“Caliban Revisited” – Latin American Art in Philadelphia

Caliban Revisited,” a juried exhibition of contemporary Latin American art just opened on June 7 at Da Vinci Art Alliance in Philadelphia.  15 artists are represented in the show, hailing from 8 different countries: Abel Vázquez, Ada Trillo, Ana Vizcarra Rankin, Brandon Lopez, Carlos A. Gil, Daniel Villarreal, Danny Torres, Jacqueline Unanue, Lina Cedeno, Marilyn Rodriguez, Melva Medina, Paula Meninato, Pedro Zagitt, Pedro Ospina. Henry Bermudez, originally from Venezuela,  judged the artwork, and first, second and third place prizes were awarded. Casa de Duende organized the exhibition, which is  subtitled: Of Castaways, Explorers, Amazons, Cannibals and Monsters. A Mythological Reimagining of Latin America in the 21st Century. 

I attended the opening at the gallery and was excited to see this diverse collection of works. The media include sculpture, watercolor, acrylic, glass, oil on glass, photography, mixed media, as well as works on paper. Most of the artists were at the opening, along with David Acosta of Casa de Duende and Henry Bermudez. Both spoke at bit about the artists and the selection process. Mr. Bermudez stated that since the quality of the art was so high, it was very difficult to select the three winners. The themes that he considered when choosing were 1) that the work was political and referenced Latin American heritage and culture and 2) that it be contemporary.

First place winner Brandon Lopez, entered a glass sculpture:


Second place winner, Paula Meninato, is originally from Argentina. She entered portraits from “Memorias Persistentes.” This is a series of portraits of disappeared people from the military dictatorship, which began with the 1976 coup d’etat in Argentina. The subject matter is definitely political and historical and the medium, oil on glass, is not  traditional.


Third place winner Ada Trillo, presented works in gold leaf on wood panel! This one is called “Rebirth.” 2_AdaTrillo_Rebirth copy

My personal favorites included photos by Pedro Zagitt from his “El pagador de promessas” series, and watercolors by Abel Vazquez. Zagitt photographed a reenactment in the street by Mexicans in Norristown at St. Patrick’s Church. “Via Crucis”: 34287382765_da4f2e1c01_z

Abel Vazquez, is an artist working in Mexico and his watercolors are somewhat abstract but reference nature: IMG_8794

Vazquez’ wife, Melva Medina, also exhibited interesting works in graphite and charcoal in Caliban Revisited.

The DVAA art gallery, which is on 704 Catherine Street in the Bella Vista area, is an intimate space and the curators have made the most of it. The descriptions of each piece is written in both Spanish and English. Caliban Revisited can be viewed until June 25, 2017. On June 25th there will be a closing reception with performances from 3-5 pm!

Please visit the DVAA website or the Facebook page for more information, directions and gallery hours.


Paint the Revolution: Exploring a New Mexican Identity at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Paint the Revolution:Mexican Modernism, an exhibition of Mexican Art from 1910-1950 is an eclectic selection of paintings, works on paper, chapbooks, posters, magazines, photographs,  video and sculpture. It includes the most internationally reknown Mexican artists of the early twentieth century: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo. In addition, there are less well known artists featured: Saturnino Herrán, Alfred Ramos Martinez, Francisco Goitta, Angel Zárraga, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Roberto Montenegro, Gerardo Murillo, Adolfo Best Mayard, Isabel Villaseñor, Leopoldo Méndez, María Izquierdo, Xavier Guerrero, Julio Castellanos, Luis Arenal Bastar, and others.

The painters of the Mexican Revolution and shortly afterwards, explored themes related to violence and war, rural life, industrialization, what it meant to be Mexican, as well as other themes. Most of the works are oil paintings and woodcuts, but there are some photographs, sculptures, pastels, watercolor and video of the gigantic murals. According to text in the exhibit, “Mural painting came to be seen as the quintessential art of the Revolution because of its accessibility.”


