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September 9-11, 2022   Javits Center

of Brown

Armory Access: Curated
June 3–13

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Aliza Nisenbaum Atanacio, Study & Cactus, LA Walk Anton Kern Gallery
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Bony Ramirez Sueño De Campo 2021 Thierry Goldberg Gallery
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María Fragoso Seeding 1969 Gallery
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Donna Huanca WET SLIT 2020 Simon Lee Gallery

Senses of Brown

Curated by César García-Alvarez

Over the past year, as a global pandemic exacerbated long-enduring inequities and injustices, communities across the US sought solidarity with others like them in their pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion, and healing. The words we choose to speak of our togetherness with, however, don’t always do what we expect they would. Latinx, a term first mobilized to dismantle a linguistic gender binary, has provoked passionate debate amongst people whose identities are shaped by a Latinidad forged by empire-building and colonization. The term has balkanized and shed light on deep divisions across racial and gender identities, sexualities, political affiliations, countries of origin, legal statuses, generations, and even faiths. The difficult but necessary dialogue sparked by this term provides an opportunity to reflect on whether a cohesive and communal sense of self is possible for those whose lives and stories are shaped by a multiplicity of temporalities, spatialities, and conditions.

In a recent, posthumously published book of writings titled The Sense of Brown, the late scholar José Esteban Muñoz asks whether feeling like a problem can be more than an impasse and perhaps be an opening. This virtual exhibition embraces Muñoz’s question and brings together a group of works by artists whose personhoods and practices discomfort histories, definitions, perspectives, and opinions about what constitutes Latinidad and their own places within it. Here, Latinx is a framework for debate rather than a definition and the exhibition is a modest opening statement for a conversation that asks whether resolved identities are what we should aspire to as opposed to seeking shared incommensurability.

The exhibition is structured as a conversation between ideas and images; between a selection of Muñoz’s thoughts from The Sense of Brown and the work of artists. Mediated through short curatorial perspectives, what emerges is a series of inquiries and questions rather than answers—opportunities for you, the viewer, to consider these debates around identity and about the possibilities of what Muñoz called a Brown Commons.

César García-Alvarez
Founder and Artistic Director, The Mistake Room

Featuring works by:

Candida Alvarez, Hellen Ascoli, Juan Capistrán, Gisela Colón, María Fragoso, Jay Lynn Gomez, Donna Huanca, Larry Madrigal, Harold Mendez, Ana Mendieta, Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya, Jaime Muñoz, Aliza Nisembaum, Fay Ray, Shirley Villavicencio Pizango, Bony Ramirez, Johanna Unzueta, Sarah Zapata

To think about brownness is to accept that it arrives at us and that we attune to it only partially. Pieces resist knowing and being knowable. At best, we can be attuned to what brownness does in the world, what it performs, and the sense of the world that such performances engender.
José Esteban Muñoz

WET SLIT (installation view)
Donna Huanca WET SLIT (installation view) 2020 Simon Lee Gallery

The body, as a site of Brownness, is rendered beyond physical appearance in the work of artists whose practices straddle a multiplicity of histories and geographies. Ana Mendieta’s Flower Person, Flower Body (1975/2020) is part of a series of works begun in 1973 that mobilize a repertoire of gendered forms to bridge relationships between body, land, and the spiritual world. It is an index of a presence that is neither subject or object; a trace of acts both earthly and otherworldly. As a bridge to histories of land art and also religious practices of the Caribbean, Mendieta’s work exemplifies the ways a practice can generate rhizomatic narratives that connect multiple conditions and locales. In similar ways, Donna Huanca’s paintings exist beyond a linear art historical canon. Mobilizing images of her painted models as surfaces for layered compositions, Huanca’s paintings speak both to the disappearing body—a trope important in the history of Latin American art—and broader trajectories at the intersection of painting and performance that extend as far as the work of the late Yves Klein. Candida Alvarez’s abstract paintings present us with a different kind of portraiture—one that shakes the boundary between the intimate and the public. Memories invoked from photos and recollections of her past are made visible through bursts of colors and textures that fill planes cradled by firmly standing aluminum frames. The juxtaposition of the paintings and their buttressing structures echo the choreographies that play out between the bodies we inhabit and what those bodies feel and think. Collectively these works remind us that Brownness exists within but perhaps most importantly beyond the bodies we navigate the world in.

