By 2050, demographers say, the U.S. population will be almost one-third Latino. El Museo del Barrio—founded in 1969 and located at 104th Street on the north end of Fifth Avenue’s “Museum Mile”—bills itself as “the nation’s leading Latino and Latin American cultural institution.” The museum’s current exhibition, “Estamos Bien: La Trienal 20/21” (through Sept. 26), is proof—albeit imperfect—of why it is needed in our multicultural society.
Taking the temperature, so to speak, of contemporary American Latino art is a daunting task. Any show of more than 40 artists (including a few collectives) from Brooklyn to Puerto Rico to Houston and Los Angeles, working in everything from handmade watercolors to assemblage and high-definition video animation, is going to have inevitable bumps and low spots. But this exhibition—whose title translates as “We’re OK” and includes over 200 works—more than compensates for an inevitable inconsistency by being lively, passionate, inventive and, in a few cases, revelatory.
“Estamos Bien” actually opened last summer with some commissioned online works, and the show’s physical iteration was also scheduled for 2020. It had planned to make its points—and it is a show packed with attempts to make sociopolitical points—during the presidential election campaign and while the U.S. census was under way. Covid-19 changed all that, but now the results of two years of research and visits with 600 artists have made their way into the museum’s galleries.
Curators Rodrigo Moura and Susanna Temkin, from El Museo, and guest Elia Alba (an artist) have put together an exhibition that’s the opposite of the more uncluttered, antiseptic, lots-of-breathing-room surveys we’ve come to expect from our modern art museums. For example, a single gallery contains Lucia Hierro’s oversize, Claes-Oldenburg-esque mock bags of bodega snacks, including “Rack: Plantanitos” (2019); Dionis Ortiz’s ornate vinyl-tile floor piece, “Let There Be Light” (2020-21); Joey Terrill’s still-lifes-cum-nudes that are AIDS-memoir paintings (2008); and Yvette Mayorga’s 2020 mixed-media paintings mimicking cake decoration. The overall effect is a bit like a panel discussion where everybody’s talking at once.