Speed Demons

Marfa is known for minimalist art mainly because of Donald Judd, who lived there back in the day ; Julie Speed, who lives in Marfa now, provides an answer, or perhaps an antidote, in her intriguing show “East of The Sun, West of the Moon” currently on view at the El Paso Museum of Art.

This is a dense, reference packed show show comprising collages, oils and even an immersive video projection room.

Many of her collages feature a meeting of Eastern and Western historical or archetypal figures as a central theme. This, however is only the beginning. She fills the sides of the work with small inserts referencing a wide variety of subjects and references both artistic, biblical, historical-essentially everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.

Speed shows both wit – there is a painting called “Eating Warhol’s Lunch” , which shows a couple eating tomato soup, and another titled “Judith Reconsiders” which portrays Judith with the severed head of Holofernes, as well as a very dark side.

The works often include insets or background scenes of violence. A recurrent theme seems to involve bears devouring a fish or other wild animals behaving like wild animals. There are scenes of domestic chaos and sharpened knives.

Sometimes you can take in a painting at a glance. These are not those sort of paintings. They require close attention so as not to miss everything going on.

All of this is wonderful and exciting and something different. The Museum has also turned a conference room at the back of the exhibit into an immersive recreation of Speed’s own studio with video projection of her paintings filling the walls and a soundtrack playing her favorite music which is as eclectic as her art.

The show is up through April 7.

It feels almost sacriligeous to be talking about Jacob Lawrence second in this review. In 1938 this Lawrence , one of the best known artists of the Harlem Renaissance, made a series of paintings about Haiti. Near the end of his life, he made a series of prints from that series in which he concentrated on Toussaint L’Ouverture, the famous General and leader of the slave revolt which brought freedom to the island. It is this series of important prints shown in their entirety upstairs at the museum.

This will be up until Feb 27.-david sokolec

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Artistic Riches in Juárez

I want to take a moment to talk about the wealth of artistic and cultural activities going on these days in Juarez.

Two weeks ago I went to a dance performance in the old Ciné Victoria. This formerly beautiful theater has been lying in ruins for years, and although the façade has been restored, the interior is still an abandoned pit. The performance Yo te Vivo, part of the Nellie Campobello festival, was designed, in part, to call attention to the building, with its beautiful traditional murals, as well as giving an imaginative look at immigration.

Yo te Vivo performance

One of the murals in Cine Victoria

A few days later I went to the opening of the Festival in the City, which provides theater, music and other performances for roughly two weeks.

Caravana Balkaneana at opening of Festival in City

Then there was the 3rd Encuentro Reimaginando la Ciudad desde el borde ( Reimaginingthe City from the Edge) conference during which various artists and others discussed various ways of interacting and improving the urban experience.

The tireless Brenda Ceniceros at 3rd Encuentro Reimaginando la Ciudad…

In addition there have been film series like the Iranian film series wrapping up at Cafe San Angel, or the continuing round of films at El Cinito There have been literary walks, drama readings, photo talks and workshops. This in addition to concerts, art shows, and various workshops.

Most of these are free or at very low cost. The point I want to make is that not only is there an enormous variety of activity, but in many cases these are being put on by individuals who are trying to make a difference in a city unfortunately known more for its problems than for anything else. The city is not particularly known for its artistic atmosphere, and yet through the tireless effort of various hardworking people and groups, there are perhaps more artistic and cultural events than are found in many other places considered to be art centers.

I just want to give a big shout out to everyone trying to make a difference in this city which definitely has its problems, but also a host of wonderful dedicated people doing their best to do something about it. – David Sokolec

Three gems at Rubin Center

The smallest show of the three fine shows at the Rubin Center is perhaps the most satisfying . Russian born artist Yana Payusova studied at the St Petersburg school of fine Arts where she was trained in a strict classical style faithfully copying Old Masters, and perfecting her drawing skills. She then moved to the US where she completed her studies, and now teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

She began as a painter but has recently turned to ceramics and here her show entitled “Revolutions” demonstrates her skills as a painter and ceramicist, as well as the concerns which have long been at the center of her work.

