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

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

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