Cover image for The Americas Revealed: Collecting Colonial and Modern Latin American Art in the United States Edited by Edward J. Sullivan

The Americas Revealed

Collecting Colonial and Modern Latin American Art in the United States

Edited by Edward J. Sullivan


$69.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-07952-3

224 pages
8" × 10"
48 color/16 b&w illustrations
Co-published with The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection Studies in the History of Art Collecting in America

The Americas Revealed

Collecting Colonial and Modern Latin American Art in the United States

Edited by Edward J. Sullivan

“Together, [these] essays are persuasive in arguing that acquiring Latin American art in North America is a complex cultural endeavor profoundly shaped by ever-changing, fluctuating government agendas and political ideologies. Highly recommended.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
In The Americas Revealed, distinguished art historian and curator Edward J. Sullivan brings together a vibrant group of essays that explore the formation, in the United States, of public and private collections of art from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Americas.

The contributors to this volume trace the major milestones and emerging approaches to collecting and presenting Spanish Colonial and modern Latin American art by museums, galleries, private collections, and corporations from the late nineteenth to the twenty-first century. In chronicling the roles played by determined collectors from New York to San Francisco, the essays examine a range of subjects from MoMA’s mid-twentieth-century acquisition strategies to the growing taste on the West Coast for the work of Diego Rivera. They consider the impact of various political shifts on art collecting, from reactions against the “American exceptionalism” of the Monroe Doctrine to the aesthetic biases of government-sponsored art academies in Mexico, Rio de Janeiro, and Havana. The final three chapters focus on living collectors such as Roberta and Richard Huber, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, and Estrellita B. Brodsky.

A thorough and definitive account of the changing course of private and public collections and their important connection to underlying political and cultural relations between the United States and Latin American countries, this volume gives a rare glimpse into the practice of collecting from the collectors’ own point of view.

In addition to the editor, contributors to this volume are Miriam Margarita Basilio, Estrellita B. Brodsky, Vanessa K. Davidson, Anna Indych-López, Ronda Kasl, Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, Berit Potter, Mari Carmen Ramírez, Joseph Rishel, Delia Solomons, and Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt.

“Together, [these] essays are persuasive in arguing that acquiring Latin American art in North America is a complex cultural endeavor profoundly shaped by ever-changing, fluctuating government agendas and political ideologies. Highly recommended.”
“Edward Sullivan has long been at the forefront in championing Latin American art and its history in the United States. He is, therefore, the perfect person to edit a book on collecting Latin American art in this country. This is an entirely new, exciting, and useful contribution to a field that will no doubt welcome it with open arms.”
“Latin American art cannot be understood only from archives and national collections in Latin American countries; the institutional and private collections developed in the United States are fundamental. This book proves that with extraordinary excellence.”
“Edward Sullivan presents this topic with the updated perspective and intellectual enthusiasm that it needs to succeed in the newly configured relations between the United States and the rest of the Americas. How and why such collecting began in earnest and the cultural and political forces that sustained it are the topics of these deftly argued essays. The large and unwieldy concept of ‘the Americas’ is truly and convincingly ‘revealed’ through this sophisticated anthology. Original and engrossing.”
“In addition to its focus on the fascinating history of the collecting of Latin American art in the United States, this volume provides an illuminating study of its reception in American museums and private collections. Critical and insightful essays by art historians, curators, and collectors highlight key episodes in this engaging subject and provide essential background for today’s rapidly growing interest in the art of the region.”
The Americas Revealed provides a rich overview of the history of collecting Latin American art from the viceregal period to the present in the United States. The eleven chapters provide thought-provoking studies on a number of key institutions and individuals and their motives for collecting this material—personal, political, and economic. What emerges is a complex picture of an equally complex region. Despite numerous political contingencies and shifts in taste, as this volume eloquently shows, collecting and interpreting the art of Latin America has a long history in the United State that continues to reverberate today.”
“A wonderful starting point for the history and trends in Latin American art collecting in the United States.”
“Profusely and beautifully illustrated, and the bibliography serves as an updated reference, helping the reader to engage deeply with the topics addressed. It is undeniable that this book will become a great contribution for the classroom and an obligatory scholarly reference.”
“An impressive group of essays that for the first time frames a wider history of collecting Latin American art in the United States. It is an immensely useful scholarly volume.”