The Epic of American Civilization. (wall mural detail), 1932-34, José Clemente Orozco (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Commissioned by the Trustees of Dartmouth  College), (c) José Clemente Orozco/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SOMAAP, Mexico City

There are quite a few portraits in the exhibit, including self-portraits by Frida Kahlo, Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), Siquieros, Isabel Villaseñor, and Adolf Best Mayard.


Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán1915. Diego Rivera, 28-9/16 x 15-3/8 inches (72.6 x 39.1 cm), (Fundación Televisa Collection) (c) Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, 1932 (oil on tin)

IMAGE 1: Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932, Frida Kahlo, Oil on metal, 12-1/2 x 13-3/4 inches (31.8 x 34.9 cm), (Colección Maria y Manuel Reyero, New York) © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both portraits show the use of Mexican elements. In “Portrait of Luis Guzmán” he wears a traditional sarape. Kahlo inserts a Mexican flag into her self-portrait, as well as what looks like an indigenous pyramid/building.

Many of the portraits and other works depicting people, are of indigenous people and/or campesinos. (rural people). As one of the rare pastel paintings in the exhibit, Siquiero’s “Peasants” stands out.


IMAGE 6: Peasants, c. 1913, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Pastel on paper, 40-1/2 x 6 feet 3-3/4 inches (102.8 x 192.4 cm),(Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA, © David Alfaro Siqueiros/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Rufino Tamayo paints indigenous figures often. For example, Man & Woman from 1926 and later Homage to the Indian Race. There are also a few Tamayo paintings in which he uses animals to represent violence and war.


IMAGE 14: Homage to the Indian Race, 1952, Rufino Tamayo, Acrylic and oil on masonite (4 panel polyptic), 16 feet 4-7/8 inches x 13 feet 1-1/2 inches x 3-3/4 inches (500 x 400 x 9.5 cm), (Acervo CONACULTA–INBA, Museo de Arte Moderno), ©Rufino Tamayo/Visual Artists and Galleries Association, New York, New York

This was my second visit during the day on a Wednesday to see Paint the Revolution and I had more time to view it. It was also less crowded than it was on opening weekend when I first went. There are many political posters, small booklets, pamphlets and magazines displayed. Woodcut prints were utilized in many of these, and they dealt with the Mexican revolution, rebuilding and World War II and fascism. Wall text explained, “Illustrated books were tokens of friendship and aesthetic communality among modern poets and painters.” These books are in display cases in the exhibit, and showcase the drawing (printing, lithograph) and poetry of the era.

My favorite paintings of Paint the Revoluion, were Siquieros’ Collective Suicide, Luis Arenal Bastar’s Woman Carrying a Coffin,  and still lifes by various painters.


Woman Carrying a Coffin. Luis Arenal Bastar.

Despite being an exhibition of Mexican works, all of the wall descriptions are in English only, no Spanish. There is no audio guide either. I think the visitor experience would have been enhanced by an audio guide or short video/film explaining in more detail the political situation in Mexico during the Porfirio Díaz reign and the subsequent Revolution. Definitely for Spanish speakers AND learners who attend, written wall explanations in Spanish would have been welcome.

Paint the Revolution continues through January 8, 2017 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It moves on to Mexico City, Mexico afterwards. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to view is free for members, and no reservations are required. For more information and tickets, please visit their website: http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/840.html

Constructing Altars: An Interview with Mexican artist, César Viveros. (translation from Spanish)

This is an interview realized digitally about the altar course that César Viveros teaches at Fleisher Memorial and a little bit about his artistic inspiration.


Celeste: I found out about you and your work through Fleisher Art Memorial. I saw an announcement about a course on altars for Day of the Dead. How did this course come to be? What will the students do in the course? Would you describe the materials that they will use?


