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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Pacific Standard -More Than A Time Zone

Although it is not happening on our part of the border, I have to say something about Pacific Standard Time:LA/LA, the amazing series of exhibitions opening this Thursday all across southern California devoted to Latin American and Latino art.
Sponsored in large part by the Getty Foundation, Pacific Standard Time is a series of thematically linked exhibitions involving museums galleries and Universities all across the region all dedicating themselves to exploring Latin American art. Though in the main dedicated to contemporary visual art it will also include some ancient traditional Mayan and Aztec art as well. It is not devoted exclusively to visual art but will include other arts such as as dance, food and music.
Although this is happening away from our part of the border, some of our local artists will be showing. Alejandro Almanza Pereda will be in a 3 person show at IBID gallery and I understand that Haydee Alonso will also be showing there. There may be others, and I apologize if I’ve left you out. It wasn’t my intention. , though I haven’t heard eactly where yet. Incidentally, she is also one of two El Paso artists selected to be in this year’s Texas Biennial (the other artist is Angel Cabrales) and I want to send a big congratulations to both of them.
Pacific Standard Time LA/LA opens tonight and runs through January 2018. Their website is full of info. -david sokolec

Frida y Diego en Blanco y Negro

There is a reception tonight (Sept 7) at the Franklin Smith Gallery in the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso for what appears to be a great exhibition of photographs taken of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Sponsored by the Consul General of Mexico in El Paso the show called “Una Sonrisa a Mitad del Camino”features photographs of the daily life of the pair by such luminaries of photography as Edward Weston and Manuel Alvarez Bravo among others.
The reception scheduled for 6 pm will also feature the participation of the group Euterpe Jazz Flamenco.
The exhibition will continue until December 22. -David Sokolec

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

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