How an art museum ‘cancelled’ Christopher Columbus

the legacy of Christopher Columbus suffered two blows in Denver, in 2020. The first was recorded in public, when a group (from the movement Black Lives Matter) who was protesting against the treatment of blacks by the police authorities, moved by an anti-colonialist fury, tied the statue of the explorer with a rope, knocking it down in the city ​​civic park🇧🇷

Photos from the exhibition Who Tell a Tale Adds a Tail at the Denver Art Museum
Photos from the exhibition Who Tell a Tale Adds a Tail at the Denver Art Museum Photograph: Denver Art Museum

The second was more discreet, on the other side of the street, in the Denver Art Museum🇧🇷 where the institution simultaneously dropped all references to the browser in its collection. Pre-Columbian art was renamed Art of the Ancient Americas. At the same time, the segment dedicated to colonial Hispanic art was renamed Latin American Art.

The changes fit the museum’s organizational structure and consider the sensitivity of its target audience, Latinos, 30% of total visitors, according to the museum’s director, Christoph Heinrich.

How the museum will respond to the Columbus “cancellation” through its exhibition programs is a work in progress. Last month, an exhibition was opened at the Museum of Denver Who Tell a Tale Adds a Tail (in a free translation, Who Tells a Tale Increases a Point) with specific visualization installations created by artists from various Latin American countries. The show is curated by a Brazilian, Rafael Fonsecathe first in charge of coordinating the segment of modern and contemporary Latin art.

Image of the Denver Art Museum
Image of the Denver Art Museum Photograph: ESTADAO / Denver Art Museum

The director of the institution, Christoph Heinrich, observed that the exhibition represents a revolution in the way of presenting art from the region. The strength of the Denver Museum’s collection is the collection of Mayan and Aztec objects – and perhaps the institution is the one that preserves, in the United States, the largest number of paintings and objects created during the colonial period. For decades, these were the main attractions of the institution.

The panorama begins to change with curator Rafael Fonseca’s attention to contemporary names and the organization of temporary exhibitions by artists from Latin America, which could mean an increase in the number of visitors to the museum.

“We will continue to organize academic exhibitions, as this is an important part of our programming, but we are opening a new door”, says Jorge Rivas who, since 2015, has been the curator of colonial Hispanic art (today Latin American Art) at the Museum of Denver .

The new exhibitions will allow the museum to update the history of Latin American art and tell visitors a new version of this history – previously restricted to objects built before and after Spanish colonization, expanding the temporary range to other equally important moments.

“I find it much easier for someone to connect with art if it speaks of the current moment, if it starts from the contemporary to reach more traditional art”, justifies director Heinrich.

Who Tells a Tale Adds a Tail is a topical show, dealing with topics such as technology, gender, immigration and, importantly, the impacts of colonialism. The artists in the show, all born between 1981 and 1996, have a generational connection, although curator Fonseca paid attention to the diversity of themes and ideas capable of attracting an American audience. “Looking south, we see the unfortunate tendency to put everything in the same box”, comments the director

The exhibition is rich in digital art. An example of this is the Chilean artist Seba Calfuqueo with her video Ngüru Ka Williñ, which appropriates a folk tale about a fox and an otter to talk about sexual violence in contemporary society. The Brazilian artist of Haitian origin Vitória Cribb contributes to the exhibition with the video Vigilante-Extended, which stars a computer-created character who delivers a melancholy nine-minute monologue about the dangers of spending too much time in a virtual environment.

Image on display at the Denver Art Museum
Image on display at the Denver Art Museum
Photograph: NYT / NYT

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There are also interactive installations on show, such as The Revenge of History, by Gabriela Pinilla, which combines a large mural, books and newspaper clippings to remember the murder of guerrilla Carmenza Cardona Londoño, in 1981, and comment on political violence in her home country. , Colombia. Mexican artist Alan Sierra uses coffee tables, neon signs and microphones to create what the exhibition calls “an intimate queer club” where visitors can hear homoerotic poetry in Spanish pouring out of the speakers.

But the exhibition also has paintings, including those by Dominican artist Hulda Guzmán, landscapes painted with acrylic paint that examine the correspondence between the human body and nature. More traditional, using oil, is Caleb Hahne Quintana, one of the few American artists in the show, who uses Western iconography to question outdated notions of masculinity.

Ana Segovia investigates what “Mexicanity” would be by recreating stills from old westerns popular in her country and inviting the viewer to question the old cliché of American cowboy masculinity through a contemporary look.

“There is something about the cowboy that is very sexy”, justifies Segovia. “I think that, when painting the figure, it brings a mixed feeling between fetish and revulsion, because of its toxic masculinity. It is obviously a contradiction”, concludes the artist.

Exhibition 'Who Tell a Tale Adds a Tail'
Exhibition ‘Who Tell a Tale Adds a Tail’ Photograph: Denver Art Museum

Contradiction, by the way, which is at the heart of the exhibition Who Tells a Tale Adds a Tail. Individually, the pieces defy conventions in the artists’ countries of origin. Considered as a whole, the central theme is a monolithic art genre that geographically identifies Latin America.

“For me, the idea of ​​Latin American art is a great fiction”, observes Brazilian curator Fonseca. Still, there is value in displaying contemporary works in the context of their Latin American connections, adds Rivas, because it allows the Museum of Denver to show how centuries of history tie together. Ancient civilizations existed in the hemisphere until the brutal conquest by colonizers. Now, it’s about erasing the trauma. All this impacts the art made in each era.

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It is easy to decipher objects created during the current “denial” of Columbus and those that followed, if you can see the art created before the arrival of the conqueror and while he reigned. Many problems faced by contemporary artists originated in the first moment of this contact”, concludes curator Rivas.

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