Acquiring, Archiving, and Activating: Part 2
A look at how archival collections of Latin American art are activated in fourteen different institutionsNovember 2, 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 two includes a looks at the Arkheia Documentation Center at the MUAC UNAM 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. Please click here for part one.
The Arkheia Documentation Center at the MUAC (Mexico City, Mexico)
The Arkheia Documentation Center and its collection were conceived as an intrinsic part of the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) from the very beginning. For curator, art critic and historian Olivier Debroise, an important figure in the museum’s founding, if the MUAC was to articulate memory and contribute to a critical historiography of contemporary Mexican art, it could not do so without an archival collection to supplement its art collection. Especially since the MUAC’s collection was to focus on post-1950s art—for which the memory of artworks is more than often derived from written and visual testimonies—an archival collection was essential. As a result, ever since the MUAC’s establishment in 2008, both collections have been approached as one.
Located on the lower level of the museum, the Arkheia Center acts as a laboratory for discussion and exchanges between artists, curators, and researchers. The center has been responsible for locating, bringing together, and preserving a substantial archive devoted to contemporary Mexican art, which now comprises more than 4,000 volumes and thirty-nine special collections. Rather than consisting solely of documents, these collections often include a wide range of materials, and even artworks. Today, Arkheia is still identifying new areas to complete its holdings. Sol Henaro, curator of the archival collection and head of the Centro de Documentación Arkheia at the MUAC, has defined three open lines of investigation to direct new acquisitions: “Visualizations and Social Mobilization,” “Action Art in Mexico,” and “Visualizations and HIV.”
Arkheia has been very successful in activating its holdings via carefully conceptualized annual exhibitions, which take place right next to the center, in the museum’s public space. Through thoughtful curatorial deployments, Arkheia generates spatial narratives that encourage viewers to approach archival materials differently. Their exhibitions disregard traditional hierarchies between document and art object, push for a critical approach to the relation between archive and memory, and question the notion of the document as fetish. For example, the exhibition devoted to Mexican video artist Pola Weiss titled La TV te Ve, organized two years ago by curators Aline Hernández and Ben Murphy, explored the relation between an artistic event and its audiovisual documentation. Similarly, the exhibition Despertar Revolucionario. Arte, Política y Guerrilla Cultural en el Archivo Juan Acha, set to open this January and curated by Joaquín Barriendos, professor at Columbia University, will contribute to the diffusion and rereading of the work of one of Latin America’s most important art theorist, Juan Acha.
The center has also inspired the production of new primary source material, bringing about original oral content related to contemporary art in Mexico. The project Sub-versiones de la Memoria consisted of a series of discussions and interviews with artists, curators, critics, and art historians who participated in key moments of Mexican art history in the 1960s and 70s, culminating in a series of seven DVDs. By laying bare the participants’ narrative detours and contradictions, Sub-versiones suggests that evidence and testimonies are rarely freed of subjectivity and that memory itself, as the title indicates, can often act subversively.
More recently, the center has pushed for the production of secondary source material. For instance, it collaborates with UNAM’s Art History program, encouraging postgraduate students to use Arkheia’s holdings to present research and curatorial projects, and to produce papers based on these proposals.
CEDOC at CAVC/MUA (Tegucigalpa, Honduras)
Located in Tegucigalpa, CAVC/MUA (Centro de Artes Visuales Contemporáneo/Mujeres en las Artes) is a foundation established in the mid-1990s dedicated to exhibiting and promoting contemporary art from Central America, with an emphasis on the role of women in the arts, culture, and development in Honduras. On the first level of the foundation is the CEDOC (Centro de Documentación de la Fundación Mujeres en las Artes), a library and research center conceived to complement MUA’s activities with a solid archival and research base. With the aim of providing specialized information about contemporary art and other socio-cultural topics, the CEDOC is an informal academic space for research, dialogue, workshops, seminars, conferences, and other educational activities about art, culture, gender, and development.
