Published 17/06/2024 | 10:54

The first major exhibition of Latin American art to open in Estonia

Diego Rivera (1886–1957). Danzantito (Child Dancer from Huejotzingo). Ca 1946. Watercolour and ink. © The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp

On Friday, 21 June, a new international exhibition, History and Mystery: Latin American Art and Europe, will open to the public in the Great Hall of the Kumu Art Museum. This is the largest display of Latin American art in Estonia so far. The exhibition features art from two eras: the Spanish colonial period from the 17th to the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th century. The exhibition is a collaboration with The Phoebus Foundation, which owns one of the largest collections of Latin American art in Europe.

“We are thrilled to have our Latin American collection venture outside Belgium for the first time ever! The majority of the pieces have been specially restored and prepared for this exhibition, making it a feast for the eyes, as each work is looking its absolute best,“ said Katharina Van Cauteren, Executive Director of The Phoebus Foundation.

“The central focus of the exhibition is the artistic relationship between Latin America and Europe, in particular European influences on Latin American art. Drawing on the collections of The Phoebus Foundation, the exhibition brings together art from two eras: the colonial past sets the scene for an exploration of the art of independent Latin American countries of the 20th century. In both periods, we see how European influences intertwined with the local indigenous heritage, resulting in a visual language unique to Latin America,” said the curators, Sirje Helme and Kadi Polli, in introducing the exhibition.

Alongside 17th-19th-century paintings from the Viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru – religious images, and paintings focused on race and class relations – the display features works by 20th-century modernist artists from Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela, including greats of Latin American art, such as Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Roberto Matta, Julio Alpuy, Antonio Berni and Fernando Botero, as well as Líbero Badíi and Wifredo Lam, whose works have been given a prominent place at the Venice Art Biennale 2024. In total, around a hundred works are on display, the largest of which are three-metre high sculptures.


In a separate subsection of the exhibition, seven paintings by the British-born surrealist artist and writer Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) are on display in Kumu’s 4th floor project space. Carrington spent much of her life in Mexico, and her works in The Phoebus Foundation originate from this period. Carrington’s unique works have attracted a lot of attention in recent years and she has become the most sought-after British woman artist in the art market. The display also marks the centenary of surrealism, celebrated in 2024.

The vibrant exhibition design was created by the artists Kristi Kongi and Kaarel Eelma. Families can enjoy the interactive spaces set up around the exhibition in the Great Hall. The exhibition is accompanied by a book containing introductions and reproductions of both colonial art (curated by Kadi Polli) and 20th-century art (curated by Sirje Helme). The graphic designs of the exhibition and the book are by Külli Kaats.

The opening programme of the exhibition will take place in the last week of June. On Wednesday, 26 June, both curators, Kadi Polli and Sirje Helme, will jointly lead a tour of the exhibition. On Thursday, 27 June, visitors will have the unique opportunity to participate in a special tour by The Phoebus Foundation’s painting conservator, Carlos González, who will share fascinating conservation stories about the colonial period artworks on display (in English). On Saturday, 29 June, guided tours of the exhibition will be held in Estonian, English and Russian, and there will be a workshop for children. Every second Sunday in July and August, guided tours will be provided in Estonian and English. The highlight of the summer programme is Kumu’s Latin American-themed courtyard festival on 24 August.

The exhibitions History and Mystery: Latin American Art and Europe in Kumu’s Great Hall and Leonora Carrington in the 4th floor project space will be open until 3 November 2024.

The exhibition was organised in collaboration between the Art Museum of Estonia and The Phoebus Foundation SON (Antwerp, Belgium), with the support of the Katoen Natie Group and Indaver Group. Akzo Nobel Baltics AS has supported the exhibition by donating paint.

The Phoebus Foundation is an art foundation with philanthropic objectives. It acquires and conserves art while emphasising scientific research, sharing its findings through exhibitions, loans, cultural events, symposia and publications with an audience as wide as possible.