Humberto Moro’s Love for Institutions

Dia’s deputy director of program on how his admiration for institutional practice serves as both critique and inspiration

BY Humberto Moro AND Terence Trouillot in Interviews | 06 FEB 24

Terence Trouillot Can you share with me your journey and background in the art world – from your time at the Museo Tamayo and Museo Jumex in Mexico City to the SCAD museum in Georgia, USA and now at Dia – and how you see your role as a curator or ‘institutional practitioner’, as you’ve described it in the past?

Humberto Moro My professional path is a bit unorthodox. I started my career as an artist, a painter and an arts educator. I came to art through making and sharing art experiences with different groups, from children to adults. Later I founded a not-for-profit exhibition space, I worked for private collections, art fairs, for museums – government museums, university museums – and so on. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a variety of aspects in the creation of culture through contemporary art, and the connecting thread is that most of these experiences have been profoundly artist centred.

In that sense my practice has resonated the most within institutional space, and that is perhaps why I do see myself as fundamentally rooted and related to the institutions I have collaborated with – the diversity of their needs, publics and constituents. I have met incredible challenges to listen and learn and in return, work in articulating histories that have the capacity to positively affect the lives of visitors.

Portrait of Humberto Moro. Photograph: Gabriela Herman
Portrait of Humberto Moro. Photograph: Gabriela Herman

TT Could you highlight a few exhibitions that you’ve curated and found especially meaningful or challenging, and why?

HM I think one of the most significant art experiences I’ve had is with Liliana Porter. We have collaborated on exhibitions in different places, produced a theatre play, a book, and now we’re preparing a solo show for Dia Bridgehampton, which will open in June. Liliana is generous, smart, critical and humorous. Her art is sharp, sometimes tough and surprising. This kind of durational commitment is something that is rooted in Dia’s identity and is part of my own curatorial practice. 

I have also been slowly processing the aftermath of ‘OTRXS MUNDXS’, a survey of artists working in Mexico City which I did at Museo Tamayo in 2020. This was a big lift which included the work of 40 artists and collectives and took over the whole museum in the midst of the pandemic. The museum became a sort of laboratory, both materially and conceptually. One of the exhibition’s intentions, was to try to understand the correlations with a very established generation of artists from Mexico, and how to destablize those. I’m happy to see people like Paloma Contreras Lomas, Romeo Gómez López, Josué Mejía, Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, Ana Segovia and so many others, contesting those norms and creating new forms for understanding that particular cultural ecosystem.

Liliana Porter, Geometric Shapes with Drawings, 2012
Liliana Porter, Geometric Shapes with Drawings, 2012, gelatin silver print. Courtesy: © Liliana Porter; photograph: Chuck Kelton

TT As the Deputy Director at Dia, can you speak to your role at the foundation and perhaps this new (or not so new) ‘horizontal’ organizing principle behind the structure of Dia’s curatorial identity?

HM I came on board after Dia took some time to to think about what this position should be, based on past contributions and structures. So, the role changed a little bit, in that I work directly not only with the curatorial department but more holistically with publications, learning and engagement, collection, and exhibitions more pragmatically: the nuts and bolts, the design and implementation of a show.

The idea of ‘newness’ is sort of generally assigned to horizontality, largely because most of the structures that we interact with or inhabit are still hierarchical and vertical. However, it is not a new approach at all, not at cultural institutions and certainly not at Dia. In the past decade, Dia has entered a period in which it has questioned the canon it helped establish – in terms of gender, geographies, identities, mediums and so on. In part because there is enough historical distance but also because of cultural shifts. Dia’s leadership has invested so much time and energy in reflecting, studying and implementing change that you can see it clearly in the exhibitions, live programs and publications. I think the idea of horizontality is also related to how we approach our capacity and decision making, and the structural value that ongoing conversations have in what ends up being expressed by our program.

