The entire notion of lumping together art from more than 20 countries on two continents under the Latin American rubric is problematic to begin with, and in this exhibition of new acquisitions for the Guggenheim’s collection, it mostly serves as a marketing tool. This selection of works by some 40 artists, organized into six nebulous “themes” by Mexican curator Pablo León de la Barra, never really coheres; worse, it provides little artistic excitement or surprise.
Too many of the works employ an art-school lingua franca: A simpleminded, toothless conceptual language that gestures vaguely at larger issues. Wall labels spelling out the meanings of, say, Adriano Costa’s gold-painted towels, or Carlos Amorales’s hanging mobile of cymbals that visitors can bang, certainly don’t help.
Interestingly, two installations by older, longtime New Yorkers prove the most affecting works here. Juan Downey’s The Circle of Fires (1979), a two-channel video installation arranged in a circle of inward-facing monitors, features footage of the Yanomami Indians in the Venezuelan Amazon shot by the subjects themselves, creating a mesmerizingly lyrical portrait. In Luis Camnitzer’s minimalist light show, Art History Lesson No. 6 (2000), haphazardly placed, empty slide projectors cast illuminated quadrilaterals onto Plexiglas sheets attached to the walls. A glossy presentation of nothing, it embodies a pedagogy of absence, suggesting a piquant, if unintentional, comment on the show.—Joseph R. Wolin