As a result, its archival collection consists of books, catalogues, artist monographs, newspapers, magazines, and videos devoted to topics such as gender, development, and regional contemporary art. While many items in the collection came through private and institutional donations, part of the archival collection consists of materials produced at CAVC/MUA. For example, one of CEDOC’s most original archives is a collection of items—dating back to 1997 and updated every two years—related to exhibition projects at the CAVC/MUA’s Sala Mujeres del Arte Contemporáneo (SMAC). Including a wide range of materials such as curricula, catalogues, and photographic records, the archive surveys the production of many Central American women artists and has become a database for the works of women artists in the region.
The Center for Creative Photography (Tucson, AZ, USA)
Back in 1974, John Schaefer, University of Arizona’s President, asked celebrated photographer Ansel Adams if he would be interested in placing his archive at the university. Adams, however, responded that instead of acquiring his archive as a stand-alone collection, he would rather the university acquire a collection of archives from various photographers. After an ensuing conversation between the two, the concept for the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) was born.
A year later, the CCP opened on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson and soon became one of the most important institutions in the field of photography. The CCP is a research center for the history of photography, an academic art museum, and an archival repository for the largest collection of 20th-century North American photography in the world. With over 90,000 images representing more than 2,200 photographers and a vast photographic archive containing a total of 239 archival collections, the CCP is a reference for the study of photographic history. Its archives include over five million archival objects, which consists of diverse materials such as negatives, work prints, albums, contact sheets, correspondence, writings, audiovisual materials, memorabilia, and even cameras. All of these archives, along with rare books and reference materials, can be consulted in the CCP’s study center.
Many photographers represented in the CCP’s fine prints collection and archives found inspiration in Mexico. Among these are Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Paul Strand, Aaron Siskind, Todd Webb, Max Yavno, Van Deren Coke, Rosalind Solomon, and Linda Connor. The CCP also holds a significant collection of post-revolutionary Mexican photography, which includes works by Tina Modotti, the entire archive of Lola Álvarez Bravo, and photographs by Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Photographers who trained under the Álvarez Bravos in Mexico are also represented in the collection, with works by Rafael Doniz, Flor Garduño, Graciela Iturbide, Pedro Meyer, Mariana Yampolsky, José Angel Rodríguez, and Jesús Sanchez Uribe. The CCP also houses more than 150 photographs by the the photojournalist Manuel Carrillo. Due to Tucson’s close proximity to Mexico and the area’s cultural diversity, another important thread in the Center’s collection is its holdings by Mexican-American photographers and works depicting Mexican-American life.
In parallel to an extensive archival and fine print collection, the Center owns a comprehensive oral history archive. Very early on in his career, Harold Jones, the CCP’s founding director, started to conduct interviews with photographers, photography historians, curators, staff of photographic institutions, and others who participated in the history of 20th-century photography. In 2005, this ongoing project was concretized at the CCP into the program Voices of Photography. The program’s archive compiles a great variety of audiovisual materials. For instance, the archive includes original files such as a Q&A with Manuel Álvarez Bravo at the Tucson Museum of Art, a lecture by Graciela Iturbide and Pedro Meyer, and talks by Olivier Debroise and James Oles on Lola Álvarez Bravo’s work.
Recognizing that researchers’ first interactions with the collection often occur online, the CCP’s eMuseum, a huge online gallery with over 100,000 digitized images, has made the collection more easily accessible. In the eMuseum, the works are organized by categories so that, rather than searching for photographs by artists, visitors can explore the collection in a more enterprising way. The CCP also presents its materials in the context of exhibitions. At the center itself, parts of the collections are often shown alongside new acquisitions, highlighting the links between newly acquired and existing works. In addition, since 2006, the CCP has collaborated with the Phoenix Art Museum, co-organizing shows such as Edward Weston: Mexico (2008) and Here and Abroad: Photographs by David Taylor, currently on view in the Norton Photography Gallery.
Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (Antigua, Guatemala)
The Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA) has been operating from Antigua, Guatemala for over thirty-eight years. Founded by historian Christopher H. Lutz and archeologist William R. Swezey, CIRMA started off as a small library, when the two combined their own collections and those of fellow historians and professors. Recognizing that at the time, the majority of these publications were not available to the general public, Lutz and Swezey moved their newly built collection to an emblematically Antiguan 16th-century house in 1979 with the ambition of creating a space of encounter and dialogue between researchers interested in the social, cultural, and political history of Mesoamerica, and more specifically, of Guatemala.
