Guatemala from 33,000 km: Contemporary Art, 1960 – Present

Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (MCASB) with Guest Curator, Emiliano Valdés, Guatemala from 33,000 km: Contemporary Art, 1960-Present brings together works that have rarely been seen beyond Guatemala, but that speak to a range of formal, political, and social concerns that permeate contemporary art both in Latin America and throughout the globe. This exhibition marks the first ever in-depth commitment to the study of Guatemalan art in the late 20th and early 21st century, bringing innovative and visually arresting works produced by Guatemalan artists to a public audience in the United States and abroad.

With the support of the Getty’s Fall 2017 initiative, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, Guatemala from 33,000 km features artwork in a range of media, tracing the tumultuous route that has traversed the history of Guatemala since 1960. Pursuing the development of art in Guatemala is fundamental not only to understanding today’s production but also in the unveiling of practices and oeuvres that have largely remained underexposed. Political, infrastructural, and economic issues have acted as barriers to the study of art in Guatemala, preventing widespread knowledge of the innovative, perceptive, and aesthetically intriguing artworks that this exhibition compiles.

The exhibition includes over 70 artworks, occupying approx. 8,000 square feet which in Santa Barbara will be installed in 3 venues: MCASB, Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art at Westmont College, and Santa Barbara Community Arts Workshop. It is structured around clusters or groups of works that represent central ideas, themes, and media that have been pivotal in Guatemala’s art over the last 50+ years. Spanning different moments and generations, both the works and the clusters are interconnected and often an artist that is included in one chapter could also be part of another so that the exhibition is not installed by clusters, but orchestrated in a way that highlights the multiple connections that exist between the works and the threads. The exhibition will generate a breadth of concerns that illuminate patterns of development in Guatemalan modern and contemporary art for the past 50 years. The clusters are mainly thematic, although a chapter is dedicated to works that through formal and technical experimentation have contributed to the advancement of artists’ production in the country. The exhibition understands Guatemalan modern and contemporary art as made up--seamlessly--of works that range from a strict Western art-historical narrative to local notions of art (so called naïf or otherwise) as well as artists that stand on the meeting point of these traditions.

The clusters are:

    This group of works looks at the way artists from different generations have looked at the 36-year civil war and its consequences from multiple points of view, formal approaches, and ideological positions.
    This cluster examines the complex relationship between landscape, land and territory; from some of the core issues behind the war (such as a land reform proposal by former president Jacobo Árbenz and the expropriation of land from UFCO) to the fundamental role landscape plays in the construction of Guatemala’s collective imaginary and country-brand.
    This cluster groups together artists that, working from a Western art-historical perspective, have paid particular attention to indigenous and vernacular culture as well as artists from indigenous backgrounds working within the canons of a Western contemporary art field. Within this framework, this group of works look at both the indigenous as well as the “ladino” popular culture emphasizing the country’s coexistence of these two –often antagonizing– cultural heritages and ways of understanding the world. With one of the strongest traditions in Latin America, the textile craftsmanship has influenced many generations of artists, both directly and as a result of its appealing colors and harmonic geometric compositions, forms and widespread circulation as a cultural hallmark.
    This section seeks to understand the idea of a possible Guatemalan identity from the perspective of the clash of cultures involving the indigenous groups and the smaller but historically more powerful–through subjugation–ladino (mixed European-descended) population. The cluster includes a series of works that address the historically conflicting racial division (and the consequent multi-directional racism) of the Guatemalan people.
    Because of the deep influence of both native Mayan cosmology as well as “imported” religions such as Catholicism and the more recent proliferation of Evangelical churches in daily life, the exhibition includes a group of works that delves into the spiritual and its relation to a broader cultural scenario.
    This group of works looks at how rights related to gender and the body have been expressed through artistic practice in recent years to some extent through the dialogue with foreign artists. It also looks at dissident practices that have surged from an empirical rather than theoretical understanding of gender theory or activism.
    This cluster features the responses of artists to the violence that subsists and thrives in Guatemala both as a consequence of the long civil war as well as of the continuation of wider historical narrative plagued with violence (from the Spanish conquest to the military governments of the XX century). Works in this group evaluate the role that State and socially instigated violence has affected life in Guatemala over the last half century.
    This cluster acknowledges the existence of more than one art-historical narrative and includes works that, in the spirit of institutional critique, refer to local or global art, art history or the work of other artists as prime matter for creation. This involves artists working with publications, reference to artists, or parallel and unrecognized local arts productions and practitioners.
    Works in this chapter have contributed to the renovation of the technical and formal development of artistic practice in Guatemala during the last half century, touching fields such as geometric abstraction and the use of industrial materials in sculpture. The group recognizes how, despite a strong tendency towards narrativity and socially informed art, formal experimentation has been, from different perspectives, an important component of Guatemalan art history.


Major support for Guatemala from 33,000 km is provided through grants from the Getty Foundation.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Supported by grants from the Getty Foundation, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA takes place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California, from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.

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