4), El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize. The Andean region is represented with several artifacts, mostly from the Pacific coastal areas or highland regions of what are now Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru (see Figure 3). Finally, the Intermediate Area includes a few necklaces, pendants, vessels, figures, dishes, and jars from the modern countries of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (Figure 5). While the American Southwest artifacts were gifted by the Rath family to the Gardiner Museum, the Andean, Intermediate Area, and Mesoamerican ceramics were part of the original donation given by George and Helen Gardiner in 1984.
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has in its holdings numerous Latin American artifacts divided across different but intersecting ethnographic, archaeological, and textile collections.36 In addition to actively exhibiting these in Latin American displays, the ROM also publishes catalogues and specific studies of their collections in recognition of the fundamental value of its Latin American collection to the Canadian context. Acknowledging the educational merits of this collection through its displays ensures “that Canadians with Latino backgrounds find connections to their heritage within the Canadian patrimony. . . . Since that part of the population is significantly on the rise, this display now reflects an important facet of Toronto’s cultural landscape.”37
Among the artifacts that have brought much attention to the collection is the Lienzo of Tlapiltepec (see Figure 7), a Mixtec-Chocho manuscript painted on cotton cloth, alongside the more than one thousand Zapotec and Mixtec urns known as the Rickards Collection, of which many have proved to be modern forgeries.38 The ROM acquired the Rickards collection in 1919 from Constantine Jorge Rickards (1876–1950), a wealthy Englishman who grew up in Oaxaca and later lived in Mexico City.
Furthermore, the Latin American ethnographic collection offers a variety of objects from different cultural groups, historical moments, and geographical areas such as Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America (see Figure 8). The collection, which was built from the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1960s, has more than 3,500 artifacts, of which around one thousand are textiles.39 While the ROM moved very slowly in expanding its ethnographic collections from Latin America, it has continued to grow mainly through fieldwork and donations, especially since the hiring of Latin American specialist Helmuth Fuchs as the first curator of this collection.
Meanwhile, the ROM has shown an interest in expanding upon its 1950s-era archaeological explorations in Latin America.40 It has broadened its archaeological section acquisitions through donations, excavations, and museum purchases, of which the most important are from Belize (see Figure 6).41 There is also a smaller presence of artifacts from the Mesoamerican areas of Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala in the ROM’s archaeological collections. These artifacts include textiles, stone and ceramic objects, glass beads, metal pots, worked animal bone, and pearls, among other things. The museum also has an Andean collection that came from Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, as well as a small South American collection from Brazil and British Guyana. While Kent Day was previously the only ROM archaeologist who had worked in South America, the museum hired Justin Jennings in 2006 as a specialist on southern Peru. The ROM has contributed significant knowledge of different archaeological sites in Latin America through its excavations, yet because of laws restricting the export of archaeological artifacts, the fieldwork has not contributed materially to the ROM’s collections.
Finally, the departments of Textiles and Ethnology at the ROM have jointly acquired several substantial Latin American textile collections since the 1970s, with particularly strong examples of hand-loomed textiles and costumes. The collection of regional textiles and costumes includes more than 350 pieces from Pre-Columbian Peru, while textiles from Mexico, Central America (mostly Guatemala), and the Caribbean, spanning from the eighteenth century to the present day and acquired through donations and fieldwork, form part of the Ethnology collection.42 The first two donations of Mexican textiles to the ROM came in 1943, via longtime supporters with interesting connections to Mexico. Murray and Marguerite Vaughan owned a house in Cuernavaca from 1954 until the 1980s and donated finely embroidered textiles to the ROM; they were friends with Doris Heyden, a leading American scholar of Mexican culture who lived in Mexico City.43 The Newcomb/Beck donation of 116 pieces to the ROM in the late 1970s was originally collected by Eman Lycurgus Beck, Kent Newcomb’s grandfather, who lived in Mexico City from the 1860s until his death. Beck would sometimes trade parts of his collection with his friends, such as Franz Mayer, a financier of German origin who spent most of his life in Mexico and was likewise an avid collector.44 The ROM’s textile purchasing strategies have been actively informed by the research expertise of the curators as well as by direct contact with specialists and supporters in this area. More recent acquisitions that reflect these networks were made in 2014 through an endowment fund that has enabled ROM specialists to document changes in dyes, patterns, and scales.45
Another key institution is the Textile Museum of Canada, also located in Toronto, with its impressive collection totaling 1,717 objects that represent different eras and countries of Latin America.46 From Central America there are textiles from Guatemala, Belize, and the San Blas Islands. The Guatemalan collection consists of mostly women’s blouses (huipiles), along with skirts, bags, hats, hair ties (see Figure 10), shawls, and belts; there are also men’s trousers, shirts, jackets, belts, and head cloths. The majority of the collection, which represents a large number of communities from throughout the country, dates from the mid-twentieth century to the present, with a few rare older examples. This collection was expanded in 1994 through a large donation of Latin American textiles as part of a major gift called the Opekar/Webster Collection that included textiles from many areas of the world. Finally, the museum acquired Guatemalan textiles in 2013 from donor Donna Stewart, a doctor who became acquainted with some of the local weavers during her regular medical work trips to a number of Guatemalan villages.47 The geographical and historical dimensions of the Stewart collection artifacts greatly increase the breadth and depth of the museum’s current holdings, and extend the representation of Guatemalan textiles well up to the present.
