$5.00 admission fee? Not if I can help it. Shit, I wouldn’t even go near heaven if St. Peter started charging a processing fee. But with my record, I don’t have to worry about that. So if you get past the big sign blocking the entrance, you see the sandy-mud colored paint saved from the previous exhibit behind the intro text. You better get used to it.
Joe Pena presents three small paintings sitting on a shelf at about chest height. Each piece is about the size of a human hand and the shaped canvas makes them look like Tetris blocks. The different configurations depict realistic landscapes and landmarks of an oil industry territory. Around the little corner and closer to the ground is a red pedestal with a tablet by Kimberly Garza Campbell next to a red wall. The tablet has rows and columns marked off with circles and about half have round clay pebbles placed on them. The uniformity of the markers and markings suggest a calendar of sorts (The title confirms it), and the placement of the pebbles look like a game of checkers or an abacus. On the wall are two other pieces by Ms. Garza Campbell. The works on paper consist of string piercing the paper and positioned in a graph-like layout. The bottom half of the works have flowery contours that’s reminiscent of Liz Ward’s work earlier this year at WTW.
Grace Zuniga has two black and white photographs. One shows statuettes of the Virgin sitting on loteria cards with a super imposed image of the photographer over it and the other is of a parking meter transparent enough to show the city street around it. Catherine Berlanga presents two different types of prints. Ms. Berlanga’s etching morbidly contains bird-like creatures flaying a rabbit-like corpse. The woodcut on the other hand roughly shows a barely perceptible pile of crumbled paper. Across from the ladies’ wall, was half of the work by Angel Quesada. A pinkish, peach colored quinceanera dress and all of its adornments stand opposite of the photos and prints. In the far back of the museum, beyond the Serie Project exhibit, more quinceanera accessories sit by a window. The audience is invited to stand in the alley and leer into the installation. I don’t think anyone actually stepped into that stinky alleyway to take a look, but I did.
Roberto Bellini Monteiro shows one of the videos he exhibited earlier in the summer at the DAC, plus a couple of others. “Eu Desisto” is an animated, diaristic video of the artist’s childhood. “How Things Work” shows something being molested as its jelly innards are scraped out and reinserted and “Interval” is a montage of clips of the artist drinking a cup of coffee in different cafes. Next to these videos is a group of paintings by Hector Hernandez. Like old Lichtenstein‘s they are enlarged images of comic book panels. Except these images are extracted from Mexican romance comics with a pink background. Little red hearts hang from the ceiling to add to the amorous ambience of the paintings.
Kinda hard to miss Cesar Alexander Villareal’s nest. Branches, grasses and even some plastic trash form the exterior, while the inside reveals soft, white, feathered walls. Upon encircling the nest to inspect its construction, you find a television monitor with a live bird’s eye view of the inside. Close by, the work of Eric Daniel Chavera hangs on the wall. Mr. Chavera’s paintings contain photo album type, collaged imagery. The landscape background holds a figure and an icon of 80s-90s cartoons. All the elements are painted in the same dry oil paint application.
In the last corner of the museum, Luz Maria Sanchez has curtained off the section to project a video. The loop of traveling through a tunnel and the accompanying pulsating soundtrack is mesmerizing. So as you exit the space and proceed to exit the museum you might find Michael Garcia’s sculpture. It wasn’t particularly well-lit towards the beginning of the exhibition and the skin tones of the photo-transperancy blended into the sandy mud color of the wall. The lighting situation has since changed, but the wall still dwarves the piece. A circular faux mirror is surrounded by a strip of collaged body parts in a translucent, backlit photo material. A lacy frill surrounds that portion, while men’s ties hang on the handle part of the sculpture.
Hope you didn’t walk out at this point, because that was only eleven of the twelve artists featured. You probably missed Jaime Castillo’s work (like a number of people I know did). Near Mr. Pena and Ms. Garza Campbell there is a small walkway between an exposed wall and a black curtain. Following it you are lead into another darkened space. Small glass jars of water are lit in front of a cylindrical plastic curtain. Horizontally placed mirrors and strips of potpourri lead your eye into the space. A bad recording plays in the background.
The curator, Alberto McKelligan Hernandez, did an adequate job. I wasn’t blown away by the artists or their work, but I can’t say there isn’t some substance presented. There are some things that I found suspect though. The rhetoric used in describing the exhibit sets up an expectation, but keeps itself neutralized. So any argument that may arise is already considered in his statement. The other thing that bothers me are the origins of the artists. There is a 2-4-6 mapping of cities. San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Austin are heavily represented. It makes me wonder if Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth or El Paso didn’t have young latino artists producing work that could fall under Mr. Hernadez’s rubric.
