Culture and the People: El Museo Del Barrio, 1969-2019




Vargas-Suarez Universal Virus Americanus XIII, 2003. Oil enamel on wood. Acquired through “PROARTISTA: Sustaining the Work of Living Contemporary Artists,” a fund from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Trust and a donation from the artist 2003.16.

El Museo del Barrio will celebrate its 50th Anniversary with a major permanent collection exhibition and timeline, contextualizing the history of the institution, in a two-part exhibition. The exhibition will reflect on the institution’s activist origins and pioneering role as a cultural and educational organization dedicated to Latinx and Latin American art and culture.

Rodríguez Calero, Barrio Boogie Movement, 2006 Collage.  14 x 18 inches (35.56 x 45.7 cm).  Collection of El Museo del Barrio, New York. 2016.8.  Photo: Steven Tucker. Artwork © Rodríguez Calero
Image © Rodríguez Calero

Part I, which opened on April 11th is comprised of more than 120 artworks by nearly 80 artists from the collection, whose work offers a multitude of perspectives related to core aspects of El Museo del Barrio’s legacy. The second part of the exhibition opens June 11, 2019, which unveils a chronological timeline of the institution’s history. The opening coincides with the Museum Mile Festival on June 11, 2019. Both sections will be on view through September 29, 2019. The exhibition borrows its title from an essay penned by one of the Museum’s founders and its first director Raphael Montañez Ortíz, who outlined his concept for the institution in a 1971 articlepublishedin Art in America.

“The founding of El Museo del Barrio in 1969 was originated by Puerto Rican educators, artists, and activists under the mission of presenting, preserving, and promoting their art and culture” says Patrick Charpenel, El Museo’s Executive Director. “Fifty years later, we recognize the importance of this pivotal historical momentand commemorate this act of cultural resistance. With Culture and the People, we continue to rewrite the history of the United States to include the broad spectrum of cultural and historical contributions by Puerto Rican, Latinx, and Latin Americancommunities.”

Juan Sanchez, Bleeding Reality: Así estamos (Realidad Sangrante: As We Are), 1988. Oil, laser print, mixed media on canvas. Museum Purchase, 1992. P92.12a-c

In addition to the two part-exhibition Culture and the People, El Museo will initiate a cycle of exhibitions dedicated to the Museum’s Permanent Collection in 2020. The cycle will focus on specific works from the collection, including room-size installations and in-depth bodies of work ,enabling El Museo’s curators to work directly with artists, scholars, and conservators to uncover new research and grant further public access to the Museum’s Permanent Collection.

Let’s take a look at the exhibition beginning with Part I, which will run through September 29, 2019. Organized in thematic sections, Culture and the People features selections from the Permanent Collection that explores the legacy of El Museo del Barrio through the concepts of Roots, Resistance, and Resilience.In Roots, artworks will be presented that address El Museo’s formation within the social and political context of 1969, and its relationship with the artists and local community of El Barrio (East Harlem). This section will also take a more expansive perspective to cultural roots, through works that reference colonial and indigenous ancestries. In direct response to the Museum’s activist origins, the section devoted to Resistance includes artworks related to protest, gestures of solidarity, dictatorship, and exile. Created in homage to national heroes and fallen martyrs, as well as commemorating specific events, these pieces address historical political grievances and relate to contemporary events such as the ongoing border crisis. The final section, Resilience, recognizes El Museo’s ongoing commitment to its mission. In this section, works related to the construction and expression of self-identity will be displayed, alongside images that reflect a sometimes subversive or humorous method of survival. This section will culminate with a presentation of artworks that speak to personal and collective resilience, as well as the continuation of cultural traditions. Each section will feature artists of diverse cultural backgrounds and generations, and will range from indigenous art and artifacts to contemporary paintings and installation art. A number of the pieces on view will relate to multiple sections, inviting audiences to recognize echoes and dialogues between the pieces on display. The exhibition will feature new acquisitions as well as artworks that have never been publicly presented, in addition to artworks familiar to El Museo audiences .“Since its first donation of La Estampa Puertorriqueña [The Puerto Rican Print] print portfolio in 1971, El Museo has grown its collection to over 8,000 artworks that span across the Americas, in both time and place,” notes Temkin.  “The works included in this 50th anniversary exhibition address themes that are critically bound to El Museo’s historical legacy, ranging from political advocacy and education to a recognition of indigenous origins and a perseverance of identity and traditions.”

Richard A. Lou / Border Door / 1998 / Photographic documentation of artist action / Photo by: James Elliott / Collection of El Museo del Barrio, New York / Gift of the artist, 2008 / acc. # 2008.19..2

Part II will be on view from June 11 through September 29, 2019, and will complement the Permanent Collection by opening a second display, tracing the historical and cultural trajectory of the institution since 1969. Expanding on previous research about El Museo’s institutional past, the presentation will reveal different moments in the Museum’s history as it relates to its leadership and staff, its various locations, and key exhibitions and programs throughout its first five decades. Archival documentation including photographs, posters, invitations, exhibition catalogues, and other ephemera will supplement a detailed timeline to further illustrate and contextualize critical moments in the museum’s history.

Culture and the People: El Museo Del Barrio, 1969-2019 is curated by Susanna V. Temkin, El Museo’s Curator, and co-organized by Noel Valentin, El Museo’s Permanent Collection Manager.

El Museo del Barrio, founded by a coalition of Puerto Rican educators, artists, and activists, is the nation’s leading Latino/Latinx and Latin American cultural institution. The Museum welcomes visitors of all backgrounds to discover the artistic landscape of these communities through its extensive Permanent Collection, varied exhibitions and publications, bilingual public programs, educational activities, festivals, and special events.

The Museum is located at 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street in New York City, and open Wednesday to Saturday from 11:00am – 6:00pm, and Sunday from 12:00 to 5:00pm. Admission is suggested. Follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

While you’re there, step next door to The Museum of the City of New York and across the street to the beautiful Conservatory Garden in Central Park. Take a walk east on 104th Street and experience El Barrio ~ it’s food, music, art, and history. Looking for more in East Harlem? Check out the East Harlem Community Alliance Merchant Member list to #BuyLocalEastHarlem.

Did you know that a section of East Harlem is in line for historic designation consideration? Read more….