Viceregal Art at LACMA
|Two versions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, by Antonio and Manuel de Arellano (1691, left); and Antonio de Torres (about 1720, right)|
LACMA has been doing a large show of Viceregal (a.k.a. Spanish Colonial) art every few years. The latest is "Archive of the World: Art and Imagination in Spanish America, 1500–1800." Though drawn from the permanent collection, it's big in ambition, spanning three centuries, the whole of Spanish America, and a gamut of media: paintings, furniture, silver, decorative objects, sculpture, and textiles.
|"Hearst Chalice", 1575-78. Gift of William Randolph Hearst|
Palm Spring collectors-dealers Bernard and Edith Lewin made a good living catering to the taste for Mexican modernism. In 1997 the couple bequeathed their 2000-plus piece collection to LACMA. It was a mixed bag. Several dozen paintings were museum-worthy, if not tent poles of a collection. The vast majority of the trove was dealer's stock. Under the direction of LACMA curator Ilona Katzew, the museum sold off the lesser pieces to found a new collection of Viceregal art. This move was a textbook example of the good kind of deaccessioning. Newer, lesser art was sold to buy older, more important work—all with a clear plan, in this case that of adding a rare volume to LACMA's would-be encyclopedia.
|Folding Screen with Indian Wedding, Mitote, and Flying Pole, Mexican, about 1660-1690|
A unique Folding Screen with Indian Wedding was the first major painting bought with Lewin funds, in 2005. It epitomizes the 17th-century globalization of the art world. Made in Mexico, and recording Indigenous marriage customs and spectacle, the folding screen format must have been inspired by Asian examples. The oil on canvas medium and Baroque naturalism are European.
The current exhibition's title is taken from the 1728 account of Jesuit chronicler Manuel Herrara:
Two worlds have given Mexico all their splendors, and two oceans all their riches: Europe offers all its beauties, Asia all its precious objects, and Africa all its adornments. Nature not only graced Mexico with great abundance but also granted her the most precious of metals, enriching her with all the fineries of the world: tapestries from Cairo, textiles from England, glass from Venice, rock crystal, patterns from Antwerp, porcelain from China, linen from Cambrai, lace from Flanders, braids from Milan, pearls from the Orient, diamonds from India, and antiquities from Rome. Bejeweled with everything, Mexico is arguably the archive of the world.
The show and its catalog brim with new scholarship. Deluxe mother-of-pearl and tortoise-shell objects, found in old collections from Mexico City and Lima, have puzzled scholars. Were they made in China, Mexico, or Peru? The answer appears to be none of the above. They were made in Guatemala, and LACMA now has several prime examples.
Any show of Viceregal art poses more questions than answers. That's part of the fun. This one adds another question: How long can the Lewin largesse last? Even given a massively inefficient art market, Katzew seems to have engineered a perpetual motion machine, minting tomorrow's art history from yesterday's market dross. "Archive of the World" introduces about 20 recently acquired works, most bought with Lewin funds, such as the Holguín Pietà. I see no indication that the acquisition rate of truly great works has slowed. Still, prices for Viceregal museum pieces are rising as surely as for gas—and there's only so much of it to go around.
"Archive of the World: Art and Imagination in Spanish America, 1500–1800" runs through Oct. 23, 2022, and will travel to the Frist Art Museum, Nashville in 2023-2024.
|Side Table (Mesilla), Guatemala, last third of 18th century|
|Melchor Pérez Holguín, Pietà, about 1720|
|Two Cuzco School paintings: The Defense of the Eucharist and Charles II, about 1675-1700; and Virgin of Bethlehem, about 1700-1720|
|Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, Porus in Battle, 1767|
|Attributed to Nicolás Correa, The Imposition of the Chasable on Saint Ildephonsus, about 1700|
|Andrés de Islas, Portrait of Don Francisco Leandro de Viana, Count of Tepa, about 1775-1780|
|Attributed to the workshop of Manuel José de Meta Cárdenas, Chasuble and Cope with Hood, about 1730. Costume Council Fund|
|Chest with Matching Stand, Guatemala (for export, possibly Peru), 18th century|
|Saint Michael Vanquishing the Devil, Guatemalan, second half of 18th century|