Thursday, 7 April 2011


One without the Other
Travel Photography and Films of Rufino Tamayo / A Portrait of his Curator

Activating the Collection is a program of exhibitions in which the museum’s collections of artworks and documents are set in motion in relation to the Museo Tamayo’s space, history and public. For each show, a curator, artist, writer, architect or other professional will be invited to activate the collection. In 2011, Activating the Collection presents One without the Other. Travel Photography and Films of Rufino Tamayo / A Portrait of his Curator.

Uruguayan artist Alejandro Cesarco (Montevideo, 1975) and Museo Tamayo curator Juan Carlos Pereda studied sections of the archive of photographs taken by the museum’s founder, Rufino Tamayo; the result is this display of 320 photographs (in slide format) and nineteen films of trips that Rufino and Olga Tamayo undertook between 1950 and 1980.

Viewers will see material that has never before been displayed; descriptions of various paintings by Tamayo are also included and will allow spectators to construct a narrative that lends meaning to the exhibited photographs. Viewers may ask themselves questions such as, what kind of information do these photographs or films provide about Tamayo’s painterly discourse? Or what makes a person devote their life to the study of an artist? The show thus presents two independent narratives that crisscross and nourish one another, depending on each other to be intelligible. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Veracruz, Athens or Paris are some of the places that Rufino Tamayo traveled to, camera in hand. Some of these pictures may even lie at the origin of a canvas that is now on the walls of another museum.


One without the Other
Travel Photography and Films of Rufino Tamayo
& A Portrait of his Curator

Every archive always tells more than one story. Amongst them: the story of the elements it contains, the (silenced) story of what is not included, the story told through combining and recombining its constituent parts, the story of the person who generated the material (when, how and for whom), and—in this particular case—principally the story of the person who preserves, studies and represents it. Each reading of the archive imprints the materials included within it with the reader’s own subjectivity. The ultimate function of every archive—that is, the reason for preserving, maintaining or reinventing the possible stories that are found within it (in the dual sense of locating and discovering them)—is to attempt to make the present intelligible. The past (and, consequently, the future) is distorted with each one of these attempts.

The invitation to read, organize and find a way to make public the collection of photographs and films of Rufino and Olga Tamayo’s travels immediately raises a series of cautionary and essential questions: Why make the material public? Would this be something Tamayo would have wanted? What information does exhibiting the material add that would justify answering this question in his absence? In other words, what new perspectives do these photographs and films add to the discourse around Tamayo’s life and work? Is there a connection between Tamayo’s photography and his painting? What does the project intend to tell, what new information does it provide, and for whom?

On beginning my research, I soon discovered that the archive included two clear and complementary protagonists: Tamayo (who had taken the photographs and films between the years 1950–1980) and Juan Carlos Pereda (an expert on Tamayo, who had recovered and conserved the material following the painter’s death, and who had now decided to make it public). Given my relative ignorance regarding Tamayo’s life and work in comparison to Pereda’s exhaustive knowledge, I decided to defer to him whether or not to answer the aforementioned questions as well as the judgment of the overall “value” of the material to be presented. My decision was then to reframe the object of study, to somehow zoom-out—when what was expected was something more akin to sort of zoom-in—and put the relationship between Tamayo and Pereda in the foreground and in focus.

From this vantage point, the questions I felt needed to be addressed were: How could the relationship between Tamayo and Pereda be presented visually? How could the curator’s conviction and dedication to the artist be celebrated in an exhibition format? How could the decision (or series of contingencies) that leads an individual to devote his entire professional life (almost monogamously) to the study, conservation, research and production of knowledge based on the work of one other author be formalized? Why should these two figures share a stage? What is the relationship between the two series of information that would be presented? (And finally: How to convince—the rather shy—Pereda to accept my proposal?)

Pereda is the personification of the historical definition of the curator. It isn’t that his admiration for the painter is unconditional: he does maintain a certain critical distance in his assessment of Tamayo’s works and acts, but he has retained such a strong belief in the creative universe and figure of the artist that it has justified his twenty years of uninterrupted productive fascination. The decision to present a portrait of Tamayo’s curator (based on some of his own writings discussing the more biographical paintings of Tamayo and a series of photographs of his work environment), is a way of publicly recognizing Pereda’s professional conviction and its consequences.

In short, the exhibition emphasizes the methodology and framing that contextualizes and allows for a possible reading of the archive and those who are invested in it. What is put on display is a double inversion of the public and private in that what is usually exhibited and what generally remains behind the scenes changes place. Ultimately, and as the Argentine author J. R. Wilcock once said, “All writers, in time, begin to resemble those who mention them.”

Alejandro Cesarco, New York, March 2011

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