Acquiring, Archiving, and Activating: Part 1

A look at how archival collections of Latin American art are activated in fourteen different institutions

October 17, 2016

In a two part investigation, Laura Braverman looks at a sample of fourteen public and private research institutes focused on Latin American art, and the ways in which they support and shape ongoing scholarship in the field. 

Part one includes a look at the Benson Collection at UT Austin; CeDoc in Santiago, Chile; ESCALA in Colchester, UK; Fundación Espigas in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, CA, USA; ICAA in Houston, TX, USA; and Pinto mi Raya in Mexico City, Mexico. Please click here for part two.


The way in which art historians and curators define and shape their research topics is often driven by the primary sources to which they are exposed. Primary sources—both text and image-based—act as first-hand testimony. Original documents, manuscripts, newspapers, press clippings, photographs, audiovisual files, sketches, notes, maps, objects, and sometimes artworks are direct, raw material through which to interpret the past.

Knowing that it can be difficult and time-consuming for researchers to locate these sources, many institutions work very hard to bring materials together, classify those items, and make them accessible to scholars and the general public alike.

In this article, I list a sampling of such institutions, focusing on those committed to the advancement of scholarship and research in the field of Latin American art. The list includes a combination of large, established, sometimes decades-old institutions, and smaller, recent, specialized projects. While some collections are located within museum or university settings, others stem from independent initiatives.

The article looks at how archival collections are built, organized, expanded, and activated. For each organization, it will focus on how their holdings are shared with the public, as well as the various entry points and archival activation tactics adopted to make their collection more accessible and comprehensive. These include exhibitions, editorial programs, digital initiatives, conferences, workshops, collaborations with outside organizations, and sometimes other projects that seek to encourage the production of new primary and secondary materials.


The Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX, USA)

Latin American Studies at the University of Texas have over a century-long history. Interest in the subject there goes back to 1902, when the first class on Latin American culture was taught. In 1921, UT Austin acquired the private library of Mexican historian Genaro García. Five years later, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection was founded, a collection that was to become one of the most important research libraries specializing in Latin America in the world. The Benson Collection focuses on a wide range of materials in humanities and social sciences from and about Latin America, as well as Latinos in the United States. With over a million books, more than 19,000 maps, 40,000 periodicals, 100,000 rare books, as well as 8,000 linear feet of archival and manuscript materials, 19,000 maps, and close to 700 archival collections—including material in many different media such as sound recordings, drawings, videotapes and cassettes, slides, posters, and memorabilia—the Benson Collection is one of the most extensive collections of materials on the subject.

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Fig 1. The LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collection building
Fig 1. The LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collection building

The Benson Collection also holds an important range of Latin American visual materials from the 16th century to the present. These include, for example, indigenous materials such as the “Lienzo de Tlaxcala” and maps known as the Relaciones Geográficas. The Benson Collection also features archives of 20th-century curators, art historians, and museum figures who had an impact on Latin American art, such as José Gómez Sicre, Barbara Duncan Doyle, and René d’Harnoncourt. The Rogelio Agrasánchez Collection of Mexican Cinema, a series of 400 original posters, lobby cards, and stills advertising Mexican films from the 1930s to the 1990s, can also be found in the Benson’s Mexican Manuscripts Collection.[1] Within the Latino collection are the Romo Collection of Mexican American Prints, the Austin-based Serie Project and the Mexic-Arte Museum archives, as well as works by individual artists such as Carmen Lomas Garza.

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Fig 2. One of the maps from the “Relaciones Geográficas” collection in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Atitlán, Santiago, Guatemala, 1585. 61.5 x 81 cm
Fig 2. One of the maps from the “Relaciones Geográficas” collection in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Atitlán, Santiago, Guatemala, 1585. 61.5 x 81 cm

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Fig 3. Film poster for “Romeo y Julieta,” (1943) from the Agrasánchez Collection of Mexican Cinema at the Benson Latin American Collection
Fig 3. Film poster for “Romeo y Julieta,” (1943) from the Agrasánchez Collection of Mexican Cinema at the Benson Latin American Collection

For the last few years, the Benson Collection has sought to make rare and special-format materials easily available for study through digital initiatives. In fact, Director of the Benson Collection, Julianne Gilland, points out that the collection has become a leader in post-custodial archival practice and theory.[2] Recognizing that information is not necessarily dependent on its original form, the Benson Collection, rather than physically acquiring and maintaining materials, is looking to provide management oversight for records in external collections. By collaborating with archives and institutions to facilitate digital preservation and access, Gilland sees this strategy as generating "an important model of horizontal collaboration with peer institutions across Latin America."[3]

The Benson has also been able to activate its holdings through exhibitions. In 2015, it developed an exhibition of the drawings and visual notes of Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa. Alongside her papers, the curators included original audio and texts for her publications. The exhibition then toured to universities and independent art spaces in Mexico City, and is currently being shown in Vienna. By giving co-curators the freedom to interpret the material as they wished, Gilland observed that the project "took on a life of its own, and has offered a different view of the archive, which is more commonly known for its textual content."[4]

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Fig 4. Overhead transparency from the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers. 8.5 x 11 in. Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin
Fig 4. Overhead transparency from the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers. 8.5 x 11 in. Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin

Building on its university setting, the Benson Collection has embraced collaborative opportunities at the University of Texas, Austin. In 2011, the Benson Collection entered a formal partnership with the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies (LLILAS), to bring together the archival resources of the collection with the institute’s teaching and scholarship. The Benson also collaborates with various other departments and centers across the campus.[5] Recently, jointly with the Black Studies Department, the Benson launched "a groundbreaking initiative to build an archive and special collection devoted to the Black Diaspora across the Americas."[6] As a result, the Benson appointed a Black Diaspora archivist, Rachel E. Winston, who will also be focusing her efforts on adding Black Diaspora art materials to the archive.

