The third and final panel discussion for Outpost for Contemporary Art’s Sur: Biennial took place at the Standard Hotel in downtown LA, a central location that bridges the East and West sides. Panel participants included Raul Balthazar, Jane Castillo, Elana Mann, Karla Diaz, Ichiro Irie, and was moderated by Tulsa Kinney, editor of Artillery magazine. The artists that were chosen for the Biennial represent a vibrant, urban and multiethnic LA, and they attempted to discuss just that, cultural identity and labeling in the world of art. Because I’m very interested in this topic, I wish that the artists would have elaborated more on their specific works included in the biennial and perhaps how the works relate to their culture or cultural upbringing in this melting pot we live in.
With all this in mind, I decided to drive East and check out the diverse and multifaceted nature of identity in the artwork found in this very complex city.
Starting in East LA, I visited a new contemporary art gallery called The Beverly Project, which is an annex of ChimMaya Gallery and an experimental space exhibiting known and emerging artists. Curated by William Moreno, Luis Delgado Qualtrough’s exhibition Loteria & Metaphors consists of a deck of cards, The Cosmological Loteria, a contemporary interpretation of Mexico’s popular game-of-chance. The original images from Loteria are now iconic and part of Mexican popular culture. As children, we learn riddles and rhymes such as “Con los cantos de sirena, no te vayas a marear: La Sirena!”; “¡Ah, qué borracho tan necio, ya no lo puedo aguantar!: El Borracho!”; “Al pasar por el panteón, me encontre un calaverón: La Calavera!”; “La cobija de los pobres: El Sol!”… and the 50 other cards from this game. This is not the first time an artist reinterprets them. However, Delgado Qualtrough’s elegant silver gelatin photographs create a visual narrative beyond the common pictograms we all know and love. His photographs become interpretations and metaphors that are subtle and ironic. They make you want to step inside and discover more about these mysterious places. The deck of cards comes in a box with instructions from the artist: “Your interpretations will deepen the more you play the game.” Delgado Qualtrough’s choice of images are not obvious or traditional. For example, El Destino, El Lucro, La Institución, Los Deseos and the others portray human conditions of our human existence, and then challenge the viewer to question it all.
Also included in the show are The Enigmas, a series of large scale prints created through a process of collaging representations of iconic body parts. These mash-ups printed on long, vertical Tyvek paper also question identity, tell a new untold story, and challenge convention. This show has been extended until Nov. 27th. As Goez Art Studios famously stated, “All roads lead to East LA.” Pues ándale, vete ya! (The Beverly Project, 5273 1/2 East Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles)
Heading west, I had to check out another PST L.A. Xicano show at the Autry National Center. Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican American Generation focuses on six Mexican-American artists during the years 1945-1965: Dora De Larios, Alberto Valdes, Domingo Ulloa, Roberto Chavez, Eduardo Carrillo, and Hernandez Villa. Of all the L.A. Xicano shows, I must say that this one is the most traditional, although very important in the history of Mexican-American art in LA. It is this generation that brought heightened awareness of other ethnic and socioeconomic differences before the rise of the Chicano Movement. Five of the six artists in the show received fine art degrees and many of them made commercial art, which is quite different from some of the well-known Chicano artists that came after them, making murals in the streets without MFAs. However, what is important about this show is to see the influences that stem back even further than many people might be aware of.
A few years ago I visited Dora de Larios’ studio, which is exactly how you might imagine it to be: long tables full of ceramic sculptures and walls covered top to bottom with stoneware masks and mythological creatures. All of her work shows a fusion of influences: Mexican, Precolombian, Asian, African… And it is her upbringing in ethnically diverse LA that creates this cross-cultural mixture.
Finally on the Westside, I arrived at LAM: Latin American Masters at the Bergamot Station to see Venezuelan artist Milton Becerra’s show Nature and Geometry. Subtle, minimal and beautiful, Becerra’s work is a mix of the organic with the synthetic. Multi-media sculptures made of stones, rope, and hand-woven fiber cover the walls. Large rocks hang from the ceiling in suspended hammock-like nets, appearing to be a meteor shower in the middle of the gallery, as if the beginning of something very big and important is about to happen right there. But time is frozen and the rocks never touch the ground. In another piece, a narrow rock is trapped within a circular linen flat net, giving an impression of something sexual and natural, but also artificial and urban. It is these contrasts that make Becerra’s work intriguing. Becerra spent time with Amazonian tribes and not only learned the techniques of weaving organic materials but also how they interact with the world. Nature and Geometry will be on view until December 3.
So now I challenge you to do the drive: East to West, or West to East. And don’t let the traffic be an excuse…There’s always the gold line!