The museum’s Mexican textile holdings include several serapes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as an assortment of women’s blouses, shawls, skirts, and belts, and men’s ponchos, shirts, trousers, belts, bags, hats, and samplers. There are also examples from other areas in Mexico such as the Maya communities in Chiapas, the Huichol, the Mixtec, and the Nahua peoples. The museum’s textile holdings from South America come from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Guyana, Venezuela, and Uruguay, including a strong collection of Bolivian alpaca fiber weavings from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries as well as numerous Pre-Columbian textiles from Peru that date as far back as 100 to 1500 CE, which exist alongside weavings and some knitted textiles from the more recent past. Some of the latest acquisitions include a collection of molas (blouses) from Panama from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In 2002 the museum collected Peruvian textiles from villages in the Cuzco area, including weavings from the mid- to late twentieth century such as shawls, skirts, belts, hats, ponchos, knitted items, weaving tools, and yarn. Most of these contemporary weavings are from villages that work with the Centre for Traditional Textiles in Cuzco to support weavers in the revival and marketing of their traditional weaving techniques, practices, and products.48 There is also a collection of ikat woven ponchos and shawls from Ecuador from the early to mid-twentieth century, two rare Mapuche chief’s ponchos from Chile (Figure 15), and cloths made by the Shipibo people from the Amazon area. The museum has been dynamically engaging with the Latin American communities in Toronto in their public and education programs over the years. It also actively publishes catalogues and organizes special exhibitions.
In Quebec, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has the most impressive Latin American collection, with around 1,250 Pre-Columbian objects (see Figure 2) and more than 250 items from the colonial era up to today (see Figures 12, 13).49 The countries of origin of these artifacts vary widely, but include Mexico, Peru (see Figure 2), Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba (see Figure 13), Panama, Chile, Argentina (see Figure 12), Colombia, and Ecuador. At this museum, modern and contemporary art are well represented in the work of famous artists operating across a range of mediums. These include Raúl Anguiano, Eduardo Basualdo, Félix Beltrán, Pedro Coronel, Miguel Covarrubias, Carlos Cruz-Diez, José Luis Cuevas, Raquel Forner (see Figure 12), Wifredo Lam, Gerardo Murillo (also known as Dr. Atl), José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Álfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo. In recent years there have been greater efforts at acknowledging the presence of this collection in the museum. For example, a Latin American art gallery was inaugurated in 2008, followed by the appointment in 2009 of the collection’s first curator of Pre-Columbian art. Vital donations were offered to the museum between 2006 and 2011, continuing a history of collecting Pre-Columbian art that started as early as 1916.50 On top of exhibiting Latin American art and publishing catalogues, the museum is currently restructuring the collection in new and larger galleries with the intention of opening a dialogue between Pre-Columbian and more modern works.
The listing provided here is only a sample of the abundance and richness of Latin American art and visual culture in Canadian public collections. It is a way to engage audiences into learning more about this vast heritage. Another way for Canadian museums to participate into Latin American art has been through temporary exhibitions.
EXHIBITING LATIN AMERICAN ART IN CANADA
The relative success of numerous Canadian exhibitions of Latin American art, despite difficulties in aligning the interests of stakeholders such as the government, private industry, museum board members, donors, and private collectors, seriously challenges the assumption that Canadian museums and galleries do not actively support Latin American art. On the contrary, their devotion of resources toward generating scholarship that often preceded or exceeds the work of any university department in the field of art history must be recognized and celebrated.
Appendix 1 compiles a list of special exhibitions on Latin American art held in different cultural institutions in Canada, and attests to the complexity of the exhibitions and their histories. The web pages of approximately seventy Canadian museums were reviewed, and more than one hundred temporary exhibitions of Latin American art identified.51 The exhibitions were mainly in urban areas of British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, in cities such as Vancouver, Victoria, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City, all vibrant artistic centers. The exhibitions listed not only cover a wide variety of time periods and geographies, but also address specific topics and issues faced by artists and curators.
Specialized curators at Canadian museums are also an important part of the equation, although I did not pursue concrete data from them for this paper. This is an avenue for further consideration. Curatorial residencies should also be explored further, as should reciprocal art exhibitions from Canada traveling to Latin America.52 At this point I am not making a distinction between exhibitions curated by Canadian museums versus exhibitions planned by other institutions that traveled to Canada as part of “global artistic circuits,” but touring exhibitions are also a topic that would require more exploration.53 Eventually it could be interesting to see to what extent the institutions rely on their permanent collections versus local networks of private collectors when the exhibitions are developed in-house. Nor did I take into account the institutions sponsoring the exhibitions. In most cases, this information was not provided on the web pages of the museums. Although I recognize the value of this information, at the moment I am mostly interested in determining where and when people could be exposed to Latin American art in Canada outside academia, although some universities’ museums and galleries were considered. There are diverse interests at stake behind art exhibitions, and studying them in detail in relation to Latin American art in Canada would be beyond the scope of this essay.