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Fig 5. Inside a rare book from the Black Diaspora archive. Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti... London: J. Cundee, 1805
Fig 5. Inside a rare book from the Black Diaspora archive. Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti... London: J. Cundee, 1805

Another important collaborator for the Benson Collection is the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. The Blanton began collecting Latin American art as early as its founding, in 1963. With a collection of over 2,100 modern and contemporary Latin American artworks, representing over 700 artists, the Blanton now owns one of the oldest and largest collections of Latin American art in the United States.[7] For research done at the museum, the Benson Collection represents an invaluable resource. As Beverly Adams, Adjunct Curator of Latin American art at the Blanton, highlights, "almost all research related to Latin American art, ranging from organizing exhibitions to collection building, begins at the Benson."[8] As a result, the Benson collection provides a strong scholarly backbone to the museum.

In addition, the Benson Collection frequently lends rare prints, magazines, books, or maps to the Blanton Museum. Adams remarks that "the Blanton can give the Benson another venue in which to display their rich holdings, which are then seen in a different creative and intellectual context, adding dimensions to their use and interpretation."[9] She adds that "these items not only give further depth to exhibitions but also provide useful opportunities for exchange and collaboration between both institutions."[10] For example, when the exhibition Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940-1978, curated by the Americas Society, traveled to the Blanton last year, it was augmented with local loans, some of which came from the UT library collections.


CeDoc at the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda (Santiago, Chile)

Ten years ago, artistic documentation produced in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship was virtually inaccessible. From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, artistic production was dispersed and usually took place in smaller independent spaces and, as a result, its documentation was equally scattered. In 2006, recognizing a serious gap for researchers, the Centro de Documentación de las Artes Visuales (CeDoc) took up the task of locating, collecting, and piecing together fundamental texts and archival materials of the period. Starting essentially from scratch, CeDoc compiled diverse materials such as self-published books, documents from independent publishing houses, reviews, catalogues, leaflets, manuscripts, sketches, photographs, posters, and other graphic materials, as well as audiovisual pieces. Four years later, they were made accessible in the lower level of the Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda (CCPLM), in the heart of the city of Santiago.

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Fig 6. The study space at the CeDoc library. Image courtesy of CeDoc
Fig 6. The study space at the CeDoc library. Image courtesy of CeDoc

CeDoc’s library now holds a total of 6,000 books, catalogues, and articles that are divided into four categories: contemporary Chilean art, art history and theory, art education, and Latin American art. The center also developed an online catalogue for looking up titles and downloading documents. In addition, CeDoc’s Historical Archive includes a significant number of original materials, such the archives of artist Guillermo Deisler and those of philosopher and art theorist Ronald Kay. CeDoc’s most important collection is perhaps its audiovisual archive, in which one can find recordings of actions by the Chilean activist group CADA (Colectivo Acciones de Arte), performances by Carlos Leppe, as well as videos by Chilean artists Juan Downey, Eugenio Dittborn, and Gloria Camiruaga.

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Fig 7. A collection of UNI/vers files from CeDoc’s Guillermo Deisler archive. Image courtesy of CeDoc
Fig 7. A collection of UNI/vers files from CeDoc’s Guillermo Deisler archive. Image courtesy of CeDoc

On top of organizing and hosting seminars, workshops, conferences, and talks, CeDoc activates its holdings through an assiduous editorial program. Once a year, the center launches an international open call for papers based on its collection. CeDoc then publishes the selected contributions in a series of books called Ensayos sobre artes visuales. Prácticas y discursos en los años 70 y 80 en Chile.[11] By filling gaps and generating new thought about this too rarely studied period, the books have become an invaluable reference for researchers interested in contemporary Chilean art.

Over the years, CeDoc’s archive has grown tremendously. Originally focusing on key texts of the 1970s and 1980s, CeDoc continues to identify and bring together missing pieces to complete its collection. Today, it is expanding its focus to other overlooked decades in the history of contemporary Chilean art, such as the 1960s and 1990s.

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Fig 8. Book cover of “Ensayos sobre Artes Visuales. Prácticas y discursos en los años 70 y 80 en Chile”
Fig 8. Book cover of “Ensayos sobre Artes Visuales. Prácticas y discursos en los años 70 y 80 en Chile”

ESCALA (Colchester, United Kingdom)

In 1993, at a time when hardly any artworks from Latin America were available to be studied firsthand in the United Kingdom, the University of Essex in Colchester founded the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA).[12] With the aim of providing access to Latin American artworks and creating "a center for scholarship on art from Latin America,"[13] ESCALA started collecting books and archival items alongside artworks. Thanks to the international efforts of artists, collections, and museums, the collection grew rapidly. Today, it holds a total of 750 works and a wide range of archival material, which includes exhibition ephemera, catalogues, correspondence, artist resumes, audiovisual material, sound recordings, and photographs.

