Why you need to see the Getty's collection of video art from Latin America

A one-night screening of Latin American video art @thegetty brings together hard-to-see works

The video begins with the opening piano chords of Claude Debussy's melancholic "Clair de Lune" as the viewer is taken inside the empty Peruvian Congress. The camera lingers on architectural details: the Classical columns, a weighty bronze bas relief, the brilliant colors of the stained glass ceiling. Ever so slowly, bits of what appear to be dust circulate through the air. Only it isn't dust, it's some sort of white powder, and it's accumulating into a mountain on the floor. 

Titled "The Act," the 3-1/2-minute video is a work of art by Peruvian artist Diego Lama, and it will be shown at the Getty Center on Wednesday evening as part of "Recent Video from Latin America," an occasional screening series put together by the Getty Research Institute. Also featured will be works by artists from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica and Ecuador. 

The screenings are part of a years-long project at the Getty devoted to mapping and collecting the video art of Latin America — a collaboration between Glenn Phillips, a curator at the Getty Research Institute, and Elena Shtromberg, an art historian at the University of Utah.

"The idea is to acquire enough videos to build up a collection" for the institute, explains Phillips. "It's so difficult to teach this work because students can't see it. And while we have some important Latin American video at the Getty, the region doesn't have the representation of other parts of the world."

For a couple of years, the pair have been traveling throughout the continent interviewing artists, curators and academics to gain an understanding of the medium's history on the continent. Thus far, they have brought back more than 800 videos to review, study and map.

"Video exhibitions ask so much of the viewer," Phillips says. "So we thought we'd introduce the work to provide context. And it's a good opportunity to introduce a lot of the artists."

Wednesday's screening features videos created by artists from Central America and the Andes — short pieces that are intended to be viewed from beginning to end. 

"They're very different regions, but there are similarities," he says. "They're smaller countries. They're not part of the the whole art circuit."

The video artists may not be familiar to U.S. audiences, but they're well-known in their own countries. Among them are Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker of Panama, Sandra Monterroso of Guatemala, and Oscar Muñoz and José Alejandro Restrepo of Colombia.

"José is like the Gary Hill of Latin American video art," Phillips says, referring to the pioneering American video artist from Seattle. "He produces these phenomenal video installations. You see these and you ask yourself, how is this person not being shown in the U.S.?"

On Wednesday, that changes.

The screening "Recent Video in Latin America" is Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood, getty.edu.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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