Jorge Rivas Pérez (MPhil 2012, PhD Candidate) is the Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum (February 2016), and former curator of Spanish colonial art at the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros based in New York City and Caracas, Venezuela. An art historian, architect, and designer who specializes in Spanish colonial and Latin American art, he has written widely and curated numerous international exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Arts and Design, and the Brooklyn Museum, among others. His most recent exhibition is the forthcoming Power and Piety: Spanish Colonial Art from the Cisneros Collection (April 2016). In 2015, he curated the Americas Society’s exhibition, Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940-1978. In addition to curating, Rivas has lectured extensively in both English and Spanish on Latin American art and material culture throughout the Americas. He is founding member of the Venezuelan Chapter of the International committee for documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement (Docomomo), a permanent member of the International Advisory Committee at Museo de Arte de Lima, and member of the Advisory Council on Colonial Latin American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. He received his architecture degree from Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, and his specialization in industrial design from Universitá degli Studi di Firenze, Florence, Italy.

You are working on your PhD at Bard Graduate Center. What were you doing beforehand, and what brought you to our program?

Before moving to New York City I was the curator of Spanish colonial art at the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in Caracas. When I decided to return to school after many years, the most difficult part was to select the university best suited for me. I was not interested in a traditional art history PhD program focused on the so-called “Fine Arts,” but in one with a wide emphasis on cultural studies. Bard Graduate Center offered just the type of program that I wanted— the study of the past through material culture. I think that my unconventional academic background, which includes a degree in architecture, and an industrial design postgraduate program at the University of Florence, deeply influenced my interest in material culture and in Bard Graduate Center’s PhD program in particular.

What is your focus of study here? How did you find yourself involved with it?

My academic focus was Latin American material culture and design from the sixteenth century to the present. Although course offerings in this area were limited, the curriculum is structured in such a way that I was able to work on topics pertinent or related in some way to my personal interest in almost every course I took. Because of its cross-temporal and interdisciplinary approach, Bard Graduate Center allowed me to pursue my specific study interests.

You have been appointed a curator of Spanish colonial art at the Denver Art Museum. Describe your position there.

The Spanish colonial collection at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) was initiated in 1936. It is now the largest collection in the United States and one of the largest in the world. My position as the Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Spanish Colonial Art at DAM is effective in February 2016. My responsibilities include overseeing the collection, organizing special exhibitions, engaging living artists through an artist-in-residence programs, acquiring works for the permanent collection through purchases and through gifts from DAM’s patrons and collectors, and collaborating on public programs. I am responsible for bringing exposure to the Spanish colonial collection to an audience of more than half a million visitors per year, including schoolchildren and underserved audiences.

What ultimately is your professional goal?

My goal in Denver is to expand the Spanish colonial art collection with more contemporary pieces. The cultural identity of what is now Latin America was largely shaped during three centuries of European rule. This is why there is such a straightforward connection between Spanish colonial and contemporary Latin American art. The region today is central to a multi-cultural transformation where people, art, and ideas from around the world converge. This convergence already happened during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when peoples, ideas and goods from Europe, Asia, and Africa circulated across Spanish America. This is why exploring the connection between past and present creation is the natural next step in developing the collection.