“There’s an amazing universe of modern photographers from Latin America who are not known in the United States,” says Idurre Alonso, associate curator of Latin American Collections at the Getty Research Institute. As co-curator, with Judith Keller, of Photography in Argentina, 1850-2010: Contradiction and Continuity, she’s in a position to know. The show, which opens September 16, is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the collaboration of art institutions across southern California focusing on Latin American and Latino art. The exhibition includes 300 works by 60 artists and examines “this idea of Argentina that has been constructed by photography,” as Alonso puts it.
Since moving to Los Angeles some 15 years ago, Alonso has curated shows that have received attention and accolades: In 2015, she and Selene Preciado, then a research assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art, won the Emerging Curators program organized by the non-profit Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) for their show Customizing Language, on artists who work with language as a political tool.
A native of the Basque Country in Spain, Alonso was always interested in art. She went to museums as a child and studied art history in college. Her grandfather was a landscape painter and she attended art classes herself for a decade. “But I knew that it was a hobby for me,” she says. “I didn’t picture myself being an artist, but I really loved art, and I knew I wanted to work in museums.”
As a student, Alonso came to Los Angeles during the summers to study English, and she had sent letters to all the city’s major museums looking for a volunteer position. They all said no – including, she notes wryly, the Getty. But one spring, she visited the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), which offered her a volunteer position for the summer. Though she still had one more year of school to finish in Spain, the director offered her a job once she graduated. She returned to MOLAA a year later, spending two years as the assistant to the director before moving into a curatorial position. Alonso stayed for 13 years before moving to the Getty, first to the photography department and then to the Getty Research Institute.
At MOLAA, Alonso worked hard to build a photography collection. “It took us years to convince the founder to have photography in the collection,” she says. Once he agreed, she took it upon herself to become an expert, organizing a show on the genre in 2009 called Changing the Focus. “Now the museum has quite a number of interesting photographs,” she says, “and that was one of the things I really wanted to do when I was there.”
With some notable exceptions, there are surprisingly few substantial museum collections of Latin American photography, Alonso points out, because many Latin American artists don’t have galleries, so curators have to travel to their countries and visit their studios. But with exhibitions like Photography in Argentina and with curators like Alonso in the field, that will certainly change.