CIRMA is composed of three distinct archives: a social science library, a photographic library, and a historical archive. CIRMA’s oldest archive, the social science collection, now holds over 41,000 books, 7,000 documents, and an extensive range of newspapers and magazines. Acknowledging the need to supplement the newly built bibliographic collection with visual information, CIRMA established the photographic library very shortly after its foundation. With more than a million photographs dating from the mid-19th century to the present, ranging from daguerreotypes and glass plate negatives to digital photographs, its photographic collection is today considered one the most important visual collections of Central America. The archive presents an extremely rich testimony to Guatemala’s visual history: most photographs depict social and cultural traditions, everyday and political events, artistic life, architecture, and natural disasters; and others consist of fine art photography by Guatemalan photographers, as well as works by foreign photographers made in Guatemala.
One of the highlights of this collection is the archive of the photography studio “Fotografía Japonesa,” founded in the early 20th century by Japanese photographer Kohei Yasu, who moved to Guatemala and worked under the name of Juan José de Jesús Yas along with Guatemalan photographer José Domingo Noriega. The archive’s 928 wet-plate collodions tend to focus on religious imagery, monuments, rituals, celebrations, and everyday life in Antigua. Reminiscent of the work of German photographer August Sander, the archive’s series of portraits single out Guatemalan social and religious elites as well as different social strata in Antigua, elaborating an intriguing social topography of the city at the time.
CIRMA’s third collection, the historical archive, consists of more than five million documents spanning five centuries, with an emphasis on contemporary history. Retrieved from the private archives of families, researchers, and institutions, the archive’s aim is to cover different viewpoints on a variety of events throughout Guatemalan history.
While CIRMA is still recovering, organizing, and conserving its collections, it also seeks to make its archives available for education purposes, both inside and outside its facilities. The center organizes specific courses to diffuse good conservation and archival management practices and conducts workshops and internships for photography conservation students. CIRMA also participates in Guatefoto Festival and helps organize photography exhibitions in collaboration with other spaces.
CIRMA not only benefits from an incredible setting with breathtaking views on Antigua’s volcano, but it also enjoys the company of some interesting little creatures: three wild ducks (pijijes), inhabit and animate the center’s garden.
Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (São Paulo, Brazil)
The Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (IAC) was founded in 1997 with the aim of preserving and promoting the works of modern and contemporary Brazilian artists, especially those who contributed to geometric, constructive, concrete, and neo-concrete abstraction. As part of its ongoing mission to encourage research in the field, the IAC established a documentation and research center in 2006 to preserve, catalogue, and give public access to these artists’ personal archives. While the IAC initiated its collection with the personal collections of only two artists—Sergio Camargo and Willys de Castro—it soon realized it had the potential to include and oversee the archives of other important artists such as Amilcar de Castro, Sérvulo Esmeraldo, Lothar Charoux, and Luis Sacilotto. The institute’s collection rapidly expanded, incorporating not only items gathered and produced by the artists themselves, but also material created by others about these artists.
IAC’s archives now hold about 26,000 items centered around those artists, and include materials such as correspondence with artists, family, friends, and institutions; documentation about exhibitions and publications; press clips and reviews; as well as seminar and symposia programs. Their collection also consists of other original items such as certificates, prizes, and awards; contracts with galleries; poems; receipts; photographs; posters; invitations; film scripts; studies for works; sketches; notes; and even molds for works, as well as books that belonged to the artists. By accumulating such a wide range of material, the center has become a great resource for the study of Brazilian artistic and cultural history from the second half of the 20th century.
Marilucia Bottallo, IAC’s Technical Director, notes that more and more archival material is shown in both museums and galleries with a status similar to that of works of art. In the same vein, the institute treats every piece of information equally. Bottallo, for example, points out that while some items such as tickets or old phone books can seem unimportant, they do “help a trained researcher to compose a coherent evaluation of the artist’s work.” As a result, IAC’s database combines archival and museum management systems and treats “every document as a museum does—individually.” Its archives are organized in an easily navigable online database, allowing researchers to access them from anywhere in the world.