The information in appendix 1 is organized from west to east, and then in alphabetical order by museum name. The exhibitions are listed in chronological order, starting with the most recent. In some cases, a single exhibition traveled to different locations in Canada, so it is mentioned more than once. When possible I list the catalogues that accompanied the exhibitions as tangible material available for consultation. The specific histories, contexts, contents, and receptions of these shows are pending.
Scholarship has recognized different waves of Latin American art exhibitions in US museums, illustrating “the cyclical nature of the American fascination with Latin America.”54 In the 1940s major exhibitions organized by US museums focused on Mexican artists and culture as a way to reinforce hemispheric unity and antagonize the expanding influence of fascism in Europe. These exhibitions provided important public exposure since they were large and traveled to multiple venues. In the early 1960s another wave of interest in Latin American art exhibitions came forth, answering Washington’s concern with the Communist movements, due mainly to escalation of the Cold War and the upsurge created by the Cuban Revolution. During that time the degree of US investment in Latin American countries grew drastically, and many cultural projects benefited: an increasing number of Latin American art exhibitions took place in the United States, and important collections were initiated. In the mid-1980s a third wave of exhibitions occurred at different museums and galleries across the United States due to the reestablishment of democracies in many countries of Latin America, the coming to power of neoliberal governments, and early negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Financial interests from Latin America largely promoted this third wave, which brought “fluid transit of artists, exhibitions, curators, private sponsorship, and a novel breed of entrepreneurial collectors who circulate between the international art centers and the Latin American capitals.”55 At the turn of the millennium the role of the curator underwent a major shift, from one of exclusive arbiter of tastes and quality to something closer to mediator of cultural exchange, or “cultural broker.”56
Do the same political and diplomatic interests apply in Canada as in the United States? Is the field of Latin American art and its exhibitions conceptualized in Canada in similar or different ways than in the United States? What have been the messages transmitted in Canadian exhibitions of Latin American art? How do museums and the art establishment in general respond to the cultural demands of an increasing Latin American community in Canada? More reflection is needed to answer those questions, but some initial ideas can be drawn from the appendix. In general, US and Canadian politics tend to be aligned. There seem, however, to be fewer exhibitions in Canadian museums that encompass wide swaths of time and space under the rubric “Latin America,” and more shows about particular artists, national movements, or traditions. This is interesting considering that comparatively in the 1990s in the United States there was a wave of “Latin American” exhibitions that came under attack as encompassing overly diverse contexts and currents.
The attached appendix confirms that Canadian cultural institutions have long been interested in exhibiting art from this region of the world. From the information gathered so far, the earliest exhibition of Latin American art in Canada, titled Contemporary Art of the Western Hemisphere: A Collection of the IBM Corporation Representing the Latin American Countries, Newfoundland and the Province of Canada, the United States and Its Possessions, took place in 1941 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. A more structured exhibition on Mexican art called Mexican Art Today followed in 1943 and toured to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Sarah E. K. Smith situates this 1943 exhibition of Mexican art in Canada, and the 1946 and 1960–61 exhibitions that followed, as early examples of cultural diplomacy, key to building broader relationships between Canada and Mexico, and by extension Latin America more broadly. Beyond diplomatic tactics, these cultural exchanges also supported the creation “of an image of Mexico, or of different Mexicos, in Canada, indicating what sort of nation the Mexican state was interested in promoting abroad, as well as what representation of Mexico the Canadian public perceived.”57 The title of a 1955 exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada is revealing of other countries also engaged in cultural diplomacy: The Embassy of Peru Presents the Art of Peru: Pre-Columbian, Colonial, XIX Century, and Modern.
Meanwhile, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria was likewise active early on in organizing special Latin American art exhibitions despite having fewer artifacts in its own collection. These exhibitions, organized regularly from 1953 to 1981, covered a remarkable variety of topics, from the Taller de Gráfica Popular (1953) to Inca pottery (1954), Brazilian graphics (1955), Spanish colonial art (1963), and Bolivian textiles (1981), to name just a few. This can be attributed to how the gallery collected and exhibited very broadly in the beginning, capitalizing on early board members’ and donors’ collections and connections to Central and South America. More recently, the venue has reengaged with artists from Latin America as part of a more structured program plan.58
Since the mid-1990s the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) has been a site for activity around Latin American art, as evidenced by the curatorial residency undertaken by the Brazilian curator Ivo Mesquita, which led to an exhibition of art produced since the 1980s in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, and Chile under the banner Cartographies: 14 Artists from Latin America. This critically acclaimed show toured to the National Gallery in Ottawa, then on to other sites such as the Bronx Museum in New York, various cities throughout Latin America, and the Madrid gallery La Caixa. The display would eventually win for the Winnipeg Art Gallery the International Council of Museums Award for best exhibition.59
Sarah E. K. Smith argues that NAFTA amplified cultural exchanges in North America as a strategy in the service of political and economic ties toward building public confidence in the region’s new economic integration.60 These cultural exchanges, spurred by globalization trends, which took form (among other ways) in such practices as exhibitions of Mexican art in Canada, reveal a developing infatuation toward Latin American exhibitions in Canada among major national museums as well as smaller galleries, university museums, and specialized venues. Recently there has been an initiative among Canadian cultural institutions to host online exhibitions, and some of them have included Latin American visual material, such as Panoramas: The North American Landscape in Art (2008) and Perspectives: Women Artists in North America (2009).61 A collaborative exhibition between the Textile Museum of Canada and the Gardiner Museum on Pre-Columbian cloth and clay included an online component. The Canadian Museum of History also developed an online exhibition on the Mayan civilization. All of these examples provide teachers’ resources adapted for students at different grade levels.
