The Border From the Border

Although the Transborder Biennial features the same artists in both museums, the two halves at the El Paso Museum of Art and the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez seem almost two completely different shows.
This may be due,in part, to the different size of the two spaces. Sometimes the more intimate space of the Juarez Museum provides a better venue with the relative coziness providing a certain coherence often lost in the larger more industrial feeling museum in El Paso. In this case, however the larger museum affords the opportunity for larger installations and videos which would overwhelm the smaller venue.
Angel Cabrales’s interactive piece “Hole in One” which allows one to sit in a chair and literally shoot a small rubber ball across to a golf green with a Mexican flag sticking up from the cup would be nearly impossible in the smaller museum while it only takes up a small corner here.
I went to the opening in Juarez first and was, frankly, disappointed in the show because it seemed to involve way too many conceptual pieces which failed to communicate and which seemed to involve some private vision whose point or significance I was often unable to discern. This was certainly not true of all the works which included some very fine pieces, but I just felt it as a whole a bit cold.
This feeling completely disappeared over in El Paso. Even though these were the same artists and not all of the pieces worked, (Some of the found objects should have perhaps been better left in situ) those pieces were subsumed into a larger totality. Unlike previous years, there was a stated theme for this show which was, not unsurprisingly, the border itself, and in this show one had a real feel for a border as seen and felt by the artists who live here. There were installations like the aforementioned Hole in One, Gil Rocha-Rocheli created a full size foosball game pitting police against sneakers moving forward; there were large spaces for videos of personal trips into the border, as well as large works taken from archival photos. Some of these also appeared in the show across the border but were of necessity much smaller.
Sometimes the smaller venue was better. Zeke Peña’s witty drawings work everywhere, but were perhaps a bit better served by the smaller Juarez museum museum in Juarez rather than in El Paso where they seemed a bit dwarfed. On the other hand, Adrian Esparza’s deconstructed sarapes looked good in both places, but the larger space allowed him an even more impressive installation.
The border is a huge subject but the show provides a visceral feeling for the border by artists who live here, and the show particularly in El Paso brought this feeling into coherence. This sense of unity and cohesion might have been due to the space, but it is just as likely due in large part to recently hired EPMA curator Kate Green who has impressive degrees, and tons of museum experience, most recently in Marfa. This is her first show for the El Paso museum and is one of the best things to happen here in years. It is also possible that because I saw this first in Juarez I already had a certain feeling for the show. In any case, it is important to see the works in both venues not only to see the complete show, but also to see how the different spaces can shape the perception of the work.
The show will be up through Mexican Independence day Sept. 16th-david sokolec

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AFP covers the Border

Last year three photographers from Agence France Presse travelled the US-Mexican border fromSanDiego to Tamaulipas. Guillermo Arias, based in Tijuana travelled on the Mexican side from Baja California to Tamaulipas, Jim Watson, based in Washington DC travelled the US side from Californey will be up ia to Texas and AFP chief Yuri Cortez joined the others from his base in Mexico City. The result of their trip can be seen hanging on the fence along the Santa Fe International bridge going from Juarez in the direction of El Paso. The works are hung only as far as where the Mexican side of the bridge meets the US side. They are also on display in Anapra here in Juarez. No single trip and no amount of photography can completely cover the complexity of life here, but these are quite wonderful and show a great deal of sensitivity and a keen eye. They will be up until June 4 on the bridge and June 5 in Anapra. -david sokolec

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

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)

Lots to do this week in Juarez

Contrary to what people outside of Juarez often believe, there are always cultural events of one type or another going on here. This week is particularly full.
Tomorrow, Wednesday Nov 8 at the Museo de la Revoluticion de la Frontera (MUREF) begins a series of lectures, photo exhibitions, theater works etc on various aspects of the Mexican revolution. This includes some heretofore unseen photos of Emiliano Zapato in an exhibition curated by Miguel Angel Berumen. Registration for the event starts at 9 tomorrow morning, the photo exhibition has its official opening at 12:15 with words by the curator. The conference and all of the events continue through the 11th.
The next night over at the Museo de Arte, the ever industrious and irrepressible Brenda Ceniceros (I keep running out of adjectives for this extraordinary woman) will be presenting her 2nd book, Cartografias de la Frontera. According to the invitation this is a visual documentation of the frontier as symbolic urban space. The urban landscape and specifically the border region as both a reality and a symbol seems to be an underlying theme of Cenicero’s work, which also is concerned with urban development in all senses of the word. The notice from the Museum lists the presentation at 7, but her Facebook page shows the event beginning at 6.
The next night at the Centro Cultural de las Fronteras is the opening of a Photowalk exhibit accompanied by Jazz with Jazz Euterpe. This is scheduled for 7.
There are a number of other things as well on the other side of the border. On Thursday the El Paso Museum of Art is giving a lecture on how they build a Collection. If they were being accurate it would probably be subtitled Schmooze or lose, but I suspect that’s not the aspect of the process they’re discussing. Should be interesting to hear how they decide what to add and how they go about doing that.
On Saturday Fab Lab is also having a 3-d laser printing demonstration. The list goes on. Enjoy.-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

Great Art Events This Week on the Border

There are some great art events happening this week on the border. Beginning tonight, (Wednesday May 17) at the Museo de Arte here in Juarez ,Carlos Palacios, curator at the Museo de Arte Carillo Gil and curator of the Carla Rippey show currently on exhibit will give a free talk about the show. This is at 7 pm and tomorrow at noon he will lead a guided tour of this extraordinary retrospective.
There are a series of events at the museum this week in honor of International Museum Day culminating in a whole series of activities this Saturday at Un Dia en El Museo.

Friday is the opening of what promises to be a fascinating exhibtion to be shown on both sides of the border. Called “Narradores, Ponte en los Zapatos del Otro” here and more simply “Storytellers” in El Paso it shows the work of 60 students from different schools who present thier videos, and projects as well as interviews in which they talk about their life, hopes and dreams.
This was supported by the US Consulate in Juarez with the participation of some other local organizations and, of course, the assistance of a wide variety of local schools.
The opening in Juarez is this Friday night at Juarez Contemporary Gallery at Calle Omega #1351 at 7 pm. It will be up through the 21.
In El Paso it is scheduled to open on the 25th at The Station Urban Offices 500 W. Overland where it will run through the 28th.
Thursday is also the start of a series of films to be shown pimarily at Cafe Unico and at the Cineteca Nacionale branch at Cultural Centro Paso del Norte. The series is called Apanerowa and concerns indigenous culture and human rights . The  series at Cafe Unico begins at 4 pm .

So there you have some of the things going on here. Don’t tell me there’s nothing to do in Juarez.-dsokolec