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Important Firsts for Boston’s MFA

One of my favorite parts of my commute between Boston University and my home in Hyde Park is the fact that it affords me the opportunity to listen to NPR on WBUR.  Depending on the time of day, and how crazy the other drivers are, I have anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to listen to the news.  The time I spend listening to NPR has allowed me to keep up to date with what is happening in the Ukraine and Syria, as well as the continued unrest in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.  Of course, I am not sure that I would know about the three African countries if WBUR didn’t carry the BBC World service for an hour in the morning, and several hours at night–usually on my way home after rehearsal.

But in addition to World Events, WBUR frequently has well thought out stories about what is happening in the U.S. in general, and Boston specifically (Bob Oaks reading the scores of what ever sporting event happened the night before always makes me smile).  WBUR is how I learned about the VIDA Count, as well as Ed Siegel’s piece on diversity in the Boston Theatre scene (this article was of equal measure invigorating and frustrating–Mr. Siegel missed some major contributors to diversity in Boston Theatre).  Yesterday I was fortunate to catch a quick promo for an upcoming story about the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), and that institution’s upcoming exhibit of contemporary Latin American Art.  I was unable to listen to the story on the radio, but as soon as I could I hunted down the story on WBUR’s ARTERY website:  http://artery.wbur.org/.

It all seems pretty exciting.  This is the first time that the MFA has put together a show that exclusively displays works created by Latin American artists.  The show is called “Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales,” and the ARTERY story notes:

Mergel calls it a culmination of milestones, including the opening of the massive Art of the Americas Wing in 2010 and the Linde Family Wing’s debut as the museum’s center for contemporary art in 2011. To merge them together, Mergel and her peers wanted to create an important, thematic show. Latin America seemed ripe…

The MFA ran into a small (or large problem), however.  Since this is the first show the Museum put together focusing on Latino artists, the MFA did not have enough works from Latin America of their own to sustain a comprehensive show.  So senior contemporary art curator, Jen Mergel, and her team reached out to Ella Fontanals-Cisneros–also known as the “Miami Art Scene Queen.”  Ella Fontanals-Cisneros is the founder and president of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in Miami, and has a sizable collection of Latin American artwork that she started collecting in the early 1970’s.

Commenting on her collaboration with the MFA, Fontanals-Cisneros says

Before, museums that were collecting Latin American art were rare.  And it’s very interesting now that museums like the MFA — and other museums — have an interest–for example, the Guggenheim also.

Fontanals-Cisneros hopes “Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales” will help change perceptions about Latin American art.

Latin America is always labeled as something very naïve, or colorful, or in many other ways, but not as a serious, sophisticated art.  And I think there is a recognition about that too.

This show is an incredibly exciting development to me–especially given my recent focus on diversity and inclusiveness (or a distinct lack their of) in the wider Theatre Community.  Here is a major institution in Boston that is taking steps to address an oversight in their collection, and it has had an impact on Fontanals-Cisneros.  She is now considering giving Cuban art to the Museum for their permanent collection.  I hope that “Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales” will achieve both the MFA’s and Ms. Fontanals-Cisneros goals, and bring an expanded awareness to the vibrancy, social and political commentary, and diversity inherent to Latin American art.  The MFA seems to feel confident that the show will have an impact, as it is scheduled to run until mid-July.

It is worth including in the conversation about “Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales” the thoughts of Camilo Alvarez, a Latino owner of a South End gallery:  the Samson Gallery.  Mr. Alvarez was interviewed by NPR as a part of this story.

Being a Latin American I think it’s great, you know, to a certain degree. If the Museum of Fine Arts represents the majority of white America, the fact that white America is now learning to absorb another culture I think it’s great, sure. Mind you, that other culture was always here.

One last item to note:  As a part of “Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales” the MFA is adding performance art to their collection.  The first performance was supposed to be a part of the opening of the show on March 19th.  From NPR

Cuban artist Lazaro Saavedra was scheduled to perform in a coffin at Tuesday’s opening, but according to the museum his visa for travel to the U.S. has been subject to administrative delays.

“Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales” runs March 19, 2014–July 13, 2014.

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