Here there are bowls revolving slowly and painted inside and out with haunting folklike images of women. Payusova uses cartoon like forms, Russian propaganda poster images, Japanese print forms and other references to explore issues of gender equality, power structure and other serious themes, often with a light sardonic touch, and at other times with truly haunting images. On display are not only her ceramic pieces, but also her paintings as well and they are all quite wonderful. Even though they do not directly show Old Master techniques, one can sense the skill and talent underlying all of them, as well as a keen sense of humor.

Upstairs, Mexico city born and based artist Betsabee Romero uses the space to illustrate her concerns with immigration by foot as well as by train. When she was still in school, her best friend moved to Tijuana, and and this led to her interest in the border and moving to distant places in order to better one’s life . Here she has created huge installations involving train tracks, and foot lasts, each of which is inscribed with a phrase of encouragement. On the hill outside the Center, there are flags which also carry a shoe last. Originally these came all the way down to the front door, but the wind necessitated their removal.

The other show upstairs comes from Oaxaca, where contemporary print makers reference traditional images such as maize and combine them with contemporary images exploring and playing with the past and present.

All in all shows to explore. They will be up through mid- December.- David sokolec

No Place for Selfies

The fine photography show “Exilios del Imaginario” at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez(MUACJ) attempts to review the past 50 years of photography in Juarez in keeping with the current celebration of the 50 years of the museum’s existence. As the show’s curators point out photography came to Juarez much earlier when the Mexican Revolution brought many war photographers to the city. Curators Jaime Bailleres and Itzel Aguilera show the progression of photographic development in the city beginning with some news photography and then showing how each generation learned from the previous one and developed a style of its own.
The show starts with Saul Sepulveda, who was a news photographer in the 50’s and 60’s, and who worked with a panorama camera which helped give his photos of such things as parades,for instance, as seen here, a wider scope, than the usual camera could manage.
From this point we can see more personal expression and some experimentation start to come into play. The mostly black and white photos show a desire to play with technique and material.There is are examples of non-camera image making, and using different material on which to print.
What clearly was a huge influence in the development and spread of photography was the establishment of a Visual Arts degree at UACJ in 2001. This seems amazingly late, but better late than never. From this point on in the show we see here a greater interest in more formalist concerns, more experimentation and some very good examples of the craft.

There are 61 photographers and 165 photographs in a mix of black and white and color, as well as as a mix of analogue and digital techniques. Although many of the pictures are taken in Juarez, there are also many taken in other parts of Mexico and in other parts of the world. The emphasis here is on the photographer, rather than the city itself.

Of course, even with 165 photographs the surface is barely scratched. I remember seeing a number of shows by local news photographers, which showed an amazing talent, and, in many cases, an ability to get beyond the immediate event recorded to create images which were haunting. There have been numerous shows at other venues by a great number of other equally talented photographers as well as by many who are on view here.
It occurred to me that an interesting auxiliary show might be an historical look at the real street photographers, by whom I mean those hard-working souls who have worked since time immemorial in the Plaza de Armas by the Cathedral taking pictures of tourists and locals who wanted a memento of their visit, and whose job was much easier when not everyone had a camera, and when selfies didn’t exist. It would be interesting to look at how their life and photographs have changed.
In any case, the show serves to remind us of some of the amazing talent in the city, whose practitioners continue to try to continue to explore the practice of photography in diverse ways.
For the past number of years, Alukandra, whose work is in the show, has been hosting a series of “Charlas Photographicas” (Photography talks) with different people speaking on some aspect of the field. This month it is being held on
Sundays, from 12-2 at the Juarez Monument, which dovetails with the Bazaar at the Monument also held every Sunday.
Last Saturday Alex Briseno, also included in the show, held another photowalk in which people turn their cameras loose on the city.
In short, there is a huge amount of talent and energy here and it would be nice if the rest of the world took notice of this aspect of the city, rather than the more dismal events which usually seem to be the only time the city is mentioned.-david Sokolec

September is for art

It’s September and time for art on both sides of the border.

Rubin Center at UTEP is opening three shows this Thursday (Sept 20). Kerry Doyle, the indefatigable director, went to Oaxaca (does she have the best job ever, or what) and explored the booming print scene there. With co-curator Carmen Cebreros Urzais, whose extraordinary CV seems to go on forever, she has brought back a variety of prints for a show called Iconografica Oaxaca by artists who are blending the traditional indigenous iconography with the contemporary.