Flower Person, Flower Body
Ana Mendieta Flower Person, Flower Body 1975 / 2020 Galerie Lelong & Co.
Between Two Things, from Air Paintings (2017-2019)
Candida Alvarez Between Two Things, from Air Paintings (2017-2019) 2019 Monique Meloche Gallery
Brown and Down
Juan Capistrán Brown and Down 2005 Galería CURRO

I mean “brown” as in brown people in a very immediate way, in this sense, people who are rendered brown by their personal and familial participation in South-to-North migration patterns. I am also thinking of people who are brown by way of accents and linguistic orientations that convey a certain difference. I mean a brownness that is conferred by the ways in which one’s spatial coordinates are contested.
José Esteban Muñoz

Hyper Ellipsoid (Hydra)
Gisela Colón Hyper Ellipsoid (Hydra) 2021 GAVLAK

From Fay Ray’s mobile figure forged from organic and industrial forms to Gisela Colón’s organically minimalist pod, some works in this exhibition explore space and the way it informs multiple senses of personhood. The spaces that bodies traverse, occupy, live in, assemble and unmake are intimately complicit with the identities we embody and perform. Rather than be bound to the biological and the biographical, identity can be imagined situationally—as a shifting inconstant that is assembled and re-assembled based on circumstances. Such possibility returns agency to the subjects that constantly have to define their sense of self beyond the categories that others project onto them.

Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya Araceli23220 2020 Sargent's Daughters

Feeling like a problem, in commonality, is what I am attempting to get to when I cite and exercise this notion of feeling brown....Feeling brown is feeling together in difference. Feeling brown is an “apartness together” through sharing the status of being a problem.
José Esteban Muñoz

Harold Mendez Jaulas 2017 Patron Gallery

Brown indexes a certain vulnerability to the violence of property, finance, and to capital’s overarching mechanisms of domination.
José Esteban Muñoz

Viry’s House Cleaning (The Hollywood Issue)
Ramiro Gomez Viry’s House Cleaning (The Hollywood Issue) 2020 P.P.O.W Gallery
Jaime Muñoz Tension 2020 The Pit

But we know that some humans are brown in that they feel differently, that things are brown in that they radiate a different kind of affect. Affect... is meant to address a sense of being-in-common as it is transmitted across people, places, and spaces.
José Esteban Muñoz

The representation of subjects historically shaped by histories of exclusion and violence has long been a prominent urgency amongst artists with varying relationships to Latin America and its diaspora. How the subjects represented evolve across temporalities and geographies, however, is important and speaks to a spectrum of relationships that each artist positions themselves in differently. From Aliza Nisenbaum’s colorful portraits of people engaging in everyday activities to Shirley Villavicencio Pizango’s collection of portraits of friends and family, a fragility emerges that acknowledges that the portrait as a form is mortal and that the burdens of time inevitably continue to shape a subject over a lifetime. Here, from the quotidian to the fantastical as depicted in the works of Larry Madrigal and Maria Fragoso, a landscape of people emerges that reminds us of a shared incommensurability that binds our sense of Brown.

Sueño De Campo
Bony Ramirez Sueño De Campo 2021 Thierry Goldberg Gallery
María Fragoso Seeding 2020 1969 Gallery

Brownness is a kind of uncanny persistence in the face of distressed conditions of possibility.
José Esteban Muñoz

Photo by Ryan Orange

César García-Alvarez

César García-Alvarez is the founder as well as executive and artistic director of The Mistake Room (TMR), a Los Angeles–based, independent space and platform for contemporary art, culture, and ideas. At TMR, García-Alvarez has organized exhibitions and projects with Oscar Murillo, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Ed Clark, Diana Thater, Mandy El-Sayegh, Thomas Hirschhorn, Henry Taylor, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Gordon Matta-Clark, and others. From 2007 to 2012, García-Alvarez held various positions at LAXART, including associate director and senior curator. He was one of the curators of Made in L.A. 2012—the first Los Angeles biennial organized by the Hammer Museum—and, in 2013, served as US commissioner for the 13th International Cairo Biennial. García-Alvarez has also organized notable museum exhibitions, including mid-career surveys of Marcos Ramirez ERRE (with Kevin Power) at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City (2011), and Eduardo Sarabia at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Guadalajara (2014). García-Alvarez’s recent books include monographs on Eduardo Sarabia and Brenna Youngblood. He is currently working on monographs on artists Felipe Baeza and Tiffany Alfonseca, as well as a book on the first seven years of TMR’s programs. García-Alvarez lives and works in Los Angeles.