“The cultural disenfranchisement I experience as a Puerto Rican has prompted me to seek a practical alternative to the orthodox museum, which fails to meet my needs for an authentic ethnic experience. To afford me and others the opportunity to establish living connections with my own culture, I founded El Museo del Barrio.” -Raphael Montañez Ortiz

This exhibition explores the significance of the creation of El Museo by focusing on works of art made by Raphael Montañez Ortiz, as the artist turns 80 this year. Among the works on display by our founder will be his powerful Archaeological Find #21: The Aftermath (1961), a destroyed sofa as a sculpture from 1961 that is a signature of the artist’s work. Also prominent in this gallery will be his Maya Zemí I and Maya Zemí II, pyramid-shaped cardboard sculptures that illustrate his profound interest in connecting the historic indigenous cultures of the Caribbean and Mesoamerica.

To create a contemporary parallel to Montanez Ortiz’s open and generous vision, El Museo has invited a group of local artists from East Harlem to in turn invite the people of East Harlem to bring objects from their homes for display in the museum’s galleries. This reversal of expected museum exhibition practice underscores the museum’s commitment to creating connections with its audiences but also its interest in interrogating the role of the museum, the potential of the object and the human impulse to collect.

Historic figures who have been included in past exhibitions such as the conceptual and performance artist Papo Colo and photographer and filmmaker Perla de Leon will be highlighted. A handful of work by artists who have never been highlighted at El Museo before will round out the exhibition, including a group of drawings by Zilia Sanchez, found object sculptures by Romy Scheroder, and a space where visitors and tour groups will take a seat created by the Brooklyn based collective, BroLab. One gallery will feature their hand-made benches from recycled plastic, where audiences will be invited to sit and contemplate the invention of their own museum and to fantasize about which works of art and architecture they would include.

Hear from the curator of our new exhibition, Museum Starter Kit: Open with Care! Rocío Aranda-Alvarado shares how the exhibition came together, what surprised her about the show, and reflects on the legacy of Raphael Montañez Ortiz.

El Museo has partnered with a group of local artists and neighbors from El Barrio (East Harlem) to invite community members to bring objects from their homes for display in the museum’s galleries. These displays will grow and change over time, creating ephemeral museums of the moment. This portion of the exhibition celebrates the human impulse to collect and will be organized in collaboration with an Artists/Neighbors Curatorial Committee. Members include: Jaime Davidovich, Alexis Duque, Christopher Lopez, Lina Puerta, Judith Escalona/ medianoche gallery, Debbie Quiñones, and Manny Vega.

Artist in this exhibition, include Beverly Acha, BroLab, Papo Colo, Perla de Leon, Tamara Kostianovsky, LNY, Mata Ruda, Geraldo Mercado, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Zilia Sánchez, Neighbor/Artists Curatorial Committee of East Harlem, Romy Scheroder, Luís Stephenberg. For bios on our participating artists, click here.