Turning History and Geography Upside Down

The Pacific Standard Time Festival sheds long-overdue light on the role of Latin American art

A group of Cuban kids wait for $1 pizzas in Havana in a photograph from Michael Christopher Brown’s “Paradiso” series at the Annenberg Space for Photography.
A group of Cuban kids wait for $1 pizzas in Havana in a photograph from Michael Christopher Brown’s “Paradiso” series at the Annenberg Space for Photography.

In 1943, Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres García used black ink on white paper to draw a simple map of his home continent. In the sketch, the land mass is inverted: The long, hooked tentacle of Chile and Argentina rises upward toward a dominant South Pole at the top of the page. Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador occupy the very bottom of the map, and North America is not pictured. With this cartographic flip, Torres García’s “América Invertida” made a bold statement about perspective, pushing the viewer to question standard historical narratives developed primarily in the Northern Hemisphere.

This fall and winter, more than 70 art institutions in Los Angeles and across the Southland are producing a series of exhibitions and performances that pose similar questions. “Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles/Latin America,” (PST: LA/LA for short), is an ambitious initiative spearheaded and partially funded by the Getty Foundation, which contributed $16 million to participating institutions. A wide-ranging collaborative effort, it focuses on a dialogue between the city of Los Angeles and Latin American and Latino artists.

Getty Foundation Deputy Director Joan Weinstein says the theme was chosen to nudge art scholarship and institutional attention southward: “What if we wrote art history from the perspective of South to North rather than just North to South?” she asks.

“PST: LA/LA” marks the second time the Getty has challenged the art history canon: Six years ago, “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980” told the story of 20th-century art history from a West Coast perspective. The project began as a small, archival effort. “We started to fear that many of the key players in the LA art scene were passing away, and that their papers were being dispersed or thrown out,” Weinstein says. “We didn’t want that to happen. Once we started gathering and paying attention to the archives, we realized that, seen from Southern California, they told a very different story about the development of modern art.”

More than 60 institutions participated, and an economic impact study found that the first iteration of “Pacific Standard Time” infused nearly $300 million into the regional economy.

This year’s version is broader in scope and breadth than its predecessor. While the focus is primarily on contemporary art, several exhibits reach back as far as the pre-Columbian era. In addition to the more than 70 cultural institutions involved, more than 65 Los Angeles area galleries are presenting thematically linked shows. And with the help of the LA Philharmonic, The Music Center and curator Josh Kun at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communications, PST: LA/LA also will have a dynamic soundtrack.

Eugenia Vargas Pereira’s “Talking Head Transmitters,” from the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center.
Eugenia Vargas Pereira’s “Talking Head Transmitters,” from the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center.

With each performance and collaboration, stereotypes about Latin American and Latino art are dismantled. In the courtyard outside LACMA’s Carlos Almaraz exhibit, the popular LA indie funk band Chicano Batman performs new music written in response to the artist’s vibrant, fiery paintings. Inside Disney Hall, Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil accompany Mexican rock band Café Tacvba.

In museum after museum from San Diego to Palm Springs to Santa Barbara, the concept and structure of geographical borders and categories is blurred. “You can’t just say this is Latino or this is Latin American or this is Brazilian,” Weinstein says. “If an artist is born in Brazil but has been living in Germany for years, how do you identify them?”

As Southern Californians are given the opportunity for the first time to see Latin American and Latino art exhibited in the forefront rather than the periphery, they will likely discover that when the script is flipped and the map is inverted, the story of art is more rich and textured than we have been led to believe.


Pacific Standard Time LA/LA Festival
• Locations throughout Southern California
• Through January 2018

RECOMMENDATIONS: Three Key Pacific Standard Time Events

• The L.A. Phil presents “CDMX: Music from Mexico City” October 9-17: This groundbreaking 10-day festival features the world premieres of five new orchestral works by some of Mexico City’s finest contemporary classical composers.

• The Hammer Museum presents “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985” Through December 31: Featuring works by more than 100 artists from 15 countries, this exhibit reveals the untold stories of female Latin American artists.

• Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents “From Latin America to Hollywood: Latino Film Culture in Los Angeles 1967-2017” Through January 18: Through film screenings and conversations, the Academy explores the influence of Latino and Latin American filmmakers on the past half century of cinema.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Premium