The 2012 Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Travel Award for Central America and the Caribbean, given in honor of curator Virginia Pérez-Ratton, dedicates this section to her life and work.
(San José, Costa Rica, 1950 - 2010)
Virginia Pérez-Ratton in San José, Costa Rica. Image Courtesy of TEOR/éTica
Artist, curator, and cultural manager, Virginia Pérez-Ratton was the founder and director of the independent project TEOR/éTica, in San José, from 1999 to 2010. Author of many influential publications and essays, and curator of numerous exhibitions and projects around the world, she devoted much of her life to research, advocacy, and the dissemination of contemporary artistic practices of Central America and the Caribbean.
She received her Licentiate degree in French Literature at the University of Costa Rica (1979), and for nine years she was a teacher in the School of Modern Languages of the Faculty of Humanities. In the early eighties, she left teaching to pursue her own artistic practice and education by attending free workshops in Costa Rica and France. Between 1985 and 1987, she worked in Costa Rica for the Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in the context of an emergency surrounding those displaced by armed conflict in Central America.
Her artistic production started with drawing and developed into research with experimental techniques involving etching, collage, assemblages, and the integration of graphics and objects. Between 1983 and 1995, she developed most of her artistic production and also participated in several exhibitions in Latin America, Europe and Asia. Since the early nineties, Virginia focused her research on everyday objects that carried some emotional memory, as in the collections of china or broken glass (Pecera, 2000-2010); in the sequence of dresses from childhood to adulthood (Hoja de Vida, 1995); or emptied fragments of her own body (Juego de muda incompleto, 1999). The ideas and images of vulnerability, rupture, fragility, as well as the influence of the immediate context and the stereotypes which social structures confer to human relationships, are cross-cutting in her work.
Virginia Pérez-Ratton, Fragmentos de muda, 2005. Image courtesy of TEOR/éTica
Alongside her work as an artist, she began to organize exhibitions and graphic art workshops independently from her own workshop, Atelier de la Tebaida, in Concepción, Tres Ríos (Costa Rica).
In 1994, the same year she won the prize of the Sculpture Biennial of the Costa Rican Brewery, she agreed to be the director of the newly-founded Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MADC). Thereafter, she began tireless efforts of curatorial and cultural action. From MADC, Virginia organized over 60 exhibitions in and outside Costa Rica, including the series Mesóticas. In her tenure as director, she created the National Board of Curators, led by Rolando Castellón; and the Regional Documentation Center, directed by Luis Fernando Quirós. In coordination with the National Board of Curators, she was in charge of curating the Costa Rican participation in various biennials. In 1998 she was invited by Paulo Herkenhoff to the XXIV São Paulo Biennial to take over the regional curatorship for Central America and the Caribbean. At the end of that same year, she resigned from her position as director of the MADC.
TEOR/éTica museum and office houses in San José, Costa Rica. Image courtesy of TEOR/éTica
In June 1999 she founded the independent, nonprofit organization TEOR/éTica, along with Rolando Castellón, Paulo Herkenhoff, Bruno Stagno, and Claude Tournon. The project was set forth with the aim to continue studying regional artistic practices and collaborate with research and dissemination of recent work in the area. With a small building for exhibitions and a library open to the public, TEOR/éTica gradually became a meeting and sharing place for active agents of contemporary art in the region. From that platform, and with the support of her team, she curated numerous exhibitions, activities, workshops, and seminars and developed a strong publication program.
Temas Centrales and Estrecho Dudoso (Doubtful Strait)
In 2000 TEOR/éTica organized Temas Centrales, the first regional symposium on artistic practices and contemporary curatorial possibilities, which brought together artists, curators, and researchers of the region in San José, and marked a milestone in terms of networking and research links in Central America and the Caribbean. In 2006 she curated, along with Tamara Díaz Bringas, Estrecho Dudoso (Doubtful Strait), an international exhibition with the participation of nearly eighty artists and groups, held in various venues and public spaces of San José.
Based on intensive research and the linking of critical agents of regional art and thought, Virginia managed to articulate and demonstrate the contemporary art of Central America and the Caribbean, both in the context of the region and in the global art circuits. In addition to her important work as head of TEOR/éTica, Virginia curated numerous international exhibitions, and she actively participated in symposia and lectures on art theory, globalization, and cultural perspectives. Highlights include her participation in the International Jury of the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001; attendance at Platform III of Documenta 11, upon invitation of Okwui Enwezor in 2002; the conferences “Migraciones desde y hacia el Caribe,” presented that same year at ARCO; or her participation in Global Feminisms in 2007, where she presented the paper “Entre íntimo y político: artistas centroamericanas.” In 2009 Costa Rica’s Ministry of Culture gave her the Magón Award in recognition of her work as curator and promoter of contemporary art in Costa Rica, as well as Central America and the Caribbean.
Virginia Pérez Ratton in her office in TEORETICA, 2005. Image courtesy of TEOR/éTica
In 2010, after an intense and long time devoted to research and curatorship, Virginia briefly resumed her artistic work in the workshop. That year, in the project Des Pacio, San José, she presented her personal exhibition Re-puesta en escena, which included graphic artwork and new versions of some of her works.
