The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens’ collection of American art—strong in holdings from the 19th through early 20th centuries—is now entering a new era through a reinstallation. Included in the show is a painting by Enrique Martínez Celaya that is so fresh, it was hung as soon as it was finished—just days before the permanent-collection exhibition opened to the public. The show, “Borderlands,” debuted on November 20 and is notable not only because of the inclusion of contemporary works like Martínez Celaya’s self-portrait, six years in the making, but for the way that American art has been reframed by him and other Latinx and Indigenous artists included in the exhibition.
An 8×8-foot watercolor map of Los Angeles by Sandy Rodriguez opens the exhibition and acts as the thematic anchor of the show. Made in the style of early colonial manuscripts from Mexico and replete with Native American iconography, the painting invites viewers not only to consider the history of the land they stand on, but also to bring that perspective to the galleries that follow, which include works by artists like Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer.
Contemporary artists Mercedes Dorame and Cara Romero also contributed work to the exhibition that encourages a critical consideration of people and place. Romero’s photograph of her daughter, wearing the traditional attire of California’s coastal Indigenous people and embraced at her knees by an ocean wave, reminds the viewer that Native Americans are, in the words of Indigenous activists, “still here.”
Dorame’s photograph of a small Tongva grinding bowl embedded in a granite boulder offers a counterpoint to expansive 19th century landscape paintings by the likes of William Bradford, Thomas Cole, and Edgar Alwin Payne that line the adjacent gallery. This contrast sharpens in a wall text Dorame wrote to accompany an oil painting of the San Gabriel Valley made by Payne in 1916. Dorame notes that the imagery feels like home: “A home of longing, a home that is kept always at a distance, a home that has been dissected, privatized, and monetized, but one that I remain deeply connected to.” She continues, writing perhaps for her Tongva community, or even for the museum’s visitors: “My hope is that we can look to the mountains and sky, inspired by their immense being and presence, and remember that we are the water, we are the air, we are the land.” huntington.org