César: The Day of the Dead altar course has started. It is a four-day intensive in which the students are introduced to the Day of the Dead tradition, which has become popular in the United States. This is the third year that Fleisher is working with the community around this holiday and this year I was invited as the artist who would direct the installation of the traditional Day of the Dead altar. So during four days we wanted to teach the workshop in which students could make their own mini-altars in the tradition of the larger ones for Day of the Dead. The students have designed the mini-altar based on their ideas and with simple drawings they begin to render the design. Normally they focus their design on a familiar member or friend who has left this world. Usually they construct a based made out of wood or cardboard that supports the composition, and then make the rest of the elements, which overall are made from wire, paper mache and paints.


Celeste: When did you begin to make art?

César: I always tell the story of my early years during the rainy season in Veracruz, Mexico. We would make deep holes in the dirt in order to burn or bury the garbage (organic and inorganic), because there was no municipal service that would handle it. So there was always a moist clay, very characteristic of subsoil in Veracruz. (One needs to note that in this area many vestiges of an advanced civilization have been found, developing this type of art. These civilizations were very old, centuries before the Spanish arrived in the Americas). It is precisely here that at the age of five, I began to experiment with constructing these clay artifacts as a way to entertain myself in my free time. I wasn’t able to move around much at that age obviously, so I traveled in my imagination. This helped me to create alternative worlds while I was kneading clay—making multiple forms that allowed me to have fun while I discovered things that were not academic—because of the isolation of our community, in relation to other cities that perhaps might have offered some kind of artistic education.


In high school, some teachers noticed that a friend of mine, my brother (Nicolás and José Nava), and I liked to draw and paint a lot. So they gave us the opportunity to do large paintings, portable murals that could be used as backdrops for festivals. Remember in Mexico that any occasion is a good one to have a party. Thus we were able to count on resources to develop these projects that I consider not so common in our limited area. With this background it might seem strange that I didn’t decide to study art or any related discipline, like architecture or graphic design. But as soon as I finished high school and a technical course at a national institution of public education, I decided to risk it and work in Petrolera de Campeche, looking for business opportunities, which in a way took me away from any inclination towards the visual arts.


However, in a couple of years working in the petroleum platforms in the Golf of Mexico zone, I had the opportunity to begin to paint murals on the barges of a company called Corporación de Construcciones de Campeche, in an informal way. My official work was to develop underwater activities as an industrial diver. It was at that juncture that I decided to seriously return to my true vocation. While working there, I began to take commissions for portraits and pictures commissioned by North American staff what were working in the Campeche area. As a result, each time that I was able to, I would make multiple murals in high schools in Veracruz, which helped me to define my style and my individual technique.

For more information about César Viveros, visit his Facebook page:


For more information about FLEISHER ART MEMORIAL and their events see:



Taller de altares en Filadelfia: Una entrevista con el artista mexicano César Viveros

13533308_10154294756507350_6578431374972799687_nEs una entrevista realizada en el espacio digital sobre el curso de altares que César Viveros enseña en Fleisher y un poco sobre su inspiración artística. 
Celeste: Yo me enteré de Ud. y su trabajo a través de Fleisher Art Memorial. Vi un anuncio sobre un curso de altares para Día de los muertos. ¿Cómo surgió este curso? ¿Qué harán los estudiantes en el curso? ¿Puede describir los materiales que van a usar?

César: El curso de altares de día de muertos en Fleisher Art Memorial ha empezado, serán solamente  4 dias intensos en los cuales los participantes  han sido introducidos a esta tradición de Dia de muertos, la cual ha cobrado gran auge en Estados Unidos. Este es el tercer año que Fleisher trabaja conjuntamente con la comunidad  en estos festejos y este año fui invitado como el artista que dirija la instalación del altar tradicional  de día de Muertos. Así que durante 4 días  quisimos enseñar un taller donde la gente pueda construir sus propios ” altarcitos”  los cuales son miniaturas simplificadas de los altares tradicionales. Los estudiantes  han diseñado el altarcito basado en sus ideas y con dibujos simples  empiezan a materializar su diseño. Normalmente  centran  su figura principal en algún familiar o amistad que haya partido al mas allá. Usualmente se construye una base de madera o cartón que soporte la composición  y se procede a  fabricar los elementos que en su mayoría son hechos con alambre , papel-mache  (paper and corn base paste ) y pinturas.