Sur Gallery in Toronto must be mentioned in this context: it is Canada’s only gallery space dedicated to showcasing and promoting contemporary Latin American artistic practices.62 Sur Gallery is connected with Latin American–Canadian Art Projects (LACAP), a Toronto-based nonprofit organization promoting Latin American art in Canada with an emphasis on artistic excellence, critically engaged creative practices, and hemispheric networks of exchange.63 Similar in spirit would be Espacio México, the cultural entity of the Mexican consulate in Montreal, which also serves as an art gallery curating exhibitions related to the Latinx Canadian community.64 The Darling Foundry, through the Conseil des arts de Montréal, has established since 2008 some artist residencies, a program that is now fully devoted to Latin American artists and curators.65 Created in 2009, also in Montreal, LatinArte is a nonprofit, multidisciplinary cultural organization that coordinates activities and events where the public can enjoy contemporary works by local artists of Latin American descent, or other professional artists in Quebec whose work is inspired by Latin American culture.66
Alongside the aforementioned organizations that encourage intercultural collaborations about Latin American art, a number of initiatives complement the work of museums and bridge interdisciplinary efforts at studying and teaching Latin American art. For example, the RÉLAM (Réseau d’études latino-américaines de Montréal/Latin American Studies Network of Montreal) was established in 2014 to enable research and collaboration among professors and graduate students at Montreal universities (Concordia, McGill, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal) who work on Latin American topics.67 Another example is RÉAL (Réseau d’études sur l’amérique latine), a research unit at the Université de Montréal whose main objective is to promote research, teaching, and outreach activities on Latin America.68 Despite not having a strong presence of humanities scholars or professional art historians in any of the research groups, it has nonetheless supported art exhibitions. Networks such as LACAP, LatinArte, RÉLAM, and RÉAL exist in a gray area between museums and academia and fulfill not just an intercultural function but also an interdisciplinary and interinstitutional one.
LATIN AMERICAN ART IN CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES
In this section, I mean to address key figures in the field—the “pioneers” of Latin American art in Canada. The current generation of established and junior scholars is also important, as they are fundamental to preparing tomorrow’s generation and ensuring continuity of Latin American art studies in Canada. Graduate students’ voices were also taken into account, as they offer yet another perspective on the field. Some information was retrieved from departmental web pages, and some was obtained through a questionnaire I circulated in summer 2017 to colleagues working in Latin American art, visual culture, and architecture in Canadian universities.69 The questionnaire addressed different issues relevant to scholars and helped me get a sense of: their initial contact with the subject area; how they teach Latin American art and visual culture; what sorts of, and how many, graduate students they supervise; the relations they perceive with other disciplines; resources offered at their home institutions, such as slide libraries and library holdings of books and scholarly journals; resistance, advantages, and anecdotes from working in the field of Latin American art in Canada; if they believe this is a growing subject area in Canada; whether they see a connection between geopolitical issues in Canada and Latin American art; if they receive funding from Canadian agencies for their research; whether or not they present their findings at scholarly associations in Canada and/or publish in Canada; and their involvement, if any, with Canadian museums and art galleries in relation to Latin American art. This section draws from this data.
Latin American art as a field of study in Canadian universities was established in the 1970s. The earliest university appointments were in Pre-Columbian art: three scholars were hired around the same time at British Columbia universities to cover that subfield. This situation might be related to the American situation of scholarship from the 1940s to the 1970s, when a post–World War II generation of scholars demonstrated interest in previously under-researched phenomena in art history.70 All of these pioneers of teaching Latin American art in Canada obtained their degrees from US universities.
The first professor of Latin American art in Canada was Alan R. Sawyer, an art historian, curator, museum director, collector, professor, author, and consultant who specialized primarily in Pre-Columbian art but later in his career developed an interest in Northwest Coast art.71 He was a professor of art history at the University of British Columbia (UBC) from 1974 to 1984. Avid collectors, he and his wife possessed Pre-Columbian and Northwest Coast pieces that were often examined by researchers and exhibited across North America. Sawyer’s interest in Mayan art began while he was completing his first graduate degree at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He obtained a second graduate degree in art history from Harvard University in 1949.72 He was awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Bates College, in 1969. Prior to joining UBC Sawyer held many appointments in the United States, where he taught a variety of courses in art and archaeology and was involved with many museums. He coordinated different exhibitions on “primitive art,” making a special contribution to Pre-Columbian art.
