A couple of weeks ago, a small but evocative display of 30 abstract sculptures, paintings and engravings by artist Manuel Felguérez opened in the stunning boomerang-shaped museum designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki for Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts. The exhibition of recent works by Felguérez, one of the most prominent members of the generation that helped pave a new way in Mexican art beyond the aesthetic ideas of Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists, was quite an event. And indeed it was intended to mark a special occasion: the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mexico and China.
Despite the quality of the exhibition and the presence of the sculptor and painter himself, in reality this is not a common event. Not only is a Latin American art exhibition in China a rare occurrence but, sadly, this cultural exchange mirrors how little importance nations in the region give to a country that has already become their first or second trade partner.
Over the past couple of years only a few major exhibitions have been organized by Latin American countries in China: Colombia brought a large sample of Pre-Hispanic gold objects to the Shanghai Museum and Peru exhibited a range of objects made by Pre-Incan civilizations at the National Museum in Beijing last year. Very little modern art has been displayed, with the possible exceptions of Felguérez and the kinetic works of Venezuela's Carlos Cruz Díez in Ningbo.
But it's not just art. The presence of prominent Latin American intellectuals has generally been scarce. Last year's only high profile visit was that of Mexican writer Sergio Pitol, probably the Latin American intellectual with the closest ties to China, after having lived here for almost a year just before the Cultural Revolution. Argentine poet Juan Gelman and Peruvian novelist—and Nobel laureate—Mario Vargas Llosa have both visited China, albeit on invitations from Spain's Instituto Cervantes. The only important author to visit during this first half of 2012 has been Peruvian writer Fernando Iwasaki, who spoke in the Chinese capital last week.