Austin’s Blanton Museum acquires one of the largest private collections of Latino and Chicano art
The Blanton Museum of Art, based in Austin, has received a big gift: more than 5,000 new works of art by Latino and Chicano artists.
A gift from Gilberto Cárdenas and Dolores Garcia, the pieces represent one of the largest collections of Latino and Chicano art in the world. The acquisition is part of the Blanton’s continued efforts to diversify the art world and bring visibility to Latino art.
Simone Wicha, director of the Blanton Museum, joined the Standard to talk about the acquisition and what it means for the Latino art world. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Well, first, congratulations on this gift. Can you tell us about who is donating this artwork?
Simone Wicha: Absolutely. The gift is coming from a couple in Austin, Texas – Dr. Gilberto Cárdenas and his wife, Dolores Garcia. Gil and Dolores have been involved in the museum at the Blanton for quite some time. They’ve been on our board and had worked at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Cárdenas was a former professor at UT and he, too, started many extraordinary programs here at the university. He’s a researcher and scholar on Latino studies and influential in the field across the country. He’s authored and edited numerous books and articles and was the director.
After he left here, he was the director of the Center of Mexican-American Studies here at UT. And then he went on to be the founding director of the Institute of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. And we’re thrilled that they’re back in Austin and really grateful that they’ve chosen the Blanton as a home for their collection.
What’s the significance of this collection of art?
You know, the significance of this collection of art is really having an art museum for the city of Austin, the state of Texas, and actually this country where Latino artists are prominently featured in our collection. We have a really beloved collection of contemporary art, of American art. And we were established as the first museum in this country, really, to dedicate a curator to Latin American art.
But having a really impactful collection of Latino art and Chicano artists represented actually having a more complete story of American art, and having Latino artwork defines and is part of American culture certainly here in the Southwest, but [also] across the country and here in Austin – where 30% of our community is Latino – and being able to not look at it as Mexican-American culture, but American culture. These are artists who are representing their communities, their voices, their homes, reflecting kind of their experiences, and us being able to celebrate and show Latino artists and Latino artwork amongst our collection is really important to us.
Well, what kind of work will be on display? What can visitors expect to see?
So we received the collection from Gil and Dolores, really advancing our area of collecting in Latino art, which historically has been part of the museum. We’re also in the process of hiring a new curator, which we received a grant for that effort here at the Blanton. And so the third part of it is we’re dedicating galleries to showcasing this collection and the new associate curator of Latino art – funded by Advancing Latinx Art in Museums, which is a national initiative to prioritize having experts and scholars on Latino art in museums across the country from the Ford Foundation, the Getty Foundation, Mellon Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art – is allowing us to do that. A lot of this collection are works on paper, which is a common art form used by Latino artists and Chicano artists. So we’re starting our first exhibition featuring portraiture. Some of the highlights that are coming in from this collection we will feature in that first installation, but it will be evolving and constantly changing.
Well, can you tell us a little bit more about the collaboration between the Blanton and the donors? Blanton is planning on digitizing these works and sharing them. Why is that so important to really preserve those and be part of the collection?
So Gilberto Cárdenas and Dolores Garcia have for over 60 years been acquiring and building this collection. It is a strong commitment to amplifying or sharing, representing Latino history and voices in art and we’re thrilled to be able to share it in our galleries. But we also feel it’s important for people to be able to access it, and so we will digitize it – we will photograph it and make it available online. We’re taking three to five years to go through the collection and research it, but also digitize it and make it available for anybody anywhere in the world to be able to kind of access and learn from it, study it and see works – whether they’re here on site or looking at them in person. But also being able to kind of access it, it’s really important for research. It’s important for people to see these artists and see their work.
Well, finally, what does acquiring this artwork mean? Not just for the Blanton and Latino art, but really the art scene in Texas, as you were pointing out.
I think it means celebrating a really rich and beautiful part of all of our culture and heritage. I actually was born in El Paso, Texas – right on the border. I grew up in Mexico City. I went to high school in San Antonio. I think there’s nowhere in Texas that you go that is not part of celebrating the Latino culture and Latino heritage. Whether it is your heritage or it’s part of your community, it is part of Texas. And I’m absolutely thrilled. We are honored to be able to care for this. This is part of our legacy. It’s part of our cultural heritage in Texas and being able to not just care for it, but also present it and celebrate it and celebrate these artists who are capturing our history today.
And so, it is incredibly important for Texas. It is incredibly important for museums across this country to ensure that they’re bringing in the Latino voices and artists into their museums. And we’re thrilled to be a leader in this here, and we’re thrilled that Dolores and Gil have allowed us to kind of really take a stand and and celebrate Latino culture and Chicano culture here at the Blanton.
Well, you mentioned a little bit, Simone, about your personal history, but this really is personally significant to you. Explain a little bit.
This is personally very important to me of being born in El Paso, Texas. My mother is an immigrant from Mexico. I grew up in Mexico City and really celebrating Latino and Latin American culture across our continent, but also understanding the contributions of Latino voices and people and leaders and artists and thinkers in Texas is so much part of what I’ve been devoted to and care about. And as a Latina leader myself, this is very personally important to me, and I am happy that we can now really celebrate it and continue to build it.
I’m thrilled that we will have a curator dedicated to Latino art, as well. And so, this is part of our culture and something I want us to all celebrate and understand and continue to build on. And a museum like the Blanton Museum of Art certainly is dedicated to it. And I look forward to also inspiring other institutions and collectors and to continue to support Latino and Chicano artists and the stories and voices that they bring to the table.
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