Latin American artists in Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston opens what looks like a great show this Sunday 22. Titled Contingent Beauty:contemporary art from Latin America it brings together 21 artists from different countries using a variety of different media including sculpture, video installation and mutimedia.. The works are drawn mainly from the museum’s permanent collection but he underlying concept for the show is that each piece presents the tension inherent in opposing ideas such as violence and beauty or seduction and repulsion. They also, as many Latin American artists do, comment on and offer critiques of contemporary Latin American society which although it might be country specific also I suspect cut across geographical boundaries.

Artists include Tania Bruegero and Los Carpintero both from Cuba, Miguel Angel Rojas from Colombia and Guillerma Kuitca from Argentina. Looks like a wonderful show and it will be up through Feb 28. -david sokolec


MUREF opens new show and bilingual aids

Yesterday MUREF (Museo de la Revolucion de la Frontera), showed off its new bilingual audiovisual guides, its new bilingual informational signs for its permanent collection and used the occasion to open an interesting new show called De Torreon a Torreon 1913-1914. You might all be falling asleep by this point, but the new guides enable visitors to take a comprehensive two hour tour of the permanent collection and learn about the exhibits in either English or Spanish. The funds were contributed by Friends of the MUREF and  will be available starting next week.

The long needed bilingual signs for the permanent collection were funded by the US Consulate in Juarez. Most of the museums here have information only in Spanish which is a hindrance not only for visitors from the region who do not speak Spanish, but also for the  fair number of European and Asian visitors who often speak at least some English but not Spanish. Before they could  only wander around the museums and look at photos and artefacts without understanding their significance. Now at least at the MUREF they can understand the importance of what they are being shown. As Juarez is something of a gateway to Mexico and therefore attracts international visitors, this is a crucial help.

The show De Torreon a Torreon 1913-1914,  curated by Miguel Angel Buruman ,brings together a huge selection of photographs and other artifacts from private and institutional sources showing the political and miltary battles which occurred during that turbulent time in the north of Mexico. Sources include the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California at Riverside among others. They focus mainly on Pancho Villa and his rise to political power, as well as the US fascination with him. There is a hand written letter from John Reed containing an attempted sketch of Villa as well as a complaint of hangover from a night of enforced drinking. There are a series of US newspaper reprints showing their increasing fascination on Villa, and photos of him with military and political leaders. But there are also lots of other wonderful photos from the period( some 92 in all) detailing the battles and political turmoil in that continuation of the Revolution.

This was part of a three-day program of lectures films and conferences by the MUREF exploring the revolution, fittingly happening this week when tomorrow November 20 is the day we celebrate the Mexican Revolution.-david sokolec

Border Biennial spans the Rio GrandeAnyone

There are a lot of ways to set up a biennial or art festival.  You can have a group from the sponsoring body scour the landscape to handpick artists a la Whitney or you can have an individual select a portion of the festival with other galleries or countries sending in their own choices a la Venice. The El Paso Museum of Art seems to have adopted what I’m calling the Emma Lazarus approach. To paraphrase that poet’s words from the Statue of Liberty “Send me your oils, your videos, your installations, yearning to be displayed.” Anyone living within a 400 mile radius of the border can submit work, but there is no criteria given, no theme, simply a request for entries with judges deciding based on their own private criteria. This is perhaps more democratic than some other methods, but I can only imagine it leaves some people scratching their heads. In any case, this year some 285 artists responded, a larger number than previously and of those 44 were selected. They were pretty evenly divided on either side of the border with 21 from Mexico and 23 from the US.
This year’s judges were Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros from Mexico and Eduardo Diaz from the United States, although  a few days before the opening Mr Diaz resigned in protest over the exclusion of a local artist who he had selected to be included. (I have been told there are lawyers involved at least on one side so I want to leave the matter alone except to say that the grounds for exclusion apparently involved a perceived violation of one of the few requirements for entry.)

Santiago has a long and distinguished career as an art critic and curator in several Latin American countries writing for  Art Nexus among other publications;He also worked in the cultural section of the Mexican embassy in Venezuela and later Canada.  and in 2008 was named National Coordinator for Plastic Arts at  the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura(INBAL). In short he seems to have spent his life dealing specifically with contemporary art as both critic and administrator.

