Pan-American dreams : art, politics, and museum-making at the OAS, 1948-1976

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Wellen, Michael Gordon

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In the 1950s and 1960s, the Organization of American States (OAS), a multinational political organization headquartered in Washington, DC, attempted to mediate U.S.-Latin American political and cultural relations. This dissertation traces how, in the United States, Latin American art emerged as a field of art historical study and exhibition via the activities of the OAS. I center my analysis on José Gómez Sicre and Rafael Squirru, two prominent curators who influenced the circulation of Latin American art during the Cold War. Part I focuses on Gómez Sicre, who served as head curator at the OAS from 1946 to 1981 and who founded the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America in 1976. I offer an analysis of Gómez Sicre’s aesthetic tastes, contextualizing them in relation to his contemporaries Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Marta Traba, and Jorge Romero Brest. I also discuss his efforts to build a network of art centers across the Americas, indicating how his activities fed into a Cold War struggle around notions of the “intellectual.” Part II examines the activities of poet and art critic Rafael Squirru, who served as Director of Cultural Affairs of the OAS from 1963 to 1970 and who theorized Latin American art in terms of the “new man.” I reconstruct how the phrase “new man” became a point of ideological conflict in the 1960s in a battle between Squirru and his political rival, Ernesto Ché Guevara. Throughout this dissertation, I indicate how Gómez Sicre and Squirru framed modern art within different Pan-American dreams of future world prosperity, equality, and cooperation. By examining the socio-political implications behind those dreams, I reveal the structures and limits of power shaping their influence during the Cold War. My study concentrates on the period from the founding of the OAS in 1948 to the establishment of the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America in 1976, and I contend that the legacies of Pan-Americanism continue to affect the field of Latin American art today.




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