Aurora Reyes-A Revelation

I’ve been reading a book in which the author points out that while there were hundreds of women artists in Paris before and after WW1, for the most part only the male artists have been remembered.
In Mexico while everyone knows the name of male muralists like Rivera, O’Gorman etc, Aurora Reyes, considered the first female muralist is almost unknown even in her birth State of Chihuahua. The retrospective of her work which opened last Friday night at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez will hopefully go some way to rectify this situation.
Reyes was not only an artist but a passionate fighter for social justice and for education. She believed murals were not only the best way of spreading her message but also the most Mexican form of art as she saw a link to traditions which predated the Spanish arrival.
Working with rural school teachers perhps her most famous mural Atentado a las Maestras Rurales is from 1936 referencing a bloody confrontation resulting from the Government attempts at education reform in 1934. (Some things never seem to change).
In Mexico City she was artistically and politically active joining the Communist Party and she was friends with many of the better known artists of the period such as Frida Kahlo whose portrait is included in one of the paintings in the show.
The exhibtion shows an artist who is not only politically involved, but also a superb artist. There are oils, prints, drwings and, of course, murals. All of them show a great talent who has unfortunately been for too long not just ignored, but totally forgotten. This should begin a restoration.
The show is on display until May 26.-David Sokolecimg_20180316_195855403141312498.jpgimg_20180316_200443112_burst000_cover_top1434793339.jpgimg_20180316_2002560011254545703.jpgimg_20180317_120539_4411853254565.jpg

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Chicano Works on Paper

In addition to the show Ethics, Excess Extinction in the main gallery upstairs at the El Paso Museum of Art, there is a really wonderful show of works on paper from Cheech Marin’s extensive collection of Chicano Art.
Entitled “Papel Chicano Dos” the show brings together a hugely diverse group of artists working with different techniques and exploring a wide range of themes. Many of these works form a series, rather than standing alone.

Vincent Valdez has a boxer series in black and white called “Estaciones” (stations) which consists of twelve different events in the course of a boxer’s death with obvious reference to the Stations of the Cross, while Sonia Romero has a quiet series called “Awakening” consisting of three pieces showing a nude woman emerging from a constraining form like a chrysalis. In this and in a work called inner landscape, she is using the female nude to make a very personal exploration. Sonya Fe has a series retelling the story of La Llorona

There are a number of works by Glugio Gronk Nicandro showing his imaginative and fanciful vision. It’s a wonderful show full of talent and life.
On Saturday March 3 there is going to be a huge celebration at the Museum from 12-4. There will be music, and food trucks and undoubtedly lots of people.
The show itself will be on view until June 17. – David Sokolec

Above Reimagining La Llorona #1-6 Sonya Fe

Estaciones Vincent Valdez

Lifeboat Glugio Gronk Nicandro

Extinction and Excess

In the show Ethics, Excess, Extinction currently on view at the El Paso Museum of Art, the elephant in the room is the elephant in the room, or rather three large white puffy elephants created by Billie Grace Lynn. I don’t know whether the artist considered the idea that the term “white elephant” refers to a usually large, expensive undesirable purchase or if white was simply the color of the material at hand, but in either case they are here to remind us of the danger to the species as well as the danger to many others. One of the really heartbreaking photos in the show is by Nick Brandt, whose black and white photos of park rangers in Africa holding elephnt tusks is a simple but powerful image of the destruction men have wrought on these wonderful animals for the sake of money.
The show consists of a wide variety of approaches to the subject. Karen Knott has a haunting group of photos from her India series which shows an animal ensconced within the walls of a beautiful India interior.
Internationally known artist Kiki Smith contributes a number of huge tapestries portraying various wild animals. There is documentation of performance artists and videos linking people at a flea market with animals foraging.
All of the works in this show remind us in various ways that we are not the only ones on the planet,and that extinction not only means a loss to the animals but a profound loss for the world.
The show is organised by Artworks for Chicago and runs through May 13.-david sokolecIMG_20180221_140256701~2.jpgFotor_151925865347478.jpgIMG_20180221_140740398~2.jpg

Dreams Under Border Skies at Rubin Center

I thought the day the DACA program was rescinded would be a good day to visit Erika Harrsch’s installation Under the Same Sky..We Dream at the Rubin Center.
Before I talk about the show, I want to talk about the flood. No, not that flood, but the one that hit the Rubin Center here in El Paso. It seems the intense rain last Friday completely flooded the first floor of the center. There had been problems during rains before, but this was so bad that everything had to be ripped up and torn out from the small auditorium to the offices. The first floor currently looks like a construction site. Fortunately the main gallery space upstairs was untouched, and the indomitable director Kerry Doyle is currently running her empire from a card table set up in the small corridor between the reception desk and the back room. Here’s hoping that all get repaired soon.
As I said the upstairs gallery is fine and that means one can certainly explore the current exhibions. Erika Harrsch is based in New York, but she has spent a fair amount of time on the border and her work often concerns immigration and border issues. A year or so ago, she set up a huge spinning wheel here in which participants could “win”a North American passport”” which presumably would give one the right to freely cross all borders in North America. Revolutionary concept. Shengen convention anyone?
Here she has done something quite moving.
Hanging from the ceiling and completely stretching from one side of the gallery to the other is a cutout of the US-Mexico border completely filled with a video composed of 35,000 photographs of the sky over the Juarez-El Paso border. This video consisting mainly of shifting cluds is projected on both sides of the cutout. Ducking through this low hanging cutout (well, some probably have to duck, others of us can just fit beneath)brings one immediately to a darkened space filled with the same mats and blankets used in ICE detention centers. On each mat is a “Dreambook” illuminated by an attached reading light, containing the words of the “Dream Act.” From stereo speakers comes the magical voice of Mexican singer Magos Herrera singing those same words and thereby transforming the pure legalize into something truly wonderful. I was vaguely reminded of the practice of singing the words of the Torah, which also transforms what are, at times, purely prosaic words and some fundamental laws into something somehow much greater.
One is encouraged,to sit on the mat, read the book, listen to the words being sung and wafting over the room and then looking up at the shifting clouds projected above and ponder, reflect and perhaps to dream.
This is a deceptively simple, and perhaps precisely because of the simplicity powerfully moving work.
The installation is accompanied by a collection of interviews with various dreamers made by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. Around the corner from Harrsch’s installation photographers Sylvia Johnson and Kerry Scherck show portaits of dreamers and a short interview with each one in which they discuss their life and hopes and dreams.
The two parts of the show combine perfectly into a profound reflection on an extremely relevant and important issue.
Erika Harrsch and some of the “dreamers”will be holding a panel discussion on September 28 at the show’s closing. It is scheduled for 6 pm, but check with the center for more details. -david sokolec

