Mago la Magnifica

Margarita Gandara Armendáriz (Mago) who died last year at the age of 89, has been given a well deserved retrospective at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez. A true fronteriza she was born in El Paso, but, interestingly, her grandfather registered her as a Mexican citizen. She was always interested in art, studied it formally and then after 25 years of marriage , divorced and constructed a private art studio in Juarez which she called Casa Cui and spent years there happily living and working alone until the violence in 2011 forced her out.

She was strongly influenced by Italian Renaissance al Fresco artists as well as by Byzantine mosaicists. From that beginning, she incorporated a wide variety of, at the time, untraditional material such as fiberglass, wood and incorporated techniques learned from bricklayers to focus on visually exploring her surroundings, but also the underlying cultural spirit in the form of prehispanic and Christian religious symbols which always lie just beneath the suface here .

La Maquina de la Esperanza

La Niña cósmica

Although she worked in many different media, it is unquestionably her large murals and her sculptures which are the most impressive and are here shown along with an installation representing her beloved studio Casa Cui.

Fortunately Casa Cui has now been turned into an art center which will not only keep alive the memory of this wonderful artist but also her desire for that space to be an oasis for artists.

Installation reproducing Casa Cui

The show continues until September 7. – David sokolec

Border art themed openings

There are two openings this focused on border issues.

Tonight (Friday) Metalworker extraordinaire and good friend Ale Carrillo-Estrada is opening her solo show “Itinerant Dialogues” at Xolo Gallery 2800 N Piedras from 6 -9 pm. A too brief summary is that she fuses carefully constructed jewelry and other metal items with themes concerning immigration and border culture.

Tomorrow from 2-4 at the Chihuahua Desert Museum on the UTEP campus there will be the opening of “Uncaged Art”. This important and probably heartbreaking show is the art work of 13-17 year old immigrant children who were held in the detention center at Tornillo. Current UTEP President Diane Natalicio as well as other special guests will speak at 3 and I’m hoping it will show that you can cage the body but not the spirit. – David Sokolec

Sensory Riches at Museo de Arte

The Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez here has a new director, Christian Diego Diego, so what better for an opening show than to go back to basics.

In her show “Cromática”, Tania Candiani explores the three primary colors as a means of showing and helping preserve indigenous traditions and craftsmanship as well as showing how colors, in this case, the red, yellow and blue primary ones, can and should interact with all of our other senses. She also wants to remind us of how the making of these colors for textiles and other things is an interaction between the fabricated and the natural world. As curator Blanca de la Torre notes red dye traditionally came from the Cochineal bug and therefore from the animal world, anil blue (azul anil) from plant life and the yellow pigments were made from the mineral world. So there is this man-made natural world interchange.

Each room in the exhibit is devoted to one of these three colors and provide information on how these colors are made as well as ways of interacting with the items to heighten our other senses. In the main “red” room there is an enormous loom hooked up to a loudspeaker and at the opening we were treated to a symphony of sorts by the playing of the loom. In the yellow room there are yellow birds, which are actually ocarina which can be played by means of an attached bellows. These birds are reminiscent of whistles often found in the south of Mexico . For years I used to have a black clay bird whistle I bought in Chiapas.

Each room also features a series of hand embroidery with quotes about the specific color featured. There is also detailed information as to how these colors are formed, videos showing traditional methods of dye making and large hanging examples of wool both dyed and undyed.

All of this is specifically related to native cultures and I believe at some point during the show there will be dances by the members of the Raramuri community. The show itself runs until June 16.

This is a really exciting show and a great beginning for this new chapter in the museum’s history. – david sokolec

Speed Demons

Marfa is known for minimalist art mainly because of Donald Judd, who lived there back in the day ; Julie Speed, who lives in Marfa now, provides an answer, or perhaps an antidote, in her intriguing show “East of The Sun, West of the Moon” currently on view at the El Paso Museum of Art.

This is a dense, reference packed show show comprising collages, oils and even an immersive video projection room.

Many of her collages feature a meeting of Eastern and Western historical or archetypal figures as a central theme. This, however is only the beginning. She fills the sides of the work with small inserts referencing a wide variety of subjects and references both artistic, biblical, historical-essentially everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.

Speed shows both wit – there is a painting called “Eating Warhol’s Lunch” , which shows a couple eating tomato soup, and another titled “Judith Reconsiders” which portrays Judith with the severed head of Holofernes, as well as a very dark side.

The works often include insets or background scenes of violence. A recurrent theme seems to involve bears devouring a fish or other wild animals behaving like wild animals. There are scenes of domestic chaos and sharpened knives.

Sometimes you can take in a painting at a glance. These are not those sort of paintings. They require close attention so as not to miss everything going on.

All of this is wonderful and exciting and something different. The Museum has also turned a conference room at the back of the exhibit into an immersive recreation of Speed’s own studio with video projection of her paintings filling the walls and a soundtrack playing her favorite music which is as eclectic as her art.

The show is up through April 7.