Marvin S. Cohodas came to UBC in 1976 after earning his PhD from Columbia University. Until his retirement in 2015, he was an important figure because his expertise in Mesoamerican arts complemented Sawyer’s focus on the pre-Hispanic Andean arts of South America.73 Cohodas also took over the teaching of a course on Indigenous arts of North America that Sawyer developed before his retirement. (Charlotte Townsend-Gault was hired a few years after to cover specifically the field of Canadian Indigenous art. This early, close relation, but also distinction, between Indigenous arts of North America versus Latin America is interesting to note.) Rounding out the trio of initial appointments to Latin American art faculty positions in British Columbia is Charles R. Wicke, who taught Pre-Columbian art at the University of Victoria from 1979 to 1987.74 Wicke received his PhD from the University of Arizona in 1965 and spent considerable time in Mexico, where he not only undertook graduate studies at three institutions (Mexico City College, 1954; Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1955–56; and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1958–60) but also held different teaching positions in anthropology prior to joining the art history department at the University of Victoria.
While these figures were instrumental in bringing initial attention to the field, a number of other scholars continue to do important work on Latin American art in British Columbia. For example, Serge Guilbaut’s appointment to the art history department at UBC after graduating from UCLA in 1979 is notable, since he identifies himself not as a specialist or teacher of Latin American modern and contemporary art but as “a helper in making people aware that not only Paris and New York had a modern culture.”75 Guilbaut was involved with Latin America experts such as art critic and curator Olivier Debroise, who invited him to Mexico City to discuss contemporary art in his gallery, Curare, and its eponymous magazine. Guilbaut was subsequently inspired to organize a series of seminars and discussions to show students that countries from Latin America have contemporary and modern histories, as well as many other events at UBC that opened a dialogue on twentieth-century art between North and Latin America.76
Among those with whom Guilbaut shared his interest in Latin American art is Rita Eder, a researcher and professor at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas who held a Canada research chair in contemporary Latin American art at UBC in 2003–4.77 Eder has received several distinctions and awards for her extensive research and publications in the fields of modern and contemporary Mexican art and Latin American art.78 Eder also taught undergraduate and graduate courses on Latin American art while at UBC and found the students quite receptive to knowing more about this particular field of study.79 Some of these students would eventually pursue professional art careers of their own, such as the Canadian Colombian writer and curator Juan A. Gaitán, who went on to be appointed director of a contemporary Latin American art institution after training as an artist and art historian at both UBC and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver.80 Eder and Guilbaut, alongside a rather large group of experts, have participated in projects focused on Latin America financed by Getty grant programs. Eder has established interdisciplinary partnerships, notably with UBC history professor William French, with whom she embarked on a collaborative project in Oaxaca in which they taught an intensive course on Mexican art.
Although there are currently no faculty members devoted full time to teaching Latin American art at UBC’s Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory, the university nurtures a fruitful relationship with Latin American art through its Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Anthony Shelton, who has directed the MOA since 2004, has a special research interest in Latin American, Iberian, and African visual cultures as well as the history of collecting and critical museology.81 Finally, social anthropologist Nuno Porto holds a faculty appointment at UBC’s Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory while also serving as MOA’s curator for Africa and Latin America since 2012.82 Informed by his fieldwork in rural Portugal, Porto bridges his interests in religious experience and visual and material culture. He has curated exhibitions that explore transformations of Indigenous knowledge into national legislation in order to bring about new ways of understanding Amazonian material culture.83
On the opposite side of Canada, interesting things were also happening in the 1970s. While there was no interest from the University of Western Ontario’s Visual Arts Department to create a position in Latin American art studies during this time, a classics specialist, Mark Cameron, developed a personal interest in Pre-Columbian art, and on his own initiative built a slide collection between the late 1970s and early 1980s based on his travels throughout Mesoamerica, which his colleagues in anthropology occasionally used. Cameron, who specialized in Minoan frescoes, also taught a course on Mayan and Pre-Columbian art at least once at Western. Upon his untimely death in 1984, all of Cameron’s slides of Mesoamerican art and architecture were retained in the slide library, which Western has since digitized and added to the online database of the Visual Arts Department.84 It is interesting to see that Pre-Columbian interest developed from a specialist in classical art, especially around the same time when British Columbia universities were hiring specialists specifically to teach in this field.
