Response: Latino Art Now Conference 2008 Sunday, Mar 2 2008 

It had been seventeen years since I had returned to NY. There must be a law against that for art enthusiasts. I remember walking around as a kid and feeling the size of an ant in that concrete jungle. Despite the fact that I’m older and aware that Manhattan Island is only 24 square miles, I still got that same feeling. Central Park was as beautiful as ever and I managed to get lost there on Friday morning.

Tati in NYC

I am still trying to process everything from the conference. The time flew by and there was so much to be said, it was almost overwhelming. I will only attempt to highlight the aspects that were memorable for me, meaning the good, the bad and the ugly.

My absolute favorite presentation was the contribution by the Cuban-American art historian Alejandro Anreus titled “Contranotas.” I wish I had recorded his talk–it was brilliant. He began by giving us the current Grove Art Dictionary definitions of “Latino artist” and “Latin American artist.” And through the course of his 20-minute lecture he managed to expand their definitions and create a complex web of relationships that revealed their commonalities and their context in the global arena. Often times we forget that art movements are not created in a vacuum, they are part of a larger cultural moment or reaction, and that cultural production is not bound by national or physical geographies. One of the things that really struck me was his call to learn from the African American experience. I believe he is right, as their struggle runs parallel to ours. Since the late 70s, Hampton University has published the International Review of African American Art, a platform for the discussion of African American art, artists and collections. This is something that we are really lacking in our field, a scholarly journal dedicated solely to the documentation of Chicano and Latino art. Aztlan has in some ways filled this void, but it is an interdisciplinary journal dedicated to Chicano Studies.

I was really impressed with the curatorial presentations. Elvis Fuentes, Curator at El Museo del Barrio, gave an excellent talk on Cuban artists from Miami. The same was the case with Carmen Ramos, Curator at the Arts Council of Princeton, who spoke on Dominican artists. The lunch workshop offered by Natasha Bonilla-Martinez on “Appraising Your Art Collection” was really eye-opening and very useful for artists, art historians and collectors. She is one of a handful of certified art appraisers with a specialization in the Latino field. She explained the intricacies of appraising and some of the difficulties within the Latino field because of the lack of documentation and published material on artists, particularly catalogue raisonnés.

One of the aspects that I found disappointing at the conference was that everyone came with their own agenda. And I’ll be more specific, Chicanos came to represent Chicano interests, Salvadoreños for Salvadoreños, Dominicans for Dominicans, Latin Americans for Latin Americans, etc. Most of these groups showed a great deal of resistance to the homogenization of the term Latino, which is perfectly understandable. However, in the grand scheme of things it is defeatist to come to a conference such as this one and bring along your own nationalist or ethnocentric agenda. The purpose of these gatherings is to come together and form a national coalition of artists, art historians and cultural workers.

It makes me so upset to think that we spend so much time pointing out all the differences amongst ourselves, and yes, there is beauty in all that difference but there is no power. How can we bring about institutional change when we waist our time on these ridiculous discussions? A great case in point is Jose Falconi’s divisive rhetoric and his new book What About the Other Latinos? I’ve not had the time to read this Peruvian intellectual’s work, but when I do I’ll make sure to publish a review on this site.

I must clarify that not everyone in attendance came with this frame of mind. There were many young people in their 20s and 30s who really embrace a Pan-Latino, Pan-Latin American, or even hemispheric view of our cultural production. There were also elders and visionaries like Tomas Ybarra-Frausto whose interests move beyond borders and colonial constructs. These are the people that give me hope.

Another highlight for a print junkie like myself was the Latino Printmaking Panel on Saturday morning. The panelists were all part of Consejo Gráfico, a national network of ateliers that focuses on the preservation and advancement of Latino printmaking. One of the hot debate issues was the use of digital printing technology. Some of the participants, such as Pepe Coronado favored the use of a hybrid technique, while others kept to more traditional printmaking.

In conclusion, Latino Art Now 2008 was a terrific conference, I learned a great deal and feel very lucky to have attended. I want to acknowledge the organizing committee: Yasmin Ramirez and Pedro Pedraza from Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (CUNY), Gilberto Cardenas from the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, and Tomas Ybarra-Frausto for this massive undertaking on a shoe-string budget. Dr. Cardenas mentioned that Latino Art Now 2010 will most likely be held in Los Angeles. I hope the next stop is Austin, TX.


Fifteen under Forty: Vincent Valdez Monday, Jan 28 2008 

Kill the Pachuco Badtard!
Kill the Pachuco Bastard!
Oil on canvas, 41″ x 80″, 2001.
Courtesy of

Recently on a trip to San Antonio, I visited the Museo Alameda, the first Latino-museum affiliate to the Smithsonian Institution. I had heard many negative comments about the Alameda, primarily that their shows did not reflect the voice and the cultural vibrancy of San Antonio’s Chicano/a and Latino/a communities. Considering the latter, I was thrilled to find an exhibit by Vincent Valdez and Alex Rubio. The show was titled San Anto: Pride of the Southside, En el Mero Hueso and was curated by Benito Huerta, professor of Painting at the University of Texas at Arlington.

As I walked around the Cortez Gallery in the Museum, I noticed a young man, short in stature, walking around with a cell phone. He looked very determined and continued to talk on the phone and described the way the artwork had been hung. I thought how rude, to be on the phone, did he not get the memo. Well it turned out to be the young Vincent Valdez, who had just flown in from LA to see the exhibit.

Born in 1977 in San Anto’s Southside, Valdez became acquainted with art at an early age. His great-grandfather was an artist and by the age of 10 Valdez had already been selected to participate in the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center Mural Project. The lead artist for the project was Alex Rubio, who became a mentor and friend for Valdez. Both artists have collaborated on a number of public art commissions. Upon graduating high school, Valdez was awarded a scholarship and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. I’m not certain, but I’ve been told that his tour de force painting, Kill the Pachuco Bastard! was done as part of his senior thesis exhibition. The work is now owned by the Cheech Marin Collection.

Pride of the Southside
Pride of the Soutside
Pastel on Paper, 59″ x 36″, 2004
Courtesy of

In Pride of the Southside, Valdez depicts his brother as a boxer in active pose. The Southside neighborhood is in the background with a glowing sunset that fills the entire picture with a dark and sensual mood. His boxer stands fierce, yet his eyes reveal fear. There are several pictorial elements central to Chicano iconography in the work: the roses, the title painted on the actual work, the tatoos and gold chain, and they way the sun is depicted can almost be a Mexican or Aztec reference. Pride of the Southside is really a mesmerizing portrait of more than just his brother, it is a portrait of his neighborhood. The dynamic stance of the boxer, the palette and the layout of the composition creates a captivating experience for viewers.

El Chavez Ravine
El Chavez Ravine, 2005-07.
Photo by Genaro Molina.

This past August, Valdez completed his largest project to-date, El Chavez Ravine, commissioned by Ry Cooder. The project raises awareness of the story of Chavez Ravine, a Mexican American working-class neighborhood that underwent violent gentrification to make room for Dodger’s Stadium. With a 1953 Chevy ice cream truck as his canvas, Valdez set out to depict the history of Chavez Ravine. You can find a nice flash movie narrated by Valdez on the LA Times website. Valdez currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

San Anto: Pride of the Southside is on view till March 23, 2008 @ Museo Alameda

Interview with Vincent Valdez and Alex Rubio published in the San Antonio Current.

Blog resolution 2008 Tuesday, Jan 22 2008 

I know I haven’t been very good at maintaining my blog on a regular basis, so I recently came up with an idea to get me to write at least once a month. The project is titled Fifteen under Forty (I’m borrowing the title from an African American exhibit), and every month I will feature one or two Latino/a artists under the age of forty who are emerging or establishing themselves in the art world. I will try to choose from a variety of disciplines and regions.

The first artist I chose to begin this project with is Vincent Valdez, whom I recently met at an exhibit in San Antonio. Stay tuned for his profile.

Project Rowhouses Wednesday, Oct 24 2007 

On September 18, the lecture series on Art in the Black Diaspora at The University of Texas at Austin hosted a lecture by Rick Lowe, a political activist and installation artist. Lowe discussed his background and career path, though most of the lecture was devoted to his flagship work Project Row Houses. Lowe was born and raised in rural Alabama. He grew up with inequality, poverty and racism. His work has always encompassed these social aspects. Through the 1980s he primarily worked on ephemeral works. Little documentation remains of these, except for newspaper clippings that document his Amnesty International installation and his community organizing work.

Around 1990-91, one of his high school students gave him a critique that would forever change the course of his work. The student told him, and I paraphrase, “Rick, its great that you paint what goes on in our neighborhood, but what solutions are you offering?”. This critique sent Lowe into a search for new answers and eventually led him to Joseph Beuys’ Energy Plan for Western Man.* From Beuys, he extracted the concept of social sculpture and along with the guidance of his mentor John Bigger, he began to conceptualize a project for the Third Ward in Houston.

Project Row Houses was established in 1993 as a revitalization project. The initial phase consisted of 13 units of low-income housing and an artist in residency gallery space. Lowe’s vision was based on four principles for community development: good and relevant architecture, art and creativity, education, and developing a social safety net. Lowe concluded the lecture by stating that the success of this project is based on effective community partnerships.

* Energy Plan for Western Man was a lecture tour that Joseph Beuys embarked on in 1974. The tour, organized by Ronald Feldman and Jon Stoller, consisted of a 10-day, three city circuit with stops at colleges in Chicago, New York and Minneapolis. “Joseph Beuys: Energy Plan for the Western Man.” Walker Art Center. <>

Puerto Rican Art at the Smithsonian Tuesday, Aug 14 2007 

Written by Sonia Zayas and Tatiana Reinoza

This report was produced as part of our practicum at the Latino Museum Studies Program hosted by the Smithsonian Latino Center. (July 2007) Note: The endnotes are marked by an asterisk.


Our project consisted on enhancing collections-based research of Latino and Latin American collections at the Smithsonian with a focus on Puerto Rican art, history, culture and natural science. Due to time constraints we quickly narrowed our research to focus on Puerto Rican art from the 18th to the 21st century. Our educational background is in Latino and Latin American Art History and Museum Studies. Therefore, we have chosen to focus on Puerto Rican visual arts and have expanded our research into the Division of Community Education (DIVEDCO) Poster Collection from the National Museum of American History.

Since the Smithsonian Latino Center is planning to dedicate a year of programming to Puerto Rico, we identified four topics, which can serve as the conceptual framework for exhibits. The four suggested topics are:

Military Life and Contributions of Puerto Rican Soldiers *1,
Historical Photography of Puerto Rico *2,
Puerto Rican Women Artists *3, and
the DIVEDCO Poster Collection.


Our first task was to get acquainted with the Smithsonian library resources and databases. As we looked through exhibition catalogs, art history books, videos and ephemera, we began compiling a list of notable Puerto Rican artists. We used this list as a basis to expand our research into the new Siris Cross Catalog Searching Database. This database provided all library and archival information related to our artist list. The findings have been incorporated into our listing (see List of Puerto Rican Artists).

In order to identify works of art in the Smithsonian Collection, we chose not to use the Siris Cross Catalog Search. This database is too broad in scope and encompasses all works of art that have at one point been exhibited at the Smithsonian, but are not part of the Smithsonian collection. Instead, we used the National Museum of American Art and the Hirshhorn Museum’s online databases to search their collections. In addition, we also had access to the Hirshhorn’s internal object database, The Museum System. All art objects found were integrated into our findings.

Semana del Emigrante 40th Anniversary of DIVEDCO Buena Alimentacion 4 de Julio
All images – Copyright © 2007, Smithsonian Institution, All rights reserved.


In 1948, the Democratic Popular Party assumed power in Puerto Rico and for the first time the people of Puerto Rico elected by direct vote a Puerto Rican governor, Luis Muñoz Marín. The strategy and government program of Luis Muñoz Marín created a new social reform program called “Manos a la Obra” (Hands at Work) *4. As a consequence, the DIVEDCO became active by law in May 14, 1949. The first directors were Jack and Irene Delano *5.

The objectives of DIVEDCO were to produce didactic material to be used in massive communication for the new government programs. Two workshops were integrated for the development of collective work, the film and graphic departments. The posters were widely displayed throughout Puerto Rico and reflect key trends in the social history of Puerto Rico. Some of these included events, festivals, social service programs, economic initiatives and employment programs.

The serigraphy technique was the most commonly used and appropriate for the production of posters. During his tenure as director of the graphics workshop, Lorenzo Homar masterfully integrated text and image, which began a new Puerto Rican graphic tradition. The decade of the 1950’s was a decade of cultural renaissance in Puerto Rico and the DIVEDCO was an important factor in influencing this cultural movement. Artists began to work collectively and new cultural centers were formed, an example of this is Centro de Artistas Puertorriqueños.

As a result of the transformation of the economy, the drastic social changes, development of cities and overpopulation, and modernization of systems that Puerto Rico has witnessed in the last fifty years, the need for an institution as DIVEDCO has changed. The realities that gave life to DIVEDCO are no longer the realities of the island. In the early 1990’s the DIVEDCO program was closed.

This important poster collection was donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History by the Archivo General de Puerto Rico through Nelly V. Cruz Rodríguez on May 19, 1997 *6. The Smithsonian Institution has an important collection of books, catalogs and didactic material, which would support the development of an exhibition of the DIVEDCO Poster Collection. Due to the limited time of our research project, we were unable to fully explore all possibilities of the DIVEDCO poster collection. Since the primary mission of the Smithsonian Institution is the diffusion of knowledge, we hope the Smithsonian Latino Center will lead the way in researching this collection and creating opportunities for exhibition.


As a result of our research and findings we believe the Smithsonian holds an important collection of books, catalogs, and interviews of Puerto Rican artists. However, it is evident that very little effort has been made to collect works of art by Puerto Rican artists. Among the handful we found in the collection are works by José Campeche, Pepón Osorio and Juan Sánchez. In general, there are very few works of art by Latino and Latin American artists in the Smithsonian collections. We hope that the Smithsonian Latino Center makes an effort to earmark a percentage of Latino Pool Funds for new acquisitions of Latino and Latin American art.

In our research we came across many spelling errors in the catalog entries related to Puerto Rican artists. There are also errors in the birth dates of some of these artists. In addition, one of the difficulties in researching Puerto Rican artists in the Smithsonian collection is the fact that they are often times labeled as American. We hope careful cataloguing and guidelines are established to prevent these errors.

We would also like to encourage the digitization of the Puerto Rican Video Project at the Archives of American Art. It is currently available in VHS format and is only accessible at the library of the Archives of American Art. If a digitization process were not possible, publishing the transcripts of the videos would be sufficient.

We want to thank the Smithsonian Latino Center for offering us this research opportunity through the Latino Museum Studies Program. The program has been insightful in demonstrating the status of Latino and Latin American art at the institutional level. It has also inspired us to continue our research on building Latino and Latin American collections. We hope the Smithsonian Latino Center is able to use some of our research findings in developing the programming for the year dedicated to Puerto Rico.


1* Smithsonian Collections hold World War II photographs, oral history, memorabilia and surveys of U. S. bases in Puerto Rico. Since the Jones Act of 1917, all Puerto Rican males who are 18 years or older are required to register with the armed forces. Many Puerto Rican men and women have served in the US military since WWI, but rarely are they acknowledged for these contributions.
2* See Helen Hamilton Gardener Photography Collection.
3* In our research, we found many books, catalogs, interviews and ephemera related to Puerto Rican women artists. However, we have not found a single work of art by a Puerto Rican woman artist in the Smithsonian collections. This omission merits an exhibition and should also encourage the acquisition of works of art made by these artists.
4* Cupeles, David J. Lorenzo Homar: Artista Ejemplar de la Gráfica Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, 1992.
5* Jack Delano was a Soviet born photographer that immigrated to Puerto Rico. His wife, Irene Delano was a U.S. born designer that served as and artistic director of DIVEDCO.
6* See Finding Aid for DIVEDCO Poster Collection at Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Attachment: Puerto Rican Artist List and Resources at the Smithsonian

We remember Ricardo Favela Wednesday, Jul 18 2007 


It is with great sadness that I am posting this news. Professor Ricardo Favela from California State University Sacramento passed away on Sunday, July 15, 2007. He was the one who introduced me to the medium of serigraphy and I feel very indebted to him. Chicano and Latino printmaking is an area that I will be specializing in for curatorial work. I will always thank Professor Favela for planting that seed. This represents a great loss for the department of Art and Art History as well as our students as he was the only Chicano professor in the department. He leaves a great legacy not only as an arts activist with the Royal Chicano Air Force and the founding of the Barrio Arts Program, but thanks to his leadership and vision the California Multi-Ethnic Archives at UC Santa Barbara house the largest collection of Royal Chicano Air Force serigraph posters.
Message received…

Dear friends,

I write this letter with great sadness to inform you that our beloved
teacher Ricardo Favela died on Sunday, July 15, 2007 in Dinuba,
California of a heart attack. Favela was a great person, a great
father and a great teacher and friend. Favela was a humble man that
fought for civil rights with his artwork and community activism.
Ricardo Favela was a founder of the Rebel Chicano Art Front aka the
Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF). The RCAF is a Chicano artist
collective founded in Sacramento, California in 1969. Favela and the
RCAF Supported the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) during the Civil
Rights Movement. Ricardo was a faculty member at the California State
University, Sacramento’s Art Department were he taught printmaking and
Barrio Art for over 10 years. Favela’s students will miss him dearly
and through the use of serigraphy, they will keep his vision of
community empowerment alive.

His memory and legacy will live through his wife Clara Cid and their
children Margarita, Florentina, Manuel and Rosita.

Here are the details of his funeral:

Rosary: Wednesday at 6pm
Dopkins Funeral Chapel, 189 South J Street, Dinuba, CA 93618

Mass: Thursday at 10am
Dopkins Funeral Chapel, 189 South J Street, Dinuba, CA 93618

Internment will follow at the Smith Mountain Cementary

A memorial will be held on Friday, July 21 at the Toyroom Gallery (907 K Street) in Sacramento. For more information, please call 916-446-1400 or visit

Ericson & Ziegler: America Starts Here Thursday, Mar 29 2007 

Feed and Seed (Heisey Farm), an artwork by Mel Ziegler and Kate Ericson, is composed of seed bags encased in Plexiglas sandblasted with the type of crop and the number of acres sown. It is very easy to walk by the piece and miss the underlying message. In formal aesthetics, it could be compared to the objectification of a soup can by Andy Warhol, but the purpose of this project goes beyond the formal qualities of art. Ericson and Ziegler use their power as image-makers to show the value of small farm labor, by taking an everyday object and inserting into the public sphere. Feed and Seed discusses the relationship between real world economics and the art market.

feed and seed

The work was realized in 1990 through a series of collaborations with seven farmers. The artists subsidized 10 percent of the seed cost in exchange for the empty seed bags. After the work was sold at a New York gallery, the artists donated the proceeds to the farmers in order to continue to assist them in their vital labor. This work speaks of the importance of farming in America. Agriculture was a way of life for many Americans and due to globalization of the markets, it is a dying trend. Many American farmers are struggling to keep their farms open and others have had to abandon farming and work in a different industry. In contrast to the traditional notions of public art, Feed and Seed takes a quotidian object and by encasing it and displaying it in a public space, it assigns a greater value to the process of farming.

Since 1985, Ericson and Ziegler worked as an artistic team exploring the unnoticed aspects of public life.* In Feed and Seed, they bring the public’s attention to the crucial role of the small American farmer and the cycles of food production. By writing the number of acres sown with the seed, Ericson and Ziegler make a direct reference to the farmland, which is iconic of American culture.

Furthermore, their project serves to illustrate the contrast between real world economics and the voracious art market. Jeanne Claire van Ryzin states, “While many artists of the era directed their energies toward feeding a marketplace-driven art world hungry in equal parts for big, splashy paintings and the singular egos behind them, Ericson and Ziegler worked as a team, often involving people and places far outside the art milieu.”** Their choice to expose the struggle of small farmers demonstrates the artists were endowed with a sense of social responsibility. The practical exchange between artist, farmer and art market indicated a direct critique on the shallowness of the all-consuming art market and the role of the artist as a mediator.

In conclusion, Feed and Seed challenges our notions of the art market by contrasting it with real world economics. By focusing on an object of farm labor, Ericson and Ziegler remind us of the importance of American communities and the changing industries around them. Their work effectively demonstrates the notion that artists are citizens and that they carry the responsibility of voicing the concerns of communities.

On view through May 6 @ the Austin Museum of Art.

* Berry, Ian and Bill Arning. “America Starts Here.” Gallery Guide, Austin Museum of Art 2007.
** Ryzin, Jeanne Claire van. “Advocating not-so-permanent public art.” Austin American-Statesman 11 March 2007.

Helio Oiticica: The Body of Color Wednesday, Mar 28 2007 

I saw this exhibit on March 2nd, but its taken me quite a bit of time to process the work. I was fortunate enough to take a curators tour with Dr. Mari Carmen Ramirez, which on its own, made me star-struck and speechless.

Bolide B02 Box Bólide 02 “Platónico”. 1963

During her introduction, she mentioned that Oiticica was very anti-institutional and that he never wanted to sell his work. Only one of his hundreds of series, Metaesquemas, was ever sold. He came from a well-to-do family, his father was an entomologist and his grandfather was a published anarchist. The family was very supportive of Oiticica’s work.

Not only was Oiticica obsessive and prolific in his artistic production, but he was also a theoretician and kept numerous journals and writings throughout his career. I thought what a dream that would be, even if exhausting, for a curator/historian to come across such rich work and the extensive writing. It is estimated that the Projeto Helio Oiticica of Rio de Janeiro owns approximately 95% of Oiticica’s life production.

The exhibit begins with Oiticica’s geometrical work in Grupo Frente, where he begins his studies on the vibration of color. He is deeply influenced by Mondrian, particularly Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, which was shown at the first Sao Paulo Biennial. From this he moves on to the period of the Metaesquemas. Oiticica is extremely methodical and always works in a series. In the making of the Metaesquemas he begins to use the mirror effect in the composition. His use of gouache renders incredibly vibrant colors. There is a sense of impeccable perfection in the work. During this series he abandons the use of the grid and his geometrical figures seem to float in space.

metaesquema Metaesquema 1958

Oiticica was a self-taught artist who mastered through repetition. He was very well read and was influenced by many philosophers, one of them being Henri Bergson. After exhausting all possibilities on a two-dimensional plane, his work turns three-dimensional, leading up to his environments. The environments are installations in which the viewer goes through a maze-like structure and through the reflection of light is bathed in color. It is important to note that Oiticica considered himself an inventor, and he explored color as a scientist would.

The exhibit ends with his Parangole series. As an anti-institutional artist, Oiticica begins to use viewer participation in his work. The Parangoles are hand-made capes, where he uses fabric, plastic, and other materials to reflect light. Their purpose is to shield and protect the person who wears them. As a member of the Samba School of Mangueira, he used samba dancers to demonstrate color in rhythm.

Dr. Ramirez mentioned that it took five years to conceptualize, research and produce this exhibition. It is an excellent overview of the progression of Oiticica’s work and his meticulous exploration of color. I hope some of you will have a chance to see it this weekend.

On view through April 1st @ Museum of Fine Arts Houston. This exhibition will travel to the Tate Modern, June 7-September 23, 2007.

William Kentridge: Weighing and Wanting Thursday, Oct 26 2006 

Finally, I return to the art scene. After three or four months of intense wedding planning, not to mention the actual wedding, it is nice to return to the comfort of art. On view through November at the Austin Museum of Art is a must see show by South African artist William Kentridge. It was a wonderful treat to visit the show this weekend.

kentridge drawing

Weighing and Wanting is a story of a wealthy man who made his riches from the mining industry in South Africa. He is a troubled soul, a memory plagued by guilt, emptyness and sadness. Kentridge tells the story of this fictional character through a collection of life size charcoal drawings and an animated film which traces the sequence of the life of the drawings. The short film is a theatrical narration. It slowly and methodically highlights the drawing/creative process that Kentridge follows. He draws and then erases, retraces forms and finds connections through line that lead him to sequences.

It is difficult to ignore the history and brutality that South Africans have witnessed when viewing the work of a South African artist. Kentridge makes no attempt to persuade the viewer through political stance. There is nothing didactic or absolute about his work, on the contrary, he leaves so much open to interpretation. It is a little bit unsettling, but also intriguing.

I was so intrigued about his view of South Africa that I did some more research and found this article published a few years ago. Enjoy…

The following article is taken from Interview Magazine, May 22, 2001:

William Kentridge: 12 African Greats Speak Freely About Their Continent

“I live in Johannesburg. All the places I’ve lived are within a four or five-kilometer radius of each other. Like most South African Jews, my grandparents and great grandparents came from Lithuania at the turn of the century. I grew up in a liberal family with politically involved parents who were lawyers. I can’t remember a stage where I was not aware of living in an unnatural place. There was so much dinner table conversation about the inequities of the society we were living in–that was a kind of daily bread and butter. This is not unique, but it was less than common in white society. There was always a sense growing up of living in a society that was waiting to become an adult, to change. During the 1970s and ’80s that seemed completely intractable, and it’s that sense of waiting–which existed throughout my childhood–that had been a false expectation. Then when the transformation came in 1989 through 1994, this was a kind of vindication of all those expectations of childhood.

I think one of the exciting things about South Africa after this transformation from apartheid is that it has an open-ended future. Being objective, I don’t know how one’s going to solve the enormous problems facing South Africa. The largest problem is how to deal with the AIDS epidemic. Both in terms of medicine–how do we stop so many people dying and how do we look after people who are ill–but, also, how do we deal with a bruised society left in the wake of the epidemic? If life becomes so dispensable, if people die with such little cause, so easily, what is the status one puts on the value of life, on long-term projects, on a sense of the future, on a sense of beneficent fate? All those things get thrown out of kilter.

One misconception about Africa would be that it’s a uniform, unified category, that you can talk about Africa in a meaningful way. That implies that Africans, whether they are in Egypt or Tunisia or Togo or South Africa, are people that can be talked about as if they were not identical, but certainly similar enough. So that would be the first misconception. The second misconception would be that societies in Africa are essentially pre-modern. It’s about understanding the ongoing clash between different kinds of modernization. If you look at 99 percent of the conflict throughout Africa, it has to do with conflicts over modernization; who owns resources and who has access to them, who is able to transform their lives from rural peasantry to an urban society.”

– William Kentridge

NAT 21 @ Arthouse Sunday, Jul 9 2006 

nat banner

The New American Talent exhibit at the Arthouse curated by Aimee Chang from the Orange County Museum of Art was a bit disappointing. It felt like your average MFA exhibition full of emptiness and suburban angst. I understand that curating a juried national exhibition for emerging artists is a daunting task and is very much limited by those artists that actually apply to be in the show. Many young emerging artists with excellent work do not seek out to participate in these juried shows or perhaps were not prepared professionally for the business side of promoting their work. I have often come across emerging artists who do not know how to prepare an artist resume and an artist statement. I think professional development and basic business skills is something that is very much lacking from the curriculum in most art departments across the country.

Nevertheless, there are still some outstanding artists that make it worth the trip to the Arthouse. Among those works is Enubus #2 by Neil Bernstein, a delicate hanging vintage horse wrapped in a gauze-like fashion and dipped into resin with World Trade Center ash. The work represents memory, absence and loss. Despite the fact that the work was not displayed properly, the lighting was off and it was placed next to a large steel and Plexiglas standing sculpture, it still drew you in and it reminded me a bit of Dario Robleto’s memory-work which incorporates bones and human hair. Karen Liebowitz, another Los Angeles-based artist, masterfully executed an impressive Baroque-like painting, Reviving the Bird. In a time where contemporary work is less involved with process and more involved with concept, it was refreshing to see this exuberant piece.

Another surprise was Phil Chang, an artist based out of Los Angeles. His piece Mayumi Leaving a Fingernail Imprint, Echo Park, Los Angeles was a beautiful and intriguing portrait. I have to say his model was excellent, almost iconic. Chang, an MFA graduate from Cal Arts had an impressive resume with international exhibits, among those El Salvador, of all places. High Five, a hybrid work proposed by Hunter Cross, was very promising. The work involved covering 5 rooftops in downtown Austin in a fuchsia color tarp. Then Google Satellite Maps would take a snapshot of the buildings and it would remain online for users to enjoy till the next Satellite photo is updated. The tarps would be a temporary installation till the photos is taken and then the project would exist on the Internet for some time. I like the real-life photos combined with the capability of satellite imagery. It’s a very original idea. Last but not least, I enjoyed the mixed media on plexi by Jonas Criscoe, an MFA from RISD and now an Austinite.

I didn’t get a chance to see the video art at this exhibit. The work was displayed on TVs that were placed lower than eye level and in parts of the gallery where it didn’t comfortably allow for leisure watching, since my neck isn’t well after getting whiplash a couple of weeks ago I decided to pass on these, but I did notice many of the video artists were from New York.

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