My Oct. 25 review of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art,” ignited strong reactions from some Latino artists. Several participants in a conversation on Facebook took particular exception to my claim that the show’s lack of focus was “a telling symptom of an insoluble problem: Latino art, today, is a meaningless category.” I asked the author of the original post, digital artist and filmmaker Alex Rivera, best known for his Sundance award-winning feature film “Sleep Dealer,” if he would like to have the conversation more publicly. He agreed, and what follows is a shorter, edited version of an e-mail exchange over a two-day period.
ALEX RIVERA: Can you explain why you used your review of this show to make a pronouncement about the entire concept of “Latino art”? It seems to happen over and over again: When a group show like this one is mounted, critics attack the fundamental notion of looking at the work as a group. Why?