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Fig 9. A small selection of some of the archival items held in the ESCALA Documentation Center
Fig 9. A small selection of some of the archival items held in the ESCALA Documentation Center

Acquisitions at ESCALA are tightly linked to a postgraduate module at the University of Essex in which students are asked to research a potential acquisition that could serve the research needs of various staff and students and to pitch this acquisition to their fellow students and an expert panel. In fact, from the very beginning the collection was tied to research done at the university. ESCALA’s founding directors, the renowned art historians Dawn Ades and Valerie Fraser, both shared a background in pre-Columbian, colonial, and modern and contemporary Latin American art. As a result, the collection has always represented a variety of time periods.

Not only does the collection cut across centuries and borders, but it also seeks to serve the needs of researchers in various fields. In fact, interdisciplinarity is at the core of the Latin American Studies Department at the University of Essex, and subsequently at the center of ESCALA and the ways in which is approached. To celebrate the collection’s twentieth anniversary, ESCALA set up an exhibition called Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex.[14] For the show, students, researchers, and academics across the university were invited to select, reflect on, and write about pieces from the collection that were linked to their own research interests. Going beyond a purely art historical approach, ESCALA here embraced the multidisciplinary use of its collection.

Online, ESCALA’s holdings can also be explored by themes that reflect the areas of teaching and research at the university; Human Rights, Indigenous America, and Religion.[15] Last March, ESCALA organized an event to mark the forty years since the last military coup in Argentina.[16] As part of the event, a box of archival information about the Argentine art collective Grupo Escombros was exhibited alongside artworks. Also included in this politically-focused show was a set of photographs by Argentine artist Fernando Traverso. However, the same photographs were also recently used for an eye-tracking study with the Art History and Psychology Departments. Here, Traverso’s photographs were no longer a means to discuss activism in Argentina, but were used to analyze how display affects spectatorship. Similarly, a Rufino Tamayo lithograph from the collection was recently used in a session with the Centre for Myths Studies to look at Aztec and Maya afterlife.

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Fig 10. Grupo Escombros Mar (1993) and archival items as part of the display for 'Argentina 1976–2016: Activism, Memorialisation & Complicity' in the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space
Fig 10. Grupo Escombros Mar (1993) and archival items as part of the display for 'Argentina 1976–2016: Activism, Memorialisation & Complicity' in the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space

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Fig 11. Left to right: Marcelo Brodsky’s 1er año, 6ta division, foto de clase, 1967 (1996), Fernando Traverso’s 350, Intervención urbana, Rosario (2001) & Marisa Rueda’s ...y después se erigen monumentos (1976)
Fig 11. Left to right: Marcelo Brodsky’s 1er año, 6ta division, foto de clase, 1967 (1996), Fernando Traverso’s 350, Intervención urbana, Rosario (2001) & Marisa Rueda’s ...y después se erigen monumentos (1976)

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Fig 12. Tamayo work used as part of reading group with Centre for Myths Studies on Maya and Aztec myths and the afterlife. Rufino Tamayo, Figura prehispánica VIII. Vaso zoomorfo Colima (1976)
Fig 12. Tamayo work used as part of reading group with Centre for Myths Studies on Maya and Aztec myths and the afterlife. Rufino Tamayo, Figura prehispánica VIII. Vaso zoomorfo Colima (1976)

At ESCALA, the collection—which includes both artworks and the archive—is conceived as an interdisciplinary resource. Last Spring, ESCALA opened a new purpose-designed Teaching and Research Space, which accommodates any researcher from any field and hosts object-based learning sessions. ESCALA’s Director, Joanne Harwood points out: "We often tell people that they don’t have to be art historians or experts on Latin America to engage with our artworks, but they just have to be curious."[17] Sebastían Bustamante-Brauning, Assistant Director, adds that "it is often the sessions in which people bring their own experience to an artwork that are the most successful. If they can bring perspectives from multiple ‘disciplines’ we often arrive at some interesting place."[18]

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Fig 13. The ESCALA Teaching and Research Space
Fig 13. The ESCALA Teaching and Research Space

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Fig 14. MA Art History and Curatorial Studies students engaging in an object based learning session in the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space
Fig 14. MA Art History and Curatorial Studies students engaging in an object based learning session in the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space

Fundación Espigas (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

In Buenos Aires, the Centro de Documentación at the Fundación Espigas has been open to the general public for over twenty years. Focusing mainly on the history of visual arts in Argentina, its holdings also include materials related to Latin American art and artistic production by Argentines abroad. The Centro de Documentación has brought together a large bibliographical and documental collection and database of over 200,000 publications. It also includes a photographic library with around 30,000 items, as well as personal archives where original documents such as letters, personal writings, sketchbooks, and diplomas can be found.

