“Culture: the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit.” – Matthew Arnold
The Phoenix Art Museum’s online collection features Latin American and Asian collections. Each culture’s artists embed unique expressions of human qualities through their artwork. Therefore, these multicultural works add to the museum gallery’s magnificence, because art shows the deepest expression of one’s self. By observing these works, I am able to reflect on — and appreciate — the contribution of this multicultural art to society.
The Latin American collection includes a variety of both male and female artists. These pieces are much younger than the Asian collection and even include photographs. Several of the Latin American pieces showcase the Christian religion, while a few display cultural folk monsters and tales of the past. These items do not have a utilitarian use, but are more thought-provoking than decorative. Several of the pieces depicting Latin American people comment on those who lived in the lower class of the social hierarchy, like Mujeres Mazahuas by Mariana Yampolsky and Indigena tejiendo by Diego Rivera. In contrast, there is also an aristocratic portrait of Don Juan Mateo Trujillo y Luffo in the collection; he dons a gray wig and expensive garments with puffy, ultra-white sleeves. His eyes are confident and stare right at the viewer while Rivera’s subject stares at the ground, looking tired — defeated.
The Asian art collection features a wider variety of mediums from a much earlier time period compared to the Latin American collection. According to the Phoenix Art Museum website, “Works include Chinese ceramics, cloisonné enamel, painting and tomb sculpture, Japanese prints and screens, Indian sculpture, miniature paintings and Buddhist art from Tibet, Nepal, India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Java.” Most of the hues are subdued and understated while the line drawings are bolder with their more forceful strokes. The Chinese artists use more “white space” in which their artwork is balanced so that detail does not fill up the entire composition. Their lines are simple and free. Japanese and Chinese artwork seems to display a more ornate quality, because the subjects are often cultural landscapes and animals. The Japanese and Chinese artwork is more apt to show a scene from a cultural story. And, the artwork in the earliest centuries is more utilitarian, like serving ware and teapots, while the younger works are painted on panels and made for display.
I was quite interested in the emotions the multicultural Phoenix Art Museum artwork evoked in me. The Asian art seemed often simplistic and ornate especially compared to today’s contemporary art, which usually is seen in the realm of marketing/advertising. I felt a sense of appreciation, joy or calm after viewing the Asian artwork. As a part of individualistic American society, I was curious to discover that most of the Asian works do not focus on one person. In fact, people are depicted as a lesser subject with little physical detail.
However, the more contemporary Latin American artwork collection stirs up more dramatic emotions in me. The earth tones complemented with a deeper shade of red in many pieces like El suicidio de Dorothy Hale, by Frida Kahlo, and Dos figuras in Rojo (Two Figures in Red,) by Rufino Tamayo, express human qualities. For example, the red blood splattered on Kahlo’s canvas stands out against the light blue background and the warm, brown ground that Hale’s body lies upon. This shocked me and left me feeling sorrowful. The red of the nightmarish two figures brought to my mind fear and agony. (I would not want to meet those figures in my dream life!) As a Christian, I admired the religious Latin American artwork for its historical sense of storytelling.
Art has long been hailed as the deepest expression of ourselves, and I wonder what other messages these artists may have sent to their observers throughout their own time, our time, and what future admirers will take from it.
Phoenix Art Museum (2011). Latin American art collection. Phoenix Art Museum. Retrieved from http://www.phxart.org