Fueled by $5 million in grants from the J. Paul Getty Trust, 42 museums and other arts institutions from San Diego to Santa Barbara have begun tracing the prominent Latino and Latin American strand in Southern California's cultural DNA, including how Latinos in L.A. and elsewhere in the United States have absorbed, reflected and grappled with the creative legacies of their mother countries.
The focus on Latino and Latin American art and culture is Round 3 in the Pacific Standard Time initiative that the Getty, the world's richest visual art institution, began laying groundwork for in 2002.
The first effort, Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 in 2011, documented how individual artists and institutions helped make L.A. and its environs a global force in the art world in the decades after World War II.
The 2011 initiative was a unique attempt at uniting dozens of arts institutions for a sprawling, panoramic and multifaceted view of themes in visual art that have particular relevance for Southern California.
The Getty kicked in $11.1 million in grants for that first chapter. Last year's Pacific Standard Time: Modern Architecture in L.A. used an additional $3.6 million in Getty grants to consider architecture alone.
On Tuesday the Getty plans to announce the first round of grants for Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, as it's known for short. It also provided brief summaries of the exhibitions, film screenings and performances it's funding.
The Getty had announced the theme and title of LA/LA more than a year ago, but the grant announcements flesh out what will happen in 2017. So far, there will be 40 exhibitions, three film series and concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at both the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The initial round of grants is only for research that will help curators shape the exhibitions. James Cuno, the Getty Trust's president, said in an interview that a second round of grants totaling at least $5 million more will help cover the cost of turning the research into visible realities in galleries, where expenses can mount quickly from building exhibition layouts and shipping and unpacking artworks being loaned for a show. The Getty will also provide grants for exhibition catalogs documenting the shows.
But as with previous Pacific Standard Time phases, the Getty doesn't foot the entire bill; each institution is expected to seek other funding to round out their exhibition and programming budgets.
The smallest grant announced is $55,000 for the Chinese American Museum in downtown L.A. for an exhibition on ethnic Chinese artists who gravitated to Cuba and other Caribbean islands, adding their own flavor to the region's heavily African-influenced art.
The Japanese American National Museum, also downtown, will follow a comparable tack with a show documenting how Japanese expatriates or their descendants became part of the fabric of art in L.A., Brazil, Peru, Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.
The biggest research grant for a single exhibition is $275,000 to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which is teaming with museums in Mexico City and Lima, Peru, for a show called "Memories of Underdevelopment" that will explore how artists, primarily from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico, found ways to get their work across outside the mainstream museum system from the 1960s through the 1980s.
The Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach will examine "Spirituality in the Art of the Caribbean," including works associated with Santeria and Voodoo, and the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College will explore interest in Latin American art and furniture by Hollywood collectors including Price, Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglas, Otto Preminger and Natalie Wood.
With LA/LA, he said, there’s a potential for several different far-reaching effects -- some of particular concern to art historians, while others relate more broadly to museum-going among the Latino public in Southern California. Noriega's research center at UCLA helped plan the broad outlines of LA/LA along with the Getty, LACMA, MOCA and the Hammer Museum.
Traditionally, Noriega said, Latin American art -- the output of artists living in Latin American nations -- and Latino art -- the work of minorities with typically Spanish surnames who live in the United States -- have been seen by art historians and curators as distinct areas of study. LA/LA, he thinks, has the potential to show links between them that haven't been clear before.
"There's been a bit of a divide, a boundary, with U.S. Latinos and Latin Americans seen as doing fundamentally different work and coming out of a fundamentally different context," he said. "The way LA/LA has been framed is a way of breaking that down a bit to explore the complexity of what has been done."
LA/LA gives each participating institution the freedom to take its own approach, so there's no requirement that every show must explore creative crosstalk between Latino artists from Southern California and the art traditions of Latin America. But Noriega expects connections and contrasts to emerge organically as viewers see a diverse array of shows in a relatively short time.
He thinks it's possible, but not a given, that LA/LA could be a watershed in how Southern California museums advance their hopes of reaching the region's huge Latino public. One issue, he said, will be how much bilingualism to deploy on wall texts that describe the works on view.
As American museums began to consider how to nurture the general public's interest in art in the early and mid-20th century, Noriega said, the focus was on "assimilation" -- driving home a binding cultural heritage that was heavily Eurocentric. Now "the demographics have shifted considerably, and the dynamics are different," so LA/LA could be a chance for museums to become more creative in engaging a large Latino public.
"It'll be interesting to see whether [the Latino community's interest in LA/LA] evolves from the ground up, or whether there's a way to actually market the aggregate of seeing shows with artists with Spanish surnames as a point of identification," Noriega said.
While LA/LA was quickly embraced during planning for the next phase of PST, Cuno said, another "obvious one we touched on was the idea of the Pacific Rim" and its connections to Southern California.