A couple of the strongest works in the show come from a major contemporary player, Guillermo Kuitca, born in Buenos Aires of Jewish descent. Perez lingers over his works as he explains that the topographic-looking pieces reference concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Then he stands in front of maybe the most moving paintings in the exhibit: “There’s so much childhood anguish here,” Perez says, when observing the large painting Un taller para el Joven Kuitca, from 1985. The darkened scene, clearly reminiscent of a stage set, pictures an empty baby carriage careening down some stairs, and a lonely little boy in the middle.
Another star turn comes from José Bedia, who now calls Miami home. His large-scale mural-like piece, depicting mythical, mystical and religious figures, How Much Was My Coballende Worth, was one of the first works he made here after leaving Cuba. One of the most overtly political pieces is a later work from Colombian Beatriz Gonzalez, an outstanding work that almost looks like replicated prints but is painting, showing one anonymous general after another parroting some sort of propaganda, in unbelievably rich red, blue and green colors, called, yes, The Parrots, from 1987. They could be Castro’s Cuba, the Argentina of The Generals, or any other dictatorship so ubiquitous in Latin America in the 20th century. Another standout: Cuban Tomás Sanchez’s landscape triptych. And a small gem from Argentine Alejandro Xul Solar, a watercolor of an apartment façade from 1954. In fact, imagery from the rural pampas as well as from the bustling port city of that South American country clearly resonate with Perez, as there are a number of works from Argentina.
There are flaws in the exhibit. The early works from Lam and Rivera, while interesting to note, are not examples of their best works, when they found their voices and became trail-blazers for Latin American art. Some important trends that germinated in Latin America are missing, but then they might not have fit in with this figurative exhibit as Ostrander curated it. There will be more scrutiny on this show than on others, and multiple voices should be heard. After all, Miami’s flagship museum will be opening a new chapter in its gleaming Herzog & de Meuron building, and the public wants to know what direction it is taking.
But Miami also need more art historical shows like this. And it was great to see a tour group of kids, as it traipsed through the exhibit on a recent morning, find an affinity for the paintings. Standing in front of an oil-on-sand canvas from the great Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo, El mago inexperto, the kids wanted to know more about the lion. When pressed by their guide, they couldn’t necessarily answer — did it look real, or a little magical?