Meanwhile, in Montreal a course on Latin American art appeared in McGill University’s 1970–71 university calendar, but Latin American art studies itself has not had a continuous presence in the department of art history since.85 Concurrently, Luis de Moura Sobral introduced a course on Latin American baroque art in the early 1980s at the Université de Montréal. A specialist in Portuguese baroque painting, Sobral bridged his knowledge of the situation in Brazil with Latin American art. Soon after, Yves Deschamps inaugurated and taught a course on Pre-Columbian art and architecture for many years at the same university. While a course on modern and contemporary Latin American art wasn’t offered until 2009, the Université de Montréal remains to my knowledge the sole Canadian institution that regularly covers such a vast array of Latin American topics despite the absence of a full-time or tenured faculty member specializing in the field.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that Latin American art studies really experienced sustained growth, to which a wave of faculty appointments attests. This situation might be explained by increased globalization during that decade, as Sarah E. K. Smith argues when she talks about the amplification of cultural exchanges stimulated by NAFTA. Among these notable appointees was Desmond Rochfort, who served from 1990 to 1999 as a specialist in Mexican art in the University of Alberta’s department of art history.86 In southwestern Ontario, Dot Tuer redesigned and taught the introductory art survey course at the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1992 based on her cross-cultural expertise in modern and contemporary art.87 Throughout her research and teaching, Tuer has touched on the art of the Americas with a specific expertise in new media, photography, and performance as well as other topics of interest such as Latin American colonial history, postcolonial theory, and cultural theory.88 Another appointment during this time was that of artist and curator Patrick Mahon, who joined Western University in 1995 as a professor of visual arts; he became involved in Latin American art studies largely through its intersection with his own interests and his graduate supervision duties.89 Finally, the arrival of Susan Douglas at the University of Guelph in 1998 opened up opportunities for teaching contemporary Latin American art history and theory given her specialization in the area.90
The first decade of the 2000s was also characterized by a steady wave of interest in Latin American art and visual culture among Canadian universities. For example, the arrival at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) of trained archaeologist Daniel Arsenault in 2002 opened up opportunities for undergraduate and graduate teaching of courses in Indigenous arts, Pre-Columbian arts and architecture, and issues of heritage and conservation.91 His research on Indigenous rock art in northern Canada brought him to wider interests, such as rock art in Australia, Italy, the United States, the Antilles, and Brazil. Arsenault’s sudden death in 2016 left these research areas uncovered.92 Meanwhile, in 2004 Dan Russek joined the department of Hispanic and Italian studies at the University of Victoria; he specializes in modern and contemporary Latin American literature and visual arts, specifically how these link with literature, media, urban studies, and aesthetics.93 Another important figure is Betsy Boone, a specialist in nineteenth-century art and visual culture of the United States, Spain, and Latin America, who arrived as the chair of the University of Alberta’s Department of Art and Design in 2006.94 In 2007, Maria del Carmen Suescun Pozas brought her interdisciplinary training as a visual artist, art historian, and historian to the History department at Brock University, where she is currently the specialist in Latin American history.95 At Western University, the department of Visual Arts appointed Cody Barteet in 2008 as an early modernist with a specialization in Europe and the Americas. Although his research focuses almost exclusively on Latin American art, specifically the contact period in the Yucatán peninsula, most of his teaching has been on the Renaissance and baroque periods aside from a second-year Pre-Columbian course that he teaches as part of his course rotation.96 After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Université de Montréal, Alena Robin arrived at Western University in 2009 with an appointment as the visual arts specialist in the Hispanic Studies program of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Originally from Quebec, she did her graduate studies in art history at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.97
The arrival of Gauvin Alexander Bailey at Queen’s University in 2011 for the Alfred and Isabel Bader Chair is significant because while the Bader Chair has traditionally been a baroque art position that attracts specialists on Caravaggio or similar southern European artists, Bailey embarks on a much wider area in his teaching and research, given his globalized perspective on the early modern world.98 As such, he covers such topics as late Renaissance, baroque, and rococo art and architecture in France, Italy, Central Europe, and Iberia, as well as their international diffusion in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.99 Given his diverse research background, Bailey is probably the most visible Canadian Latin American art historian on the international scene at the moment. On the West Coast, artist and art historian Gabriela Aceves-Sepúlveda was hired in 2015 in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She specializes on feminist media in Latin America, global networks of artistic exchange, art and activism, and the histories of immersive technologies in the Global South.100 Finally, in 2018 McGill University hired Camila Maroja, who works with modern and contemporary art and visual culture, with an emphasis on Latin America and transnational exchanges.101 Her research focuses on exhibition histories, cultural interchanges between South and North America, the ways in which artists negotiate and localize their production in a globalized world, decolonial methodologies, and local avant-gardes. McGill University thus brings to a welcome end a situation in which all four Montreal universities were without a Latin American specialist in their art history departments.
Some departments in Canadian universities showed interest in Pre-Columbian art specialists starting with the first appointments to the field in the 1970s. Courses on Latin American art from various historical periods are currently being taught to some extent in many Canadian universities, and the number of students enrolled in these courses reveals that there exists a definite interest in the field. At the graduate level, numerous theses on Latin American art are being defended in Canadian universities.