In fact, the IAC has been committed to making its collection as accessible as possible. Not only has it worked on digitizing many of its items, but it also offers one on one help to researchers visiting its documentation center. Conceived as a means of opening up the collection to a broader audience, the institute also keeps up an engaging exhibition program in its public gallery, for which free guided tours are regularly organized. In 2014, the IAC organized The Living Archive of Sérvulo Esmeraldo, an exhibition that displayed engravings, studies, objects, and works from the kinetic artist’s archive.
Last spring, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Brazilian artist Willys de Castro’s birth, the IAC, in collaboration with curator Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, brought together fifteen of de Castro’s Objetos Ativos in an exhibition titled Side by Side - Willys de Castro. Alongside these works, the IAC displayed a selection of texts and poems, for the most part unpublished, by the neo-concrete artist. These items served to complement and expand on issues raised by the Objetos Ativos series. Parallel to its exhibition program, the IAC publishes catalogues, anthologies with texts by artists and curators, as well as research completed at the center based on the IAC’s holdings.
Important to the IAC is the notion that history cannot be understood from a single perspective. Through its dynamic educational activities, the institute not only seeks to communicate information about the artists whose archives they hold, but above all, it works to promote discussion about those artists’ ideas. Central to these dialogues is the awareness that a variety of sources can be used to make sense of the past, and that historical analysis can stem from scholars’ individual as well as collective experiences
-I-D-A is a project that originates from a shared interest between two friends, Wustavo Quiroga and Raúl Naón. By virtue of their common taste for concrete and modern art, Quiroga and Naón decided to put together a small collection of Argentine design, which would include about fifteen chairs and objects. While studying those designs, the two realized the absence of any major project devoted to the preservation and research of design in Argentina. As a result, in 2013, they established –I-D-A, a platform dedicated to the conservation, classification, and promotion of a neglected topic in the study of Argentine culture: its design history and heritage.
-I-D-A’s material foundation consists of a heterogeneous collection of archives and objects. In regard to its holdings, Quiroga explains that they are interested in "bringing together elements that can describe a relevant project or moment, whatever their format may be: writings, maps, molds, sketches, production processes, photographic records, mock-ups, as well as their products, which range from items of clothing or textiles to graphic works." Design, at -I-D-A, is understood as going beyond typical categorizations by discipline or medium. In the same vein, -I-D-A regards its archives as a means to emphasize context, process, and change in the reading of design. As Quiroga underlines, -I-D-A’s interest lies in "traceability, process, outcomes, social gain, identity: in thinking about material culture in a broad sense."
In the early phase of collection building, -I-D-A started by identifying key moments and milestones in the history of Argentine design. Once those were established, the relevant designers and estates were contacted to participate in the project. As a result, -I-D-A developed a broad network, through which the archive receives new information and materials. Similarly, its staff members each bring their own area of expertise to the project; while some specialize in conservation, others have a background in theory, industrial design, graphic design and communication, or clothing and textile.
The core of -I-D-A’s collection is comprised of materials and works by modern artists and designers. Those include, for instance, holdings related to the agency “Axis,” founded by Carlos Méndez Mosquera and Tomás Maldonado, and Krayd Gallery, an interdisciplinary experiment in which Alfredo Hlito, Tomás Gonda, and musician Francisco Kröpfl participated. The archives also hold some of César Jannello’s furniture and documentation of the Feria de América, an industrial fair that took place in Mendoza in 1954. Other institutions and artists represented in the collection are the Instituto Torquato Di Tella, the Instituto de Diseño Industrial, the CIDI (Centro de Investigación en Diseño Industrial), and Argentine designers abroad.
In the last two years, -I-D-A has collaborated with Patrick Charpenel on a photographic project during arteBA, as well as with MALBA, on a series of conferences titled Material Ideas, Art and Design in the 1960s. Currently, -I-D-A is working with curator Jorge Rivas on an exhibition about Argentine design, which will open in New York in 2018. As Quiroga emphasizes, this will be "the first time that processes and works will be shown within a historical framework, and abroad."