Eduardo Diaz is currently the Director of the Smithsonian Latino  Center, though El Pasoans might remember him from when he was a consultant  in San Antonio and was paid a great deal of money by the El Paso City government to form a master plan for the city arts department which included, among other things,  putting all of the major cultural institutions under one umbrella organization rather than having them continue to run as separate fiefdoms.
From this MCAD came into being. He also had a meeting with artists where he spent a fair amount of time explaining his plan and they spent a fair amount of time yelling at him; I forget why. Prior to being named to the Smithsonian post, he was the  Executive Director of the National  Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, the largest such  center in the country.

A major interest of Mr. Espinoza was to select art which “had something to say”. This is not only a view currently in vogue-many festivals and biennials all over the world have suddenly discovered they need to take a look at the world around them, but I have long believed that a great majority of Latin America art has long concerned itself with societal issues, sometimes overtly and others obliquely, but always taking society or local history into account. This in contrast with northern attitudes which too often seem to be about me and what I found in the trash or my bed.
There is of course an alternative view which  is perhaps more interested in purely aesthetic matters or other ideas. This tension might have played a part in deliberations for this biennial, but I would say the bulk of the show reflected, in a variety of media, societal concerns such as immigration and violence, life on the border, and the use of reworked  historical iconography to express present day concerns.  The works were mainly two dimensional but using widely varied techniques and media.There were also videos, sculptures and in one case, yes, found objects
I want to mention  a series of small elegant pencil drawings by Ana del Aguila Malvaez illustrating health pointing out health hazards in maquilas, and large oils by Rigoberto Gonzalez imitating Caravaggio to show powerful but horrifying scenes of modern cartel violence  in “Medusa” and “Perseus with the head of Medus”. There were photographs of daily life on the border and a series of small cards remembering the 43 disappeared students at Ayotzinapa.

Not all was specifically border related. Quing Liu’s Tea Dream series showed beautiful  delicate brush and ink work on tea bags, and others were concerned with color and composition and I very much liked Rebeca Mendez’s two deceptively simple videos El Norte and Circumpolar.
Artists had to submit two works because the show opened simultaneously in El Paso and Juarez, and it is really worthwhile to see the show in both museums. not least because the difference in spaces also makes a difference in the show. The larger El Paso Museum of Art was originally a bus station while the smaller circular Museo de Arte was built specifically to show art. What this means in practice is that in Juarez the smaller space makes the show seem more intimate while in El Paso the works seem more separate. Something the El Paso museum does is to provide text taken from the catalogue in which the artist  talks about the specific pieceon view. I know there are differing opinions about text on gallery walls, and some artist statements can be problematic, but here it often does much to enhance the work.
Without the text, we might not really know what Rebeca Mendez was doing trudging back and forth in the snow with a Mexican flag (she was trying to symbolically claim a part of the Arctic for Mexico) nor would we understand that Andres Troncoso’s overweight virgins came about because he was troubled as a child in church from  the discrepancy between the images of the flawlessly beautiful Virgin he saw in paintings and the women he saw around him in church, wondering why the Virgin didn’t look like them. Many reading fashion mags are asking the same thing, so I’m wondering if these early religious images were the Vogue or Elle for the faithful, but I digress.

There is much to like in this show, though I have to say much of it seemed famiiar. Perhaps this simply reveals a unity to be found here-the distinctive voice which emerges from this very distinctive culture, but of course, there are thousands of artists living on the border and many of them are working in an entirely different vein or with different concerns. Regardless the show which will be up through early February is definitely worth an exploration.

The bilingual catalogue is for sale in El Paso, though not at the Museum in Juarez. -david sokolec

Busy week for art lovers coming up

Next week is going to be a busy one for art.

Of course on Monday there are Dia de Muertos altars and catrinas downtown and other places, but it is towards the end of the week that things are going to heat up on both sides of the border.

