ARTnews Top 200 collectors Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Gustavo A. Cisneros announced today at a press briefing that they will donate 102 works by 37 Latin American artists to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The donation also establishes a research institute dedicated to the further study of art made in Latin America.
The gifted works, which join another 40 pieces donated to the museum over the last 16 years by the couple, include paintings, sculptures, and works on paper made between the 1940s and 1990s, by artists working in Brazil, Venezuela, and the southeastern coastal region of Río de la Plata, which includes Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, and Uruguay’s, Montevideo.
“The breadth of this gift is unprecedented in the history of art from Latin America,” MoMA’s director, Glenn D. Lowry, said during the announcement. “This gift, a combination of the body of work and the establishment of the institute, will be transformative, changing the way the history of art and artists from Latin America is told in relationship to modernism.”
Among the artists represented in the gift are Lygia Clark, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gego, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, and Jesús Rafael Soto. The focus of the gift is on geometric abstraction, a movement that the couple has collected for over 40 years. Phelps de Cisneros explained today that it “is the type of art we did see in public spaces” when she was growing up in Caracas in the 1950s.
“This is not about our collection. It’s not about me—it is about the museum, but it’s mostly about the artists. I truly believe that all of these artists have been under-recognized and need the recognition and can easily fit into the canon of art history,” said Phelps de Cisneros, who has been a trustee of MoMA since 1992 and is the founder and chair of the museum’s Latin American Caribbean Fund committee. She also noted that it was Lowry’s insistence on making the museum’s holding and curatorial efforts more international when he became director in 1995 that spurred her collecting to ensure that these artists would become part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The institute, to be called the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Research Institute for the Study of Art from Latin America and hosted at MoMA’s West 53rd Street campus, “is poised to become the preeminent research center in the field,” Lowry said. “It will offer opportunities for curatorial research, host visiting scholars and artists, convene an annual conference, and produce scholarly research on art in Latin America.”
During the announcement, Lowry and Phelps de Cisneros, who joined the director on stage for a brief discussion of the donation and their collecting practices, both discussed the museum’s history of supporting art from Latin America since its founding, including founding director Alfred H. Barr, Jr.’s decision to give the museum’s second solo exhibition to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
Lowry also said that an exhibition, with an accompanying catalogue, drawn from the donation will be put on display in the near future once the museum’s expansion into the former American Folk Art Museum building next door. For the moment, the donation, which Lowry called “a dream come true” for the museum, is fully accessible on the museum’s website.