Celeste: ¿Cuándo comenzó a hacer arte?

César: Siempre cuento la historia de mis primeros años cuando  en la temporada de lluvias en la zona de Veracruz, México. Después de que la gente solía hacer  hoyos profundos en la tierra para incinerar o enterrar la basura (orgánica o inorgánica ), porque no había un servicio  de parte del ayuntamiento de la ciudad que lo hiciera, así que continuamente había  barro húmedo , muy característico del subsuelo  Veracruzano. ( Hay  que notar que  en esa área se han hallado muchos vestigios de un estado avanzado en el desarrollo de este tipo de  arte, correspondientes a civilizaciones  que sobresalieron muchos siglos antes del arribo de los Españoles al nuevo continente ) y es precisamente aquí que a la edad de 5 años empiezo a incursionar en  la construcción  de  artefactos de barro como único medio para entretenerme  en el tiempo libre que  como infante se pueda tener.  Las limitaciones que pudiese tener en cuanto el espacio para desplazarme a esa edad , las suplía viajando en el espacio imaginario. Eso me ayudaba a crear mundos alternativos mientras amasaba el barro dando formas múltiples  que me permitieran  divertirme  mientras descubría  cosas que  no tenían ninguna influencia académica–debido al aislamiento de nuestra  comunidad  en relación con otras ciudades que tal vez pudieran tener acceso a algún tipo de educación artística.

En la escuela secundaria, algunos profesores se dieron cuenta que a un amigo, su hermano ( Nicolás y José Nava) y a mi nos gustaba dibujar  y pintar mucho así que  nos dio la oportunidad de pintar en  gran  formato para que pudiéramos hacer murales portables que se pudieran usar como  fondos para festivales. Recordemos que en México cualquier ocasión es buena para hacer pachanga ( fiesta). Entonces teníamos la oportunidad de contar con recursos para desarrollar estos proyectos que considero no eran tan comunes en nuestro medio un tanto cuanto  limitado. Con esos antecedentes podría aparecer extraño que no decidí estudiar arte o alguna disciplina relacionada con esa área como arquitectura o diseño gráfico. Pero en cuanto  terminé la preparatoria y un curso técnico en un colegio Nacional de Educación Pública, decidí aventurarme a trabajar en el área de la zona Petrolera de Campeche, buscando oportunidades económicas que en cierta forma me alejaban de  cualquier inclinación de la plástica visual.

Sin embargo  en un par de años  trabajando en la zona de las plataformas petroleras de la zona del Golfo de México, tuve la oportunidad de empezar a pintar murales en las barcazas de una Empresa llamada Corporación de Construcciones de Campeche , de una manera informal. Mi trabajo oficial era  desarrollar actividades subacuáticas como buzo industrial. Es ahí donde decido retornar en serio  mi verdadera vocación. Pues  mientras trabajaba ahí, empecé a tomar comisiones por retratos y pinturas comisionadas por el personal Norteamericano que trabajaba en la zona de Campeche.  En consecuencia cada vez que tenia oportunidad realice múltiple murales en escuelas secundarias en la ciudad de Veracruz que me permitieron definir mi estilo y mi propia técnica.

Para más información sobre César Viveros, vean su página de Facebook:


Para más información sobre FLEISHER ART MEMORIAL y sus eventos de Día de los muertos: http://fleisher.org/community-programs/dia-de-los-muertos/


Brazilian Lace in Ann Hamilton’s “habitus” Exhibition (translation)

Lace making is a very old art that was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Portugal is still known for its lace. In this tradition it is made with needles and with bobbins. Particularly in the Northeast of Brazil and in Santa Catarina, in the south, the lace-making tradition has been maintained.An example of bobbin lace making by Rosilândia Melo from Ilha Grande:


You can imagine my surprise when I saw lace samples from Brazil in Ann Hamilton’s habitus, a current exhibition in Philadelphia. The lace samples were located on the 8th floor of the Fabric Workshop and Museum with some other common objects made of texiles, like dolls, blankets and samplers.

