‘My Principal Commitment Is to Return Art to the Community’: Watch Pepón Osorio Reflect on How His Puerto Rican Heritage Shapes His Art

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Installation view of
Installation view of "Pepón Osorio: My Beating Heart / Mi Corazon Latiente"(Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

On view at the New Museum in Manhattan is a show one critic has called a “drenching, exhilarating tsunami of a 30-year survey:” Puerto Rican-born artist Pepón Osorio’sMy Beating Heart/Mi corazón latiente.” The show is the largest survey to date of Osorio’s work, with five immersive installations dating from 1993 to the present.

Each of the works is a world unto itself, as much a theatrical set piece as a work of installation art. There are unseen narratives and characters brought to life through objects accumulated and curated by the artist. Osorio’s background as a social worker informs his work, which is often suffused with violence, wrought either by people, as in Scene of the Crime (Whose Crime?) that presents a crime scene where a murder has occurred; or by nature, as in Tina’s House, which features a tabletop model of a house wrecked by a fire.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century, Osorio reflects on past installations of his work.

“When this piece, The Scene of the Crime, was at the Whitney Museum,” Osorio explains, speaking of the museum’s original location in uptown Manhattan, “it almost felt as if I’d taken a piece of the South Bronx and placed it in the middle of Madison Avenue.”

The signaling of specific places and their communities is inherent in Osorio’s work, which features objects, foodstuffs, and clothing that points to Puerto Rican heritage, both as it exists inside the community, and the stereotypes and assumptions projected upon it from the outside. In Scene of the Crime, for example, movies that perpetuate violent depictions of Latinos are stockpiled near a victim’s body covered by a sheet.

Which crime is the artist referring to? The violence perpetrated against the victim, or the violence perpetrated by the media?

“My principal commitment as an artist,” Osorio reiterates, “is to return art to the community.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century, below.Pepón Osorio: My Beating Heart/ Mi corazón latiente” is on view at the New Museum through September 17, 2023.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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