Where to See Latin American Art in NYC Museums

Adriana Aristizábal

For over a century, museums in New York City have played an important role in collecting and preserving Latin American Art, from pre-Columbian and Indigenous artifacts to modern and contemporary works. At MoMA in Manhattan, visitors can view pieces by muralist Diego Rivera; the Brooklyn Museum, meanwhile, holds more than 35,000 objects representing the Indigenous arts of the Americas.

The next time you visit one of the institutions below, take a moment to appreciate the breadth of what’s on display. Read on for details of the origins of the collections and select works to look out for.

Brooklyn Museum

200 Eastern Pkwy., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of pre-Columbian art in the world. The acquisition of these artworks began in the 1920s with archaeologist Herbert Spinden. Known for his pioneering work on ancient Maya art, Spinden was hired to lead a project focused on collecting pre-Columbian and ethnographic art from Mexico, Central and South America. Over the years, Spinden conducted expeditions to countries including Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Today the collection is especially strong in the Indigenous arts of the Americas, including pre-Columbian Andean textiles and assorted artifacts from Inca, Maya and Aztec societies.

On display through July 3 in the Arts of the Americas Galleries is Climate in Crisis: Environmental Change in the Indigenous Americas. This exhibit examines the threat of climate change, displacement and violence on Indigenous communities. Pieces include a jaguar carved out of volcanic stone by an Aztec artist and a gold ornament with an image of a crocodile god from pre-Columbian Central America.

El Museo del Barrio. Photo: Michael Palma Mir

El Museo del Barrio

1230 Fifth Ave., Upper East Side, Manhattan

El Museo del Barrio is New York’s only cultural institution that exhibits exclusively Latino, Caribbean and Latin American art. The museum was founded in 1969 by artist and educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz and a group of Puerto Rican artists and activists with the purpose of amplifying works by Puerto Rican artists. Over the years, El Museo has expanded to include over 8,000 pieces of art and archaeological artifacts from all over Latin America—Mexico down to Patagonia—in its permanent collection.

Through September 26, Estamos Bien ­– La Trienal spotlights 42 Latin American artists from the United States and Puerto Rico. This is the first big national show that El Museo has organized to promote contemporary artwork by the Latinx community.

Danny Peguero, "Latinx Identity: The Voices of the Diaspora" (1980s–1990s). Photo: Lauren Winn

The Hispanic Society Museum & Library

613 W. 155th St., Washington Heights, Manhattan

The century-old Hispanic Society of America opened in 1904. Part museum and part library, the space is dedicated to promoting the development—and preserving the history—of Latin American and Spanish art and culture.

The collection consists of 900 paintings, including works by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya; some 6,000 watercolors and drawings; and many more thousands of prints and photos. There are also glass works, ceramics, furniture, textiles, ironwork and jewelry, all of it spanning the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world. The museum—which recently appointed a new director, Guillaume Kientz, a former curator at the Louvre—is in the process of extensive renovations and its galleries and library are closed to the public for the time being.


From late May to mid-August, the museum will display an outdoor installation, Latinx Diaspora: Stories from Uptown Manhattan, on Audubon Terrace. The work, featuring four murals by Manhattan-based artists, centers on immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean and is part of a collaboration with Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance.

Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, known as the Crown of the Andes. Courtesy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Ave., Upper East Side, Manhattan

The Metropolitan Museum’s Latin American collection spans 3,500 years of history of ancient cultures from Mexico, Central and South America. This collection has pre-Columbian pieces of art dating back to 3,000 BC and going up to the colonial period in the 16th century.

Some of these pieces can be seen in The Samuel H. and Linda M. Lindenbaum Gallery and the Jan Mitchell Treasury in the adjacent Gallery 357. These two spaces hold more than 100 gold pendants and ornaments created between the 11th and 16th centuries in Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.

Head to Gallery 757 in the Metropolitan Museum to see what’s known as the Crown of the Andes—a magnificent 17th-century gold crown with 443 emeralds. It once adorned the statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception in the cathedral of Popayán, Colombia. The crown occupies an important role in Latin American history, representing one of the highest artistic achievements of a region whose wealth derived from mining gold and emeralds.

Tarsila do Amaral, "The Moon (A Lua)," 1928. Courtesy, The Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art

11 W. 53rd St., Midtown, Manhattan

MoMA has curated an extensive collection of Latin American art through large-scale acquisitions, field expeditions, donations and purchases. In 1931 the museum presented an exhibit by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera that included murals he produced for the institution. Curators began to focus more on modern and contemporary art from Latin America during World War II. Over the last two decades, Venezuelan art collector Patricia Phelps de Cisneros has donated to the museum a number of modernist abstraction and contemporary works by artists from Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay.

The collection of works by Latin American artists has grown to more than 5,000, and some 270 Latin American artists have or have had works displayed at the museum. The ongoing exhibition Circle and Square, featuring Uruguayan-Spanish artist Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Piet Mondrian, can be found in Gallery 512. Circle and Square, or Cercle et Carré in French, was the name of a group of more than 80 abstract artists from Europe and the Americas that formed in 1929. The artists opposed the surrealist movement, and the tension between these two expressions informed South American artists at the time, and for decades after.

Also on the fifth floor are Frida Kahlo’s famous painting Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940), permanently on view, and Tarsila do Amaral’s The Moon, a recent acquisition.