It feels almost sacriligeous to be talking about Jacob Lawrence second in this review. In 1938 this Lawrence , one of the best known artists of the Harlem Renaissance, made a series of paintings about Haiti. Near the end of his life, he made a series of prints from that series in which he concentrated on Toussaint L’Ouverture, the famous General and leader of the slave revolt which brought freedom to the island. It is this series of important prints shown in their entirety upstairs at the museum.

This will be up until Feb 27.-david sokolec

Artistic Riches in Juárez

I want to take a moment to talk about the wealth of artistic and cultural activities going on these days in Juarez.

Two weeks ago I went to a dance performance in the old Ciné Victoria. This formerly beautiful theater has been lying in ruins for years, and although the façade has been restored, the interior is still an abandoned pit. The performance Yo te Vivo, part of the Nellie Campobello festival, was designed, in part, to call attention to the building, with its beautiful traditional murals, as well as giving an imaginative look at immigration.

Yo te Vivo performance

One of the murals in Cine Victoria

A few days later I went to the opening of the Festival in the City, which provides theater, music and other performances for roughly two weeks.

Caravana Balkaneana at opening of Festival in City

Then there was the 3rd Encuentro Reimaginando la Ciudad desde el borde ( Reimaginingthe City from the Edge) conference during which various artists and others discussed various ways of interacting and improving the urban experience.

The tireless Brenda Ceniceros at 3rd Encuentro Reimaginando la Ciudad…

In addition there have been film series like the Iranian film series wrapping up at Cafe San Angel, or the continuing round of films at El Cinito There have been literary walks, drama readings, photo talks and workshops. This in addition to concerts, art shows, and various workshops.

Most of these are free or at very low cost. The point I want to make is that not only is there an enormous variety of activity, but in many cases these are being put on by individuals who are trying to make a difference in a city unfortunately known more for its problems than for anything else. The city is not particularly known for its artistic atmosphere, and yet through the tireless effort of various hardworking people and groups, there are perhaps more artistic and cultural events than are found in many other places considered to be art centers.

I just want to give a big shout out to everyone trying to make a difference in this city which definitely has its problems, but also a host of wonderful dedicated people doing their best to do something about it. – David Sokolec

Three gems at Rubin Center

The smallest show of the three fine shows at the Rubin Center is perhaps the most satisfying . Russian born artist Yana Payusova studied at the St Petersburg school of fine Arts where she was trained in a strict classical style faithfully copying Old Masters, and perfecting her drawing skills. She then moved to the US where she completed her studies, and now teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

She began as a painter but has recently turned to ceramics and here her show entitled “Revolutions” demonstrates her skills as a painter and ceramicist, as well as the concerns which have long been at the center of her work.

Here there are bowls revolving slowly and painted inside and out with haunting folklike images of women. Payusova uses cartoon like forms, Russian propaganda poster images, Japanese print forms and other references to explore issues of gender equality, power structure and other serious themes, often with a light sardonic touch, and at other times with truly haunting images. On display are not only her ceramic pieces, but also her paintings as well and they are all quite wonderful. Even though they do not directly show Old Master techniques, one can sense the skill and talent underlying all of them, as well as a keen sense of humor.

Upstairs, Mexico city born and based artist Betsabee Romero uses the space to illustrate her concerns with immigration by foot as well as by train. When she was still in school, her best friend moved to Tijuana, and and this led to her interest in the border and moving to distant places in order to better one’s life . Here she has created huge installations involving train tracks, and foot lasts, each of which is inscribed with a phrase of encouragement. On the hill outside the Center, there are flags which also carry a shoe last. Originally these came all the way down to the front door, but the wind necessitated their removal.

The other show upstairs comes from Oaxaca, where contemporary print makers reference traditional images such as maize and combine them with contemporary images exploring and playing with the past and present.

All in all shows to explore. They will be up through mid- December.- David sokolec

September is for art

It’s September and time for art on both sides of the border.

Rubin Center at UTEP is opening three shows this Thursday (Sept 20). Kerry Doyle, the indefatigable director, went to Oaxaca (does she have the best job ever, or what) and explored the booming print scene there. With co-curator Carmen Cebreros Urzais, whose extraordinary CV seems to go on forever, she has brought back a variety of prints for a show called Iconografica Oaxaca by artists who are blending the traditional indigenous iconography with the contemporary.

The second show called Revolutions is by Russian born artist Yana Payusova who uses the medium of ceramics to explore issues of power and gender. She has exhibited internationally and is currently teaching at University of Arizona in Tucson.

The third show features internationally known Mexico City based artist Betsabee Romero with a show called Tu Huella Es El Camino. Her themes include issues of immigration, globalization and cultural issues in general.

I believe this exhibit includes a large installation outside of the gallery.

So all of this is opening Thursday night from 5-7.

Meanwhile on this side of the border, the Museo de Arte, which is celebrating 50 years is opening a show called Exilios del imaginario which features a retrospective of photographers who have shown at the museum from 1968-2018. This is set to open on the 28th at 7pm.-david sokolec