Also in the exhibition are “commonplace books,” photos of textiles, and other cloth objects.  These books also originated in Europe. People would collect sentences from books they had read, recipes, newspapers and magazine articles and put them in the commonplace books. Quite unique to the habitus exhibition, was the public participation. The public was invited to contribute their “common sentences” by internet. Anybody could submit a text about clothing or textiles (figurative or literal) . They selected some of the submissions and these were reprinted and made available on sheets of paper on the 2nd and 8th floors. The public is able to read them in the museum and take them home.

The exhibition links text and textile in the Fabric Workshop and Museum, but there is another part of it on the Delaware waterfront at Municipal Pier 9. There is a huge installation that is so creative and fun. Ann hung several large cloths in the warehouse. The public can make the cloths move by pulling on ropes. The ropes go through pulleys which are also connected to some apararatus that produce sound. In addition, there is other performance art in the space that includes spinning thread and unraveling a sweater. Lastly, the text is again joined with cloth by way of a large poem that is projected in the space. The poem is also exhibited in the Fabric Workshop and Museum in another format.

The artist, Ann Hamilton, always has been interested in spinning, weaving and textiles. With enthusiasm she speaks about these arts, that some have referred to as “crafts” throughout her career. Nevertheless, the artist has exhibited many important works: she represented the United States in the São Paulo Bienal in 1991 and in Venice in 1999. She has won various national art prizes and she teaches art at Ohio State University.

The exhibit, habitus, is a the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia from September 17, 2016 to January 8, 2017. The Municipal Pier 9 installation is from September 6, 2016 to October 10, 2016. For more information, www.fabricworkshopandmuseum.org


Rendas do Brasil na exibição de Ann Hamilton, “habitus”

Rendas do Brasil na exibição de Ann Hamilton, “habitus”

Fabricar rendas é uma arte muito velha que foi levada ao Brasil pelos portugueses. Ainda hoje em Portugal fazem rendas e são muito cobiçadas. Fazem com agulhas e bilros. No nordeste do Brasil e em Santa Catarina mantêm essa tradição de fabricar rendas. Um exemplo de umas rendas de bilros de Rosilândia Melo de Ilha Grande: (wikipedia commons)


Imagine a minha surpresa quando vi rendas do Brasil na exibição “habitus” de Ann Hamilton. As rendas estavam colocadas no oitavo andar do Fabric Workshop and Museum com outros objetos comuns e de tela, como bonecas, cobertores, e mostras de tela.


(Photo by Celeste Dolores)

Também nesta exibição acham-se “commonplace books” , fotos de telas e outros objetos de tela. Estes livros têm origem também na Europa. As pessoas colecionavam sentenças de livros que leram, receitas, artigos do jornal e das revistas nestes livros. O que fizeram de especial para esta mostra, foi convidar o público para entregar suas sentenças comuns por internet para contribuir. Quer dizer, qualquer pessoa podia mandar algum texto sobre uma tela por internet. Eles selecionavam alguns e esses textos foram impressos e disponibilizados na segundo e oitavo andares para o publico ler e levar para casa.

A exibição junta texto e tela no Fabric Workshop Museum, mas tem outra parte na beira do Rio Delaware. No Municipel Pier 9 há uma instalação grande que é muito criativa e divertida. Ann pendurou varias telas enormes num armazém. O público pode fazer que as telas movam e emitem sons. Além disso, tem “performance art” de fiar e de desfazer um agasalho. Finalmente junta o texto com a tela com um grande poema projetado—este poema também aparece no Fabric Workshop and Museum.

A artista, Ann Hamilton, sempre estava interessada no fiar e na tela. Com entusiasmo ela fala sobre estas artes, que alguns têm considerado “artesanato” durante sua carreira. Mesmo assim a artista mostrou muitas obras importantes, e até representou os Estados Unidos no Bienal de São Paulo de 1991, e o de Venezia em 1999. Ganhou vários prêmios de arte nacionais e ensina arte na Universidade de Ohio. A mostra, habitus, fica no Fabric Workhop and Museum na Filadélfia desde o 17 de setembro de 2016 ate o 8 de janeiro de 2017. A instalação no Municipal Pier 9 fica entre o 6 de setembro de 2016 ate o 10 de outubro. Para mais informação: http://fabricworkshopandmuseum.org/


New Latino Art at PAFA!

