Putting Latin America on the map

Time to get down to business, dear honored readers, and go into the details. This will require some down-to-earth attention from you, and I am appealing to your sobriety now. We’re not here just for fun—or are we? So let’s start at the beginning and look into the Daros Latinamerica Collection …

The Daros Latinamerica Collection

As already mentioned, the Daros Latinamerica Collection shall serve as backbone of my narrative—its intent and purpose, its genesis and evolution, its cultural-political background and structure—in addition to my approach and methods, my criteria and concept. Let us set out together to explore what this collection has to do with cultural trends and developments in Latin America.

Journeys, incidents, and experiences will find their way into my account; countries, places, and institutions will fall under scrutiny; artists, works, and acquisitions will be discussed. And be certain of this: I will not forget to acquaint you with all those players of the Latin American art scene that I had the opportunity of meeting.

As founding director and spiritus rector of the Daros Latinamerica Collection it was my task to conduct the acquisitions from January 2000 until they were stopped in 2014—amounting altogether to more than 1,200 works. Drawing on this pool, our exhibitions in Zurich were organized in the years between 2002 and 2010, and later, from 2013 to 2015, in the “Casa Daros” in Rio de Janeiro. Shortly before the Casa Daros closed in the end of 2015, I left my position, as some of you may recall. The collection has since been stored in an art warehouse.

On over-, under-, and un-: Ratings

Our cultural-political goal was ambitious: Put Latin America on the Map! We wanted to raise awareness for contemporary Latin American art, we wanted people to see it, we wanted to increase international reception and recognition for the artists—and we wanted to achieve this by an intensive dialogue, even a polylogue, in and outside Latin America.

What may seem slightly paternalistic from today’s perspective, felt deeply right then. And not just to us: artists from and in Latin America thought the project was absolutely marvelous—and by no means primarily because they hoped to sell their works, but because they realized that, finally, someone was taking a sincere interest in art from their region.

By 2000, it had become blatantly obvious that artistic productions of the highest level of quality existed in the Latin American art of the present and the recent past—and no one seemed to care! There was no systematic approach, no scientific discourse, simply no attention. Latin American art in general was underrated, and in Europe, with the exceptions of Paris, Madrid, and perhaps London—even downright un-rated. This was not due, however, to lengthy and costly transport or tedious customs procedures in Latin American countries. The reason was (and still is) much rather a deeply rooted ignorance and arrogance on the European side, which unfortunately and stubbornly persists and continues to express itself in inhumane, contemptuous behavior and policies.

On women’s suffrage in the Swiss canton of Appenzell

Not even today will it occur to anyone in Germany, Switzerland, or most European countries, to ask if an artist named José Jiménez comes from Spain or from Latin America. It simply doesn’t matter in our stuck-up Euro-centrist worldview! How many people in Europe have actually been to Latin America? Who knows Latin America personally, and who is familiar with its culture? Sure, Punta Cana, Varadero, or the Brazilian beaches are popular places among tourists. Sure, Caipirinha is meanwhile a trending cocktail at European bars, too. Dancers in Europe enjoy salsa, samba, and tango; and most Europeans have witnessed so-called multi-cultural events with Latin America featuring in the form of the pan flute. Maya, Inca, and Aztecs have been heard of in other parts of the world; a select few even know the authors of the “magical realism”. Only recently, Latin American cinema has entered the international scene, and there are a couple of known Brazilian and Colombian race car drivers. But then, why should people from Central Europe care about Latin America, particularly if Flamenco and Picasso mark the limit of what they know about the Iberian Peninsula …?

Prejudices about Latin America, on the other hand, are abundant, and some even have a core of truth. Political revolutionary romanticism (Nicaragua, Cuba) comes side by side with horror scenarios, such as former military dictatorships, gang wars, and drug cartels (Colombia, Mexico); and banana republics (Belize) come on top of all. Think folkloristic kitsch galore, willingly mingling mariachi-style with ubiquitous, joyful “Alegria”, and presto: All of that adds up to distort the image of Latin America.

Only with disbelief will Europeans today register that post-war Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and that Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Caracas were flourishing cultural hotspots shortly after the mid-20th century. Well, I have news for you: women in the Swiss canton of Appenzell weren’t granted the right to vote before 1990 …

  1. Can’t wait to get deeper insight into Latin American contermporay art scene which obviously is only one aspect of Latin American culture so unknown to those how don’t belong to “the happy few”. Whereas the “many few” fall victims to Latin America’s overemphasized image of “toda la vida”. Thanks, Dr. Herzog, for your noble intent!

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