- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

A number of major international financial institutions collect art at their Washington headquarters. Among the most remarkable collections is that of the Inter-American Development Bank, as its current “Selections From the IDB Art Collection” confirms.

Colombian-born artist-architect Felix Angel — a prominent Latin American art expert — directs the center, and he has presented first-rate shows devoted to the art of Brazil, Guyana and Peru, among other countries, at the IDB since 1992.

Mr. Angel, 49, has a remarkable eye, which becomes apparent as one views the extraordinary works in the current exhibition.

“Curating a show is an adventure,” he says. “I try to find out about the country’s peoples, economy, history and social situation, and I consult with the IDB’s local representatives.”

In Brazil, for example, he saw as many artists as possible while searching that country’s woods-rich upper Amazonian region for new works. With one major discovery, Francisco Cardoso Graciano’s “Cabacal Band,” he also found an unusual artist-family.

Mr. Angel discovered that the artist worked in the folk tradition of his father, the founder of a guild of self-taught local artists.

He discovered the sculpture of the northern Brazilian folk band (two flutists, two drummers and one cymbalist) original and appealing, with the figures’ totemlike stances, staring eyes and colorful dress. Mr. Angel was so smitten by the younger man’s work that he commissioned it for the bank — with the idea of making it the show’s centerpiece. The staring, pop-eyed musicians leave no doubt as to the curator’s fantasy-surrealist leanings.

Neither does “Emiliano Zapata and Diego Bolivar, Our Grandchildren” by Argentina native Mauricio Lasansky, who is revered worldwide for establishing the experimental printmaking workshop at the University of Iowa in 1945.

Although he lived mainly in the U.S., Mr. Lasansky’s typical Latino affection for children blazes through. He obviously loved the little children whom he portrayed clustered together on a small burro’s back.

His technical expertise shows in his contrast of the whites of the children with the donkey’s deep blacks and in his ability to make prints bigger by reassembling pieces of etching plates for greater size.

Another exceptional artist here is the internationally known Guatemalan Luis Gonzalez Palma. Known for his social-protest photographs decrying his government’s excesses — here with “Ora Pronobis,” a mixed media-photograph collage of dead Guatemalan peasants’ bare feet — he represented his country at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

Mr. Angel says he tries to focus on less famous artists from small towns and areas in the Americas, such as the already-mentioned “Cabacal Band” and Mexican Oaxacan arts. Among the best from Oaxaca is HEMAFER Crafts Cooperative’s blue, red and yellow ceramic “Tree With Sunflowers,” which stands a diminutive 3 feet tall.

The curator says he includes as many art styles as possible in his collecting efforts. Chilean Roberto Sebastian Matta’s etched “Verbo America,” for example, represents surrealist styles; Diego Rivera’s delicately penciled “Self-Portrait” is the best of the realists; and former Uruguayan Antonio Frasconi’s xylographed “Obrero petrolero (Oil Worker)” is the most original of the cubist-realists.

As Latin American art is not represented in a major museum on the Mall, Mr. Angel says the IDB has worked hard to build its collection of more than 1,700 works displayed in its three buildings between 13th and 14th streets NW.

To bring together art for exhibits from the 26-member Inter-American Development Bank requires skill, resourcefulness and a lot of frequent-flier miles for Mr. Angel, who also frequently seeks advice from Acquisitions Committee members, including Smithsonian American Art Museum senior curator Virginia M. Mecklenburg and the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ chief curator, Susan Fisher Sterling.

No wonder he thinks he has the best art job in town.

WHAT: “Selections From the IDB Art Collection”

WHERE: Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center, 1300 New York Ave. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Nov. 17

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/623-3774

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