Can El Museo’s Leader Build a Bridge to Its Latino Future?

“It’s a museum that has a very direct connection with Puerto Rico,” Mr. Charpenel said. “But the art world doesn’t come often.”

The new director was friendly and enthusiastic during a recent lunch of Mexican and Latin specialties at El Museo’s Side Park Cafe, occasionally chatting in Spanish with waiters as he described ambitious plans to arrange exhibitions that reflect the varieties of the Latino experience. Ordering a sincronizada — a traditional tortilla-based sandwich — Mr. Charpenel said he would organize panel discussions and publish books to “open a bridge of knowledge” about the cultural contributions of Latinos and to explore subjects like immigration, exclusion and diversity.

“I will try to avoid idealizing our histories and our cultures,” Mr. Charpenel said. “I would instead like to talk about the tensions, contradictions and complexities.”

Photo

“La Cena” (“The Supper”), by Belkis Ayon, a well-reviewed exhibition at El Museo del Barrio in June.

Credit
Michael Nagle for The New York Times

When Mr. Charpenel was hired in May, El Museo lauded his “global vision.” The country’s oldest museum dedicated to Latin art, El Museo was founded in 1969 by artists and activists to emphasize Puerto Rican cultural contributions but eventually broadened its mission to exhibit the work of Latino, Caribbean and Latin American artists from all backgrounds. Its collection of about 8,000 objects includes pre-Columbian artifacts and 20th- and 21st-century drawings, paintings and sculptures.

But even as it has mounted well received exhibitions, El Museo has faced a rocky road. Arts executives with experience managing cultural institutions have asked whether Mr. Charpenel, who has little fund-raising experience, is prepared for the competitive atmosphere of New York, where behemoth cultural organizations vie for funding and attention.

They have also said that he will have to work to overcome the perception that he is an outsider and newcomer to win the support of the museum’s longtime Puerto Rican constituency.

“I hope that he can reach out and sit on the stoop and talk to people,” said Bill Aguado, who led the Bronx Council on the Arts for nearly 30 years. “I hope that he can walk the streets and get a sense of the passion here.”

Mr. Charpenel was born in Guadalajara in 1967…

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