Unique in its scope and richness, El Museo del Barrio’s Permanent Collection of graphics today numbers over four thousand works. These include fine and popular prints, artistic posters, portfolios, and artists’ books. Because of the traditional emphasis on printmaking in Latin America, and the excellence of its artists in this medium, El Museo has a superb collection of graphics by diverse constituencies, particularly by Puerto Rican and Mexican creators. These include all varieties of intaglio, planographic, and relief processes, conceptual works, and experimental multiples. Often these prints and posters serve to document the lives of institutions, including exhibitions, theatrical or musical productions. Since the graphic arts frequently have been politically instigated, great works of art also serve as records of the unfolding histories, struggles, actions, and events pertinent to Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and Latin Americans.
While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in artworks produced by Puerto Ricans both on the Island and in the United States, particularly New York. The concentration of such materials is unique outside of Puerto Rico, and is a valuable national resource. El Museo’s holdings attest to Puerto Rico’s distinguished history of printmaking from the 1940’s to the present. While many works are produced by individual artists, a large number are the products of workshops founded in Puerto Rico.
NEW YORK PRINTMAKING WORKSHOPS
In New York, the Puerto Rican community has founded—or been an active component of—many print workshops. Most notably, our sister institution, the Puerto Rican Workshop (El Taller Alma Boricua), initiated in 1969 in El Barrio, in many ways continues to be closely entwined with the evolution of El Museo. The Permanent Collection contains graphics by artists affiliated with Taller Boricua, as well as the various portfolios the studio has produced. Other workshops have counted on the leading contributions of Puerto Rican artists, including The Printmaking Workshop (founded by the African American print maker Robert Blackburn in 1948) and the Lower East Side Print shop (founded in 1968). In 2000, El Museo received a donation of over one hundred graphic works by Puerto Rican, Caribbean,Latino, and Latin American artists from Robert Blackburn.
MEXICAN AND CHICANO PRINTMAKING
A secondary area of strength is El Museo’s growing collection of prints by Mexican and Chicano artists. Due to the close affiliation between Mexican and Puerto Rican print makers, this collection is of particular relevance. Often, the Mexican movements were role models for the Island’s artists. They offered rationales for the popular and educational mode of image-making as a means of broad distribution with great political impact. Most of the major Puerto Rican artists of the 1950’s generation studied in Mexico or with Mexican print makers. Workshops like the fabled TGP (Taller de Gráfica Popular, 1937–ca. 1965) set the tone for much of the twentieth century’s socially committed print production. While Puerto Ricans then transmitted these ideals to New York, Mexican-Americans on the West Coast also looked to these strong examples.
Since the 1960’s, a parallel development in printmaking between the Nuyorican and Chicano movements in the United States has been noted. Both employed printmaking as a powerful tool during the period of civil rights struggles. As a means of cultural affirmation, the widely disseminated, high-¬impact posters and graphics that came out of influential West Coast workshops continue to set a standard for politically committed printmaking. The Royal Chicano Air Force in Sacramento (RCAF, founded 1970), La Raza Graphic Center in San Francisco (founded 1971), and Self Help Graphics in Los Angeles (founded 1972) are just a few of the many Chicano graphics initiatives from this period.