If art and revolution in Latin America have long had a symbiotic relationship, the show featuring Venezuelan and U.S. artists that opened Saturday night at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts demonstrated that in President Hugo Chávez’s country, art and revolt have little to do with one another.
None of the five emerging Venezuelan artists selected for the exhibit work within any obvious political or distinctly Venezuelan frame, and two live outside the country.
But then, why should art from Venezuela be political or culturally identifiable? Unlike Mexico, where the great artists of the time—even those who had spent years in Europe—became part of the revolution, Venezuelan art has been comfortably Eurocentric. The country produced some of the founders and most brilliant practitioners of kinetic art in the 1950s and 1960s, including the late Jesús Rafael Soto, who spent much of his career in Paris, and Carlos Cruz-Diez, who has also spent a lot of time in Paris.
But maybe I digress too much, except that seeing the exhibit’s title 5×5 Pluralism made me think of politics—first because it juxtaposes five Venezuelan artists with five from the United States. And secondly because I thought 5×5 was a reference to the 1921 exhibit 5 x 5 = 25. That one was organized by the Russian Revolution’s constructivists to declare the end of painting.
Gratefully, the end never came and as it turns out the use of 5×5 was purely accidental, according to Ali Cordero Casal, chairman of the board and president of the Venezuelan American Endowment for the Arts, a private foundation based in New York. When the series was initially named—this is the third 5×5 show—the curator had four artists in mind and then a fifth was found.
“All this is about humanity,” Coldero Casal said during the evening’s short formal presentation.
In the exhibit, curated by Luis R. Cancel, director of cultural affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission, the styles range from realism to neosurrealism, and it has some wonderful practitioners of all. But.
It feels somewhat like a bit of this, a bit of that. There are no obvious connections among the art. Yes, some of the artists are quite skilled. But.
Cancel, the curator, explains in his statement that pluralism is the point. Nowadays, the international art world, he says, “embraces many styles and a wider exploration of diverse cultural sources.”
Yoshi, a self-taught Venezuelan artist who lives in Caracas, for example, works exclusively in paper to create geometric sculptures, or more recently, large digital photographs of friends, folded and then stretched out. The lines give the faces a three-dimensional effect. The light and viewing angle also changes the look of each photo.
“It’s the idea of mestizaje,” said the artist, who was in town for the opening, “that we all come from a different cultural lineage.”
Loriel Beltrán, a Venezuelan who lives in Miami, makes sculptures from trees or parts of a tree that he dips in acrylic paint. He said he is exploring the idea of history and putting the organic in paint rather than making paint into organic forms.
Beltrán said he created the work with an assembly line that included vats of paint and buckets where the tree parts were dipped and then allowed to drip and dry.
My husband thought they had been sculpted and his enthusiasm for the work collapsed when he discovered the process. But another viewer listening to Beltrán said “fantastic” on hearing about the vats. For me, it didn’t matter—dipped or sculpted—they looked like paint blobs.
Come to the Mission, decide for yourself and check out some delightful and beautifully done work by Marina Gutierrez, a New Yorker, and others.
The other reason you won’t regret the trip: The second show that also opened Saturday night.
It is in the Cultural Center’s Inti Raymi Gallery, a smaller space located in the back of the main gallery.
There, you will see Casitas Voladoras—Small Flying Houses, the show curated by Paula Blaconá Gallery.
Casitas Voladoras looks at the idea of home and personal space in two dramatically different dimensions—charcoal sketches by Caleb Duarte done on varying sizes of board, concrete and drywall-looking material, and Sabrina Antonio’s delicate collage-like assembled sculptures that use emu eggs, sea urchin shells and old camera lenses.
The work—large and small—is kind of amazing. Duarte’s dramatic pieces are given lift by minimalist charcoal sketches of people, often in motion. The heavy and sometimes rough materials Duarte uses play off the sketches to make the viewer consider space, life and the ephemeral nature of both.
Duarte developed the work after spending time in Honduras working with children and in the end helping them create rough small models for houses that they carried across a river. There is a film that shows some of this, but it would help to have some more information on the film.
Antonio’s creations, which often use a camera lens and text, demand a viewer’s attention and the more one looks, the more exquisite they become. The artist’s statement says she likes a glass camera lens “to draw the viewer in and invite collaboration of the fleeting moments we capture and hold.” It does.
Be sure to catch the piece that uses parts of Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet XLVI” in a progression of lenses that end with the sonnet’s last line, “I chose only your savage heart.” Ah, Neruda.
Credit for this show’s success must also go to Blaconá and Mission Cultural Center’s wisdom in selecting her idea from several competitors. Blaconá had an idea—based on Duarte’s work—to ask another artist to also consider home and personal space.
The theme gives the exhibit cohesion and a way for a viewer to take in the very different art that Duarte and Antonio create.
The sheets at the start of the exhibit—these should be better displayed so that viewers can more easily read them—guide the viewer and offer a sense of how to absorb what the curator and artists had in mind. The guides are helpful without being pedantic.
My suggestion: Make an audio recording that viewers can download onto an iPod, and have a few iPods handy at the gallery.
Through May 30. Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2668 Mission St. 415.821.1155. www.missionculturalcenter.org