Kress Collection Rehang Misguided

The Kress collection at the El Paso Museum of Art, comprising works roughly from the 14th through the 18th century, is a remarkable treasure and has often quite correctly been called the crown jewel of the museum. Contrary to what some have said it really was rehung some 8 years ago along traditional historically linear lines with each room painted a different color to further emphasize the different time periods on view. This was not all that dramatic a change, but simply neatly divided the work up in historical categories.
Apparently the current administration decided the collection needed a complete reorganization, received a grant from the Kress foundation to do so and hired Dr. Elizabeth Dwyer, who fairly recently received her PhD from the University of Virginia for the task.
She decided to hang the collection thematically and to that end chose to hang the works based on the categories of “Madonna and Child”, “Honored Saints” “Sacred Stories” and the “Rise of Secular Art.”. This latter includes the sections world views, Rococo portraits, Nature’s outlines and grand portraits.
While the section of secular portraits and domestic scenes are fine, it is the art in the first rooms which focus on religious content rather than the treatment of that content and, more appallingly, explanatory notes which are too often mere religious propaganda and proselytizing which makes this current approach extremely troubling.
While individual exhibitions with a limited shelf-life are often created to call attention to content or to some link between different artworks not immediately apparent, more permanent displays, such as this is intended to be generally are designed to call attention to the skill involved or to historically important works. As such the display of religious works of art in public museums has always been universally acceptable precisely because museums, at least good ones, take care to take an objective, non-religious view of the art regardless of the relation individual patrons might have with the content.
The display would perhaps not be quite so objectionable were it not for the accompanying informational cards which too often read like religious propaganda.
One card begins “For two millennia, men and women of remarkable faith, fortitude and virtue have shared in St. Jerome’s desire for eternal salvation.”
In another card concerning St. Francis, someone for whom I have a great deal of respect, the card reads more like a Sunday school catechism class than something appropriate for a museum. There are far too many “Our fathers” and other such verbiage spread about which creates something deeply troubling and ultimately off-putting.
The thing is it didn’t have to be this way. The works themselves are nicely displayed. As in the rest of the museum, the walls have been painted bright white or covered in white wall covering with a vaguely Italianate background,. and whether it is the reflection of the light against the now bright white walls or whether they have intensified the lighting, the effect is that details are more easily seen. This is a little shocking at first as we have lost the more intimate feeling which was provided by dark crimson walls and subdued lighting from before, but does make the fine detail more available. Reminds me of a certain club in Chicago back in the day which turned on all the lights at 5 in the morning when they wanted everyone to leave. You could see every detail-scary in the club, helpful here.
Even with the works displayed to focus on the religiosity of the work, there could have been a more thorough objective discussion. For example a larger discussion of how the portrayal of the Madonna and Child from a purely otherworldly view to a more human one reflected the profound change in thinking resulting in the Renaissance. This was mentioned on one of the cards, but the theme could have been much better developed, along perhaps with a later discussion of how as money began flowing to individuals rather than only to the church, art changed from glorifying religious figures to glorifying wealthy individuals. This would have provided a better bridge to the later works in the show which seem a bit unconnected. There could have been a discussion of gold leaf or the importance of certain colors, or the inclusion of certain patrons within what were exclusively religious works. These religious works were, of course, originally intended as instruction, but art museums have been correctly and fairly scrupulous in avoiding this aspect. Here it seems to be predominant and this is completely unacceptable.
An art museum is a place for everyone, regardless of personal belief, to feel welcome and a close scrutiny of much of this rehung collection does the opposite. Despite a few interesting bits of historical information such as that on a Jacopo del Casentino altarpiece, the misguided choice to focus on theme has led to a display which is too often off-putting, divisive and deeply troubling.-david sokolec