Exceptional African American prints at EPMA

San Antonio art collectors Harmon and Harriet Kelly have put together an extremely impressive collection of African-American art. If they had collected nothing more than the works on view at the El Paso Museum of Art, they would have still made an impressive accomplishment. These works on paper  can be viewed in any number of ways, all of them satisfying.
The exhibit ranges from the late 1800’s to 2002 and does a pretty good job of providing a cross-section of important artists during that time. Most of these artists studied at prestigious art schools in the US and abroad, and many travelled extensively . One question raised by the exhibit is why aren’t these artists better known?
The early works by artists like Grafton Tyler Brown (1841-1918) who spent most of his life in Canada  or Lois Maillou Jones (1905-1998) or Henry Ossawa Tanner(1859-1937) who studied with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy and then went on to spend most of his life in France generally focus on purely aesthetic concerns whether a shipwreck off the coast of Brittany or a ranch in western Canada. These are   highly skilled and well trained artists.
There is a shift a bit later with the rise of the Harlem Renaissance and with a general trend by many artists to focus on the society and social conditions around them. Although white artists like George Bellows and photographers like Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange have long been much better known, the skill and perception of an artist like Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) known as the Dean of the Harlem Renaissance among others makes us want to see more.
Although Europe was often a favorite place for these artists to live and study, a few also went to Mexico. Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) and Hale Aspacio Woodruff  (1900-1980) were among those who found inspiration in that country. Woodruff in fact  worked with Diego Rivera on murals.
The newer pieces in the show are generally far more overtly political, some using humor others straight-forward.
The Kelleys apparently started collecting this art when they saw a show and were somewhat embarrassed they were not very familiar with many of the artists. Their gain is also our gain in this excellent exhibition which can be seen purely from the point  of view of aesthetics as there are a wide variety of printing techniques employed and a wide variety of artistic skill at play, or  it can be seen as a socially relevant show documenting African -American life and concerns over a century or it can be seen as at long last bringing to view some extremely talented artists who are not nearly as well known as they should be at least to much of the general public. This show helps to rectify that situation.
It is free and on view until April 16.-david sokolec

 

 

 

 

Reimagining the City

The informative (Re)imaginando el Ciudad desde el borde (reimagining the city from the edge) conference last week here in Juarez gave us a chance to learn about the intensive work so many artists, writers, architects and culture workers were doing to actively engage the community in an attempt to reconnect us all with the strength and beauty found here in the city whether that meant through the strength of its people, or through the beauty of some of its old buildings or through preserving its literary history.

In some cases that specifically means going to the oldest colonia in Juarez and working with the local residents to teach them about the value of the adobe homes which are still (barely) standing, as well as giving workshops on helping kids make their own adobe. It’s interesting how highly valued adobe homes are in say Sante Fe, NM and how little valued they seem to be here. In other cases it means making a literary cartography of the city and taking a large group of us on a tour of sites used in the work of well-known authors as well as making sure their wroks are preserved. Sometimes it means holding weekly seminars on skills such as phtography where people can exchange info and learn techniques which can then be used in documenting daily life in ever-changing Juarez, and above qall it means honoring and celebrating all of the diverse groups of people who live here.

This was the second year of the conference and perhaps it should better be called (Re)descubriendo el ciudad… (Rediscovering the city) because in many ways it was as much about discovering what has been here all along as it was about reinventing the city, but in either case it was a wonderful event and congratulations are due the Coordinacion de Artes Visual de UACJ and coordinators like Brenda Ceniceros and everyone else who worked so hard to make this happen.-david sokolec

Active arts week on the border

This is a busy week for arts and cultural enthusiasts on both sides of the border. This Wednesday begins a 3 day event in Juarez called 2ndo encuentro(re) imaginando la ciudad desde el borde. This amazing event brings together artists, architects, writers, photographers etc to make presentations and interchange ideas on reimagining the city, and on the events and activities they are currently providing. There are a large number of individuals who tirelessly work to help the city and those of us who live in it, and this is a great opportunity to become acquainted with some of them. This is the second year for this event which is sponsored by coordinacion artes visual UACJ and organized by my frind Brenda Ceniceros and others. Info and schedule can be found on their facebook page.

Thursday night in El Paso brings a night of prints.

Christian Casteneda who has been the featured artist at Proyecto Impala, and therefore been touring various locations and schools in Juarez to show his work, will be holding a print demonstration sponsored by Proper print shop at 601 N. Oregon. (note the address; this is in the new Artspace lofts building). The event is at 7 pm.

Finally, but certainly not least, there is the opening of an exhibition of prints at the Purple pop-up gallery. These have been curated by the tireless Karl Whittaker, who has selected new prints from some of the artists he recently showed a the El Paso Museum of Art as well as some additional artists working in Mexico. -david sokolec