At first glance this looks like a friendly happy painting. It is large and depicts a picnic in the park. A family sits at a table conversing, waiting for the food to be ready. Closer to the viewer, in the bottom right corner, we see workers cutting up produce. Behind them three men slaughter an animal. The title of the painting is “Slaughter.”


The violence in Mexico is a topic that comes up regularly in discussions with Mexican nationals. This is a concern for those who live in the U.S.A. with family in Mexico as well as those actually living in Mexico, and visitors to Mexico. I spoke to the artist who created “Slaughter”, Juan Pablo Ruiz, at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) on May 13, 2016. He said that violence was a major theme in his artwork. This painting combines three locales that are important to Ruiz, Mexico, Chicago and Philadelphia. We can see the Chicago skyline in the distance, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and the Mexican landscape on the right of the painting. Ruiz was born in Mexico, grew up in Chicago and attended PAFA in Philadelphia. “Slaughter” won a Fellowship Juried Prize.

On the 2nd floor of the exhibition, Mr. Ruiz has three paintings that he said were meant to be shown together. They are called “ Prometeo, Falla and First Eighth.” The theme of violence is present again, he said. It begins in the Classical age and is traced to present day Guadalajara. Mr. Ruiz’ painting technique is astounding, in my opinion. Some of the work in the exhibition is more contemporary and abstract, but Ruiz excels in and owns his realism. His paintings are thought provoking as well as aesthetically beautiful. For more information about him and his artwork, please see his website: http://www.jpabloruiz.com/


The 115th Annual Student Exhibition is currently open at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) in Philadelphia. PAFA was founded in 1805 by artist/scientist Charles Wilson Peale, who painted portraits of the founding fathers. The 115th Student exhibition is from May 13-June 5, 2016. The entire modern museum building (Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building) is full of student artwork, including prize winners from the concluding academic year, and graduating undergraduates and masters students.



Another young artist who I spoke to on Friday evening, was Diego Rodriguez Carrion. He is still in school at PAFA, but had won prizes for three artworks in the exhibition. I was attracted to his woodcuts/wood engravings, because this is a rare art form practiced in the United States. Woodcuts have a long tradition in Latin America, especially in Brazil, but also Spanish speaking cultures. Mr. Rodriguez-Carrion is from Puerto Rico and his woodcuts depict scenes, people and places that he recalls from his upbringing and native island.  He also draws and paints. Check out his website to see: http://www.diegohiromi.com/


Overall, there is something for everyone at PAFA’s Student exhibition, and many of the works are for sale! It is particularly encouraging and exciting to see the pieces by emerging artists Diego Rodriguez Carrion and Juan Pablo Ruiz. “Slaughter” follows in the footsteps of Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros, depicting Mexican realities. Meanwhile, Rodriguez Carrion’s woodcuts remind us of a beloved medium that is familiar and popular, grounded in folk art and culture, but at the same time worthy of fine art distinction.


VISIT PAFA’s website: www.pafa.org

Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra at the Barnes: Mystical Connections

The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra is a professional orchestra based in Philadelphia, started by its conductor, Jeri Lynne Johnson, eight years ago in 2007. They presented “Through the Oceans of Time” on December 19, 2015 at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The orchestra consists of 40 members, and on Saturday evening they were joined by student instrumentalists of the Settlement Music School’s Trowbridge Chamber Orchestra, for this diverse musical program.  The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra is to be commended for its outreach to the community and its mission to music education. According to the evening’s program booklet:  “The BPCO spends approximately 30 weeks each year presenting programs in Philadelphia public schools and community centers that offer young people the opportunity to engage with classical music.”