Edward J. Sullivan is Helen Gould Sheppard Professor of the History of Art at New York University. He is the author of more than thirty books and exhibition catalogues on Latin American and Caribbean art.


List of Illustrations

Foreword (Inge Reist)

Introduction: Acquisitive Passions: Observations on Collecting the Art of the Americas in the United States (Edward J. Sullivan)

1. Evolving Taxonomies at The Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s and ’40s and the Definitions of the “Latin American Collection” (Miriam Margarita Basilio)

2. Hot Styles and Cold War: Collecting Practices at MoMA and Other Museums in the Sixties (Delia Solomons)

3. The Philadelphia Story (Joseph Rishel)

4. Cargadores: Collecting Rivera, Mexican Modernism, and Bearing the Burdens of Historiography (Anna Indych-López)

5. An American Museum: Representing the Arts of Mexico at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Ronda Kasl)

6. Building a Model of Diversity: Grace McCann Morley and Collecting Modern Latin American Art in San Francisco (Berit Potter)

7. Inverted Strategies: An Exhibition as Matrix for a Permanent Collection (Mari Carmen Ramírez)

8. Beyond Mexico: The Evolution of the Phoenix Art Museum’s Latin American Collection (Vanessa K. Davidson)

9. Roberta and Richard Huber’s Adventures in Collecting (Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt)

10. Expanding Paradigms: The Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and the Changing Landscape of Latin American Art (Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro)

11. Collecting Latin American Art in the United States from New Spain to Today: A Life’s Story (Estrellita B. Brodsky)



List of Contributors


From the Introduction

Acquisitive Passions: Observations on Collecting the Art of the Americas in the United States

Edward J. Sullivan

Collecting anything represents its fetishization in the minds and eyes of those who possess the objects they covet. Objects take hold of the imagination.

They represent other things, situations, and persons. They carry with them a multitude of associations regarding circumstances and places. Objects may be artifacts that elicit memories, or they may be relics of ownership. Collecting may be as benign as gathering together souvenirs from past trips, or it may be an act weighted with meaning and freighted with memories that evoke desire, possession, and conquest. Collecting must be defined in many categories, from individual gatherings of anything from artifacts or documents to works that connote “artistic sensibility.” Collecting comprises the gathering of vestiges of long-disappeared cultures or things that were made yesterday.

In the distant past, what we understand as “collecting” was primarily a private occupation. Individuals used the means at their disposal to gather together objects of interest or rarity value to share with those around them, and to indicate their inquisitiveness as well as their monetary wherewithal to bring together a wide-ranging series of things displayed in discrete spaces that, in the European Renaissance, acquired the term “cabinets of curiosity.” At this same time, nation-states made claims to lands beyond their own territories, bolstering their authority and their mandates by bringing together artifacts and works of art that displayed the places and peoples who were conquered or subject to other forms of domination. By the late seventeenth century, museums were created to display such objects together with the fine arts.

By the twentieth century, financial entities such as banks and other commercial establishments entered into the quest to accumulate art to serve a variety of purposes, from the simple adornment of their offices to its use as a tool for promoting the accumulation of capital by its customers.