I come from such a different environment to the US model of institutions that my role is and has always been to keep distilling and sophisticating this mode of operating, but from a lateral and perhaps unexpected approach. Dia’s curatorial identity is founded on a notion of artistic integrity, consistency and rigour, within the margins of the framework we study, art from the 1960s and ’70s: minimalism, land art and pop art, and the conceptual relations to these legacies that exists in contemporary practices. Often you will overhear in Dia’s hallways that ‘we don’t have to be everything for everyone’ and that thought, sharpens and drives our mission.

Lucy Raven, Ready Mix, 2021
Lucy Raven, Ready Mix, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: © Lucy Raven and Dia Art Foundation, New York; photograph: Bill Jacobson Studio

TT Your remit at Dia, for the most part, is to bring more attention to Latin American art not only curatorially but also in terms of acquisitions as Dia is a collecting institution. How would you best describe this approach and what are some of the artists that you’re interested in bringing to Dia?

HM It’s tricky to think about geography in those terms, because yes, as you say, I do bring a certain expertise and background. But I’ve never felt comfortable being confined to a specific cultural field, which happens to many of us. Even though I am a Latin Americanist, I have not limited myself to it. In the same way, at Dia we’re careful about not instrumentalizing any sort of identities or identifications, both internally and externally. Our acquisition program is very self-reflective – intrinsically related to both the history of the institution and our exhibition program at large. It is our profound relationship with artists and the echoes we can find in contemporary practices which dictate what we commit to acquiring. We think about depth. In that sense, many of the commissions we have in at this time, like Delcy Morelos, Camille Norment and Lucy Raven, have become acquisitions and that is a mode of operation that fills us with pride.

Delcy Morelos, El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. © Delcy Morelos. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York
Delcy Morelos, El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. Courtesy: © Delcy Morelos; photograph: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

Now, thinking about Latin American art in the past year, we established a partnership, Institute for studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA), a rigorous institution that has been doing so much work in creating scholarly publications, research and supporting both individuals and institutions. As part of this effort, we’re presenting three projects, the first of which is Delcy Morelos, now on view at Dia New York. The second is of Echoes from The Borderland, a collective formed by Ricardo Giraldo, Leo Heiblum and Valeria Luiselli. They are working on a sound piece that has been recorded in and around the border of the United States and Mexico while they navigate the border line from west to east. The third iteration of this partnership will be a retrospective exhibition by David Lamelas.

Camille Norment, Plexus, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: © Camille Norment and Dia Art Foundation; photograph: Bill Jacobson Studio
Camille Norment, Untitled, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: © Camille Norment and Dia Art Foundation; photograph: Bill Jacobson Studio

TT You have mentioned before that ‘institutions are the people who embody them’. Can you speak to this idea in relation not only to Dia, but to the other institutions that you’ve worked for? You have a certain reverence towards institutions, and I’m curious about where that comes from and how you reconcile the more obvious and clichéd criticism of institutions.

HM I think it’s love, not reverence. When I use that phrase, it works as a reminder to myself of the fragility of institutions. It’s a metaphor and a critique. I’m thinking about institutions as bodies. It is important to me because it removes a level of romanticization and humanizes these structures, that are wonderful, messy, surprising and hard to maintain. If you think about the legacy of institutional critique we have gone from thinking about what and where is an institution to the present where several questions are at play at the same time. Our reality is less fixed, more layered, intersectional, and I’m responding to that. 

Main image: Delcy Morelos, Cielo Terrenal (Earthly Heaven, detail), 2023, installation view. Courtesy: © Delcy Morelos and Dia Art Foundation; photograph: Don Stahl

Humberto Moro is deputy director of program at Dia Art Foundation where he leads the curatorial, publications and learning and engagement departments. He was previously deputy director and senior curator at Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, where he curated 'OTRXS MUNDXS', a large-scale survey of artists working in the city, and solo shows by Erick Meyenberg, Tania Pérez Córdova and Ugo Rondinone.

Terence Trouillot is senior editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.