Home Arts How to Decolonize a Museum? Try an Ax.

How to Decolonize a Museum? Try an Ax.

by Jersey Lady

El Museo del Barrio has had its own internal struggle over whether to focus on its Nuyorican roots or represent the Latin American diaspora more broadly. But “Raphael Montañez Ortiz: A Contextual Retrospective” proves that at its best it can do both. This ambitious exhibition shines a spotlight on the museum’s founder, who, at age 88, continues to produce radical and compelling work. With this exhibition, Montañez’ Ortiz legacy should be cemented, both in his art and in the museum he started.

As I walked through the exhibition, I thought about the recent protests.Environmentalists in London are concerned about continued fossil fuel extraction and last year’s 10 week campaignthe “strike MoMA” claimed to link the activities of its board members there to war, the prison system, environmental degradation, patriarchal violence, and more.

The El Museo exhibition is part of a timely response to this ongoing turmoil in the museum world. But it’s also a reminder that all of this is nothing new. On the glass shelf in front of me was a photograph taken by Jan van Raay on May 2, 1970. Record of protests outside the Museum of Modern Art. Signs emerging from the crowd read, “Negro and Puerto Rican art must be here” and “Museum of Racism.”

Another May 6, 1970 New York Post news clipping shows a picture of a worried mother pushing a bassinet away from a tangle of NYU students. The headline “On Campus: Never Give Up” reveals that the scene is a guerrilla theater reenactment of the Kent State Massacre. A few days earlier, four of his unarmed students protesting against the Vietnam War were shot dead by American forces. Ohio National Guard.

Montañez Ortiz instigated the action and recruited student collaborators, along with Joan McIntosh and Richard Schechner of the Performance Group (the predecessor of the Worcester Group). Next to the news clipping is an entry from Montañez’s Ortiz’s “Blood and Flesh Guerrilla Survival Manual for His Theater” (1968), detailing how to procure animal blood from butchers. I had instructions.

As the subtitle suggests, this sets sculptor, performance artist, film and video artist Montañez Ortiz in history, both as obscure and as bold as Gordon Matta-Clark. It’s a “contextual retrospective”. Ana Mendieta, Faith Ringgold, Hermann Nitsch and his role as founder of El Museo del Barrio. Museum-wide exhibits about this little-known artist, who has taught art at Rutgers University for more than 50 years, include “Destruction,” “Decolonization and Guerrilla Tactics,” including photographs, clippings, and manuals. ), “Ethnic Aesthetics” and “Physio-Psycho-Alchemy”.

The spectacle of destruction dominates the Brooklyn-born artist’s early years. In his 1957-58 experimental short film “Golf”, he used a source on the subject of the title to puncture his film, disrupting the sound and making it appear as if the film was under attack by his golf ball. It overflowed the frame with white circles, as if it were

In 1958’s “Cowboys and ‘Indians'”, Montáñez Ortiz, who identifies as of Puerto Rican, Mexican and Native American descent, employs similar Dada tactics to produce a more sensitive personal and political work. I am producing.

He used a Tomahawk to randomly cut Western film, shuffled the pieces in a medicine bag, then spliced ​​the films together to create a shamanic remix. Debris is projected upside down, a chaotic mixture of sentimentality and violence laid bare. what constitutes a genre.

Destruction continues in a room full of what the artist calls his “archaeological finds.” Burnt or destroyed mattresses, sofas and chairs turned into wall-mounted sculptures. From 1961 to 1965, he was made around the same time that John Chamberlain was making sculptures of multicolored destroyed cars (and how Chamberlain cut a functional sofa out of a block of foam with a knife). many years before he started carving). On the walls, expect a sculptural installation of found objects by Nari Ward in shades of brown and gray.

Montañez Ortiz’s deconstruction process often emphasizes performance over the finished (or destroyed) object. The exhibition’s best performance record is a video recording of “Piano Destruction Concert: Humpty Dumpty Has Collapsed” recorded live at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1996. A peasant dress singing the part of Humpty Dumpty on a ladder. Montañez Ortiz provides the musical accompaniment for the lead role and takes his ax to the piano. One moment he rubs his ax blade against the exposed internal strings, the next he rhythmically chops up the structure of the piano, creating a dramatic and surprisingly musical performance. By dissecting the piano in the space of the Museum of American Art, Montañez Ortiz seems to hack into the stifling and systematized ideals of Western high culture.

Not all destruction. The exhibition’s curators, Rodrigo Moura and Julieta González, have chosen to present the works of Montáñez Ortiz alongside works by a variety of other artists, magnifying the importance of single objects in occurrence and dialogue. is created. Take, for example, his two bright feathered pyramid sculptures “Mayazemi I” and “Mayazemi II” (both his 1975), placed on table-like pedestals and painted by other artists. Surrounded by eclectic yet vibrant creations.

Zemi is a spiritual encapsulation sculpture in the tradition of the Taínos, an indigenous people of Puerto Rico. A display of pre-Columbian Taino artefacts is nearby, along with axes of various shapes. But so is the wonderful photographic triptych “Bird Transformation” (1972) by Cuban-born American artist Ana Mendieta. She covers the model’s body with white feathers and is bathed in moody lighting. Across the room is Unsettled Objects (1968-69) by German artist Lothar his Baumgarten, composed of 80 images of her from Pitt’s Rivers Museum in Oxford, England. Slide his show is playing. The slides are overprinted with the artist’s own text criticizing the role of anthropologists and archaeologists in colonization. especially, that museum Human remains, such as the famous Shuar’s Shrunken Heads (Tsantsa) collection, no longer appear.

Shaw’s standout work “Monument to the Sadistic Holocaust Destruction of Millions of Ancient Arawak Taino Latino Ancestors…” (2019-20) is also one of the artist’s most recent works. Like scaled-up Joseph Cornell boxes, the aggregate transforms thrift store finds into serious works of art. It is reminiscent of medieval Christian altarpieces. In the central scene, where we can find the figure of Christ on the cross, we instead have a blood-splattered skull, skeleton hands, and a collection of swords. (A closer look reveals that these materials are either toys or perhaps Halloween decorations.) A stuffed cheetah runs across the top of the central frame, and the wings of the altarpiece on either side show the Spanish Inset is a facsimile from an early printed book showing a torture scene. natives they encountered. (His late 17th-century edition of Bartolome de las Casas’s “Record of the First Voyages and Discoveries Made by the Spaniards in America”, sources for some of these images, It’s under the glass nearby. )

There are some clunky pieces here that spoil the whole thing. Especially his digital prints on vinyl from the late 1990s to his early 2000s. “Witch Hunt” (2007) looks more like a student poster reporting on the history of witch trials in colonial America than a work of art. Great video work worth catching.

As I left the museum, I thought about how recent and past protests against museums are also declarations of faith in their power, and how their cultural role is worth contesting. Activists at the MoMA and the Whitney Museum may be demanding “don’t colonize this place,” but Rafael Montañez his Ortiz, despite its emphasis on destruction has helped build uncolonized spaces for more than half a century. Though not perfect, in his retrospective El Museo del Barrio rivals these museums with art that is both challenging and rewarding while still making room for beauty and wonder.

Rafael Montañez Ortiz: A retrospective in context
Until September 11th. El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. 212-831-7272, elmuseo.org.

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