Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
California Celebrates Latin American Art

Migration and flight are issues that Julio Cesare Morales has dealt with for years. His photo series We are the Dead (2013), on view at the Deutsche Bank Campus in Frankfurt, engages with one of the many tragedies in the border region between the USA and Mexico. In the 1990s, two twins from Mexico tried to get through to Arizona. During their flight through the Sonora desert, they got lost. They split up and only one of them survived the escape. Morales also focuses on the border between the USA and Mexico, which is becoming more and more explosive due to President Trump’s controversial plans to build a wall, for very personal reasons. The artist himself was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and today lives in Tempe, Arizona. It is no surprise that Morales is represented in two exhibitions in the framework of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. With a number of events throughout Southern California, this festival is devoted to Latin American culture. The number of events on offer is staggering: More than 70 cultural institutions and some 65 galleries are showing art from Latin America and art created by U.S. citizens with Latin American roots.

The program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art includes the group exhibition Home—So Different, So Appealing. In addition to Morales, Gordon Matta-Clark and Doris Salcedo art taking part in the show. Here, artists of different generations are investigating the notion of “home.” Livia Corona Benjamin’s photo series Two Million Homes for Mexico documents the consequences of a building program in which around seven million apartments have been churned out in the last decade for low-income people—faceless areas with grid street plans and identical houses. Morale’s photographic work Boy in a Suitcase is a symbol for the perils and hardships that people endure in the hope of finding a better life in a new home country. The colored X-ray image shows an eight-year-old boy who was hidden in a suitcase and supposed to be smuggled from Ivory Coast to Spain.

Such “hiding places” are also the subject of Morales’ watercolor series Undocumented Interventions (2011), which is part of the exhibition The U.S.-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility at the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles. It shows people who squeeze into life-sized toy dolls, washing machines, or loudspeakers to make it to flee to the USA from Mexico. But the show not only reflects the actual situation. It also conjures up the utopia of a common future. Thus, for example, architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello transform the dividing border fence into a place of exchange, with water reservoirs for migrants, solar collectors for a better energy supply, and a cross-border library.   

The (pop) cultural exchange between the USA and Latin America is at the center of How to Read El Pato Pascual: Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney. The exhibition project, encompassing more than 150 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and videos, shows that there are no borders between art and pop culture, nor between geographic regions. Aside from many contemporary artworks, the exhibition features comics and films, among them The Three Caballeros, regarded as one of the most imaginative Disney productions. It was the result of a good will tour by Walt Disney and some of his illustrators through Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru in 1941. As an “ambassador,” the popular producer intended to promote a better relationship between the USA and the Latin American countries. As The Three Caballeros proves, the trip also inspired Disney and his crew artistically. The film is a double-edge homage to Latin America. When he has Donald Duck dance Samba, he celebrates the local folk culture, transporting numerous cliché images. The contributions by contemporary artists lampoon these clichés, as well as the iconic Disney figures that symbolize U.S. cultural imperialism. The artists include Carlos Amorales, Dr. Lakra, Arturo Herrera, and Rivane Neuenschwander, who are represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA was made possible by the Getty Foundation, which is supporting the project with 16 million dollars. When the festival was initiated a few years ago, the relationship between the USA and its southern neighbor was considerably better. Today, however, Donald Trump is talking about about erecting a “big, beautiful, powerful wall” on the Mexican border. In times like these Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is extremely apt.