In the past, we have seen that corporate wealth and a love for the arts and antiquities have come together to establish some of our most preeminent cultural institutions. We can look at the Rockefellers and the Museum of Modern Art, J.P. Morgan and the Museum of Metropolitan Art, the Guggenheims, Carnegie Hall, and the list goes on. But we could also look all the way back to the Babylonian Princess Ennigaldi-Nanna, who in the 6th century B.C. established a museum of artifacts in order to promote the cultural heritage of her wealthy and powerful empire. The rise of wealth and power is often coupled with the desire to collect and promote the cultural artifacts of its past. Therefore, it is no surprise that the internet giant Google has created the Google Cultural Institute, a digital collection of pristine visuals from the interiors of the world’s most celebrated museum galleries and exhibitions. It truly is a world tour through art from the seat of your chair, and part of its Art Project takes us to the incredible Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Los Angeles.
Within this clean, super easy-to-use digital archive that slides horizontally along a white backdrop (strongly reminiscent of the bleach white-walled rooms in many galleries), you will see the Venezuelan optical art by Cruz-Diez, the humorous installations of Cuba’s duo, Los Carpinteros, and work by Mexico’s prized fine artist of the 20th century, Rufino Tamayo. But you will also find the art of Kcho, also known as Alexis Leyva Machado, and his sublime use of minimalism in his Untitled (As if it were a swing) (Sin título – como si fuera comlumpio).
When you click on the photograph of a given work, a tab that reads “Details” will be positioned in the top left corner of the screen. You can explore the particulars of each piece by navigating through that tab and return to the gallery for more works.
You can even have the students add the works they like to create their very own custom gallery by clicking the “+” sign near the top of the page. In this way, the students can act as curators of their own digital gallery. Perhaps an in-class activty might be for each to pick a Latin American country or region and curate their own gallery around that. On the homepage of the MOLAA, you can see on the left a menu of tabs that include “created by” and “medium”. Within these tabs students can explore works organized by artists, the type of material, date and place of creation, and much more.
Our featured artists today, Kcho, was born on the Isla de los Pinos, Cuba, in 1970, and is also known by his full name, Alexis Leyva Machado. He is a sculptor and mixed-media artist, heavily influenced by the work of American Bruce Nauman, and often bases his forms around boats. He frequently uses found materials, creating a windswept, scavenged ascetic that reminds me of a beach littered with a mix of organic and plastic debris. Above all, this activity is an opportunity for students to explore Latin America through the ways in which it is represented in cultural institutions across the globe, and to discuss the ways in which Latin American art gets appropriated to the “white walls” of cosmopolitan galleries.