At the beginning of the concert it was announced to the audience that Dr. Barnes used to have a weekly lecture on music and art in the art galleries and that the night’s event was in the spirit of that tradition. For sure one can make connections and notice similarities between composers and visual artists (especially contemporaries), and paintings and musical works. In order to elucidate the connections among the musical works, Maestro Johnson gave a brief explanation before each piece. We, the audience, were also invited to browse and stroll through the galleries during the concert to further experience these linkages. Even though the Barnes has art by some of the most important impressionists and others (such as Cezanne, Renoir, Modigliani, Miró, etc.) very few people took advantage of this. There were maybe 3 or 4 people visible in the galleries during the musical performances but most stayed in their seats to listen up close.

Although I thought it was a seductive and different idea, I also felt that it would reduce the live music to accompaniment while viewing artistic masterpieces. Since I came to hear the music, particularly Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9, for me it would defeat the purpose of attending a live concert–that it would turn the live orchestra into a soundtrack. In that case, I could just bring my IPOD and walk around the galleries and examine the paintings. That was not why I was there–I was there for the music.  Nevertheless, I recognize and applaud the effort to make these connections and add some layers to the viewing (of art) and listening (of music) experience.  These are highly technological times and many people have short attention spans–this multitasking approach to visual art and music might appeal to some!

The highlight of the evening for me was the last piece of the program by Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos–Bachianas Brasileiras  No. 9. After playing with aplomb, the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, and the very challenging Stravinsky Concerto in E-flat “Dumbarton Oaks”, the orchestra launched into the hauntingly beautiful “Prelude” or vagaroso e místico (slow and mystical) of the Villa-Lobos piece. Villa-lobos gave a name to each movement with an explanation in parenthesis. The Prelude is almost 3 minutes long and then comes the Fugue, or poco apressado (a little hurried) which lasts about 6-7 minutes.  The sound of the orchestra is very lush and (neo) romantic in this selection.

Villa-Lobos uses counterpoint and fugue. These elements are also found in the other pieces in the concert, which are by Mozart, Bach,  Vivaldi and Stravinsky. That is one of their connections across time and space. Specifically Villa-Lobos is identified with Bach in the Bachianas due to these forms. But that is where the resemblance ends. This piece was originally written for voices, but later Villa-Lobos scored it for instruments. The Prelude begins with a chord and a sublime and poignant melody for one part. Throughout the prelude or “slow and mystical” the melancholy is evident. This invokes saudade, which is typical of the Portuguese musical genres, the modinha and the fado, which both influenced Brazilian music. So much of Villa-Lobos’ music is about nature. There are no words in this instrumental version, but the vastness of the Brazilian landscape is felt in the thick, multilayered sound and majestic gestures of the music–very different from the other works on the program.


This outstanding piece, expertly played by the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, was a strong ending to an entertaining concert, but I wished it wasn’t so short!

All in all, the orchestra, the youth ensemble, the soloists and the music director (conductor) distinguished themselves in a unique venue. There is something gracious and inviting about music in the museums. Even if we do not walk around in the gallery looking at artwork while the orchestra plays or the singers sing, the presence of the art and the beautiful surroundings, create a synergy with the music, the musicians and the audience. This is the ethereal connection over oceans of time and space. This is a connection that is a win win for everyone!


Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (Photo by Smallbones)

For more information about the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra: http://www.blackpearlco.org/web/home.aspx

For more information about the Barnes Foundation:  https://www.barnesfoundation.org/

Toledo: ciudad de secretos

Una ciudad es más que sus edificios. Los edificios no hacen una “ciudad.” Como dijo el brasileño, João do Rio, las calles, la cuidad, deben tener “alma,” la cual es el resultado de la gente en que las habita. Cada ciudad emite una energía que surge de su alma. ¿Si no tiene alma o energía, es una ciudad cerrada, insular, o de fantasmas?

