Urbes Mutantes: Latin American Photography 1944–2013 @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing 287 photographic works (both black and white and color) by 96 different Latin American photographers/artists, variously framed and matted, and hung against grey walls in a series of interconnected rooms on the lower level of the museum. The images were made between 1944 and 2013 (although most come from the period between the 1950s and the 1980s) by photographers from 8 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela). All of the prints come from the private collection of Leticia and Stanislas Poniatowski. The exhibit was previously shown at the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República in Bogota in 2013, and was co-curated by Alexis Fabry and María Wills. A catalog of the collection was recently published by RM (here) and Toluca Editions (here) and is available from the ICP bookshop (here).

The exhibit is divided into 9 thematic sections. The number of works on view (on walls and in cases) is detailed below, by titled grouping:

  • Living Walls: 37 prints, with 1 case containing 4 books and 3 magazine spreads
  • Night Life: 20 prints, with 1 case containing 4 books and 1 contact sheet
  • The Forgotten Ones: 16 prints, with 1 case containing 7 books
  • The People and Protest: 17 prints, with 1 case containing 6 books
  • Pop Street Culture: 36 prints, with 1 case containing 6 books
  • I Want to Be Me: 32 prints, with 1 case containing 6 books
  • Displacements: 20 prints, with 1 case containing 1 unfolded book
  • Identities: 62 prints (including 1 grid of 25), with 1 case containing 9 books
  • Urban Geometries: 47 prints, with 2 cases containing 7 books and 1 contact sheet

The following photographers/artists have been included in the show:

  • Carlos Altamirano
  • Francis Alÿs
  • Yolanda Andrade
  • Alexander Apostol
  • Ever Astudillo
  • Gertjan Bartelsman
  • Luz María Bedoya
  • Lázaro Blanco
  • Enrique Bostelmann
  • Alfredo Boulton
  • Barbara Brändli
  • Marcelo Brodsky
  • Ivan Cañas
  • Bill Caro
  • Armando Cristeto
  • Marco Antonio Cruz
  • Geraldo de Barros
  • Milagros de la Torre
  • Facundo de Zuviría
  • Carlos Domínguez
  • El Grupo
  • Paz Errázuriz
  • Roberto Fantozzi
  • Thomaz Farkas
  • León Ferrari
  • José A. Figueroa
  • Roberto Fontana
  • Fernell Franco
  • Flavia Gandolfo
  • Héctor García
  • Paolo Gasparini
  • Eduardo Gil
  • Maya Goded
  • Daniel González
  • Lourdes Grobet
  • Pablo Hare
  • Álvaro Hoppe
  • Helen Hughes
  • Graciela Iturbide
  • Ricardo Jiménez
  • Alberto Korda
  • Toni Kuhn
  • Sergio Larrain
  • Adriana Lestido
  • Eduardo Longoni
  • Nacho López
  • Héctor López
  • Marcos López
  • Rosario López
  • Pablo López Luz
  • German Lorca
  • Jorge Macchi
  • Sameer Makarius
  • Agustín Martínez Castro
  • Los Hermanos Mayo
  • Enrique Metinides
  • Pedro Meyer
  • Cristián Montecino
  • Marcelo Montecino
  • Rodrigo Moya
  • Al Mundy
  • Saúl Orduz
  • Gabriel Orozco
  • Pablo Ortiz Monasterio
  • Daniel Pajuelo
  • Adolfo Patiño
  • Claudio Pérez
  • Claudio Perna
  • María Cecilia Piazza
  • Óscar Pintor
  • Jaime Rázuri
  • Antonio Reynoso
  • Miguel Rio Branco
  • Victor Robledo
  • Herbert Rodríguez
  • Miguel Ángel Rojas
  • Leon Ruiz
  • Jesús Ruiz Durand
  • Armando Salas Portugal
  • Armando Salgado
  • Herman Schwarz
  • Vladimir Sersa
  • TAFOS
  • Susana Torres
  • Nicolas Torres
  • Juan Travnik
  • Sergio Trujillo
  • Mauricio Valenzuela
  • Jorge Vall
  • José Luís Venegas
  • Yvonne Venegas
  • Leonora Vicuña
  • Eduardo Villanes
  • Jaime Villaseca
  • José Yalenti
  • Guillermo Zamora

(Installation shots below, ©International Center of Photography; photographs by John Berens.)