Editorial projects have been a central element of the Fundación Espigas’ program. By collaborating with researchers, it has published a series of resource books such as El arte español en la Argentina 1890-1960[19] or Escritos de vanguardia. Arte argentino de los años 60.[20] More recently, the foundation has published a book on Leandro Katz and is now working on a publication on Luis Fernando Benedit.[21] Thanks to a program subsidized by the Getty Foundation, the Fundación Espigas has also been collaborating with students and faculty from the Universidad Nacional de San Martín in Buenos Aires to catalogue large archives and digitize magazines and periodicals from the 1940s and 50s.

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Fig 15. Book cover of “Leandro Katz, Colección Conceptual” published by the Fundación Espigas in 2013
Fig 15. Book cover of “Leandro Katz, Colección Conceptual” published by the Fundación Espigas in 2013

The Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, CA, USA)

The Getty Research Institute (GRI) is perhaps the largest and most-well known art research center in the world. Established in 1983, the GRI’s mission to further knowledge and understanding in the visual arts was centered from the very start around an extensive collecting program. With twenty-six miles of shelves, its Research Library was constructed with the ambition of creating a collaborative environment for art historical research, an aim that has most certainly been achieved over the GRI’s thirty-three years of activity.

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Fig 16. Exterior of the Getty Research Institute at dusk
Fig 16. Exterior of the Getty Research Institute at dusk

With over a million books, auction catalogues, periodicals, study photographs, and special collections of unique items such as rare books and works on paper, the GRI covers art historical materials from the archaeology of prehistory to contemporary practices. While the GRI’s collection is well-known for documenting the history of western European and North American art, it has also expanded its focuses to other areas, notably that of Latin American art.

Mirroring the GRI collection’s all-encompassing approach, The Latin American collection is equally broad in content. Representing the complexity and diversity of the field, with items ranging from colonial times to the present, the collection also has particularly rich archives within each time period. In regard to materials from earlier periods, holdings are substantial in natural histories, chronicles, prints, and maps of the colonial period, 18th and 19th-century travel books, early materials of pre-Hispanic archeology and anthropology, as well as 19th and early 20th-century photography from Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Argentina.[22] When it comes to 20th-century art, the GRI owns a remarkable range of materials from the School of the South, a large Surrealism collection, and items from the Mexican muralists.[23] It also holds materials related to Concrete and experimental poetry and art, a Conceptual art collection including examples of mail art, as well as video works from the 1970s and early 1980s.[24]

The GRI collection is notable for its dynamism. Not only is it the point of departure for research conducted by students, academics, and visiting scholars throughout the year, but it is also the focus of publications, workshops, symposia, and exhibitions. For example, a few years ago, the GRI organized an exhibition at the Los Angeles Public Library titled A Nation Emerges: The Mexican Revolution Revealed, which displayed a range of photographs from the Mexican civil war.

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Fig 17. One of the photographs included in the exhibition “A Nation Emerges: The Mexican Revolution Revealed.” Pancho Villa posing with an Indian Motorcycle, Mexico-US border, 1914. Gelatin silver print
Fig 17. One of the photographs included in the exhibition “A Nation Emerges: The Mexican Revolution Revealed.” Pancho Villa posing with an Indian Motorcycle, Mexico-US border, 1914. Gelatin silver print

The GRI’s research projects are often long-term and an exhibition may represent only a portion of the efforts made to activate an area of the collection. For instance, in 2009, the GRI organized a series of workshops, with both established art historians and young scholars, to explore the critical reception and dissemination of surrealist ideas in Latin America. Inspired by the GRI’s strong holdings in Latin American Surrealism, the workshops aimed to discover alternative histories of Surrealism in the region. Ensuing from the workshops was a two-day symposium in 2010. Ultimately, an exhibition called Farewell to Surrealism was organized in 2012 in the GRI’s gallery space, focusing on an international group of writers and artists who collaborated on the journal Dyn in Mexico in the 1940s. In addition to the exhibition, the research team also digitized issues of Dyn; published two books, including a catalogue to complement the exhibition; and put together both a sourcebook and a bibliography on Surrealism in Latin America, which are now available online.[25]

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Fig 18. One of the items in the GRI’s “Surrealism in Latin America” collection. Title page of Lettre d’Amour by César Moro with frontispiece by Alice Paalen (Rahon). Mexico City: Ediciones Dyn, 1944
Fig 18. One of the items in the GRI’s “Surrealism in Latin America” collection. Title page of Lettre d’Amour by César Moro with frontispiece by Alice Paalen (Rahon). Mexico City: Ediciones Dyn, 1944

More recently, the Getty Foundation has been leading the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative. This ambitious project explores artistic connections between Latin American and Latino art and the city of Los Angeles through many exhibitions across California. As part of the initiative, the GRI is organizing an exhibition in its gallery space titled The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830-1930, which will open in October 2017. The exhibition will survey the growth of major Latin American cities through diverse archival materials such as letters, maps, photographs, and prints. Here again, the project is not limited to developing an exhibition. It has also accommodated a preliminary workshop and will be producing a publication on the topic, independent of the exhibition.