Por segunda vez visité Toledo, España en agosto. La primera vez apenas pasé una tarde con un grupo de turistas y me sentía que la ciudad no era nada más que una exhibición de monumentos hecha para entretener a turistas o ganar dinero. ¡Qué desilusión! Lo había investigado y pensaba que iba a ser un lugar lleno de historia y carácter. Tiene su historia y también un cierto carácter, pero no podía sentir su alma o percibir la energía de su pueblo. Sin embargo, no me rendí. Regresé para explorar más, sin un guia dirigiendo mis pasos, para descascararlo.

Photo by Celeste Dolores

Photo by Celeste Dolores

Toledo, ciudad de Castilla-La Mancha en España, ha sido un patrimonio de la humanidad de UNESCO desde 1986, casi 30 años. Oficialmente se enfatiza mucho el concepto de la “convivencia”, la tolerancia, y las tres culturas (cristiana, judía y musulmana) que vivían en Toledo antes del siglo 15. El pintor, El Greco, es una figura importante en Toledo, pero fuera de él se menciona más monumentos y edificios que toledanos o extranjeros que vivieron y hicieron algo importante en la ciudad.

Photo by Celeste Dolores

Photo by Celeste Dolores

¿Es Toledo una ciudad de fantasmas? En un sentido, la historia oficial de convivencia, el bien mantenimiento de los edificios históricos, y los recorridos de turismo por la ciudad, hacen que un turista de vacaciones pueda gozar de la belleza de la ciudad sin pensar mucho o preocuparse. La gente local trabaja en los restaurantes, hoteles, e iglesias pero según mi experiencia limitada, es solo un trabajo para algunos y no tienen interés ninguno en acoger a los visitantes. Unas excepciones incluyen al dueño de una librería de judaica que hablaba bastante con los turistas que entraron en su tienda, escuchando las historias de judios u otros que tenían un vínculo (aunque ya roto por la expulsión de los judíos y musulmanes) con España y las numerosas organizaciones ofreciendo paseos “alternativos”, los que destacan la vida oculta de Toledo–los secretos, la magia, las leyendas–todo que no incluyen en la litania sobre la convivencia y la tolerancia de las tres culturas.

Foto, Celeste Dolores

Foto, Celeste Dolores

En Toledo hay una tentativa de hacer interpretación histórica, lo que creo es una excelente idea. Tras uno de estos recorridos finalmente me sentía como si Toledo se abriera para ser conocida, entendida. Yo participé en un paseo llamado “Leyendas de Toledo” de la organización TOLEDO MAGICO.. Pasamos por las calles ordinarias pero nuestro guia nos contó leyendas y historias sobre cosas misteriosas, la magia y lo oculto de Toledo. Mencionó a PERSONAS. Y estos personajes de las leyendas tenían nombres. Tengo que admitir que tenía un poco de miedo durante el paseo, y que dormí con las luces prendidas aquella noche. No me considero una persona superstituosa, ni creo necesariamente en fantasmas o magia, pero tampoco descreo. Sencillamente, no sé. Lo curioso es que Toledo comenzó a revelarse. Seguramente estas historias nos sugestionaban, e inspiraban nuestras imaginaciones, algo que no me hacían las excursiones y rutas “oficiales.” Este tipo de paseo no es para todo el mundo, pero lo ventajoso es que le hace que uno se sienta el alma de Toledo y que cuestione esta imagen vendida por el turismo común. Es el principio de descubrir los secretos de Toledo. A través de estas leyendas comenzamos a conocer más a la gente de Toledo–sus antepasados y los que viven ahora, y no solo sus monumentos.

Foto, Celeste Dolores

Foto, Celeste Dolores

Me pregunto si los que programan el turismo típico de Toledo tienen miedo de mostrar o profundizar lo que realmente pasó en los siglos 14 y 15, y por eso presentan una versión tan suavizada y pulida. La historia de cualquier nación no es limpia, sino complicada, y a veces sucia. Ironicamente, la imagen más fuerte que me quedó, fue la de un obrero que recogía la basura, a medianoche, colgándose detrás del camión… Un secreto que no se ve durante el día en la ruta turística….