Advertisements

Transborder Biennial Artists Selected

Congratulations to all of the artists who were selected for this year’s Transborder Biennial. This is the fisth edition of the biennial and I am pleased to see that for this one there was a specific theme given for the exhibition. In this case the theme was the transborder itself in whatever way one wanted to duiscuss it. In years past there has simply been a request for entries with no guidance or suggestions whatsoever as to what qualities or characteristics or ideas the judges might be looking for. In this case, it was at least narrowed down a bit.
The judges for this biennial are Gilbert Vicario,Selig Family Chief Curator of the Phoenix Art Museum and Carlos E Palacios, Curator of the Museo De Arte Carrillo Gil in Mexico City.
The bienial is unique in that the art, which was selected from artists living within 200 miles and on both sides of the US-Mexico border, is simultaneously exhibited in museums on both sides of the border at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez and the El Paso Museum of Art.
The Transborder Biennial opens on June 1 and runs until September 16.
Here are a list of the artists selected, and again a big congratulations to all of them.-David Sokolec
Animales de Poder (Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua)
Apodaca, Alexia G. (Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua)
Avila, Abraham (Tijuana, Baja California)
Blancas Beltran, Andrea (El Paso, Texas)
Boils Terán, Gabriel (Tijuana, Baja California)
Cabrales, Angel (El Paso, Texas)
De la Rosa-Carrillo, León (Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua)
De los Reyes, Tony (Los Angeles, California)
Elsoldelrac (Tijuana, Baja California)
Esparza, Adrian C. (El Paso, Texas)
Galería Perdida (Rancho Cucamonga, California)
Gere, Rich (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Gutierrez, Guillermo (El Paso, Texas)
Hernández, Ingrid and Pieter Wisse (Tijuana, Baja California)
Hernández, Nayeli (Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua)
José Crespo, María (Tijuana, Baja California)
Kline, Wes and Erika Lynne Hanson (Las Cruces, New Mexico)
Leyva, Ingrid (El Paso, Texas)
Manríquez, Iván (Monterrey, Nuevo León)
Meador, Daryl and Andres Cardena (Brownsville, Texas)
Partegàs, Ester (Marfa, Texas)
Peña, Zeke (El Paso, Texas)
Pimienta, Omar (San Diego, California)
Randall, SV (Las Cruces, New Mexico)
Rocha-Rochelli, Gil (Laredo, Texas)
Sáenz, Mauricio (Matamoros, Tamaulipas)
Turounet, Paul (Cardiff, California)
Unknown Fish (San Diego, California)
Vielma, Carlos (Saltillo, Coahuila)
Villalobos, Jose (San Antonio, Texas)

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

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.
Fotor_150307623160073Fotor_150302781695481Fotor_150302042082457Fotor_150302792630119

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

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

New Space at Museo de Arte

Tomorrow, Thursday 23, the Museo de Arte in Juarez is opening a new space dedicated to promoting local, national and international artists who deal in new media. Called Antecamara de proyectos it will be inaugurated by a film called Reflexiones en Torno al Cielo by Mexico City based artist Alexandra German who will be attending the opening, and curated by Victoria Vinamaragui.
Here is the description in Spanish from the museum. Looks like a wonderful new addition.
Antecámara de Proyectos del Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez tiene el enfoque de promover y difundir la producción y consumo de arte actual y nuevos medios. A partir de curadurías y diseños de exhibición que nazcan desde el museo. Antecámara es una sala alternativa que se logra dentro de una dinámica de rotación de artistas locales, nacionales e internacionales, para así lograr alcanzar mayores públicos.
the opening is set for 6 pm.-david sokolec

Plans for a Nuevo Siglo

The folks at Los Paisanos de la Chamizal have an ambitious plan for a new huge Hispanic themed festival designed to bring artists and performers from all over the world as well as the inclusion of local talent in what sounds like a wonderful proposition. They have the support of the City and County of El Paso as well as the National Park Service and are looking for local talent, businesses and people in general to join in. Their website is  at Nuevo Siglo-elpaso.org.

I have to say that one of the things I found exciting when I moved here was the Siglo de Oro theater festival at the Chamizal. Under the leadership of the indefatigable Virginia Ness, theater groups and academics from all over the world came to both sides of the border to perform widely varying interpretations of plays from the Golden Age of Spain. I could never figure out why the city and various arts organizations didn’t use this as an opportunity to join hands and create a citywide, or binational wide, festival which would attract theatergoers from all over a la Spoleto festival in Charleston or the Santa Fe Opera. At last there  seems to be a recognition that a festival bringing together local and national talent to the region would be an enormous boost for the region.I’m not sure the new plan is designed to include the Siglo de Oro festival, which has unfortunately been allowed to dwindle to a pale shadow of its former self, or if , as it appears to be, an entirely new type of festival. In either case, it sounds wonderful and good luck to them.-david sokolec