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Fig 19. One of the items to be exhibited in “The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830–1930” next Fall
Fig 19. One of the items to be exhibited in “The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830–1930” next Fall

In the same vein, Marcia Reed, Chief Curator at the GRI, notes that while exhibitions are time-limited, digitization offers a means to display the works without time constraints.[26] In fact, the GRI’s holdings are steadily being digitized. Diego Rivera’s collection of sketchbooks of California miners, for instance, has been accessible to the public since 2015.[27] The GRI has been at the forefront of digitization of art historical texts with the launch of the Getty Research Portal, in 2012. Developed with a group of international institutions and contributors, the Research Portal is a free, online, and universally accessible search platform that provides access to an extensive collection of art history texts.

Every year, the institute also hosts around forty researchers and scholars through its Annual Research Program. Following a theme, participants can research any aspect of the collection. Over the last few years, interestingly, more and more visiting scholars have been focusing on the Latin American facet of the collection. But scholars and academics are far from being the only audience the research institute wishes to involve in its activities. Particularly valued by both Reed and Idurre Alonso, hired a year ago as Associate Curator of Latin American Art at the GRI, are the Institute’s educational activities with children and teenagers.[28] Alonso hopes to reach out to more middle and high-schools students in order to show the importance of original materials, and to demonstrate GRI’s expansive effort to preserve and study Latin American art and cultures.[29]


The International Center for the Arts of the Americas (Houston, TX, USA)

The International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) is the research arm of the Latin American Art Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). Established concurrently with the department in 2001, the ICAA was conceived as a scholarly foundation to accompany and strengthen the museum’s growing collection of Latin American art.[30] Ever since, the ICAA has been extremely active in many fields: it has organized research-based exhibitions, international symposia, education and research projects, and led a rigorous publishing program. Most well-known is the ICAA’s landmark initiative, Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art. A venture without comparable precedent, the “Documents” project has successfully identified, retrieved, digitized, and combined 8,000 (and counting) primary sources and critical documents related to 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art.[31] Launched almost fifteen years ago in 2002, the project mobilized ten research teams across the Americas, culminating in a comprehensive, free, and universally accessible online digital archive in 2012.[32]

Accompanying the archive is an equally ambitious enterprise: the publication of a complementary thirteen-volume anthology series, Critical Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art.[33] The book series gives access to documents and key texts in English for the first time, along with annotations and critical commentaries. By indicating a record number for each document, the books also encourage readers to refer back to the archive, to cross-reference, and ultimately to engage in a dialogue between the print and digital sources.

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Fig 20. Cover of "Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?" edited by Héctor Olea, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)
Fig 20. Cover of "Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?" edited by Héctor Olea, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)

Rather than structured by country or chronology, the entire series is organized based on themes derived from thirteen editorial categories, which were established back in 2002-04 to guide researchers while recovering documents. Mindfully non-linear, these thematic axes call for a flexible conceptual structure through which new ideas, research priorities, and lines of investigation can more fluidly emerge. For instance, the first anthology—published in 2012 and titled Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?—provides a basis for a comparative history of Latin American and Latino art.[34]

Similarly, the digital archive is intended as a catalyst for future research in the field. Not only is it envisaged as a means to open up new avenues for investigation, but it also aims to bring together geographically dispersed thinkers into conversation with one another, providing a platform that, as the ICAA’s Associate Director, María C. Gaztambide underlines, "bridges many fronts: between academia and the museum; between Latino and Latin American art; between this cultural axis and the global mainstream; between individual artists; as well as between unsuspected intergenerational, inter- and intra-regional practices."[35] Of course, the uploading of documents to the archive remains an ongoing process. The ICAA is now building upon areas related to existing recovered documents and will be focusing its efforts on expanding the archive to documents from Central America, the Andes, and the Caribbean in order to address important geographic lacunae.

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Fig 21. María C. Gaztambide, ICAA’s Associate Director at work
Fig 21. María C. Gaztambide, ICAA’s Associate Director at work

As a result of the “Documents” project, other units at the museum such as the Hirsch Library and the Museum Archives have begun to collect Latin American and Latino material. Although the ICAA does not hold any physical files, its activities have attracted archival donations to the MFAH. For instance, a significant collection of library and archival material related to South American constructive art was recently donated to the museum, opening an opportunity for the ICAA to work closely with other departments to catalogue, allot, and integrate these materials within the museum.


Pinto mi Raya (Mexico City, Mexico)

Pinto mi Raya (To Draw the Line), is a multi-disciplinary project founded in 1989 by Mexico-based artists Mónica Mayer and Víctor Lerma. At a time when art institutions in Mexico seemed out of touch with artistic production, Mayer and Lerma sought to "lubricate the art system"[36] by setting up an artist-run alternative space in the Colonia Condesa. Pinto mi Raya was to provide a space for non-object-based art that emphasized process and interaction over material production. Pinto mi Raya is conceived as a conceptual artwork in itself, as "an action in Hannah Arendt’s sense of setting a process in motion."[37]

Soon after setting the project up, the two artists noticed that while very few books were being published on contemporary art in Mexico, there were thirty-four newspapers circulating in Mexico City alone, half of which included art reviews and opinion articles. To facilitate information flow and preserve memory in the visual arts, Mayer and Lerma decided to collect and bring together all of this material into an archive called Raya: criticism, columns, and debates in the visual arts. For the last twenty-five years, Pinto mi Raya has compiled articles from a wide range of national newspapers, and from 2008, started to include blog articles to their collection.[38] By subscribing to their services, institutions could receive the material collected on a bimonthly basis.[39]