The above comments represent a very partial definition of collecting in a Western—European and North American — context. This volume is specifically concerned with the collecting of art from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Americas, including the Caribbean, in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the twenty-first. This book forms part of a series of studies about the history of collecting in the United States. But while the other volumes are primarily concerned with art from the so-called Western tradition (Renaissance art, Baroque art, Dutch painting, etc.), this volume deals with the history of collecting objects that, in a sense, form the end point of thousands of years of artistic creation and collecting. The arts of the post-Contact era to the period of independence for many of the American nations in the nineteenth century often represented an amalgam of typologies, forms, and styles imported from the dominant powers abroad. Yet colonial art made in the Americas could rarely be mistaken for anything fashioned in Europe. Indeed, we must understand colonial art as a distinct entity or classification within the genealogy of art history, broadly conceived. In our study of the breadth of what constitutes colonial art and architecture within the vast geographical areas that make up the Americas, we are constantly reminded that a large number of cultural forces and tensions from around the globe played into the creation of art from this region from about 1500 to the early nineteenth century.

While this book does not touch on the subject of the collecting of Pre-Columbian art, the collecting of arts from the era before European hegemony over the Americas began is often intertwined with that of more modern time periods. We should also remember that objects of art and material culture that characterized the civilizations vanquished by European powers, from Mesoamerica to the tip of South America as well as the Caribbean, continued to be fashioned after the collapse of the worlds of their creators and continued to be part of the new social and political order well into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This makes it imperative for us to weave this subject into the continuous and nonlinear narrative that is suggested here. I am thinking, for example, of some instances of Taíno spiritual objects called zemis; indigenous Mexican (Aztec, Zapotec, etc.) manuscripts, maps, and feather art; Inca kero cups specifically for drinking chichi, a liquor made from fermented purple corn; and many other examples of what are objects fashioned well after the 1492 moment whose importance survived the ravages of imperial devastation.

In terms of collecting the art of the Americas in the United States, gatherings of Pre-Columbian art in museums and private collections often went hand in hand with those of colonial and modern art from Latin America, especially in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Many institutions began their collections with Pre-Columbian art that was purchased, donated, or came as a result of archaeological excavations financed by museums and universities. The interest on the part of Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (1902 –1981), founding director and curator of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in art from the pre-Hispanic past as a foundational touchstone for expressions by twentieth-century artists is well known and serves as an integral link in the chain of relationships between the ancient and the modern in the Americas.

We cannot properly tell the story of collecting art from Latin America (a highly problematic, contested, and insufficient term to define its geographical reach, as has been indicated by many scholars, especially in the past two decades) without signaling that it started with the encounter between Europe and the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean (the quintessential and primal area of “cultural transfer,” as Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann might say, or “contact zone,” to use the term coined by literary critic Mary Louise Pratt) with the first of Christopher Columbus’s four journeys to the Americas, starting in 1492. Throughout the following two centuries numerous written and visual accounts, mostly highly fanciful and mainly created by European artists and writers who had never crossed the Atlantic, show the initial interactions of Europeans and indigenous persons as instances of exchange of objects: jewelry and ritual vessels on the part of the Americans, crosses, rosary beads, and decorative trinkets on the part of the Spaniards.

Good examples of this are the famous illustrations by Theodore de Bry (1528 –1598), who began to publish his most famous work, The Discovery of America (also known as Les Grands Voyages), in Frankfurt in the 1580s. This volume represents a substantial compendium of historical information provided by various explorers who had made the journey across the Atlantic. Some of the best-known prints created by De Bry (who had never traveled to the New World) represent Columbus’s initial confrontation with the Taíno of the island that became known as Hispaniola as one of greeting and exchange against a background depicting the raising of the cross by Spanish sailors.

The objects brought back to Spain to document and justify the journeys of conquest before the courts of King Ferdinand (1454 –1516) and Queen Isabella (1451–1504), and later Charles V (1500 – 1558), were the beginning of a great wave of imports of things that accrued worth and became objects of fascination for all who observed them. The description by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) of the gold of the Americas that he observed at the town hall of Brussels in 1520 is well known. For those who were able to collect the precious metals and stones, images of deities, textiles, manuscripts in the form of codices, and other commodities, they served as testimonies to the collector’s wealth and aspirations for global reach, whether in a commercial, religious, or landowning sense. Objects of wonderment from the Aztec, Maya, Inca, and other civilizations formed the bases of royal and noble collections as they were given as gifts from one royal house to another. Among the most renowned of these collections was that of the Medici, which included some of the most distinguished examples of ancient sculpture and other forms of art. Curiously, many of the Medici works, as well as those from other European Renaissance and Baroque collections, were reconfigured or dramatically changed to fit the aesthetic conventions of the time. Stone sculptures or jewelry of ancient American manufacture, for example, were transformed into fanciful objects that reflected the tastes of their European owners.