Located in a beautiful 19th-century building in the historical district of Guatemala City, YAXS is recent project led by Paulina Zamora that aims to encourage and promote artistic production and art historical research in Guatemala. In addition to organizing artist residencies, workshops, seminars, and educational activities for children and teens, YAXS houses the first comprehensive library dedicated to the study of contemporary Guatemalan art. The idea for a Documentation Center came to Zamora’s mind in 2011 when she was looking for artists’ manifestos online. While she managed to find a copy of the 1969 Manifesto Vértebra—the only written manifesto in the history of Guatemalan art—she could only lay her hands on a reprint from 1970, not on the original. This prompted Zamora to create YAXS’s Documentation Center, a place where all documents related to contemporary Guatemalan art could be found under one roof to guarantee their preservation and transmission to future generations.
Since then, YAXS has been building a large library, and recovering many private collections, including those of artists and other individuals who participated either directly or indirectly in important moments and events in the history of Guatemalan art from the 1960s to the present day. Collaborating at first with distinguished Guatemalan art historian and curator Rosina Cazali to identify and locate sources, YAXS developed an archive which now holds 4,000 books, 100 boxes filled with documents, and a countless number of digitized files. Some of these include, for example, a complete archive of artist Aníbal López’s works, or images of posters made by the designer and artist Daniel Schafer. Today, YAXS is in the process of organizing and digitizing retrieved files, sometimes adding summaries and critical commentaries to certain documents. The Foundation is also constantly collecting publications from independent publishing houses in Guatemala and is currently seeking to expand its collection by working with the archives of both the National General Library and the Fine Arts Academy’s library.
While YAXS makes accessible all the necessary material to activate new research related to contemporary Guatemalan art—providing resources to both national and international audiences—Zamora believes that individuals with an interest in the field should physically visit the space to conduct research. Emphasizing the value of a local setting, she insists that curators, critics, and other art professionals would benefit from the location, and consequently be able to better contextualize their work and writing.
I wish to thank the following staff for their insightful comments:
Sol Henaro from the Arkheia Documentation Center MUAC UNAM; Andrew Kensett from the CCP; Guisela Asensio, Luisa Escobar, Thelma Porres, and Anaís García from CIRMA; Marilucia Bottallo and Cristiane Bloise from the IAC; Wustavo Quiroga from -I-D-A; Bayardo Blandino and Verónica Romero from CAVC/MUA; Paulina Zamora from Fundación YAXS; as well as Jerónimo Duarte-Riascos, Pablo Helguera, and Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro.
 CIRMA organizes internships and workshops with students from the Diplomado en Fotografía de La Fototeca International and the Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management Program at Ryerson University in Canada.
 These include the 2015 exhibition “De Kaminaljuyú a la nueva Guatemala de la Asunción,” organized in collaboration with the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, the Museo Miraflores, and the Centro de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos (CEMCA), as well as the show “Muybridge y su viaje por Guatemala,” which also took place in 2015.
 Marilucia Bottallo, e-mail interview, October 2016.
 The title for the show is derived from an unpublished poem by Willys de Castro.
 Wustavo Quiroga, e-mail interview, October 2016. Originally: ‘reunir elementos que puedan describir un proyecto o episodio relevante, cualquiera sea el formato: escritos, planos, moldes, bocetos, procesos de producción, registros fotográficos, maquetas, prototipos, como así también sus resultados, que van desde prendas de indumentaria o textiles hasta piezas gráficas.’ Translation: author’s own.
 Ibid. Originally: ‘la trazabilidad, el proceso, los resultados, el beneficio social, la identidad: pensar ampliamente la cultura material.’ Translation: author’s own.
 -I-D-A is now working on a book based on these conferences.
 Quiroga, op.cit. Originally: ‘la primera vez que se presentarán procesos y piezas dentro de un marco histórico y en el exterior.’ Translation: author’s own.
 The Manifesto Vértebra was first published in the newspaper El Imparcial in 1969. The 1970 reprint was that of the magazine Alero of the Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala. The original copy is now located in the Historical Archive of CIRMA (previously mentioned in this article) and in La Hemeroteca Nacional de Guatemala.