Catrinas in parade

El Paso Museum of Art is currently showing on its first floor a dazzling array of Catrinas created by Las Cruces artist Wayne Hilton. Hilton, who spent some 5 years on these, and closely examined the work of Mexican artist Jose Guadelupe Posada who is usually  credited with popularizing these figures and using them for satirical purposes.
Hilton has created elaborate costumes, and painstakingly embellished them with all manner of recycled  fabric and odds and ends combined to make some really remarkable creations.His work, which was funded by crowdfunding, has received interest from various museums and institutions around the country. One of these pieces was shown a few years earlier at the museum, and now we have the completed series.

I don’t want to take anything away from the work, but  you do have to wonder about the fact that we are on the border and there are some wonderful Catrina makers on this side of it as we can see at the many varied displays occurring every Dia de los Muertos. I am not one of those people who think that only people from such and such group should have the right to create art which stems from that group’s heritage. I do think one needs to be careful though or there tend to be things like chocolate chip bagels and other culinary heresies or the US way of celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I want to be quick to say that nothing like that has happened here, but if the museum wanted to display Catrinas I think they might have also reached out to Juarez and El Paso artists as well. This has the whiff of studied culture about it due perhaps more to the well-written, but academic explanatory notes than to the work itself.  I am probably going on too much about this, the work is wonderful and should be enjoyed for itself, but this is an integral part of local culture and I can’t help wondering if the museum shouldn’t have made more of an effort to involve the community. -david sokolec

Francis Alys showing in Juarez

Belgian born artist Francis Alys is arguably one of the best known international  artists currently living in Mexico.He has worked all over the world and been shown in important venues all over the world. Currently he is represented by the influential David Zwirner gallery.

I bring this up because beginning tomorrow (Oct 17) his work will be on view at Alejandro Luperca Morales’s visual movable feast Proyecto Impala. Alys was in Juarez a few years ago on a project literally kicking a fireball down the street. This is typical of his work which involves interacting in various ways with the environment, in ways which usually include a political component or to simply provide a different way of interacting or viewing a given space. He will either work alone or involve members of the community in his activity. Because of this the work seems to fall more properly under the heading of documentation rather than a traditional finished work of art, but as good art can generally be said to change our perception of something, to look at things in a new way, Alys certainly does that following his own path. He apparently likes to invoke the idea of the flaneur (traditionally a stroller of boulevards, a walker so his work often involves strolling through a city or some area . (I can relate to this as being a flaneur is perhaps the only occupation I have asiduously and seriusly pursued over the years.)

It is really exciting to have his work here, and I believe it was due to his connection with local artist and arts promoter Morales (who seems to know a staggering array of people all over the place) that this happened so thank you Alejandro and everyone else involved  for helping make this happen. Mo info on Alys can be found on his website (including that fireball in Juarez), and for when and where the Proyecto Impala will be you can go to their website or Facebook. -david sokolec


Chalk the Block Rides Again

A reminder that this weekend is Chalk the Block weekend, and this year features an enormous dragon and the perfect selfie lighting. It’s been great to watch this fair grow and change and become really one of the major family events  in El Paso
The dragon, an enormous multi-ton light breathing monster using a dump truck as a base, is the brain child of Hong Kong artist Teddy Lo and Detroit artist Ryan Doyle. The selfie wall is a modular wall featuring the prospect of a wide variety of lighting situations so you can take the perfect view of yourself. I might be the only person who doesn’t  quite get the point of selfies other than as a possible hedge against dementia. They vaguely remind me of kidnap situations where you are asked to hold up the day’s paper to prove you’re alive, but everyone else seems to love them and this should be quite wonderful.
Among other art events here is also going to be a mural wall anchored by the El Paso Museum of Art and the Convention center. Artists are well-known and seemingly ubiquitous local street artists like Jellyfish collective and Los Dos as well as artists from Albuquerque and elsewhere.
And of course there will be lots of chalk drawings.
In any case the weather promises to be nice and it should be, as always, a lot of fun-david sokolec

Cinema magic

Here in Juarez there is an even greater than usual opportunity these days to see  interesting and varied films from all over the world. There is the 20thTour de Cine Francaise sponsored by Alliance Francaise, among other organizations, which features one film every day through the 13th at Misiones Mall.. This is perhaps the most commercial of the film series on offer, but commercial does not mean some blockbuster adventure film, but some of the better or more interesting films recently produced in that country. Incidentally, Alliance Francaise also shows French films every two weeks at its headquarters here and recently wrapped up a six day showing of some amazing shorts from all over Europe.hese
Over at the MUREF (Museo de la Revolucion en la Frontera) they are showing a series of internationally made documentaries promoted by Documental Ambulante Asociacion Civil, a national organization founded in 2005 devoted to promoting documentary films. These are shown Friday at 4 and Saturday at noon, and the series runs through the end of the month.
Cafe Unico, which always shows different cycles of films on Thursday, is this month featuring German films selected by cineclub kino Juarez.
While admission at Cinepolis is the usual admission price to the theater, the rest of the films are free.
So while I was watching an ad for the Morelia film festival I couldn’t help wonder why doesn’t Chihuahua have an international film festival and I don’t mean the local binational film festival but a really large statewide affair. There are any number of local filmmakers, and if the push in El Paso for more state funding for filmmaking is successful, you might have a really interesting situation. Morelia, Oaxaca and other states seem to have big international film festivals, so how come not here?  David sokolec

