The McNay Art Museum has been awarded the inaugural Sotheby’s Prize for the exhibition Pop América: 1965-1975, which will come to San Antonio in October 2018.

The Sotheby’s Prize recognizes curatorial excellence, specifically for “exhibitions that explore overlooked or under-represented areas of art history at a time when such projects are becoming increasingly difficult to fund and develop,” according to the announcement.

The prize is shared with the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, where the exhibition was developed by curator Esther Gabara, professor of romance studies and art history at Duke. The McNay and Nasher will each receive $62,500 of the $125,000 prize, which was announced in September.

Richard Aste, director of the McNay, was on hand alongside Gabara in New York on Nov. 3 to accept the award, which he called “a great honor,” in part because “accepting it really legitimized our efforts at the McNay to tell a more truthful history of art to our visitors.”

(From left) ‘Pop América, 1965-1975’ Curator Esther Gabara, and McNay Art Museum Director Richard Aste accept the inaugural Sotheby’s Prize.
Pop América, 1965-1975 Curator Esther Gabara (left) and McNay Director Richard Aste accept the inaugural Sotheby’s Prize. Credit: Courtesy / Sotheby’s and Harrison Epstein/HIE Photography

The Pop América: 1965-1975 exhibition expands the category of Pop Art far beyond its previous borders – in the past limited to well-known U.S. artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Indiana – to include many artists from Mexico and Central and South America.

The title of the exhibition derives from a collage by Chilean artist Hugo Rivera-Scott, who overlaid Lichtenstein’s iconic 1967 print Explosion with a comics-style “pop” and the word “América” underneath, lending a more inclusive sense of what “America” might mean.

Another piece in the show, Colombia Coca-Cola, a 1976 enamel-on-sheet metal painting by Antonio Caro, adopts appropriationist strategies common among Pop artists, presumably to riff on the soft drink’s international presence.

The artwork Colombia Coca-Cola by Antonio Caro. Credit: Courtesy / Antonio Caro and Casas Riegner

“To limit Pop Art to the U.S. does a disservice to history,” Aste said. “This is just the very beginning of a new art history, the new normal in our increasingly global world culture,” he said of the exhibition’s focus on telling a different story than is widely known.

The show marks a “hemispheric vision” that “sparks a fundamental reconsideration of Pop,” Gabara wrote in her catalogue essay for the show. “If Pop art worldwide was indelibly marked by the idea of ‘America,’” she wrote, “this is the first exhibition that investigates the meaning of that word in the fascinating range of Pop experiments across the continent.”

That the exhibition will begin its tour in San Antonio, a city conscious of its heritage, holds particular meaning for Aste and Gabara.

“This exhibition could be a source of pride for those of Latin American heritage here in San Antonio,” said Aste, the first Hispanic director of the McNay. “We’ve organized Pop Art shows here in the past, [and] we have masterpieces of Pop Art in the collection, but we’ve been telling a fraction of the story by focusing on mostly white male artists in the U.S. This is a truly global art movement that speaks to our community directly.”

The Tricentennial year of 2018 commemorates 300 years of community in San Antonio, and is coincidentally the 50th anniversary of HemisFair ’68. Pop América has a close relationship with HemisFair and events surrounding it.

“Our city hosted the HemisFair world expo in 1968, in the middle of this exhibition’s period,” Aste said. The show will include Indiana’s VIVA poster for HemisFair ’68, along with images of the Cuban Revolution, student and workers’ movements, and Civil Rights and democratic movements across the Americas.

“We’re so happy the exhibit will be there,” Gabara wrote in an email, pointing out that the “300” logo for the San Antonio Tricentennial closely echoes the design for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

She quotes author Claire Fox’s 2013 book Making Art Pan-American as saying that the Pop Art-inspired Olympics designs “proclaimed Mexico’s readiness to host an international tourist community,” and that “HemisFair proclaimed itself the ‘Gateway to Latin America’ and promoted the image of a ‘singular continent.’”

“So San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebrations already included Pop América, in a sense, even before the McNay came in as a partner to the Nasher,” Gabara said.

The McNay joins a recent spate of San Antonio arts and culture award recipients. The city itself received a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy 2017 designation, and artists Ana Fernandez and Ruth Buentello were announced Tuesday as winners of the 2017 Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors grant program.

After Pop América completes its run at the McNay next year, it will be on view at the Nasher Museum in Durham, North Carolina, from February through July 2019, then move to the Block Museum at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, from September 2019 to January 2020.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...