As shown in appendix 2, I have identified seventy-nine theses that have been defended in Canada regarding Latin American art and visual culture, including theses from departments other than art history that take an interdisciplinary approach to Latin American art and visual culture. Going back chronologically has been a challenge, as departmental listings tend to include only the most recent dissertations. The earliest one I could trace is from 1987; it does not necessarily mean that it was the first. Some preliminary data: forty-two master’s theses and thirty-seven PhD dissertations were identified. Most of the topics consider twentieth-century art (fifty-two), followed by Pre-Columbian (thirteen), early modern (eleven), and nineteenth century (three). Canada being a bilingual country, this is also reflected in the languages used: English (fifty-four) and French (eighteen). The remaining seven, written in Spanish, were mostly from languages and literatures departments. The result of this inquiry reflects the Canadian geography mentioned elsewhere in this essay: Latin American art in Canadian universities manifests through its theses mostly in urban centers that are also vibrant artistic centers. It is also connected to the fact that there is, or was, a specialist in or closely related to the field supervising the graduate student. In British Columbia, only at the University of British Columbia was there a highly significant number of theses defended in relation to Latin American art and visual culture (ten). In Ontario, the presence of specialists is scattered among different universities and this situation is reflected in the data gathered: Queen’s University (eight), Western University (seven), the University of Toronto (six), Carleton University (two), and Ryerson University (two). Quebec has the highest number of dissertations related to Latin American art: Université de Montréal (eleven), Université du Québec à Montréal (nine), Concordia University (eight), and McGill University (eight). This information is quite valuable, since currently there is only one specialist, in a tenure-track position, related to Latin American art in Quebec, but it definitely shows that there has been a steady interest in studying art topics from this region.
The history of appointments in the field at the university level seems to evidence the dynamism of Latin American art studies in Canadian universities. However, many graduate students consulted in this research voiced their concerns about the reduced number of courses offered, as well as difficulties in finding a supervisor who could orient them properly through their graduate studies. It is a situation I personally confronted when I first decided to leave Canada to complete my graduate degrees in Mexico twenty years ago. Hearing current graduate students in Canada comment on similar challenges in working on Latin American art in the country reveals that things have not changed much. Many positions in Latin American art tend to disappear when the scholars who previously offered their expertise retire. Some of the specialized courses that existed as early initiatives representing Latin American art in art history departments are still officially offered, but mostly by adjunct and/or part-time faculty members. The current generation of full-time, tenure-track positions does not include many with appointments exclusive to Latin American art. Having a Latin American art scholar in an art history department in Canada is still an exception.
Latin American studies programs across the country rely heavily on the contributions of specialists from other departments. Hence Latin American studies students in Canadian universities may receive very limited (if any) exposure to Latin American art during their formative years unless there is a specialized faculty member in the art history department. While departments of modern languages or Hispanic studies programs across Canada try to relieve this by looking to various faculty members to offer “inter-artistic” or “interdisciplinary” approaches to Latin American art, a number of these usually begin from a primarily literary standpoint that analyzes artworks from fundamentally non-art-historical perspectives and methodologies.
The case of Montreal is particularly regrettable. Of the four research universities there with art history programs (Concordia University, McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Université du Québec à Montréal), three of them collaborate with Université Laval in Quebec City in their doctoral programs. It is worrisome that there is currently only one faculty member specializing in Latin American art to teach and supervise all of the relevant master’s and doctoral candidates despite the clear interest in the field among graduate students. Concurrently, while there are two Latin American faculty members (Ricardo Castro and Alberto Pérez-Gómez) at McGill University’s School of Architecture who are also professional architects, neither of them specializes in Latin American architecture per se.102
The precarity of Latin American art studies in Canada is also reflected in how recent graduates in the field struggle to find stable appointments and must resort to part-time employment or leave the field altogether. I am not sure at this point if the paucity of academic positions in Latin American art in Canada is a sign of a lack of interest on the part of department administrations, or merely a reflection of the broader crises experienced by universities manifesting in fewer tenure-track positions outside of STEM fields. Maybe it is a combination of both. This situation is, in any case, troubling: since adjunct and part-time faculty do not enjoy the same stability as full-time and tenured members, most of them cannot supervise graduate students and lack institutional support for research. These issues in turn endanger the formation of the next generation and may thus disrupt the presence and continuity of Latin American art studies in Canada.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE STEPS
This assessment of the presence of Latin American art in Canadian museums and universities might serve as a reflection for new and broader approaches to the study of Latin American art history. Revisiting the cultural impact of Latin American art in Canada, a multicultural country with a growing Latin American population, should also give an indication of the importance of reinscribing the tradition within a reconfigured hierarchy of art history. If the discipline of art history in Canada truly aspires to go beyond the established canon and address a more complete picture of the field of art history, greater efforts are needed among stakeholders to rethink the dominant Eurocentric conception of art that currently underprivileges Latin American art. As already discussed in this paper, Pre-Columbian art and architecture are as valuable to art history as ancient Greek and Roman art. Latin American art from the early modern period can also clue us in to the historical period of intense contact with other latitudes and longitudes, since we cannot fully understand the globalized world without first taking into account the cultural networks and commodity exchanges between Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. Finally, studying Latin American art from the modern and contemporary periods gives credibility to artistic capitals such as Buenos Aires, Havana, Mexico City, and São Paulo, to name only a few. Employing new theoretical and methodological approaches such as gender, postcolonial, conservation, and materiality studies can help facilitate a more inclusive vision that embraces artistic traditions that have not been canonically recognized. Recently, searches for positions on cultural transfers and globalized contemporary art were advertised in Canadian universities. Although not clearly having a Latin American art component, this might open the possibility of making the discipline more inclusive.