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Fig 22. Pinto mi Raya’s archive, “Raya: crítica, crónica y debate en las artes visuales”
Fig 22. Pinto mi Raya’s archive, “Raya: crítica, crónica y debate en las artes visuales”

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Fig 23. Inside a bimonthly compilation. Photo Yuruen Lerma
Fig 23. Inside a bimonthly compilation. Photo Yuruen Lerma

In 2002, the Sala de Arte Público Siquieros invited Pinto mi Raya to create a piece for its reading room. As a result, Mayer and Lerma assembled all the material they had collected related to the painter David Alfaro Siqueiros into an artist’s book and created an additional compilation of texts about political art. Inspired by the project, they decided to organize other documents by themes such as performance, installation, women artists, artistic education, digital design, and cultural politics.

To celebrate Pinto mi Raya’s twentieth anniversary, Mayer and Lerma built Archivo Activo, a compilation of nearly 11,000 digitized texts that they divided into ten categories. The Archivo Activo came in the format of a box containing ten DVDs (one per theme), which were then offered to libraries and museums, where they can now be consulted. Drawing a whole block of Mexican art history together, Archivo Activo has become a fundamental tool for the study of contemporary art in Mexico.

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Fig 24. Pinto mi Raya’s “Archivo Activo” comes in a box containing 10 DVDs, organized by themes and containing about 11,000 texts. “Archivo Activo” and one of the DVDs from the set
Fig 24. Pinto mi Raya’s “Archivo Activo” comes in a box containing 10 DVDs, organized by themes and containing about 11,000 texts. “Archivo Activo” and one of the DVDs from the set

In addition to having been presented in various exhibitions such as WACK: Art and the Feminist Revolution (2007) at MOCA in Los Angeles and in Mayer’s recent retrospective at the MUAC (2015), Pinto mi Raya’s holdings have also been activated in a rather unconventional way. Back in 1995, Mayer and Lerma organized the exhibition De crítico, artista y loco… at the Centro Cultural San Ángel in Mexico City. The exhibition sought to reverse the rules of production by inviting thirty-six critics and researchers  whose texts were featured in the archive to not only create artworks for the show, but also to lend their columns to artists for the production of texts. As Mayer accurately points out, Pinto mi Raya’s most original feature is perhaps its ability to "develop an artistic project in which the boundaries between life, art, pedagogy, archive, research, and activism have been blurred."[40]

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Fig 25. A piece by art critic Jorge Alberto Manrique, included in the “De crítico, artista y loco…” exhibition. Jorge Alberto Manrique. Drawing on folder, 8 x 10 inches. Photo: Jorge Vértiz
Fig 25. A piece by art critic Jorge Alberto Manrique, included in the “De crítico, artista y loco…” exhibition. Jorge Alberto Manrique. Drawing on folder, 8 x 10 inches. Photo: Jorge Vértiz

I wish to thank the following staff for their insightful comments:

Soledad Garcia from CeDoc;  Joanne Harwood and Sebastián Bustamante-Brauning from ESCALA; Marina Baron Supervielle and Adriana Donini and from the Fundación Espigas; Marcia Reed, Idurre Alonso, Amy Hood, and Rebecca Peabody from the Getty Research Institute; María Gaztambide and Beatriz Olivetti from the ICAA;  Mónica Mayer from Pinto mi Raya; Julianne Gilland, Beverly Adams, and Christina Bleyer from UT Austin; as well as Jerónimo Duarte-Riascos, Pablo Helguera, and Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro. 


Part two of this article will include Arkheia at the MUAC in Mexico City, Mexico; the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ, USA; CIRMA in Antigua, Guatemala; Fundación YAXS in Guatemala City, Guatemala; IAC in São Paulo, Brazil; and -I-D-A in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and CEDOC at CAVC/MUA in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.


Extended Captions:

Fig 1. The LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collection building. Image courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin

Fig 2. One of the maps from the Relaciones Geográficas collection in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Atitlán, Santiago, Guatemala, 1585. 61.5 x 81 cm. Image courtesy of the Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin

Fig 3. Film poster for Romeo y Julieta, (1943) from the Agrasánchez Collection of Mexican Cinema at the Benson Latin American Collection. Image courtesy of the Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin

Fig 4. Overhead transparency from the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers. 8.5 x 11 in. Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin. Image courtesy of the Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin.

