A Universal History of Infamy is a multi-site exhibition engaging 16 U.S. Latino and Latin American artists and collectives whose practices defy disciplinary boundaries. A Universal History of Infamy unfolds across three venues: A Universal History of Infamy at LACMA, a project by Vincent Ramos at Charles White Elementary School, and Virtues of Disparity at 18th Street Arts Center. The specific mission and environment differ at each venue, highlighting curatorial nodes of the overall exhibition project: strategies of display via an encyclopedic museum (LACMA), pedagogy—or methods of teaching—through a school (Charles White Elementary School), and artist research at an artist residency complex (18th Street Arts Center). Bringing together small-scale works by artists represented in A Universal History of Infamy, Virtues of Disparity at 18th Street Arts Center is structured around themes of likeness and deception, and considers the shortcomings of different systems of writing, transcriptions, and their contested relation to authenticity. The exhibition features videos and small scale works by artists also included at LACMA, along with three new projects produced for this site.
A Universal History of Infamy is presented as part of the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, and curated by Rita Gonzalez, curator and acting department head of contemporary art at LACMA; José Luis Blondet, curator of special initiatives at LACMA; and Pilar Tompkins Rivas, director of the Vincent Price Art Museum. These artists and collaborative teams work across a range of media—from installation and performance to drawing and video—and adopt methodologies from diverse disciplines, including anthropology, history, linguistics, and theater.
The title for the exhibition is borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges’s A Universal History of Infamy, a 1935 collection of short stories in which the Argentinian author draws on disparate literary sources—from Mark Twain to Japanese tales—to devise an incomplete encyclopedic volume on iniquity. The “A” that begins the title points to the limitation of a singular “universal” history or comprehensive survey. Similarly, through their artworks, artists in the exhibition challenge any notion of absoluteness with regard to what constitutes Latin America and its diaspora in the United States, the art that can be associated with it, and how to approach this complex region.