By Erica Benken

On September 12, the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) will open a freshly re-envisioned installation of works from its expansive, 8,000-work Latin American Popular Art collection. The presentation is the first major reinterpretation of the collection since 1998 and marks an important transition from a more traditional ethnographic exploration of the works to one that is centered on shared human histories and experiences. This includes the shift toward using “popular art” rather than “folk art” to describe the collection, as a more faithful translation of the Spanish term for the genre and one that embraces a wider array of Latin American material culture. The new installation, and the broader reexamination of the collection, are being led by Lucía Abramovich, Associate Curator of Latin American Art, who joined the museum in June 2019.

SAMA’s Latin American Popular Art collection first garnered international recognition several decades ago, when the Museum received two important gifts of art: the Nelson A. Rockefeller Mexican Folk Art Collection and the Robert K. Winn Folk Art Collection. Over the past thirty-five years, the Museum has continued to grow the collection, making it among the most in-depth and varied public collections of Latin American Popular Art in the United States. SAMA is also home to extensive collections of pre-Columbian art, colonial Latin American art, and modern and contemporary Latin American art, allowing for robust study and presentation of Latin American art through time and across culture and experience.

The new Latin American Popular Art gallery will feature approximately 140 works of art, including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, masks, and toys, among other objects. While prior presentations have focused on more traditional thematics such as the utility, ceremonial use, and decorative aspects of the objects, the new installation will explore the works within and across artistic trajectories, as part of living traditions, and as relevant to ongoing and contemporary aesthetic and social dialogues. Among the specific themes included are “Life, Death, and Faith,” “Legacies of Craftsmanship,” and “Evolving Traditions.” The gallery will also include context and background on the development of the collection at SAMA, framing it within broader discussions on the collection and study of Latin American art. To promote inclusivity and to embrace the diverse population of South Texas, all of the didactic materials will be presented in both English and Spanish.

“Popular Art refers to artwork that is made by and for the people. As such, any exhibition of this work must explore and reflect the complexity of experiences that yielded it, from the response to colonization, to the sacred and communal traditions passed through generations, and to creative engagement with contemporary social and political circumstances. The reinstallation of our collection captures some of these motivations and contexts, while also highlighting the incredible artistry and craftsmanship of the works,” said Abramovich. “With the re-opening of the gallery, we look forward to both connecting with our community and inspiring further study and discussion of the ongoing significance and relevance of this genre.”