Folk Art of the Andes – Museum of International Folk Art

From time to time, an exhibition takes place that is a “once in a lifetime” event. These shows are monumental and comprehensive, defining an area of art completely.

Folk Art of the Andes at the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM is such an exhibition. Curated by Barbara Mauldin, with over 850 works are on display, this show presents the extraordinary range of objects found in the highland region of South America. The artworks, dated from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, reveal the influences of Western culture on an indigenous population. The diversity seen in the exhibition aesthetically as well as conceptually is immense.

In one gallery, Aymara weavings, as subtle and nuanced as a Rothko painting, fill the walls. In another space, Corpus Christi Dance headdresses made of light bulbs and plastic toys are displayed, reminiscent of efforts of the most eccentric Outsider Artists. The religious and the secular coexisted throughout the exhibition, as well as object both humble and rarefied.

While this region of the Andes is well known as a place of accomplished craft traditions, Mauldin brings to light many creative and individualistic works which reveal the hand of the self taught artist. Throughout the exhibition, one sees the exuberance of intuitive expressions.

To accompany the show, the museum has published a three hundred page catalog, Folk Art of the Andes. This document will stand as the definitive text on the art of the region. Well organized, with fine images, this book is an excellent stand in for those who cannot view the show first-hand.

The majority of the works on display are from the permanent collection of the museum, with additions lent by collectors. The Museum of International Folk Art is one of the few institutions in the world committed to folk art and that they could mount an exhibition of this scope, primarily from their own holdings demonstrates the dedication and the clarity of their mission.

 Folk Art of the Andes is a testament of the creative spirit. Encountering the works on display, one is reminded of the significant role art can play as a physical manifestation of culture.

Folk Art of the Andes current exhibition open through Sept 9, 2012


Scott Rothstein is an artist who writes primarily about self-taught art and artists informed by traditional culture. His own work can been seen in several American museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rothstein has lived in Philadelphia, New York City, New Delhi, and Tokyo. He is currently based in New Mexico. He blogs at Art Found Out.

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