The Rubin Center at UTEP is opening Territory of Imagination, which is a series of programs connecting art and science, and specifically space travel (without rockets, but with balloons to protect the environment) as well as a series of other lectures and workshops. Most of the programs are at UTEP, but there is going to ba a launch at White Sands. More info and better explanations can be found on their web page, where you can also get info on their 10th anniversary gala dinner at the rail yards the following night.

On Friday, the lV Biennial opens to the public at both the El Paso Museum of Art and the Museo de Arte in Juarez. The opening in El Paso is simply scheduled for the regular time, while in Juarez there is going to be an opening at 6pm al punto (they say). I believe there is an opening in el Paso scheduled for members only on Thursday night, but if you’re a member you already know about it.

Then on Saturday night Artistas Unidos will be opening a show called Metamorfosis at the Centro Cultural Paso del Norte at 7 pm with vino de honor, great art and lots of attendees.-david sokolec

A Different Kind of Border Fence

Of course this weekend is Chalk the Block, with all kinds of great activities going on incluiding Caldo Collective’s Stand With Me performance, but I want to mention an event taking place out on the border between Douglas, Arizona and Aqua Prieta, Mexico. An art collective called Postcommodity is positioning 28 tethered “scare-eye” balloons 25 feet above the ground in an area that is apparently the geographical center of the US-Mexico border. Called repellentfence, the balloons contain symbols of an ineffective bird scaring product, and the colors are those used by indigenous people throughout the western hemisphere. The collective wants to initiate dialogue and interchanges between different groups throughout the Americas. This installation,  is the largest bi-national art installation ever erected in the region will be up throughout this weekend.(9-12). Seems like a great group and project, and more importantly that certain people in El Paso and Juarez should definitely contact them and get something going over here.-david sokolec

Photos and murals

There are a couple of openings this week as well as a series of continuing shows.

Wednesday night there is the opening of photographer Mariano Aparicio’s work ENTREACTOS at the Rectory at UACJ. (Hermanos Escobar and Plutarco Ellias). This to open at 6.

There is also the last of this  month’s photography talks at House of Pug (3701 Vicente Guerrero). This time with Emma Lau who will discuss Surrealist conceptual photography. Starts at 7 and there is a 20 peso admission fee.

Thursday night is the opening of Makeshift at Juarez contemporary. This installation by Los Dos collective details the murals of various personalities done in a style inspired by “Graphica Popular” they placed on walls throughout  El Paso in a move designed to open up spaces for creative exposition. The opening is at 6.

I also want to mention the shows continuing at the Rubin Center through Oct 24. Victoria Sambunaris used a large format  (5 x7) camera to photograph throughout the United States (very William Henry Jackson) and in particular along the Us Mexico border. Her show Taxonomy of a Landscape shows large beautiful detailed photographs. I missed her talk so didn’t hear how she printed these pieces, but in an age of photoshop and digital revisions these are quite a nice antidote. There is also a show of memory and in one case, proof you don’t need archival paper to make art when there are post-it notes and scotch tape around to make wonderful little miniatures. This is apart of a show called Tell Me Something and Take it Back featuring international artists Claire Harvey, Sophie Jodoin and Gael Stack. They have each created works which often hint at the subject, which insinuate and in the case of Jodoin which ultimately haunt and reverberate.-david sokolec

Focus on Photography

This week there is an emphasis on photography here on the border with at least two good events happening-one in Juarez and the other in El Paso.

Tomorrow night (Sept 2) at 7 pm globally recognized local photographer Monica Lozano is scheduled to give a talk on “proceso creativo y desarrollo de una serie personal” which can be loosely translated as using the creative process to develop a personal vision.. This kicks off this month’s round of weekly photography talks. These have been going on for awhile, every month at a different location, asnd since it is always at a cafe or restaurant it is a true movable feast. This month it is at House of Pug-3701 Vicente Guerrero. For awhile there was nothing to indicate this was anything other than a private  house, but I see they recently put up a huge banner. There is a 20 peso cooperation which includes a cafe americano or aqua de la dia.

The next night over in El Paso the La Fe cultural center at 721 S. Ochoa (rear building) hosts an opening reception for a photo show called Through the Eyes of Borderland Photographers. The opening is from 6-9 and the show by 12 local photographers  documenting their personal vision of the border runs until October 23.-David Sokolec


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