Fig 5. Inside a rare book from the Black Diaspora archive. Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti: Comprehending a View of the Principal Transactions in the Revolution of Saint Domingo; with its Ancient and Modern State. London: J. Cundee, 1805. Image courtesy of the Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin

Fig 6. The study space at the CeDoc library. Image courtesy of CeDoc

Fig 7. A collection of UNI/vers files from CeDoc’s Guillermo Deisler archive. Image courtesy of CeDoc

Fig 8. Book cover of Ensayos sobre Artes Visuales. Prácticas y discursos en los años 70 y 80 en Chile. Image courtesy of CeDoc

Fig 9. A small selection of some of the archival items held in the ESCALA Documentation Center. Photo: Sebastian Bustamante-Brauning. Image courtesy of ESCALA

Fig 10. Grupo Escombros Mar (1993) and archival items as part of the display for Argentina 1976–2016: Activism, Memorialisation & Complicity' in the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space. Photo: Sebastian Bustamante-Brauning. Image courtesy of ESCALA

Fig 11. Left to right: Marcelo Brodsky’s 1er año, 6ta division, foto de clase, 1967 (1996), Fernando Traverso’s 350, Intervención urbana, Rosario (2001) & Marisa Rueda’s ...y después se erigen monumentos (1976) displayed in the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space as part of Argentina 1976-2016: Activism, Memorialisation & Complicity. Photo: Sebastían Bustamante-Brauning. Image courtesy of ESCALA

Fig 12. Tamayo work used as part of reading group with Centre for Myths Studies on Maya and Aztec myths and the afterlife. Rufino Tamayo, Figura prehispánica VIII. Vaso zoomorfo Colima (1976).  Artwork © Rufino Tamayo. Image courtesy of ESCALA

Fig 13. The ESCALA Teaching and Research Space. Photo: Sebastían Bustamante-Brauning. Image courtesy of ESCALA

Fig 14. MA Art History and Curatorial Studies students engaging in an object based learning session in the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space. Photo: Joanne Harwood. Image courtesy of ESCALA

Fig 15. Book cover of Leandro Katz, Colección Conceptual published by the Fundación Espigas in 2013. Image courtesy of Fundación Espigas

Fig 16. Exterior of the Getty Research Institute at dusk. Photo by Scott Frances/Esto. Image courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust

Fig 17. One of the photographs included in the exhibition A Nation Emerges: The Mexican Revolution Revealed. Pancho Villa posing with an Indian Motorcycle, Mexico-US border, 1914. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Research Institute. Image courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Fig 18. One of the items in the GRI’s Surrealism in Latin America collection. Title page of Lettre d’Amour by César Moro with frontispiece by Alice Paalen (Rahon). Mexico City: Ediciones Dyn, 1944. The Getty Research Institute, 980029.3, Box 1, Folder 9. Image courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Fig 19. One of the items to be exhibited in The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830-1930 next fall. Francisco Mujica Diez de Bonilla (Mexico, 1899– 1979) The City of the Future: Hundred Story City in Neo/American Style, 1929 from the book History of the Skyscraper. Print. Getty Research Institute Collection

Fig 20. Cover of the first book from the Critical Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art series. Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino? edited by Héctor Olea, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012). Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Fig 21. María C. Gaztambide, ICAA’s Associate Director at work. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Fig 22. Pinto mi Raya’s archive, Raya: crítica, crónica y debate en las artes visuales. Photo: Yuruen Lerma. Image courtesy of Pinto mi Raya

Fig 23. Inside a bimonthly compilation. Photo Yuruen Lerma. Image courtesy of Pinto mi Raya

Fig 24. Pinto mi Raya’s Archivo Activo comes in a box containing 10 DVDs, organized by themes and containing about 11,000 texts. Archivo Activo and one of the DVDs from the set. Photos: Yuruen Lerma. Image courtesy of Pinto mi Raya

Fig 25. A piece by art critic Jorge Alberto Manrique, included in the De crítico, artista y loco… exhibition. Jorge Alberto Manrique. Drawing on folder, 8 x 10 inches. Photo: Jorge Vértiz. Image courtesy of Pinto mi Raya


[1] These materials have supported the publication of two books about Mexican film history. Rogelio Agrasánchez, Charles Ramirez-Berg, Carteles de la epoca de oro del cine mexicano = Poster Art from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema (Guadalajara and Mexico City: Universidad de Guadalajara and the Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía, 1997) and Rogelio Agrasánchez, Cine Mexicano: Poster Art from the Golden Age, 1936-1956 = Carteles de la época de oro, 1936-1956 (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001).

[2] Julianne Gilland, e-mail interview, October 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] These include the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Department of Mexican American Studies, Black Studies, Spanish and Portuguese, History, Art and Art History, the Butler School of Music, the Harry Ransom Center, as well as the Briscoe Center for American History.

[6] Julianne Gilland, op. cit.

[7] One of the highlights of its collection is the Barbara Duncan Collection of Latin American drawings, an extensive grouping of post-1960s Latin American drawings.

[8] Beverly Adams, e-mail interview, September 2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The books are co-published with the Chilean publishing house LOM. So far, two books have been published and another two are in process of being edited.

[12] Originally, the collection was called the University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art, or UECLAA.

[13] Dr. Joanne Harwood, e-mail interview, October 2016.

[14] The exhibition was organized at the university in 2014 and curated by Dr. Andrés David Montenegro Rosero.

[15] Almost every work in the online collection has a detailed and comprehensive description entry written by either staff, students, or external researchers. They were written starting in 2004, when the collection was digitized, with support from the AHRC Resource Enhancement Grant.

[16] The event was called Argentina 1976-2016: Activism, Memorialisation and Complicity.

[17] Harwood, op.cit.

[18] Sebastián Bustamante-Brauning, e-mail interview, October 2016.

[19] Patricia Artundom, El arte español en la Argentina 1890-1960 (Buenos Aires: Fundación Espigas, 2006).