This paper has demonstrated the abundance and richness of Latin American art and visual culture in Canadian public collections. However, very little has been written regarding the history of these collections, the extent of museums’ Latin American collections, their current strategic plans and acquisition programs, et cetera. While some museums have a fair amount of information about their Latin American collections on their websites and were very generous in answering queries related to this research, many others have not yet fully studied or engaged with their own objects. There is a story still waiting to be told about how these collections were built, and how Canadian museums have employed their curatorial practices to fully contextualize their collections in exhibitions. Only after Canadian collections of Latin American art have been studied individually can a dialogue arise among them. Some potential initiatives toward this end are online collaborative exhibition projects among Canadian museums to showcase highlights of their Latin American collections, or touring exhibitions that could cross Canada and introduce new perspectives on existing museum collections.
This spirit of collaboration can be further extended to improving interinstitutional relations among museums and universities. Given the extent to which Canadian museums had been active in collecting and exhibiting Latin American art, their work at exposing Latin American art to the Canadian public has surpassed the canon explored in our universities. I believe that the museum initiatives should be emphasized and celebrated in regard to the many ways they have exposed Canadian audiences to Latin American art, whether through their permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, catalogue publications, or conferences.
Meanwhile, there should be better collaboration between museums and universities in relation to Latin American art, because both public and private collections of Latin American art in Canada need to be explored, studied, and shared with the public. All Latin American art objects—whether they are part of collections in storage, exhibited in the permanent rooms, made by Latinx artists in their studios in Canada, or displayed in universities, smaller galleries, or curatorial residencies—should be engaged with by active participants in this adventure of Latin American art in Canada. No matter how fascinating and necessary it is to go abroad to study Latin American art in its original context, these explorations can start in Canada. In this sense, as mentioned previously, an online exhibition of Canadian collections of Latin American art can be a great tool to expose students to this heritage.
There is also a need to leverage the current global migratory situation that has generated new and different artistic expressions. This is another timely issue: the urgency of addressing a generation of artists who were born in Latin America but migrated at some point in their lives to Canada, and who may have interesting new perspectives. Some initiatives have already begun toward this end, but many more are needed. The 2016 exhibition TransAMERICAS.A Sign, a Situation, a Concept, curated by Dianne Pearce and Cassandra Getty at Museum London, was an important step toward that reflection. In Quebec, Mariza Rosales Argonza, an independent researcher, artist, and curator, has addressed this question in different exhibitions and publications.103 Nuria Carton de Grammont and Tatiana Navallo have started studying latino-québécois performance.104 In fall 2018 Toronto’s Sur Gallery hosted The Recipe, an exhibition curated by Analays Álvarez Hernandez and Daymi Coll Padilla related to the topic of Latinx Canadian artists. In an attempt to provide a new understanding of Latin American art practices operating outside of their geographical edges, The Recipe brought together emerging and established artists with Latin American backgrounds who are living and working in Canada.105 Furthermore, Canadian artists who express a close affiliation with Latin America in their work need to be part of this conversation. An artist already active in this dialogue is the Québécois René Derouin, who offers an open dialogue on the continental identities of the Americas. Since the mid-1950s he has shown an interest in Pre-Columbian cultures, the aesthetic of the Taller de Gráfica Popular, and Mexican muralism.106 Another example is Victor Pimentel and Sebastián Ferrero’s recently curated exhibition at Espacio México gallery on the work of Léo Rosshandler, a former curator and assistant director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 1968 to 1976, who shared a common love for Mexico with the painter Jean leFebure.107
In this project, I have reflected on my personal experience and involvement in the field of Latin American art in Canada with the aim of opening a dialogue with other colleagues in the discipline. While many have shared their experiences, knowledge, frustrations, and promises of being a Latin American art historian in Canada, much more work is needed to bring Latin American art studies into the mainstream of art history and curatorial studies. If the field of Latin American art studies is not properly addressed in our museums and universities, we will miss its important contributions to the general population.
This essay only offers a glimpse into the relevance of further investigating Latin American art and art history in Canada. This survey of the current situation raises several questions that can help us start such explorations. A single article cannot fill all the gaps on the history and current state of Latin American art and art history in Canadian museums, galleries, universities, and other cultural institutions. This endeavor would require a substantial research program focusing, for example, on information found in institutional and private archives and several case studies. My objective with this paper is to open the discussion in hopes of providing a more complete history of the field. The full story remains to be written.