Collecting Latin America

Over 100 works from the world-famous Brillembourg Capriles Collection of Latin American Art go on exhibition for the first time at the MFAH.

By Michael Hardy June 20, 2013

Fernando Botero, El secuestro (The Kidnapping), 1966, oil on canvas, The Brillembourg Capriles Collection of Latin American Art. © Fernando Botero, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

The Brillembourg Capriles Collection of Latin American Art
June 23–Sept 2
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet St.

There are as many ways of collecting art as there are art collectors. Many people focus on a particular period—French rococo, say, or modernism—or on a particular artist. “Some collectors are extremely rational,” says Mari Carmen Ramírez, the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art and director of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “They draw up a plan, and they may end up with certain pieces that they don’t like, but that are important for their collection." 

That was never the way of Tanya Capriles de Brillembourg, whose world-famous collection of twentieth century Latin American art is featured in a major new MFAH exhibition. “Tonya is completely emotional,” say Ramírez, who curated the new exhibition and has been working closely with Brillembourg for years. “If the work speaks to her, she will buy it. She doesn’t care if it’s a major work by the artist or a minor work.”

In 2009, Brillembourg gave much of her collection—featuring masterpieces by Diego Rivera, Fernando Botero, and Roberto Matta—to the MFAH as a long-term loan. Several works from the collection have already been exhibited, some as part of the MFAH’s 2010 show Houston Collects. But the new exhibition, which features over a hundred works, marks the first appearance of many of the collection’s gems.

After the exhibition closes in September, it will likely travel to other museums in America and Latin America, but the works will eventually return to the MFAH’s permanent collection. Ramírez hopes that the long-planned construction of a new building for contemporary art at the MFAH will provide space to permanently display the collection. Until then, the exhibition offers Houstonians the best opportunity to see some of the world’s most important Latin American art. Which is exactly what Brillembourg had in mind when she made the loan.

“She was very clear that she didn’t want to sell the collection—she wanted it to be in a public museum” Ramírez says. “She has a few things in her homes, but she sold all of her big houses. She has small houses now.” 


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