‘Something Beautiful: Reframing La Colección’ at El Museo del Barrio ~ an Ambitious Presentation of its Permanent Collection




Augusto Marín, 1873-1973, 1973. Collection of El Museo del Barrio. Image courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

El Museo del Barrio is proud to announce Something Beautiful: Reframing La Colección, the Museum’s most ambitious presentation of its unique, complex, and culturally diverse permanent collection in over two decades. Organized by Rodrigo Moura, Chief Curator; Susanna V. Temkin, Curator; and Lee Sessions, Permanent Collection Associate Curator, the exhibition will present approximately 500 artworks, including new acquisitions and artist commissions, through rotating displays over the course of one year. Something Beautiful cuts across traditional chronological, geographic, and media-specific categories, reconsidering the Collection through new interdisciplinary approaches rooted in El Museo del Barrio’s foundational history and legacy. This forward-thinking model focuses on the contribution of Amerindian, African, and European cultures as the basis of visual production in the Americas and the Caribbean.  See list of participating artists.

Hiram Maristany, El Museo del Barrio, 206 East 116th Street, New York City, ca. 1972/2019. Collection of El Museo del Barrio. Image courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

“Assembled over the course of more than 50 years, El Museo’s collection defies conventional museological narratives and represents a significant manifestation of our diasporic and community origins.” Said Patrick Charpenel, Executive Director, El Museo del Barrio.

Jorge Soto Sánchez / El velorio de Oller en Nueva York / 1975 / Lithograph / 26 x 40 in. / Collection of El Museo del Barrio, New York / acc.#: W91.226.1 / Image: El Museo del Barrio, New York / Photo credit: Eddie José Bartolomei

The exhibition is the result of a multi-year research initiative titled Identity Reimagined: Reframing La Colección. In an effort to promote and advance new knowledge, the Museum engaged in communal dialogues with more than 40 artists, scholars, community leaders, and museum professionals to explore the rich possibilities of the Collection. As part of renewed efforts to acknowledge Taíno culture as a living resource, a Taíno counsel led by scholar Christina Gonzalez and members of the Taíno community was assembled to invite the participation of cemí and other spiritually relevant object-beings currently in El Museo’s care. Together, these conversations helped shape a revised framework for the Collection, foregrounding concepts such as African and Indigenous heritages, urban experiences, representational strategies, and craft intersections, reflecting an innovative approach to Puerto Rican, Latinx, Caribbean, and Latin American cultural production and identities.

Dalton Paula,, Esperanca Garcia, 2022, oil and gold leaf on canvas in two parts. Collection of El Museo del Barrio Image courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

Curators Moura, Temkin, and Sessions assert, “unlike the majority of mainstream art museum collections, which continue to center Eurocentric values and art historical canons despite efforts to diversify, our collection is grounded in a decolonial project.”

Emilio Sánchez, Untitled (Storefront, “Smoke,” West Village) 
late 1980s Watercolor on paper. Gift of the Emilio Sánchez Foundation, 2010

The title, Something Beautiful, draws from a print in the collection by artist Marcos Dimas with a poem of the same name by Tania Niomi Ramirez. The work both celebrates and invokes the challenges of political, cultural, and historical inheritances, and as such, metaphorically reflects larger ideas proposed by this new reframing.

Artists Commissions: Maria Gaspar b. 1980, Chicago, Il. Image courtesy El Museo del Barrio.

Artist Commissions ~ Artists Maria Gaspar (b. 1980 Chicago) and Glendalys Medina (b. 1979 Ponce, Puerto Rico ) were commissioned to create new artworks reflecting and responding to Something Beautiful. Composed of a sculpture and new site-specific intervention, Medina’s Cohoba invites viewers into the cohoba ceremony, the spiritual center of Taíno life. As a diasporic Nuyorican artist based in East Harlem, Medina has repeatedly returned to how knowledge is transmitted and remixed and how social structures can empower individuals. Presented in Room 110, Gaspar’s presentation, Force of Things, includes a new body of work that marks the demolition of the largest single-site jail in the country, the Cook County Department of Corrections. This exhibition responds to the violent conditions of carcerality through sculptures, paintings, and videos that examine what is often unseen and invisible.

Artists Commissions: Glendale’s Medina b. 1979, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Image courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

First Rotation Sections ~The first rotation of Something Beautiful: Reframing La Colección is organized in eight sections plus seven artist spotlights. Themes and motifs reappear across sections to create a larger conversation throughout the exhibition. Sections include: Ocama Aracoel: Taíno spirits and forms and their influence on the Nuyorican art movement; Cosmic Visions: Indigenous and non-indigenous artists evoking Amerindian languages, landscapes, and other cultural references; First Impressions: Focusing on early acquisitions and the graphic portfolio in Puerto Rican printmaking; El Barrio: Different facets of life in East Harlem and other Barrios in New York, especially around the stoop, the sidewalk, and the bodega; The Street Transforms: Artists’ and activists’ interventions in public space; Pathos, Hope, Glory: Transhistorical portraits and self portraits of artists reflecting the diversity of the Latinx experience; Clothed/Unclothed: Artworks that explore, exaggerate, and deconstruct what it means to be male, female, neither, or both; and Abstraccionistas: The protagonism of women in abstract art, matrilinear traditions, opticalities and the framing of reality through abstraction.

Carmelo Sobrino, El Descenso, 1972. Woodcut. Collection of El Museo del Barrio, New York; Courtesy of Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company

Artist spotlights will feature the works of Jorge Soto Sánchez (1947 New York, NY – 1987 White River Junction, VT); Alejandro Diaz (b. 1963, San Antonio, TX; lives in New York, NY); Papo Colo (b. 1947, Puerta de Tierra, Puerto Rico; lives between New York, NY and El Yunque, Puerto Rico); Antonio Lopez (1943, Utuado, Puerto Rico – 1987, Thousand Oaks, CA); and Myrna Baez (1931, Santurce, Puerto Rico – 2018, Hato Ray, Puerto Rico).

Rafael Tufiño, Cortador de Caña, 1951. Linoleum block print. Gift of Susan Sollins in memory of Sonya Peretz Sollins and Irving V. Sollins. Collection of El Museo del Barrio. Image courtesy El Museo del Barrio.

New Publication ~ On the occasion of Something Beautiful, an accompanying publication drawing from the contributions of 45 invited speakers introduces new expertise about the Collection and its future. Published as a dialogic mosaic, the publication includes excerpted reflections about El Museo’s role in institutional ecosystems. Select contributors include: Beverly Adams, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, Marcela Guerrero, Gala Kim, Yasmin Ramírez, Taína Travierso, Adriana Zavala, and Julian Zugazagoitia, among others.

Sponsors ~ Something Beautiful: Reframing La Coleccion is made possible by the Terra Foundation for the Arts and The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, with additional support provided by Tony Bechara. Public support provided by the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs. Additional Permanent Collection-related funding provided by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Taino culture, Kanari (vessel), A.D. 1200-1500.Ceramic. Gift of Vincent and Margaret Fay. Collection of El Museo del Barrio. Image courtesy El Museo del Barrio.

About El Museo del Barrio ~ El Museo del Barrio is the nation’s leading 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. The Museum is open Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00am – 5:00pm. Pay-what-you-wish. To connect with El Museo via Social Media, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Myrna Báez, Noviembre 1976, 1976. Acrylic on canvas. Museo Purchase Fund and a matching Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (purchased on or prior to 1982). Collection of El Museo del Barrio. Image courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

Something Beautiful: Reframing La Colección will be on view from May 19, 2023 to March 10, 2024 at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street, NYC.

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