Venas de Acero

Venas de Acero (Veins of Steel) is not the latest Marvel comic book offer, but the satisfying exhibition of sculptures by Agueda Lozano at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez. Born in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua in 1944, Lozano studied art in Nuevo Leon and  moved to Mexico City in the tumultuous year of 1968. There she exhibited widely, but although there were a number of important art movements going on at the time, she apparently didn’t quite feel at home with any of them and moved to France in 1971. That seems to have been a smart move. The Museum of Modern Art  of Paris acquired one of her works  and she won a prize at the International Festival of Cagnes-sur-Mer.
She has spent her time since then working steadily and intensely on her work. She began painting abstracts but then turned to sculpture using steel as her preferred medium while continuing with her works on canvas.fotor_147534070947444.jpg

Ecoute Celeste -200x50x86 cm

The pieces shown here, all of fairly recent vintage and ranging in size from table top to well over 6 feet (200 cm)  show balance, harmony and movement. Lozano often gives her pieces sharp serrated edges as though the halves had been ripped apart. Other works are like “La Derniere Page” which shows leaves of a book with  the last page appearing to have just been turned.fotor_147525045699786.jpg La Derniere Page (132x75x85cm)


Terre du Mexique Enterre de France (116x35x26cm)

There is a fluidity and sense of movement in many of the works with the parts seeming to either be about to wrap around each other or perhaps fly off.


Etoile Filante (200×200 cm)
Also on exhibit are  some of her large (200 x 200cm) abstract paintings. These are spare uncluttered works which  hint at an interior world into which the viewer is allowed to enter.
When so much art being produced today often seems to be trying too hard to be clever or simply slapped together and rushed to market, it is refreshing to see work which can stand on its own and which shows the result of years of hard work and continuing exploration.
Lozano has recently inaugurated a cultural center in Cuautemoc where presumably the next generation of artists can be trained and developed.
The show will be up through the end of the year.-David Sokolec

Unforgettable wounds

Variaciones de una cicatriz (Variations of a scar) which opened Thursday night at the Museo de Arte here in Juarez brings together the art of twenty-two women who explore a word just as often used metaphorically as physically. It is fair to say that all of us have scars of one sort or another. We  either have physical scars as the  result of an accident or an operation or a metaphorical scar as the result of an interaction with another person, often a person we once thought we loved.
The majority of the work in this show uses photography as a base which can then be manipulated, or added to, with writing, or collages or layers in other medium. In many cases the work is composed of a series of  photographs designed to be viewed as a part of a larger whole. The idea of the show was to explore individual approaches to the indelible marks left by scars and while photography seems to be the favored medium, the approaches to the theme vary widely. Tania Anchondo shows a series of scar forms in nature-fissures cutting into the earth, long lines leaving impressions on the soft dirt. Angelica Chavez Blanco exhibits a series of round photographs on linen which show bright scar shapes composed of various colors superimposed on a female form.


In a work titled Nostalgia, Izabela Oldak features a nude woman curled in a fetal position lying in a round earthen depression.

fotor_147474381657690.jpg Marilu Rios Guerrero uses straight forward photography to show images composed of earth and menstrual blood. Blood is also  represented in Anakyrina Marin’s video Cicactriz number 1 El Ecuador. Galia Mirscha contributes  sounds of human voices, street noises and other elements in a nine minute recording.
I left thinking that taken as a whole the show was fine and the individual pieces were very well made  but that though obviously deeply felt there was something  a little distanced, a little vewed from afar about much of it, but then I remembered that a scar is not the violent act, it is not the betrayal, but rather the mark from  the violence; from  the betrayal which the skin and the mind are unable to completely cover over. A scar is the  permanent reminder seared into the body regardless of how much time has elapsed or with how much objectivity or perspective one tries to view the matter, and perhaps the seeming distance is simply a sort of necessary anesthesia.
The show is up through the whole month of October with the possibility of an extension.-david sokolec

New Director for El Paso Museum of Art

The El Paso Museum of Art has finally selected a new Director. Hesse McGraw comes from  the San Francisco Institute of Art where he was Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs.He was in charge of its Walter and McBean galleries  which focus on contemporary art, public lectures and community involvement. Prior to that he was chief curator at the Bemis arts center in Omaha where he seems to have done some remarkable things in terms of promoting local arts and extremely creative use of non-traditional spaces.

The more I read about him the more excited and interested I am to see what he is going to be able to do here. He seems to be someone passionate about both contemporary art and community outreach, both of which we desperately need here. He seems to want to push boundaries in terms of exhibitions and to interact with the community at large  as well as help promote local art and artists.

It should prove an interesting appointment.  Although the museum does have works by late 20th century artists, unquestionably its most important holdings are the Kress collection, roughly 15th-18th century European works; Spanish Colonial works, and Tom Lea. So there is certainly a need for a closer look at contemporary work. The question is whether there is an appetite among the broader community for it. This is where a strong educational program and active community involvement comes in. This is  a place where some people seem easily offended by such things as a sculpture of melted guns turned into birds and where a work at a past biennial couldn’t be shown because it was considered too graphic, though the piece showed in Juarez with little comment. Some of the exhibitions McGraw staged in his first years at SFAI would probably raise both eyebrows and blood pressure here which is also something we could definitely use.

The El Paso Museum of Art is unusual in that it is partly public owned and partly private so the director needs a deft hand and perhaps special tap shoes to do the multi-stakeholder shuffle. From everything I’ve read McGraw seems like he could make a dynamic contribution and bring some fresh new blood to the Museum. His appointment starts Oct 10, and I, for one, am really very excited to watch the developments.-david sokolec