El Museo del Barrio Hosts First Triennial Exhibition

Museums and other institutions have long made their mark with recurring art exhibitions, held every two or three years, that are designed to survey the field in an expansive way. In New York City, the most notable example is the Whitney Museum of American Art’s biennial show, which is set to take place again in 2022.

Now, another institution in the city is joining the current fold: El Museo del Barrio, the Manhattan museum that focuses on the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and Latin-American communities in the U.S., is offering its first triennial exhibition, set to open Saturday.

Called “Estamos Bien—La Trienal 20/21,” the show features works by 42 Latinx artists and art collectives from throughout the U.S. El Museo officials said “Estamos Bien” is intended to be broad in its outlook—the artists come from several states, plus Puerto Rico, and represent various cultures, from Chicano to Dominican. They added that the show reflects the importance, relevance and strength of this diverse community of creators.

“Estamos bien” translates from the Spanish as “We’re good,” though officials said the phrase, echoing the title of a song by the Puerto Rican musical artist Bad Bunny, is intended to be both positive and sarcastic. The title also refers to a painting featured in the show, “Estoy Bien” (“I am good”), by the New York-born and Chicago- and Michigan-based artist Candida Alvarez.

’Estoy Bien’ (’I am good’), by the New York-born and Chicago- and Michigan-based artist Candida Alvarez.



Photo:

Monique Meloche Gallery|, Chicago

The exhibition is borne from “the level of exclusion that the Latinx community is facing,” said El Museo executive director Patrick Charpenel. He and other officials note that much of the museum world remains European-centric in its approach, with Latinx artists represented only marginally in permanent collections or exhibition calendars.

At the same time, “Estamos Bien” is intended to give El Museo a stronger foothold in the national art scene. The institution, founded in 1969 as a way to showcase Puerto Rican culture, has grown in its scope and ambition to represent a broader constituency. But it has still been fairly devoted to Latinx artists with a New York City connection. Indeed, the museum had previously produced a biennial show, from 1999 to 2013, with such a local focus.

It was nevertheless a significant challenge for El Museo to mount a triennial show of such ambition, to say nothing of the fact some of the research, including interviewing potential artists, was done during the pandemic. El Museo chief curator Rodrigo Moura said about 500 individuals and collectives were considered for inclusion before the final 42 were chosen.

From left: Chief curator Rodrigo Moura, curator Susanna V. Temkin, and New York-based artist and guest curator Elia Alba.



Photo:

Michael Palma Mir Photographer for El Museo del Barrio

Some of the work in the show speaks to the current moment, both in terms of the pandemic and the fight for racial equality, said Mr. Moura. He cites a multimedia work by Lizania Cruz, a New York-based artist, that was developed online by asking Americans how and when they felt the American dream died for them.

Ms. Alvarez, the veteran artist behind the “Estoy Bien” painting, is no stranger to El Museo, having had her work exhibited at the museum previously. But she said she was honored to be included in the triennial, a show that she emphasized will help put her younger colleagues on the map.

“With every exhibition like this, you draw more attention to artists who haven’t had opportunities,” she said.

The triennial showcase comes at a time when other New York cultural institutions are focusing on the Latinx community in different ways. Officials with Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney point to recent and upcoming shows featuring Latinx artists. BRIC, a Brooklyn cultural institution, also has a current show, “Latinx Abstract,” devoted to contemporary artwork from the Latinx community.

Susie Wilkening, a Seattle-based museum consultant, said the shift is coming after years of neglect. “There’s a lot of catching up” to do, she said.

Write to Charles Passy at [email protected]

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Appeared in the March 10, 2021, print edition as ‘Museum Hosts First Triennial Exhibition.’

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