News / USA

Texas Boasts World-Class Latin American Art

San Antonio Museum’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center contains 8,000 pieces of art

You’d be hard-pressed to recognize the elegant San Antonio Museum of Art building as having once housed a bustling, smelly brewery.
You’d be hard-pressed to recognize the elegant San Antonio Museum of Art building as having once housed a bustling, smelly brewery.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Ted Landphair

Members of the wealthy Rockefeller family of New York helped establish the Museum of Modern Art and revive the old Cloisters medieval museum, both in New York City. The Rockefellers contributed to the restoration of Versailles Palace in France. And the estate of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller made possible the most comprehensive collection of Latin American art in the United States, in San Antonio, Texas.

Sixty percent of San Antonians have Spanish surnames. America’s seventh-largest city is full of colorful murals, window decorations, and wildly painted automobiles created by Hispanics. Yet the San Antonio Museum of Art, which is housed in a 225-year old refurbished brewery complex, built its reputation primarily on its antiquities collection from Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

This cherub from the museum’s collection was fashioned of painted wood and glass eyes in the mid-1700s, after Spanish Catholics had introduced the concept of angels.
This cherub from the museum’s collection was fashioned of painted wood and glass eyes in the mid-1700s, after Spanish Catholics had introduced the concept of angels.

But several years ago, the museum hosted a touring exhibition featuring 30 centuries of Mexican artistic splendor. Over three months, 300,000 people visited the exhibit.

This success story got the San Antonio Museum to focus on the Hispanic culture around it. Its board of directors voted to build a new center of Latin American art within the museum. When it opened in 1998, the center was named for Nelson Rockefeller, whose family contributed several pieces of Mexican folk art that Rockefeller had owned. He had scoured Latin America for unusual contemporary art and helped legitimize the Latin folk-art genre.

His collection includes a painting depicting Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s visit to Moscow in the 1920s. That’s ironic, since it was the Rockefeller family that commissioned the Marxist painter to create a fabulous mural in New York’s new Rockefeller Center, only to order it destroyed because Rivera included a depiction of Russian leader Vladimir Lenin, as well as scenes deemed to be socialist.

The San Antonio Museum of Art built its reputation on its outstanding collection of Greek and Roman art, including this piece, a gift of Gilbert M. Denman, Jr.
The San Antonio Museum of Art built its reputation on its outstanding collection of Greek and Roman art, including this piece, a gift of Gilbert M. Denman, Jr.

Other U.S. museums can boast of fine collections of pre-Columbian art -- that is, art created before Europeans explored the Americas -- or Spanish Colonial, republican, folk, or contemporary Latin art. But none covers all five categories as completely as the San Antonio Museum’s 3,000-square-meter Nelson A. Rockefeller Center. Its 8,000 pieces of art -- only a few hundred of which can be displayed at one time -- range from Peruvian textiles to Costa Rican stone warriors to a wide variety of religious statues and paintings.

Marion Oettinger, Junior, the collection’s first curator, told us that the Rockefeller center is, in his words, "a way of peering into the soul, the values, the perspectives, and the sense of well-being of Latin America through artifacts."

Oettinger, who is now director of the entire museum, says an even more important mission may be to remind some of the 12 million annual visitors to San Antonio who DON’T share a Latin heritage, and perhaps have never even seen a Hispanic neighborhood, of the cultural importance of Latin America. At the San Antonio Museum of Art, they can walk among four thousand years of Latin American art.

In fact, says director Oettinger, "There’s an expression, el alma entre los dedos -- ‘the soul between the fingers.’" This, he says, is where the folk artist’s creativity and passion reside -- between the fingers.

Two years ago, San Antonio extended its world-famous River Walk canal and strolling path three kilometers to the very door of the museum. That exposed even more visitors to the single-most comprehensive collection of Latin American art north of Mexico City.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid