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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Busy Art Weekend on the Border

It’s going to be a busy weekend for art on both sides of the border.
The big event is, of course, the Border Biennial-Bienal Transfronterizo, an event shared equally by the Mueo de Art de Ciudad Juarez and the El Paso Museum of Art. This year there was actually a theme for the show which was,not unsurprisingly, the border itself. The jurors were Gilbert Vicario from the Phoenix Museum of Art and Carlos Palacios from the Museo Carrillo Gil in Mexico City. There is a members only opening at EPMA on Thursday night at 5:30, with an the show open for the rest of us the next day during their regular hours. In Juarez the official opening is Friday night at 7 pm, and as always it is for everyone.
So you can see both halves of the show on the same day, and it is really worthwhile to see both parts. The difference in the two spaces actually makes a difference in the feel for the show, and that, incidentally, is worth a whole exploration on its own.
If you’re not a EPMA member, or even if you are, you can stop by Artspace Lofts Thursday nightfrom 6-11 for the show Paradox Portals featuring artists Laura Turon and Mandy Shantyne
Back in Juarez on Friday architect Miguel Espejel is giving a presentation on the state of architecture in the historic center with a focus on Hotel Sur. This building erected in 1919 hosted a large number of notables in its heyday but like many other locations slowly was allowed to fall into decay and was actually finally closed a few years ago after a particularly ugly feminicida in which, I believe, the manager was considered a suspect. Last week there were some Tin-Tan museum markups for a restoration, actually a complete transformation of the building. These new proposals make it look sleek and chic. It looks amazing, but I didn’t see them saving this old ad currently on the side of the building.

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The talk will be at the Tin-Tan Museum on Juarez Ave at 5 pm.. CORRECTION. I just learned the talk has been moved to IADA bldgA at UACJ.

The Rubin Center at UTEP is opening two shows on Saturday from 12-2. Salidas and Entradas/Exits and Entrances is the work of video artists Jessica Hankey and Erin Johnson with the participation of three Senior Centers. This is also the opening of the show Labor in a Single Shot, the work of video students at UACJ under the direction of Leon de La Rosa Carillo. More info about both of these shows can be found at their website
So don’t tell me there’s nothing to do.-david sokolec

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

Aurora Reyes-A Revelation

I’ve been reading a book in which the author points out that while there were hundreds of women artists in Paris before and after WW1, for the most part only the male artists have been remembered.
In Mexico while everyone knows the name of male muralists like Rivera, O’Gorman etc, Aurora Reyes, considered the first female muralist is almost unknown even in her birth State of Chihuahua. The retrospective of her work which opened last Friday night at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez will hopefully go some way to rectify this situation.
Reyes was not only an artist but a passionate fighter for social justice and for education. She believed murals were not only the best way of spreading her message but also the most Mexican form of art as she saw a link to traditions which predated the Spanish arrival.
Working with rural school teachers perhps her most famous mural Atentado a las Maestras Rurales is from 1936 referencing a bloody confrontation resulting from the Government attempts at education reform in 1934. (Some things never seem to change).
In Mexico City she was artistically and politically active joining the Communist Party and she was friends with many of the better known artists of the period such as Frida Kahlo whose portrait is included in one of the paintings in the show.
The exhibtion shows an artist who is not only politically involved, but also a superb artist. There are oils, prints, drwings and, of course, murals. All of them show a great talent who has unfortunately been for too long not just ignored, but totally forgotten. This should begin a restoration.
The show is on display until May 26.-David Sokolecimg_20180316_195855403141312498.jpgimg_20180316_200443112_burst000_cover_top1434793339.jpgimg_20180316_2002560011254545703.jpgimg_20180317_120539_4411853254565.jpg

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

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