In the months before her untimely death, Virginia was preparing an anthology of her texts that will be published in a bilingual edition by the University of Valencia (Pérez-Ratton, Virginia. Del Estrecho Dudoso a un Caribe Invisible: Apuntes Sobre Arte Centroamericano. Valencia: Universitat de Valéncia, 2012.). These texts, written in the course of her career as a researcher, will be essential for the study of art and critical thought in Central America in relation to their historical and socio-political context.
Virgina Pérez-Ratton’s library will be reopened to the public in September 2012 at TEOR/éTica.
Which region? Towards a Doubtful Strait / ¿Qué region? Hacia un Estrecho Dudoso. By Virginia Pérez-Ratton
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In this essay Virginia Pérez-Ratton reflects on Central America, collecting the thoughts on the region she developed over decades through her artistic and intellectual production. It is based in a previous version, presented by Virginia at Which Central America? a meeting of thinkers, artists and curators who gathered in 2006 at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in San José, Costa Rica. Their aim was to trace the possible futures for work and research, by analyzing the region’s artistic, museologic and curatorial production since 1990 and facing the perspectives on the art market at the beginnings of the 21st Century.
Temas Centrales 2000
Temas Centrales was the first regional symposium to discuss artistic practices and curatorial possibilities. At the end of a decade in which several proposals had sparked relationships and cooperative work within the Central American artistic field, TEOR/éTica, under Virginia Pérez-Ratton’s direction, organized in October 2000 an event that brought together a large group of artists, investigators, historians and cultural agents. The purpose was to share artistic proposals and discuss the most urgent problems present within the different contexts.
Some of the most active artists and critical agents of the Central American region, alongside notable international collaborators, where brought together —possibly for the first time — during these intense sessions, which took place in the National Auditorium in San José, Costa Rica. Moderated by Mexican curator Cuauhtémoc Medina, the event revolved around accounts presented by a speaker from each country. Each one rendered a general narration that provided an outlook on their nation’s local production. In most cases, this became a framework for a wider historical report. In addition to the presentation of “national” contexts, the papers and artists’ talks touched on themes that dealt with performance, artistic education, the lack of institutions to promote art, the urgency for independent initiatives, the work of the artist as a cultural agent and the controversial role of curatorship, amongst others. In some ways, the broad agenda proposed by the symposium aimed to provoke and function as a catalyst, thus becoming more than just a program.
Contributors: Adrienne Samas, Bayardo Blandino, Rosina Cazali, Porfirio García Romano, Rocío Fernández, Cuauhtemoc Medina, Aída Toledo, Anabella Acevedo Leal, Patricia Fumero, Galio C. Guardian and Maricela Kauffmann, Rafael Cuevas Molina, Irmino Perera Díaz, Miguel Huezo Mixco, Humberto Vélez, Cuauhtemoc Medina (English texts).
Revista ISTMO n. 22: Virginia Pérez-Ratton y Centroamérica: arte, pensamiento y propuesta (2010)
An homage to Virginia Pérez-Ratton’s life and exceptional work as an artist, curator and promoter, published by her friends and colleagues a few months after Virgina passed away in October 2010. This special edition of Isthmus Magazine, was coordinated by friends Víctor Hugo Acuña and Alexandra Ortiz Wallner. The contributors’ perspectives reflect her remarkable role in the development of Central American art over the last three decades. Artists, intellectuals, curators from Central America, Latin America and Europe; most of them friends, collaborators, teachers and mentors, who witnessed and participates in her transnational and international journey.
With contributions by: Víctor Hugo Acuña, Alexandra Ortiz Wallner, Paulo Herkenhoff, Santiago Olmo, Rolando Castellón, Priscilla Monge, Carlos Capelán, Gerardo Mosquera, Joaquín Rodríguez del Paso, Luis Chaves, Emilia Villegas González, Luis Fernando Quirós, Raúl Quintanilla, Jurgen Ureña, Rocío Fernández de Ulibarri, Pablo Hernández Hernández.
Atlantica Revista De Arte Y Pensamiento n. 31, 2002: The Doubtful Isthmus: The Central America Contemporary Art
Dossier devised and directed by Virginia Pérez-Ratton and Antonio Zaya with the special assistance of “Teorética” (San José, Costa Rica) and Támara Díaz
Includes contributions by: Priscilla Monge, Sergio Ramírez, Virginia Pérez-Ratton, Cecilia Paredes, Víctor Hugo Acuña, Darío Escobar, Crus Alegría (Rolando Castellón). Támara Díaz, Federico Herrera, Guillermo Tovar, Rosina Cazali, Moisés Barrios, Raúl Quintanilla, Patricia Belli, Adrianne Samos, Humberto Vélez, lanine Janowski, Rodolfo F. Molina, Luis Paredes, Regina Aguilar, Dolores Castellanos, Lorna Scott Fox, Eugenia Montalván, Joan Duran, Claudia Gordillo, María José Alvarez, Andrés Carranza, Jaime David Tischler.
Carolee Thea interviews Virginia Pérez-Ratton
In 2002, curator, critic, art historian and independent scholar Carolee Thea interviewed Virginia Pérez Ratton, on her life and curatorial career devoted to Central American art and its role in the construction of a regional and local identity. This interview is included in the book On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators, Carolee Thea’s second volume of interviews with ten of today’s leading curators, published by D.A.P. in 2009.