DETROIT — The central piece, and the one that immediately draws the eye when entering the main gallery of United States of Latin America at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), is a full wall mural by Minerva Cuevas entitled “America.” The 2006 painting is a mash-up of two images — in the background, a colonial painting of an indigenous Mexican person, who seems to glance bemusedly into the foreground, where a giant overlay shows Scrooge McDuck frolicking playfully in a puddle of gold coins. This literal negotiation of the divide between two American realities is at the heart of the show, which presents 30 artists from all the Americas — not only the America that United States citizens tend to think of as being the whole of America.
This co-opting of American identity is a pain point for MOCAD Curator-at-Large Jens Hoffman (also deputy director of the Jewish Museum in New York) and his longtime friend Pablo León de la Barra (UBS MAP Latin American curator at the Guggenheim). “I don’t think it’s the United States versus Latin America, but even the exhibition’s title plays a little bit with the idea that the United States has almost taken the name of America — which is a continent — for itself,” de la Barra said in a recent interview . “You have Europe trying to create a whole European community — so what would happen if Latin America started to work in a more unified way?”