““Inverted Utopias” — the blockbuster exhibition that, in the summer of 2004, filled much of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston with Latin American art — startled viewers as much with its omissions as with its contents. Where were the Social Realist tableaus of Diego Rivera, the flamboyant self-dramatizations of Frida Kahlo, the Surrealist visions of Wifredo Lam? Instead of those landmarks, Mari Carmen Ramírez, the museum’s curator of Latin American art, beamed a spotlight on the less-familiar alleyways of the South American avant-garde, especially the artists working in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela during the quarter-centuries on either side of the end of the Second World War. Visitors to the museum gazed on striated panels that seemed to move when a spectator moved, made by the “kinetic” artists Jesús Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Díez in Venezuela; the sinuously calligraphic drawings and vehemently left-wing sculptures of the Argentine Léon Ferrari; the mysterious steel-wire hangings, like sun-warped or moth-eaten Bauhaus grids, by Gertrude Goldschmidt, a wartime German refugee to Venezuela who was known professionally as Gego; and the many-faceted work of the Rio de Janeiro artists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, close colleagues whose protominimalist and precociously interactive work in the ’60s (like his capes to be danced in and her hinged sculptures to be reconfigured at will) exert a powerful influence today. And those are the famous ones: about a third of the artists in “Inverted Utopias” were rarely, if ever, exhibited in the United States before. “We wanted to introduce these new values into North America, since they had been overlooked,” Ramírez, who is 52, said recently. “My objection to Frida Kahlo is the phenomenon of Frida Kahlo and the way it obscures Latin American art. She was a woman with an exceptional capacity to present her own suffering through an amazing and rather unique style. But she didn’t have many followers. You can’t use her as an emblem for an entire continent. It’s absurd.””
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