This evening gathering of diverse voices in “Club Americano” addresses how we perceive distant times and places through optical illusions, printed matter and the narrative tradition “magical realism” in Latin America. Writers associated with this literary movement blurred distinctions between past and present, reality and the supernatural, to portray the complex underpinnings of daily life. Helguera pays tribute to Alfonso Reyes with his performance of Reyes’s surreal, 1912 short story, “La Cena (The Dinner).” A foundational figure in modern Mexican literature, little-known outside of Latin America, Reyes influenced generations of surrealist and magical realist artists and writers to come.
The program provides background on magical realism and intersects it with both contemporary artistic production and historic New England through a presentation on the perspective machine, a technological marvel of the 18th century. This optical device and parlor toy, an example of which is in the MFA’s collection, was used to view prints that “transported” the viewer to faraway places or recounted notable moments in European history. Audience members are invited to peer into the MFA’s perspective machine to view historic and contemporary prints, demonstrating how images have long had the power to shape our impressions of reality. A live drawing session and story telling will overlay distinct geographies onto the present time and place.
Dennis Carr is the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture in Art of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He was a co-curator of many of the MFA’s 53 galleries in the Art of the Americas Wing that opened in 2010 and a contributing author of A New World Imagined: Art of the Americas (2010), Painting a Map of Sixteenth-Century Mexico City: Land, Writing, and Native Rule (2012), Made in the Americas: The New World Discovers Asia (2015), and Art and Industry: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650—1830 (2016). He holds graduate degrees from Yale University in the History of Art and the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture. He organized the critically acclaimed exhibition at the MFA, “Made in the Americas: The New World Discovers Asia,” which was awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Raúl Gonzalez was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up going back and forth from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, México. Now based in Boston, Gonzalez was the 2015 recipient of the Brother Thomas Fellowship. In 2011, Beautiful/Decay, in collaboration with Canson, awarded him a Wet Paint Grant. In 2009, Gonzalez received an award from the Artadia Foundation for Art and Culture. He was voted Boston’s best visual artist for 2010 by readers of the Boston Phoenix. In 2010 he worked on his first large-scale mural sponsored by the Boston Arts Commission installed in the neighborhood of East Boston. Gonzalez is committed to introducing youth to the visual arts and has taught in the education departments of the ICA and the MFA. In 2011 Gonzalez collaborated with over 125 kids from all over the city of Boston to create a work titled “and their Families” for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as part of the Community Arts Initiative.
Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with installation, sculpture, photography, drawing, socially engaged art and performance. His most renowned projects include “The School of Panamerican Unrest” (2003–2006), a nomadic think tank that traveled from Alaska to Patagonia making 40 stops in between, and “Librería Donceles” (2013–2017) an itinerant Spanish-language secondhand bookstore addressing the lack of outlets that serve Latino communities. Drawing from his experience as educator, his artistic projects often incorporate pedagogical devices such as the classroom setting and lecture format. Since 1991 he has worked in a variety of contemporary art museums and currently serves as director of Adult and Academic programs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2008 he was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and also was the recipient of a 2005 Creative Capital Grant. Helguera is the author of Education for Socially Engaged Art (2011) and The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style (2007), among numerous other publications, and is the maker of Artoons, a series of cartoons poking fun of the art world.
Marina Nguyen is a member of the MFA’s Teen Arts Council.
Doris Sommer, director of the Cultural Agents Initiative at Harvard University, is Ira and Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies. Her academic and outreach work promotes development through arts and humanities, specifically through “Pre-Texts” in Boston Public Schools, throughout Latin America, and beyond. Pre-Texts is an arts-based training program for teachers of literacy, critical thinking, and citizenship. Among her books are Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (1991) about novels that helped to consolidate new republics; Proceed with Caution when Engaged by Minority Literature (1999) on a rhetoric of particularism; Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education (2004); and The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (2014).
Performance Art at the MFA is supported by Lorraine Bressler.