“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:

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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.

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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.

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.”

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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/

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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.

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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/

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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.

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VISIT PAFA’s website: www.pafa.org

Arqueologias de destrucción: An exhibit at Haverford College

What is art? What is not art? What exactly is destructive art? Why did you make this? Did you make this or did you destroy this? These are the kinds of questions that will come to mind on viewing the latest exhibition at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. “Arqueologias de destrucción: 1958-2014” was curated by Jennifer Burris Staton and runs from March 20-May 1, 2015. The works highlight the artwork, or rather the destruction of artwork, of six Latin American visual arts: Eduardo Abaroa, Kenneth Kemble, Marcos Kurtyes, Ana Mendieta, Marta Minujín and Raphael Montañez Ortiz. The gallery is a small black box and the exhibition includes sculpture, video, slides, prints, rubber stamps and sound.

Marta Minujín, view of La Destrucción [The Destruction], Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1963. Courtesy Marta Minujín

Marta Minujín, view of La Destrucción [The Destruction], Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1963. Courtesy Marta Minujín

These pieces are abstract in some cases, yet hold deep socio-cultural meanings. Aesthetic beauty is not the main goal. Overall the artists seek to destroy their art, deconstruct the concept of it, or document the destruction of actual art, culture or people. This is quite different from earlier art in Latin America, in which artists wanted to represent a person or an event, inspiring the viewer with technique and beauty, either in the abstract or realistic sense. Some would probably dismiss much of the art in this exhibit, particularly if they are not fond of 20th century “modern”  art. Although these pieces are not a balm for weary eyes, the artists mean to communicate some powerful and disturbing messages and in that they are highly successful. And there is a certain organic beauty, such as in this still from a video by Ana Mendieta:

 © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York. Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Gunpowder Silueta Series), 1981. Still from super-8mm black and white, silent film transferred to DVD.

© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York. Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Gunpowder Silueta Series), 1981. Still from super-8mm black and white, silent film transferred to DVD.

Most interesting to me were the hocker stamps, made on rubber erasers, by Marcos Kurtyez and the video and photos of the destruction of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico by Eduardo Abaroa.  Marcos Kurtyez, a former graphic designer, made rubber stamps from erasers and they included “hocker” images which are found in archeological sites, and skulls. Kurtyez was born in Poland but lived in Mexico City for nearly 30 years. These images on the stamps seem to recall indigenous/ pre-Colombian ones. According to information in the exhibit, Kurtyez used the stamps’ images on letters for a year to galleries and museums. He called these “letter bombs”. He sent a letter a day for a year to the director of a museum in Mexico City that rejected his work! The idea of “bombs’ fits into the overall theme of “destruction” but at the same time the stamps are a creation and is the “linking together of individuals by post” according to the audio podcast.

The exhibition guidebook says this about Eduardo Abaroa’s work: “His project thus presents itself as a rational response to the state’s cyncial attempts to harness the symbolic power of indigenous communities while simultaneously destroying the rights, livelihood, and national environment of their direct descendents.” (p. 92)

The sound exhibit by Kenneth Kemble, “Arte destructivo”, is probably the least served by the space. Small speakers are placed in the wall close to the floor. I had to ask the guide where the sound was and where the exhibit was because the sound is quite faint. There are two chairs in front of the small speakers and the listener is supposed to sit in a chair to hear it. It might have been preferable to have the sound come from a larger speaker and fill the room, but then that “performance” would affect the other pieces in the exhibition, changing them. There are other video installations by Ana Mendieta, Marcos Kurtycz, Marta Minujín and Raphael Montañez Ortiz. I like that the exhibit grouped these artists together, but perhaps something is lost by having so much projection in a small space. On the other hand one can circle the gallery and contrast the different videos in the same time period–seeing as much or as little as one wishes.

Marcos Kurtycz, Artefacto Kurtycz, 1982. Photograph by Adolfo Patiño. Facultad de Artes Plásticas U.V., Xalapa, Veracruz. Courtesy of Private Collection

Marcos Kurtycz, Artefacto Kurtycz, 1982. Photograph by Adolfo Patiño. Facultad de Artes Plásticas U.V., Xalapa, Veracruz. Courtesy of Private Collection

The gallery provides guidebooks, articles and an audio recording in English and Spanish (which can be borrowed from the front desk) that explain the exhibition.