El Museo del Barrio is pleased to present Raphael Montañez Ortiz: A Contextual Retrospective, the first large-scale exhibitionsince 1988 dedicated to the artist, activist, educator, and founder of El Museo del Barrio. Curated by El Museo’s chief curator, Rodrigo Moura, and guest curator Julieta González, the exhibition spans several decades of his production, from the 1950s to the early-2020s, in different media such as film, painting, photography, video installations, documents, and assemblages. This is the largest exhibition-to-date dedicated to the artist.
Raphael Montañez Ortiz is a central figure in U.S. Post-war art, whose pioneering practice began with trail-blazing experimental film works in 1957. In the 1960s, he was a key figure in the international Destruction Art movement, with performative actions that would result in powerful sculptures made from destroyed objects. His practice expands art historical references, from U.S. Abstract Expressionism and Dada to identity and his upbringing in a Puerto Rican family in New York. At the same time, his work was informed by an ongoing interest in psychoanalysis and anthropology, which resulted in his exploration of shamanic practices and the therapeutic and healing potential of art, parallel to his research into pre-Hispanic cultures. This is a constant concern that runs from the early destruction pieces such as the Archaeological Finds to his later performative actions and works addressing the Indigenous cultures of the Americas.
The exhibition is divided into four sections exploring the contributions of Montañez Ortiz to art of the 20th and 21st Centuries. These include Destruction, which focuses on his early films and assemblages and a large group of Archaeological Finds, with works from different American and European Museum collections seen together for the first time; Decolonization and Guerrilla Tactics, which addresses his Puerto Rican background and related activism, including his participation in the foundation of El Museo del Barrio and his engagement with other groups at the time, such as the Art Workers Coalition, the Guerrilla Art Action Group, the Taller Boricua, and the Judson Gallery; Ethnoaesthetics, referring to a term coined by him and dealing with forms of resistance to cultural ethnocentrism; and Physio-Psycho-Alchemy, which explores the core concept of his doctoral thesis and the works he made in this direction, where meditation, ritual, and breathing practices are at the center of a series of performative and participative works. In addition, the section presents his videos produced in the 1980s, where cutting and editing are employed to produce almost hypnotic effects.
Raphael Montañez Ortiz: A Contextual Retrospective is presented by Bank of America. Leadership support is provided by Tony Bechara. Major support is provided by the Terra Foundation, Andy Warhol Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Additional support is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA).