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— Zamudio's crusade for Latin American artists may have begun when Marcuse held a study group on the philosophy of art. "We demanded that instead of looking at the European classics as examples -- like Balzac or Goya or Goethe -- that we also look at Latin American literature and Latin American artists. We got him to read [writers like] Gabriel Garcia Márquez and look at Latin American visual arts. That was amazing. That someone in his late 70s could start a new track there and let himself be led by these late-teen-early-20-year-olds to say, 'Let's look at aesthetics but let's utilize Latin American examples.' "

It wasn't so easy for Zamudio to find qualified tutors for his Latin American graduate art studies. "When I was going to graduate school, there was not one Ph.D. in the country that had been trained by a Latin American [modern] art specialist."

Zamudio went to Princeton but soon felt confined by academe. He began freelance lecturing and advising on his areas of specialty, modern and contemporary Latin American art and art made by Latinos in the United States.

"My great opportunity came when the Museum of Modern Art in New York City hired me [in 1993] to lecture on a very important and controversial exhibition called 'Latin American Artists of the 20th Century.' " Latin American art was just starting to get traction and respect. So was Zamudio.

"I was three years lecturing at the Museum of Modern Art, advising different institutions -- San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas; Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; I began to advise Mexican institutions. I started to curate my own exhibitions."

European assignments followed, then an invitation from the Smithsonian, and earlier this year, the Televisa Cultural Foundation appointed him curator if its collection of modern art and ancient photographs.

Zamudio sees himself as one of a new breed of curators.

"I am part of a growing number of curators between their late 20s and early 40s who find it very interesting not to be tied to one institution. In a sense it's reflecting the increasingly global character of our world and the interaction of our world."

Two of his gigs are as guest curator for upcoming exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and here at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Los Angeles exhibit is called "The Road to Aztlán; Art From a Mythic Homeland." That's scheduled to open in 2001. The La Jolla show, due in September 2000, is called "Ultra Baroque."

Look for questions of identity, Zamudio says, but more in the content than the style of the art.

"The generation of Chicano artists from the 1960s and '70s up to the early '80s were working with themes involving history, spirituality, with identifiable icons like the virgin of Guadalupe, the bleeding heart, references to pre-Columbian art and culture, to Mexican popular culture, and also to religious cultural [elements] like the altar. That was an affirmation of an identity. These artistic practices were calling attention to the fact that Chicanos are different. As Americans they're different. As Mexicans they're different. But now what happens, from the late '80s to our decade, is that Chicano artists -- and other Latino artists who are firmly grounded in their culture -- are not interested so much in working with identifiable forms and images, but are rather part of the international scenario."

He says "Ultra Baroque" will show a Latin America exuberant, ahead in its vision of the world.

"The baroque has particular forms and expressions in Latin America, because Latin America didn't go through the period of 19th- and 20th-century industrialization, as European states did. So it remains more vivid. And also in Latin America there was an exchange, an intermixing, a mestizaje between Indian, African, and European peoples, from the very start of colonialism. So you have the phenomenon of what you could call 'cultural syncretism.'

"If 'cultural syncretism' is a characteristic of contemporary [Western] culture, it has been a phenomenon in the Americas for the last 500 years. So in many ways, current global issues or concerns are anticipated in Latin America. That's what the exhibition is about, but it's looking at artists who use a variety of media. Video, photography, sculpture, painting. The artists that we're considering from the [San Diego-Tijuana] region -- we haven't finished our list of artists yet -- you may not identify them formally [as being from here], but you will be able to relate to the themes they're dealing with."

Zamudio says the "Ultra-Baroque" feel also stems from a very 21st Century "horrore vacui" -- fear of emptiness.

"They have to fill every moment, every little space. If this art is the 'overripe fruit of a tottering [Western] civilization' [as some have said], it is also the fruit of dramatically changing technology, communications, political and economic globalization, and increasingly intimate cultural exchange. It's a monster, but it also expresses today's wonderful new possibilities."

He sips his cappuccino, which has cooled.

"And that's why I'm back here in San Diego, at the MCA."

He suspects he may be back again. As curator of Mexico City's Casa Lamm, he's always looking for places to exhibit, because the museum has very little exhibition space of its own. "I'd love to bring them to Tijuana." He thinks a moment. "And perhaps to Balboa Park, which gave me the taste for this life."

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