The second show called Revolutions is by Russian born artist Yana Payusova who uses the medium of ceramics to explore issues of power and gender. She has exhibited internationally and is currently teaching at University of Arizona in Tucson.

The third show features internationally known Mexico City based artist Betsabee Romero with a show called Tu Huella Es El Camino. Her themes include issues of immigration, globalization and cultural issues in general.

I believe this exhibit includes a large installation outside of the gallery.

So all of this is opening Thursday night from 5-7.

Meanwhile on this side of the border, the Museo de Arte, which is celebrating 50 years is opening a show called Exilios del imaginario which features a retrospective of photographers who have shown at the museum from 1968-2018. This is set to open on the 28th at 7pm.-david sokolec

US Consulate Salutes Our Border Community

I want to give a shout out to the US Consulate in Juarez which just commissioned a huge mural to show its appreciation to the El Paso and Juarez community, and to emphasize all of the connections our two cities share.
Under the direction of Edgar Picazo Merino a group of local artists, including Haydee Alonzo, Justin Leeah, Martin A. Lopez,and Miguel Eduardo Vargas created the mural Nuestra Frontera which presents 36 panels which when conjoined form four circles which show the nature, architecture, history and familiar symbols from our shared community.
Congratulations to the Consulate for recognizing for sponsoring this work. Those guys have always shown a real appreciation and affection for the community, and congratulations to the artists who have created this great addition to the Consulate.-david sokolec31

The Border From the Border

Although the Transborder Biennial features the same artists in both museums, the two halves at the El Paso Museum of Art and the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez seem almost two completely different shows.
This may be due,in part, to the different size of the two spaces. Sometimes the more intimate space of the Juarez Museum provides a better venue with the relative coziness providing a certain coherence often lost in the larger more industrial feeling museum in El Paso. In this case, however the larger museum affords the opportunity for larger installations and videos which would overwhelm the smaller venue.
Angel Cabrales’s interactive piece “Hole in One” which allows one to sit in a chair and literally shoot a small rubber ball across to a golf green with a Mexican flag sticking up from the cup would be nearly impossible in the smaller museum while it only takes up a small corner here.
I went to the opening in Juarez first and was, frankly, disappointed in the show because it seemed to involve way too many conceptual pieces which failed to communicate and which seemed to involve some private vision whose point or significance I was often unable to discern. This was certainly not true of all the works which included some very fine pieces, but I just felt it as a whole a bit cold.
This feeling completely disappeared over in El Paso. Even though these were the same artists and not all of the pieces worked, (Some of the found objects should have perhaps been better left in situ) those pieces were subsumed into a larger totality. Unlike previous years, there was a stated theme for this show which was, not unsurprisingly, the border itself, and in this show one had a real feel for a border as seen and felt by the artists who live here. There were installations like the aforementioned Hole in One, Gil Rocha-Rocheli created a full size foosball game pitting police against sneakers moving forward; there were large spaces for videos of personal trips into the border, as well as large works taken from archival photos. Some of these also appeared in the show across the border but were of necessity much smaller.
Sometimes the smaller venue was better. Zeke Peña’s witty drawings work everywhere, but were perhaps a bit better served by the smaller Juarez museum museum in Juarez rather than in El Paso where they seemed a bit dwarfed. On the other hand, Adrian Esparza’s deconstructed sarapes looked good in both places, but the larger space allowed him an even more impressive installation.
The border is a huge subject but the show provides a visceral feeling for the border by artists who live here, and the show particularly in El Paso brought this feeling into coherence. This sense of unity and cohesion might have been due to the space, but it is just as likely due in large part to recently hired EPMA curator Kate Green who has impressive degrees, and tons of museum experience, most recently in Marfa. This is her first show for the El Paso museum and is one of the best things to happen here in years. It is also possible that because I saw this first in Juarez I already had a certain feeling for the show. In any case, it is important to see the works in both venues not only to see the complete show, but also to see how the different spaces can shape the perception of the work.
The show will be up through Mexican Independence day Sept. 16th-david sokolec