Collecting of Americana in Europe continued in the eighteenth century as the result of many Spanish expeditions, such as that led by José Celestino Mutis (1732 –1808) to the northern coast of South America (1783 –1808), during which myriad objects, among them new plant species, were transported back to Iberia. Yet it was the travels to the Caribbean and northern South America of the Prussian polymath Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and his companion the French naturalist Aimé Bonpland (1773 –1858) between 1799 and 1804 that forever changed the character of collecting objects of American provenance. As products of the Enlightenment, Humboldt and Bonpland concentrated their efforts on scientific observation. Their collections consisted of thousands of specimens of plants and other forms of natural life that formed, in part, the basis of Humboldt’s ample writings about his experiences, published in multiple volumes over the next twenty-one years. Yet Humboldt was also concerned with many forms of American antiquities and described at length the buildings of ancient peoples and indigenous artifacts in his texts.

Humboldt’s experiences stimulated further generations of travelers and collectors to journey to Latin America. The subject of traveler artists from both Europe and North America to what Humboldt called the “equinoctial regions” has elicited much interest recently in the form of books and, especially, exhibitions and their catalogues. The theme of traveler-recorders of the landscape, flora, and fauna of virtually every corner of the Americas, from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, is intimately linked to the subject of this book. By the mid-nineteenth century, many North Americans, especially artists from the United States, began to travel to Latin America and the Caribbean and recorded what they saw in paintings, drawings, and prints to illustrate books for the stay-at-home traveler who was becoming increasingly interested in the world beyond the border between the United States and Mexico. In addition, they also began collecting objects of all types that reflected the fascinating places they had visited. It should be remembered, as scholar Katherine Manthorne has reminded us in her numerous writings on the subject of nineteenth-century traveler artists, that these men, as well as a few women, made their journeys stimulated by the political rhetoric of the United States, which included the assertion of “American exceptionalism” and the Monroe Doctrine’s assumptions regarding the appropriateness of American expansionist aspirations.

Among the best-known travelers and collectors to venture to South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico was Frederic Edwin Church (1826 –1900), arguably the most famous artist of the Hudson River School and the promoter of grandly romantic views of sites as far-flung as upstate New York and New England, Jamaica, and the Andes of Ecuador and Colombia. Church was an obsessive collector of “exotica,” as he would have described it—objects from both ancient and modern times that attested to his presence in faraway places and his sense of metaphoric ownership of their cultural productions. Church’s many winter visits to Mexico after 1882 proved to be especially fruitful for his career as a collector. His grand house, called Olana (now a public museum), located above the Hudson River two hours north of Manhattan, was the venue for his private museum of Americana, among many other things. One may still see there the results of his acquisitiveness, attesting to his interest in Aztec sculpture, colonial painting, and Mexican popular arts of his own day. An impressive example of the colonial tradition of painting nuns on the day of the final profession of vows is included in the Olana collection. Like many works in Church’s collection, the eighteenth-century Portrait of Sor Prudencia Josefa Manuela del Corazón de María by Andrés López (fig. 2) was “restored” by the artist, and in so doing, he made it look worn and older so as to add a romantic patina of age. Church was also a benefactor of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to which he donated an outstanding tenth- to thirteenth-century Toltec eagle relief.

The following essay presents a schematic series of ideas to illuminate major aspects of the history of collecting the art of the Americas in the United States. Some of these subjects are developed by the authors of this volume, while others (such as the history of collecting Haitian art, folk or “popular” arts, or corporate collecting) are not touched upon herein.

(Excerpt ends here)