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Curators create Latinx Initiative at DePaul Art Museum

Multi-year effort includes research, exhibitions and community-building

​​Artist Melissa Leandro; DePaul Art Museum director and chief curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm; artist Jenelle Esparza; assistant curator Mia Lopez; and artist Dianna Frid gathered at the “Remember Where You Are” exhibition at DePaul Art Museum, 2019 (DePaul Art Museum/Madeline Rosemurgy)
Artist Melissa Leandro; DePaul Art Museum director and chief curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm; artist Jenelle Esparza; assistant curator Mia Lopez; and artist Dianna Frid gathered at the “Remember Where You Are” exhibition at DePaul Art Museum, 2019 (DePaul Art Museum/Madeline Rosemurgy)
As a small but mighty influencer in the world of contemporary art, DePaul Art Museum is launching a Latinx Initiative to increase the visibility of Latinx artists in Chicago and across the U.S. The museum has gained a reputation for highlighting the works of diverse and underrepresented artists. The multi-year effort will include curatorial research and exhibitions as well as collection- and community-building. 

“The goal is to change art history, to make sure that the range of artists and experiences in the United States in 2020 are adequately represented in our collection and exhibitions," says Julie Rodrigues Widholm, the museum's director and chief curator. “We want to expand not just representation, but participation so that everyone feels empowered to be a contributor to contemporary culture," says Widholm. 

While the demographics of the country have changed, the works shown on museum walls have stayed mostly the same, explained Widholm. Nearly one third of Chicago's population is Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Latinx artists — those of Latin American heritage living and working in the United States — have been largely absent in modern and contemporary art museums in this country," Widholm says. She was named “Chicagoan of the Year in Museums" by the Chicago Tribune in 2019. 

The Latinx Initiative will be interwoven into the museum's programming throughout the next three years, with the goal of creating a strong foundation for this work to continue at the museum well into the future. 

“We want to fill in art historical omissions and engage with contemporary Latinx artists in order to create long-term opportunities for the preservation, study and display of their work," Widholm adds. 

DePaul Art Museum
Artist Edra Soto created the site-specific installation “Graft” in 2018 on the façade of DePaul Art Museum. (Image courtesy of DePaul Art Museum)

Connecting with the community 

DePaul Art Museum recently welcomed two Latinx members to its advisory board: Maria Castro, regional external affairs manager at Comcast, and Chicago-based artist Rodrigo Lara. Additionally, the museum will organize a Latinx Community Council to provide guidance and counsel on efforts related to the initiative. 

“As one of the newest board members to this incredible museum, I want to help spread the word about the exciting space being offered to artists of color within our local communities," Castro says. “Chicago is a cultural mosaic of people, and it is important that the museum reflect the people of this city. It is a sleeping giant ready to be awakened." 

The museum also has partnered with DePaul's Department of Latin American and Latino Studies to strengthen the impact of the Latinx Initiative on campus. This interdisciplinary department explores the broad dynamics shaping Latin American and Latino experiences and serves to deepen Latino/a/x students' awareness of their cultural heritage. 

“Latinx art and artists have long been marginalized both within the academy and in art museums across the United States," says Lourdes Torres, a professor at the university. “This bold new initiative promises to shed much-needed light on the amazing work produced by Latinx artists from Chicago and beyond." 

Eric Garcia DPAM
An installation view of “Eric J. Garcia: The Bald Eagle’s Toupee,” an exhibition by a Latinx artist at DePaul Art Museum in 2019. (DePaul Art Museum/Madeline Rosemurgy)

Building on momentum and research 

The initiative exemplifies the museum's ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“We want to explore the diverse Latinx communities in Chicago and across the U.S. to examine how they are complex and contradictory, embodying the intersections of ethnicity, language, race, migration and colonization," Widholm says. 

DePaul Art Museum staff have already begun research by attending Latinx Arts Sessions at the Pérez​ Art Museum Miami and presenting at Latino Art Now in Houston. Future efforts include local and national studio visits and curatorial exchanges, research and writing on Latinx works in the museum's collection and community conversations. 

In recent years, the museum presented exhibitions featuring Latinx artists including “Firelei Baez: Vessels of Genealogies" and “Nexo/Nexus: Latin American Connections in the Midwest. " In 2019, the museum presented two exhibitions featuring Latinx artists: “Eric J. Garcia: The Bald Eagle's Toupee" and “Remember Where You Are", which includes the work of four emerging artists based in San Antonio and Chicago: Jimmy James Canales, Jenelle Esparza, Melissa Leandro and Emilio Rojas. 

Looking ahead the museum will debut “LatinXAmerican" in fall 2020, when the entire museum will be dedicated to an exhibition of Latinx and Latin American work primarily drawn from the museum's collection and new acquisitions. The exhibition will explore social, cultural, political and artistic themes among Latinx and Latin American artists from the last 100 years. 

“In many ways, conversations we are having today about identity, race and class can be traced back for centuries, and have remained the subject of creative inquiry for artists and scholars alike," says Mia Lopez, the museum's assistant curator. 

Yvette Mayorga
Yvette Mayorga’s “A Vase of the Century 1 (AfterCentury Vase c. 1876)” is a new acquisition of the DePaul Art Museum in 2020 as part of the Latinx Initiative. (Photo courtesy of Yvette Mayorga)

The museum also will seek to expand its holdings of work by Latinx and Latin American artists, building on work currently represented in the collection. Just this month, the museum's board approved two new acquisitions by Latinx artists: “A Vase of the Century 1 (After Century Vase c. 1876)" by Yvette Mayorga, and “fossil things" by Melissa Leandro. The collection includes 19th- and early 20th-century photography by artists such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Robert Hernandez and Martín Chambi. Photographs included in the collection capture historical impressions of Latin America, for example a photograph of the Zapatista Riots in Mexico and a photograph of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. 

The collection also includes etchings, paintings and mixed media​​ works by Latin American and U.S. based artists from the 1930s to the present: Diego Rivera, José Bedia, José Bernal, José Guerrero, Luis Jiménez, Ester Hernandez, Derek Webster, Enrique Chagoya, Vincent Valdez, Bibiana Suárez, Graciela Iturbide, Vik Muniz, Angel Otero, Dianna Frid and Harold Mendez, among others. 

For more about the Latinx Initiative, visit DePaul Art Museum's website.