Is EPMA ruining the Kress Collection ?

The crown jewel of the El Paso Museum of Art, and, in fact, the basis of the museum’s very existence is the Samuel Kress collection.  This priceless collection of art ranging from the Medieval to the 18th century was gifted to the museum by famed retailer Samuel Kress ages ago and it was on the basis of this gift the museum was built. It is kept in a softly lit room with careful temperature and humidity controls. 

For their current show “The Garden”, the museum has taken one of the medieval altar pieces from its place in the collection and hung it in the bright harsher glare and perhaps less evenly controlled temperature levels of the main gallery. This seems to be taking an unnecessary risk with an irreplaceable work of art.

Perhaps I am overreacting since some of the great museums of the world show their treasures in brighter conditions than that of the Kress collection. Perhaps we have been, in fact, overly protective of the collection all these years. I would point out, however, that in the case of most of the other museums the light is more diffuse and not nearly as harsh as that in the EPMA”s larger gallery. More to the point is that it is the change of venue-the change from the dimmer light, and more carefully watched humidity controls to the sudden glare of the main gallery that seems somewhat problematic. Perhaps nothing at all will occur to damage this work for the relatively short time it is exposed to the much brighter light inj the exhibition, but one has to ask why one wants to take the chance, It is not as if a garden is the subject of the piece. There is simply the hint of a meadow or field in a portion of the background, and one an accompanying note on the wall feels compelled to call attention to as it might otherwise go missed by the casual viewer.
The show, which is composed exclusively of works from its own collection, seems to include any work which even hints at having a flower so perhaps the altar piece seemed fair game.
Again perhaps I am overreacting or being overly protective, but the piece looks thoroughly out of place in the larger show, and the space on the wall of the Kress collection looks simply vandalized.
As long as I am venting about the museum, I couldn’t help noticing that they have painted all of the walls, except for those in the Kress collection, a bright white. This includes the Spanish Colonial works which look as if they are lost in a snowstorm. At a time when people everywhere are talking about getting art out of the “white walls of the museums and galleries” it is remarkable that the EPMA is simply further promoting the stereotype. I also see they have packed one wall in the back from ceiling to floor and from one side to the other with paintings in a manner resembling the 19th century practice and not often seen since.
These latter criticisms are, of course, simply a question of aesthetic taste, but it is one more example of questionable choices. The larger potential problem is the altar piece and one finally has to ask what precisely is going on over there -david sokolec

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Tin Tan Museum opens At Last

After what seems like a very long time, the museum, or officially Sala de Arte dedicated to international film star and local hero German Valdes or Tin-Tan finally opened last Thursday night with an exhbition titled, appropriately enough, TinTan illustrado. This featured various artists portraits of the star who, though born in Mexico City, was raised and started his career in Juarez.
The Sala is smallish but airy and still seems to be not quite complete. It will be interesting to see what they do with the space.
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It sits just off Juarez avenue in between that street and Mariscal, which was famous for years for being filled with seedy bars, strip clubs and generally the sort of thing that brought some topurists over to Juarez back in the day. During the years of violence all of that was torn down with vague promises for redevelopment. Unfortunately there were no real plans and less money so the whole area simply sat vacant for a number of years.
In the last year or so however there have been concerted efforts to make it a new family friendly destination. They built a new park, called Juan Gabriel park, after the other local international star who got his start here. They are soon going to erect a statue of him in the park. They commisioned Calavera Collectivo and Collectivo 8 to paint huge wonderful murals along the backs of the buldings all along the street and plans were developed for the now opened Tin Tan museum.
Hopefully the whole area will become popular again with a slightly different crowd this time. We’ll see.-david sokolec

Transborder Biennial Art Exhibit

Big thanks to Glasstire for this note about the upcoming Transborder biennial art exhibit call for entries because when I look on the EPMA site I can find  absolutely no mention. Perhaps the operative word is soon , as in they will soon send out a call for entries. Glad to see this biennial is being continued, and as the note says will be held next year.
On an entirely different topic I am also pleased to see that Google , at least here in Mexico, is honoring the 121st birthday of Tina Modotti.-david sokolec

Busy end of week on the border

Lots of art activity in the next couple of days. Opening tomorrow Thursday August 10) at the Rubin Center is Erika Harrsch’s show Under the Same Sky We Dream, a video and sound installation focusing on immigrant children crossing the border specifically from Juarez to El Paso . Also opening is a show of drawings and a hand drawn animation by Suzi Davidoff which concerns itself with human made changes in the natural world order ( to give an oversimplified version of the complexity of her concerns)
Also on Thursday over at the Centro de Los Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos, 201 E.  9th Ave,  Make America Great Again:  Doors Not Walls features art work from La Mujer Obreara youth group and ICE detainees from Otero County prison which details their individual journeys as part of a series of workshops   led by Haydee Alonzo. The opening is from 6-8 and will also feature music by Frontera Bugalu and food.
On Saturday Fablab hosts Expanded featuring augmented reality murals by well-known local artists including Los Dos, WERC, Jesus Cimi, Nani Chacon and others. This is from 4-10 and includes music, and food.
Over in Juarez I want to mention the State theater festival that has been going on all week. Last night I saw  a  production by Compania Strongylus of a play called Pelones y Pelucas which did a brilliant job of blending farce and history and a huge dose of audience interaction into an incredible production. All plays are free and every night I’ve gone the theater has been packed. This is in the smaller Octavio Trias theater at Centro Cultural Paso del Norte.
I also want to mention coming up on August 17th is Edible Carnival, an installation over at the Museo de Arte in Juarez.- David Sokolec

