Paul Sierra: A Cultural Corridor (Exhibiton Catalog)
May 9 to October 9, 1998, The Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture, Los Angeles, CA
By: Denise Lugo
Director, The Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture, Los Angeles, CA
As Director of The Latino Museum of History Art and Culture (TLM), I am very proud to present Paul Sierra: A Cultural Corridor. This exhibition reflects the fundamental roots of TLM's Mission to present the diverse American Latino aesthetic sensibility-Latinismo-and to celebrate the contributions of Latin American Art.
Paul Sierra: A Cultural Corridor, an exhibition of approximately thirty large-scale landscape paintings, provides the Los Angeles public with the rare opportunity to view Paul Sierra's current body of work. A long time resident of Chicago, Illinois, Paul Sierra still carries the tropics in his heart and manipulates his palette with dreams based on his childhood memories of Cuba. Yet, his paintings are rooted within the landscape tradition of the American Hudson River School established by Thomas Cole (1901-1848). In Sierra's painting the traditional element of American Sublime gives way to Arthur Dove's (1880-1946) spiritual mysticism. This mysticism is based on traditional American Protestant iconoclasm. Sierra fights the cultural urge to incorporate religious figures and instead incorporates Dove's philosophical aesthetic that stirs the innate spiritual quest within his brushwork. This understated spirituality evokes awe. Consequently Paul Sierra represents a glimpse of 21st century art which combines a synthesis of two cultural aesthetic languages to create a new American Art.
My first notice of Paul Sierra and his work was in 1981, when I co-curated the exhibition entitled Aqui: 27 Latin American Artists Living and Working in the United States for Dr. Selma Holo, Director of Fisher Gallery at the University of Southern California. This exhibition became recognized as the first major national survey of Latino artists in the United States. The artists featured in Aqui are some of today's best known American artists. Paul Sierra was one of these artists along with Carlos Almaraz, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Anna Mendieta, Lilliana Porter, Alejandro Romero and Frank Romero.
Within a few years museums around the country began to exhibit American Latino artists. Unfortunately, these well-intentioned mainstream museum exhibitions placed American Latinismo within the "outside" folk-art discipline. These exhibitions fulfilled political agendas, but did little to promote and address the importance of presenting American Latino Art within American Art, and presenting Latin American Art with American Art History.
Latinismo and American Art
There are over twenty-five million Latinos currently living in the United States. As with earlier immigrants, American Latino artists (Latinos who live in the USA) continue to widen the scope of the American aesthetic vision. As the demographics shift in the United States, the importance of interpreting the experience of those who constitute the New Americans cannot be overemphasized.
Historically, the Spanish and Mexicans were the first Hispanic/Latino founders of the American Southwest culture, yet their aesthetic contributions have not been incorporated within American Art History. After the conquest of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), by the Spanish, they quickly moved to establish their Baroque Counter-Reformation Figurative Expressionism with Nueva Espana, the geographical areas of Mexico and the American Southwest. The Spanish arrival in the American Southwest preceded the English appearance on the East Coast by almost one hundred years.
From the beginning, Americans retained a strong nostalgic connection to European culture. This apparent cultural displacement along with the added religious freedom became the cultural blueprint for American Art. This Yankee blueprint soon conveyed the foundation of the formal Protestant creed. This American cultural grain is the foundation of American Art from the Minimalist Amish quilts to Contemporary abstract sensuality.
Pre-Columbian cultural is the fundamental cradle of the New World from the fourth millennium B.C. through the early sixteenth century A.D. The highly civilized Pre-Columbian cultures forged and created an aesthetic language diametrically opposed to Greco-Roman Classical idealism. Scholars can no longer mix apples and oranges, and apply European aesthetic bias to judge Latinismo created in the United States.
The geographical proximity of the United States to Mexico, Cuba and Latin America provides American Art with major cultural influences different from the art of early European immigrants. Historically speaking, European artists seem to have integrated into the American School and assimilated the Americanization process more easily than Mexican and Latin American artist. In the American Southwest, American Latino artists are overwhelmingly provided with Mexican/Latino influences innate within the popular environment and coupled with the constant incoming "fresh Latinismo culture". East Coast and New York cultural prejudice can no longer be used as the yard stick to aesthetically read Chicano/Latinismo or Latin American Art.
Hence, The Latino Museum recognizes it's responsibility to provide a museum context for the intellectual reinterpretation and cultural analysis of Latinismo, Latino in the United States (American Latino) and Latin American with Latin America proper.
American Art at the beginning of the 29th century on the East Coast, and New York City, was static, conservative and created with Puritanical piety. Modernism was introduced to America by way of the 1913 Armory Exhibition in New York City. As we move towards the 21st Century, another historical chapter of American Art is in the making. Spurred by a great migration, no longer concentrated in a few cities but existing throughout the United States, American Art is going through a major re-identification. There is a cultural revitalization of American Art comparable to that which created the roots of Modernism, Post Modernism and Contemporary aesthetics.
"The Armory Show was the greatest shock to me-the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work. All my immediately subsequent efforts went toward incorporating Armory Show ideas into my work." Stuart Davis, 1945 (Excerpts from the autobiographical monograph Stuart Davis.
Denise Lugo ©1998