Interviewed by Annabel Osberg for Artillery Magazine
January 2, 2018
Bill Sheehy is the director of Latin American Masters, which he founded in 1987.
What led you to exhibit only Latin-American artists? Do you think that LA’s proximity to Latin America lends its art a special relevance here?
I was led to exhibit Latin-American art by my travels to Mexico. LA’s proximity to Mexico presents a great opportunity to visit one of the great cultural centers of the world. As for the rest of Latin America, it is a vast and varied cultural landscape that is deserving of greater attention.
You said that half your clients are out of state or abroad. Besides LA, where is your patronage most concentrated?
New York. Historically, our out-of-state clients have come from New York, Europe, Canada and Latin America. It’s ironic, isn’t it, given our proximity to Mexico, that we sell at least as much outside of the area.
You show a lot of artists who, it seems, are truly masters. Who’s your most prominent star? Whom do you regard as most underrated?
Francisco Toledo is one of the world’s most important artists. He is the artist with whom we have been most involved. His artistic vision and formal range are on a scale that few artists have attained. He is a gifted sculptor, ceramicist, printmaker and painter. His exploration of diverse materials is legendary.
Even though Toledo, among the living artists, is the most famous that we show, he’s not nearly as famous as he should be. He’s constantly reinventing himself, going against the market. His own reticence to publicity has kept him off the radar of many people in the art world. He is, nonetheless, one of the world’s greatest living artists.
Do you feel that PST’s focus has validated the importance of what you’ve been doing all along?
PST may have validated Latin-American art for some people. It has no doubt raised visibility for some artists. However, the history of modern and contemporary Latin-American art far exceeds the scope of PST. In short, PST has been helpful but there remains much scholarship to be done on Latin-American art. I always felt that Latin America had produced some of the world’s great art. That is the way I felt 40 years ago and that won’t change.
All of this PST buzz is coming to a close, but you’ll continue the cause. Looking forward, what are you most anticipating?
We like to feel that we’re a resource where people can come at any given time and see really good examples of work by major and mid-career artists that are showing internationally. We’re skeptical about the mania for novelty.
We have a show for the great Puerto Rican painter Arnaldo Roche due to open in January. Because of logistical problems in Puerto Rico now because of the hurricane, we may have to postpone it until February or March in order to get the material out of the country. We are definitely going to do the show.
We’re interested in artists who have developed their own language and are pursuing their own vision. I’m not Latin-American. I don’t have any sort of nationalist or political agenda about identity. I just happen to think that these artists are as good as any artists on the planet; and I’m trying to create a place where people who are interested in painting and traditional media can see beautiful examples of those things that are in a dialogue with the world and the history of art. We offer people something that’s really about what’s lasting.