“Purple Haze: Art and Drugs Across the Americas” exhibition opens Sept. 9 at The Dorsky Museum

Antonio Caro, Colombia, 1977, screen print on canvas, courtesy the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA), New York

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz is proud to present “Purple Haze: Art and Drugs Across the Americas,” an exhibition exploring the representation of drugs in the media and public imagination.

The exhibition will be on view from Sept. 9 to Dec. 10, 2023, in The Dorsky Museum’s Morgan Anderson and Greenberg Family galleries. Visit this link to learn more.

“This exhibition opens up timely conversations about the long and complex cultural histories of mind-altering substances across North, South and Central America and the Caribbean—from cannabis to cocaine, ayahuasca to opioids,” said Anna Conlan, Neil C. Trager Director at The Dorsky. “The nuance and criticality that the artists in ‘Purple Haze’ offer gives us an opportunity to consider the social impact of drugs in communities in Latin America and closer to home.”

About the exhibition

Organized by guest curator and scholar Estrellita B. Brodsky, “Purple Haze: Art and Drugs Across the Americas” brings together works by more than 20 international artists from the 1960s to the present, as well a selection of pre-Hispanic objects associated with the use of drugs. Borrowing its title from Jimi Hendrix’s iconic song and the legendary strain of marijuana, the exhibition examines the Americas’ conflicted relationship with drugs as well as their impact on social, political, and economic relations throughout the two continents.

From the Olmec’s use of bufo toad secretions to the chewing of coca leaves by numerous communities in the Andes, there is ample documentation of the use of psychotropic substances by multiple societies across the Americas. Pre-Hispanic objects included in the exhibition demonstrate how drugs were used as a means of communicating with deities, dead ancestors and spirits. Some of the artists, such as Juan Downey and Santiago Yahuarcani focus on the use of entheogens (such as Ayahuasca) in tribal myths, divination and healing rituals.

In their multi-sensorial installation “Cosmococa—Program in Progress, CC1 Trashiscapes,” Hélio Oiticica and Neville d’Almeida convey the euphoric qualities of drug consumption during a period when drugs and counterculture were grouped together with politics and social and civil activism. Photographs by Larry Clark, Dash Snow and Fred Tomaselli document the culture of drug use among their friends, at times celebrating their hallucinatory effects as others warn of the dangers of addiction. Similarly, Zulema Damianovich and Jac Leirner chronicle their personal journeys and addictive behavior in mixed media works made with prescription pills and drug paraphernalia.

While some of these artists examine the issue from the perspective of drug users, many shed light on the violence and corruption associated with the illicit drug trade, primarily affecting Latin America. Beatriz Gonzalez’s set of silkscreened curtains “Decoración de interiores” (1981) depicts the then-president of Colombia, Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala, in a festive environment. Considered the first explicitly political work by the artist, “Decoración” portrays an oblivious yet guilty politician and signals the violent repercussions of the emergent drug trade that would soon unravel the country. Using a similar medium and irony, Carlos Castro Arias’ alters historic tapestries imagery to include infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the menagerie of exotic animals he assembled at his ranch, La Hacienda Nápoles.

In a more recent piece by Teresa Margolles El poder, “mal y la muerte (power, evil and death)” (2021), ceramic vessels produced in collaboration with artisans from the Northern Mexican State of Chihuahua depict violent scenes experienced by their communities around the United States/Mexico border. Mark Lombardi’s factual infographics, or “Narrative Structures,” as he called them, also underscore the political and economic interconnectedness of money laundering, international corporate giants and the drug trade.

Guest curator Estrellita Brodsky said, “As Western societies explore and embrace the curative potential of anesthetics and psychedelics, it is important to look beyond our borders and their ambiguous histories. With this exhibition, we wanted to offer a more nuanced view focusing on the knowledge and practices of Latin American communities while also shedding light on the violence and destruction caused by Americas’ War on Drugs and foreign policies. ‘Purple Haze’ will present works that are poignant reminders of the complex ways in which cultures and artists across the continents have addressed this topic.”

About the curator

Estrellita B. Brodsky, Ph.D., is a New York-based art historian, collector and philanthropist, and an advocate for art from Latin America. Brodsky holds a doctorate in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and a Master’s Degree from Hunter College. She curated the first U.S. museum survey of Julio Le Parc at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM): “Julio Le Parc: Form into Action,” (2016-2017), which she subsequently organized in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She also curated the first U.S. retrospective of the Venezuelan kinetic artist Carlos Cruz-Diez at the Americas Society in 2008; and “Jesus Soto: Paris and Beyond, 1950-1970” at Grey Art Gallery, New York University, in 2012. In 2015, Brodsky founded ANOTHER SPACE, a program and not-for-profit exhibition gallery in Chelsea, New York established to broaden international awareness and appreciation of art from Latin America and its diaspora.

A founding member of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Latin American Art Initiative, the Latin American Acquisitions Committee at Tate, and founder of the Pompidou Foundation’s Latin American Acquisitions Committee, she has endowed curatorial positions in Latin American art at Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate, and MoMA. Brodsky served as a council member on the New York State Council on the Arts and MoMA’s Latin American Caribbean Fund. A former co-chair of the board of trustees of El Museo del Barrio, a New York museum specializing in art from Latin America and its diaspora, Brodsky has taught at Hunter College, and lectured and written extensively on Post-War Latin American art.

About The Dorsky Museum 

Through its collections, exhibitions and public programs, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art supports and enriches the academic programs at the College and serves as a center for Hudson Valley arts and culture. With more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space distributed over six galleries, The Dorsky Museum is one of the largest museums in the SUNY system. Since its official dedication in 2001, The Dorsky has presented more than 100 exhibitions, including commissions, collection-based projects, and in-depth studies of contemporary artists including Robert Morris, Alice Neel, Judy Pfaff, Carolee Schneemann and Ushio Shinohara.

Funding for The Dorsky’s exhibitions and programs is provided by the Friends of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art and SUNY New Paltz.

Museum Hours

Wednesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, holidays and intersessions.

For more information about The Dorsky Museum and its programs, visit www.newpaltz.edu/museum or call (845) 257-3844.