Island-Hop Through New York's Multi-Faceted, Multi-Museum Survey of Caribbean Art

Yeni y Nan's "Simbolismo de la cristalización, Araya," 1984/2010
(Courtesy of the artists and Henrique Faría Fine Art, NY)

WHAT: “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World”

WHEN: El Museo del Barrio, June 12-January 6, 2013; Queens Museum of Art, June 17-January 6, 2013; The Studio Museum in Harlem, June 14-October 21


WHERE: El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street, New York; Queens Museum of Art, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York

WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: In what is likely the most expansive art event of the summer, El Museo del Barrio, the Queens Museum of Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem co-host a tri-institutional exhibition to conclude over a decade of collaborative research on the Caribbean, its people, nations, and artistic currents.

Spanning two boroughs, “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World” has over 500 works on display including painting, sculpture, artist books, photography, video, and historical artifacts from Caribbean countries, Europe, and the U.S. Accompanying programming at each venue takes place each month, from artist talks to film series, throughout the run of the show. A complimentary publication on the history, art, and culture of the Caribbean has also been released, edited by El Museo del Barrio's Associate Curator, Special Projects Elvis Fuentes and its Director of Curatorial Programs Deborah Cullen. Several other institutions have concurrent shows in conjunction with the exhibition and June’s Caribbean-American Heritage Month, including the Americas Society, Bronx Museum, and Nathan Cummings Foundation.

The museums take a comprehensive look at the region and its Diaspora through the visual creations of its artists, and those inspired by the culture and scenery of the region's islands. The exhibition's time-line spans the period from the Haitian revolution to the present, and incorporates an impressive set of pre-modern, modern, and contemporary artists, including Janine Antoni, John James Audubon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paul Gauguin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ana Mendieta, and many more.

The work is separated according to six distinct themes, which are divided between the three venues. El Museo del Barrio displays “Counterpoints,” mapping the complex economic and political plantation systems that made the islands prosper, and their major produce industries, such as sugar, fruit, tobacco, and coffee. “Patriot Acts” focuses on the artists and intellectuals who helped shape notions of identity in each nation, through contrasts and comparisons between indigenous practices, African histories, and modern aesthetics.

The Queens Museum of Art shows works in sections dubbed “Fluid Motions” and “Kingdoms of this World.” The first tackles the geographic hurdles and geopolitical positioning of the countries in the region, while the second includes work about the range of cultures, languages, and people that populate them, and the important role of carnival for all of the Caribbean's inhabitants.

The Studio Museum in Harlem covers the last two sections. “Land of the Outlaw” unpacks the two divergent ways the area has been portrayed historically: as a utopia, and as a tropical Wild West where crime and illicit activity run rampant. Meanwhile “Shades of History” looks at the significance of race in the history and culture of Caribbean identity, as well as the milestone of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 — which made Haiti the second independent country in the Americas, following the U.S., and the first black republic.

This citywide exhibition underlines the island nations' history as melting pots for a broad range of cultures. The diverse museums of what is considered to be the largest Caribbean city in the world fittingly reflect that richness and variety in their survey of the region's vibrant art.