[20] This anthology was first published by the Museum of Modern Art in 2004 under the title Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004). By collaborating with the Fundación Proa, Fundación Espigas edited, translated, and published a new version of the book; Inés Katzenstein, Escritos de vanguardia. Arte argentino de los años 60 (Buenos Aires: The Museum of Modern Art, Fundación Proa, and Fundación Espigas, 2007).

[21] Leandro Katz, Ana Longoni, Marta Merajver, and David Jacobson, Leandro Katz, Colección Conceptual (Buenos Aires: Fundación Espigas, 2013). The publication on Luis Fernando Benedict is to be titled Luis F. Benedict Obras 1968-1978.

[22] The items from the Colonial Collection date from the 16th to the 18th-century and include materials by Hernán Cortés, Francisco Gómez de Gomara, José de Acosta, Theodor de Bry, Alonso de Ercilla and Garcilaso de la Vega. The travel books consist of early editions of classic works by European travelers and explorers such as Alexander von Humboldt, Eduard Friedrich Poeppig, William Lewis Herndon, Antonio de Ulloa, Clements Markham, Amédée-François Frézier, John Stephens, François Joseph de Pons, and Jules Crevaux. The authors of materials from the pre-Hispanic archeology and anthropology collection include Désiré Charnay, Augustus and Alice Le Plongeon, Alfred Maudslay and Frederick Catherwood. The photography collection represents photographers such as Francois Aubert, the Courret brothers, Benito Panunzi, Samuel Boote and Hugo Brehme and works on the Mexican Revolution.

[23] The School of the South is represented with documents, publications and papers on Joaquín Torres García, Julio Payro, Emilio Pettoruti, and avant-garde magazines such as Arturo, Removedor and SUR. The Surrealism collection holds papers on Cesar Moro, Vicente Huidobro, Enrique Lihn, and Enrique Gómez Correa, as well as magazines such as DYN, Mandrágora and Que. Modernism in Mexico is here represented with documents, works, and journals on David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, José Guadalupe Posada, and Taller de Gráfica Popular

[24] Books, magazines, and materials on Concrete and experimental poetry include works by Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, Decio Pignatari, Alvaro de Sa, Julio Plaza, Waldimir Dias Pino, Eugen Gomringer, Edgardo Vigo and Clemente Padín. The Conceptual collection is particularly rich in South American artists, including documents and magazines on CAYC, mail art and materials by Paulo Bruscky, Marta Minujín, Cecilia Vicuña, Leandro Katz, Clemente Padín, Anna Bella Geiger, and Ulises Carrión. The video art collection is represented by artists such as David Lamelas, Juan Downey, Sonia Andrade, and Ana Bella Geiger.

[25] See The Getty Website, “Surrealism in Latin America,” last accessed October 11, 2016.

[26] Marcia Reed, personal interview, October 2016.

[27] Rivera’s sketchbook consists of preparatory drawings for the Allegory of California (1930–31) fresco in the San Francisco Stock Exchange Tower.
 [28] Marcia Reed, op.cit; Idurre Alonso, personal interview, October 2016.
[29] Alonso, op.cit.
[30] The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston now holds over 2,000 works of art by Latin American and Latino artists.
[31] The recovered documents include a wide range of materials such as essays, lectures, manifestos, correspondence, interviews, testimonies, newspaper articles, manuscripts, sketches, notes, and other textual materials by eminent Latin American and Latino artists, critics, and curators.
[32] These teams operated under the umbrella of partner institutions which included universities, museums, cultural foundations, and independent research centers, including the Fundación Espigas in Buenos Aires, mentioned in this article.
[33] The books are co-published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Yale University Press.
[34] This first volume expands on how the terms “Latin American” and “Latino” are often inadequate and do not properly reflect the complexity of these cultural groups. Héctor Olea, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto. Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino? (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012). Other categories include “National Imaginaries/Cosmopolitan Identities,” “Issues of Race, Class, and Gender in the Visuals Arts of Latino-America,” and “New World Geometric and Constructive Utopias,” to only mention a few. For a detailed description of each thematic axe, see the ICAA’s Website, “Editorial Framework,” last accessed September 27, 2016.
[35] The ICAA has worked with over 150 collaborators from North and South America, organizing many gatherings and opportunities for exchanges between them. María C. Gaztambide, e-mail interview, September 2016.
[36] Mónica Mayer, e-mail interview, October 2016. Originally: ‘lubricar el sistema artístico.’ Translation: author’s own.
[37] Ibid. Originally: ‘una acción en el sentido de Hannah Arendt de echar a andar un proceso.’ Translation: author’s own.
[38] The newspapers collected include La Crónica de Hoy, Excélsior, El Universal, Unomásuno, Reforma, Milenio Diario, El Independiente, El Financiero, La Jornada, El Heraldo, and El Sol de México.
[39] These institutions included the UNAM Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas’ library, the National Arts Library, and the Jumex’s library.
[40] Mónica Mayer, op.cit. Originally: "desarrollar un proyecto artístico en el que se han desdibujado las fronteras entre la vida, el arte, la pedagogía, el archivo, la investigación y el activismo." Translation: author’s own.