All Along the Watchtower 


Francisco Mata Rosas (b Mexico City) tends to focus his lens on those people and places  usually marginalized in order to give them, if not a voice, at least an opportunity to be seen. A few years ago the Museo de Arte here in Juarez mounted a show of his series Tepito (Bravo el Barrio) in which he photographed residents of that somewhat notorious Mexico City barrio with excellent professional lighting against a white backdrop in order to afford each of them a dignity and recognition which they perhaps rarely receive from others.
In the series called “La Linea” which opened last Friday night at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez, he has focused on the border. For five years he has focused his attention on the border using his camera to capture some of the people and reality of the line between Mexico and the United States through a variety of means including a drone.
The photographic images, which are presented here without informational cards, take varied forms and sizes from more or less standard size photographs to landscapes that take up a whole wall. Here, as in his other series, he focuses on those who are often ignored or shunned, including  drug addicts as well as those who are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Many of the photographs focus on the detritus left behind by those attempting to cross from one side to the other or on some of the absurdities inherent in a situation in which those desperate to escape difficult situations bump up against the implacable forces which attempt to deter them.
The photography is wonderful, Francisco Mata has a keen sensibility and a sharp eye for the often overlooked and the small things which can imply much more, so why did the show leave me somewhat dissatisfied even while I admired the individual pieces?
There is a scene in Alain Resnais 1959 film  Hiroshima Mon Amour, which concerns both the destruction of Hiroshima and an affair  between a Japanese architect and a French actress , in which she says something like “When I  was in Hiroshima…” and he responds “You were never in Hiroshima.” (This despite the fact the film is set in Hiroshima). This kept playing in my head as I was wandering around the exhibit because unfortunately many people who live outside the border region probably believe these images constitute the totality of the border region. Many people tend to view the place as a wild and marginalized area consisting mostly of nothingness and desperate people trying to cross over or the very poor scrambling to get by.  While that is clearly are an integral part of the border, it is only a part.  Those of us who live here know that the border is an enormously dynamic place. There is a huge amount of trade and commerce which happens daily, there are universities and arts and a rich cultural mix which creates a distinctive culture. Despite a general misconception, the border is not simply  bicultural but  is filled with people from a wide variety of cultures. In Juarez alone there are people from an enormous number of  countries as well as many different indigenous groups. The number of languages spoken is enormous even though this isn’t often realized in daily life. I’ve been thinking lately that the border is a bit like the Nile in that there is a large swath of desert spreading out from either side, while along the banks or la linea  a distinctive and rich culture has sprung up on both sides.
The excellent photographs in this exhibition show an integral and important part of that culture, but it is important to remember that it is only a small part of the much larger and much more varied world this border forms.
For those who cannot see the show in person Francisco Mata’s website (Francisco Mata.com.mx) provides an even more complete selection of photos, though of course they are better seen in person, particularly for the variety of forms and sizes they take.

The exhibition runs through October 15.-david sokolec

Opening and closing at the Museo de Arte 

There are two worthwhile events this week at the Museo de Arte. Opening on Thursday the 15th at 7pm is Herbadores para Soñadores. This installation in the newly transformed exposition space at the museum is by  Gabriela Zubillaga and curated by Victoria Vinamaragui. 

The following evening. Carla Rippey is giving a talk at the closing of her wonderful retrospective. Entitled Gráfica Reinventada it is also scheduled for 7pm.

I should also mention there are a number of workshops also scheduled this week at the museum. – david sokolec 

A Bug A Cactus and World Domination

Textiles and dyeing techniques seem to have suddenly become the topic du jour for museum shows. About two  weeks  ago, I was reading Rainey Knudson’s excellent review in Glasstire  of the Ikat textile show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; I see there is a show of waxed batik at the Dallas Museum of Art, and just last week I stumbled into the magnificent show “The Red That Colored the World” at the El Paso Museum of Art.
This show comes from the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe and explores the importance of cochineal dye throughout the ages and throughout the world.
The dye comes from the cochineal bug happily feeding on the prickly pear cactus and if you think this is a bit too arcane or tedious you need to think again. This is a remarkably vibrant show.
The discovery of using this bug for a particular shade of red and its variations first occured in both Mexico and Peru centuries ago, but with the conquest of the area by Spain it soon spread throughout the world. We often think about the Spanish conquest in terms of gold or maybe chocolate but this dye became the third most important trading item for them and was used in all kinds of ways.

In addition to telling the history and showing the spread of the dye back to Europe then to Asia and back again to the Americas. It displays all sorts of items on view from bags to ancient huipils centuries  to paintings centuries old to dresses made in 2014. The dye was used for the English “redcoat”uniforms in the Revolutionary War and in items we use today.  It was found in Native American weavings and along the silk road. I mentioned the Ikat exhibit because I believe there is a tie-in. The Ikat weavings were from Bukhara and Bukhara was one of the important stops along the way for the trade of the dye to Asia.
This is a marvellous show and there is even a section where you can try on various red colored pieces of clothing and take photos of yourself. Photography is not allowed in the rest of the show.
It  will be up through August 20 and unlike most of the previous majot shows at the Mueum this is free. -david sokolec