This show presented three levels of engagement. The first level provided immediately recognizable Latino or (again I defer to) Chicano imagery. Angel Quesada presented accessories and adornments related to quinceaneras. The related text mentions connections to commercialization and a perverse public arena. The materials didn’t bridge with those ideas. Charlie Brown realized a long time ago that the US economy had usurped the true Christmas holiday. Today, Hallmark can provide for any holiday, festival, celebration or special (or even mundane) occasion. So the idea that a Mexican-rooted celebration in the US would fall victim isn’t news. The alleyway almost worked. Except, there aren’t too many alleys or historic buildings with windows like the museum here in Austin. My personal experience with both large, inner city, urban markets and small, isolated agricultural markets in Mexico also negate the proposed tension of the window work. Grace Zuniga’s photos box her into the stereotype. Her use of the Virgin and the loteria cards could point to a recent interest/ exploration of the community’s history. Exciting for her, but a repetition for the public. Hector Hernandez’s paintings try to complicate the imagery with the use of some art history and appear novel. In the right context, like last year’s show “About A Girl“, they are good. Having seen them already and confronting them with the label Latino, they don’t break new ground like Love and Rockets, but instead look like Lichtenstein with a spanish accent. Catherine Berlanga also attempts to complicate her work. Yet, the indecipherable images are given away by their titles. “Papel Picado” immediately conjures the colorful tissue paper cut a la kindergarten snowflakes and “Titere” reveals the flayed rabbit creature as a marionette. After investigations, both works lose some of their mystique. “Papel” seems like a joke with it being a woodblock print of cut paper and there might be another joke I’m not getting with the bird creatures torturing the bunny in “Titere”.
The second level, I recognized according to the dealings of personal history or domestic concerns. Jaime Castillo is stated to have created his installation space as a gift for his wife. Even with the hints of Minimalist influence, the installation feels like a Catholic altar. So is it a private gift or the public’s sanctuary? Michael Garcia’s mirror embodies the identity of a metrosexual. The artificial beautification of women permeating magazines and the media has spilled over to the male population. There are even discussions about the daintiness of Americn actors versus rugged foreign english-speaking actors. At what point do we lose our sexuality? Our gender? Is this a step closer to (w)holiness? Or a further deviation? Mr. Garcia’s sculpture was a successful work negatively impacted by its installation. Eric Daniel Chavera’s paintings blatantly reference television. Devastator, Gundam and Majin Buu help form the montage of personal memories the paintings represent. The compositions even reference some art history. In “Frog Boy”, the swimmer’s stance whispers a similarity to Degas’ “Woman In the Tub“. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough of a connection between the icons (personal or otherwise), collage technique or the application of paint. Joe Pena, on the other hand, provides a more integrated approach. Painting the landscape that surrounds him, Mr. Pena constructed each landmark to fit with the other images. They weren’t perfect visions, perfect rectangles, instead they branch out. The realistic technique emphasizes the identity of the community as a whole. Each image was a building block for a larger construction. The interlocking arms suggest a further continuation of fitting in. As bathroom fixtures, the mirrors in Mr. Castillo’s and Mr. Garcia’s work situates them in a house. Mr. Pena and Mr. Chavera use a combination of people and their landscape to create a representation or memory of home.
This attention-grabbing group veered furthest from the stereotypes of Chicano imagery and employed complex layers of intent and meaning. They also overpowered their dissatisfactory environment. Roberto Bellini Monteiro, being Brazilian, doesn’t use anything remotely Chicano and presents very investigative imagery. The confounding video, “How Things Work” sends your mind into a dizzying spin trying to figure out what that is being molested. Maybe it was a grapefruit or melon, but why were coins being pulled out with some gelatinous innards and stretching the skin as if made of rubber or some silicate? “Interval” also explores its imagery. With only the repeating coffee cup as an anchor, the audience is left to discover what and where the video is going on. Some might argue that Kimberly Garza Campbell’s work was rooted in indigenous practices and therefore representative of Chicanismo. The slick presentation and lack of folksy tchochkes suggests otherwise. The use of earthy material attracted me and offered a relationship to landscapes. The time-keeping aspect universalizes it and surpasses the narrower definition of her stereotype. Cesar Alexander Villareal also surpasses his stereotype by providing the comfort of shelter. Then Mr. Villareal quickly dissolves that as you discover the constant monitoring of the space. The scale of the nest provides a fantasy-bent perspective. Like children, the audience enters the mesmerizing reconfiguration of familiar plantlife and cheerfully examines the reassuring softness of the white feathers. Then like a teenager, you find that your every move was known and any semblance of privacy is destroyed, you are furious. Or are you mature enough to understand that your safety came with a trade-off? Luz Maria Sanchez does not provide any change of perspective. She does provide a growing anxiety as you realize you have no control and are stuck in the tunnel. Ms. Sanchez immerses the viewer in a video projection and surrounds the senses with repetitive drone that is familiar and frightening not to hear its end. Does anyone else find it amusing that someone named Luz is playing with sonidos? No? Okay, just me.
The works were hit or miss. The curation was average. Knowing that last year’s show was a diverse geographical representation, I was hoping this year’s would have pushed the boundaries even further from the Texas border. Or some other challenge to the Latino criteria, like showing more Latinos (not just Mexican-Americans). But I guess this year was a challenge to the Young criteria.
What I think really hurt the show was the installation and architecture of the space. Neither helped the work. Instead of leveling the playing field with the power of white walls, the museum created a warmer, dustier visual starting point (carried over from the previous exhibit, mind you!). The earth toned works of Ms. Garza Campbell, Ms. Berlanga, Mr. Quesada, Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Garcia did not have the necessary pop to distinguish their pieces. Ms. Sanchez, Mr. Villareal, Mr. Bellini Monteiro and Mr. Castillo were somewhat saved by creating independent spaces, but the obstruction of that middle wall limited their breathing room. With eleven versions of this show and twenty years of existence and these basic issues are still a real problem, the museum comes off looking very amateur. Hasta a mi me da verguenza saber que es el museo “oficial” de artes Mexicanas de Texas! So the first major exposure for some of these artists is not under the best of circumstances. Someone dropped the ball. BAD
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.