Comments/Context: When we try to make sense of the vast sweep of photographic history, genre categorization is one of our handiest tools for creating subsets of work that share common subject matter. Landscape, still life, nude, portraiture, fashion, abstraction, they’re all labels we routinely apply to various kinds of photography. When we go one step further and add a geographic modifier to the front of any one of these thematic groups, we get a regionally tuned variant (African portraiture, Asian nude, American landscape, European still life) that plays within the boundaries of the genre, but brings its own particular aesthetic to bear. We can then step back and compare how different continents or countries have modified a standard artistic approach, uncovering similarities and differences based on underlying influences, from architecture and geography to ethnic makeup, social patterns, and political systems.

This sprawling exhibit takes Latin American street photography (with a bit of urban social documentary work thrown in for good measure) as its sandbox, and gathers together work in this category from roughly seventy years and eight countries. Given the diversity of the nations thrown together under this Latin America umbrella, a broad compendium like this one quickly risks becoming unwieldy and unmanageable, so curators Alexis Fabry and María Wills have added another layer of separation, dividing the photographs into nine thematic groupings that are more easily digestible. These run the gamut from classic found forms (peeling walls, architectural geometries, vernacular advertising, and shopfront windows) to the passions and personalities of city inhabitants (nightlife, poor/marginalized people, protests/events, and ethnic minorities). Each section is its own mini exhibit, providing a cross section of imagery from multiple countries.

For those steeped in the traditions of American, European, or Japanese street photography, this exhibit will feel like the opening of a door to a surprising parallel universe, where the visual cues are often familiar, but the names and places have all changed. Torn poster abstractions (Sergio Trujillo), bricked up windows (Jaime Villaseca), passengers framed in bus windows (Gertjan Bartelsman), shop window logos (Facundo de Zuviría), all of these common tropes are here, but in unexpected iterations. Geometric patterns are found in security gates (Pablo López Luz) and bumpy “fat corners” of adjacent walls (Rosario López), snapshots are taken through car windows capturing Caracas as it rolls by (Ricardo Jiménez), and fleeting “decisive moment” ironies of passersby and background billboards/store windows are culled from the chaos of the street (Paolo Gasparini, Jorge Vall) – we’ve seemingly seen it all before, and yet we haven’t.

Where Latin American street photography starts to diverge from its better known brethren is in its depiction of the complex lives of its urban inhabitants. Rallies, protests, and outright violence bring feverish action to the streets, from the flaming torches of railway workers in Mexico (Héctor Garcia) to the rock throwing young men of Chile (Héctor López). Poverty has a more prominent face, with shirtless child laborers (Pablo Ortiz Monasterio) and sad stray dogs (Miguel Rio Branco) left to fend for themselves and find homes on the dirty sidewalks. And indigenous peoples are challenged to fit in, forced to lighten their skin to assimilate (Milagros de la Torre) while their Inca heritage is used to sell everything from cigarettes to candy bars (Susana Torres). While we may see an echo of Helen Levitt in a portrait of a child against a flaming mural (Yolanda Andrade), an homage to Irving Penn in a series of bicycle cart tradesmen (Leon Ruiz), or a glimmer of Christer Strömholm in transvestite portraits from Chile (Paz Errázuriz), the cultural specifics push us somewhere new, providing common subjects with a fresh perspective.

There is a wealth of superlative street photography on view here, much of it from names that deserve to be better recognized, and in the end, this introductory exposure is what this show really delivers. This exhibit is a much needed and well constructed primer, designed to tantalize and educate those of us who never knew what we were missing.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show, there are of course no posted prices, and given the nature of this broad survey, tracing the secondary market history of any one particular artist on view feels overly specific and likely nearly impossible for many of the more obscure names. As such, we’ll omit the usual auction/gallery discussion normally found here.

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Read more about: International Center of Photography (ICP Museum), Editorial RM, Toluca Editions

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