In a new exhibition this spring at the San Jose Museum of Art, Mexican and Mexican-American artists contrast the traditional with the cutting-edge, the high-brow with the low-brow. Mexicanisimo Through Artists’ Eyes, on view March 30-September 23, 2012, presents works by artists who draw inspiration from Mexico’s deep well of visual culture. Their references include folk art, popular culture, and vernacular craft traditions as well as contemporary idioms. This exhibition includes works by artists who enlist traditional, refined artisan’s techniques (such as weaving and ceramics) to challenge today’s mass-market consumer culture alongside the work of artists who transform the most expendable materials into art.
The exhibition will include works by artists who share roots in Mexico yet live and work across the United States and the globe, reflecting the energy and diversity of Silicon Valley: Natalia Anciso (Oakland, CA), Margarita Cabrera (El Paso, TX), Enrique Chagoya (San Francisco), Colectivo “La Malagua” (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), Máximo González (Mexico City), Gabriel Kuri (Mexico City and Brussels, Belgium), Franco Mondini-Ruiz (San Antonio, TX), Betsabeé Romero (Mexico City), and Jamex and Einar de la Torre (San Diego, CA, and Ensenada, Mexico).
Kristen Evangelista, director of the University Galleries, William Patterson University, Wayne, New Jersey, and former associate curator at SJMA, is guest curator of the exhibition.
“Mexican folk art, craft, and popular culture are a familiar visual vocabulary, and these artists offer a contemporary take on Mexico’s varied and vibrant cultural expressions,” said Evangelista. “They reclaim traditional symbols, many of which have been absorbed into the superficial realm of the mass tourist trade. By paying homage to the imagery of tradition—without either nostalgia or cynicism—they advance a deeper understanding of Mexican culture, identity, and history.”
Mexicanisimo through Artists’ Eyes is sponsored by Bank of America, the James Irvine Foundation, the Myra Reinhard Family Foundation, The Christensen Fund, University Art, and the Consulado General de México.
Natalia Anciso is known for her installations that feature fabrics in the manner of traditional Mexican household linens. Anciso, who was born in Weslaco, TX, and now lives in Oakland, CA, comments on issues facing the Texas borderlands. Concealed among the colorful floral decoration on the fabric are scenes of immigration, law enforcement, and conflict. In a new, site-specific installation commissioned by SJMA, Anciso will create a dining room tableau adorned with hand-painted and drawn tablecloth and seat coverings.
Margarita Cabrera was born in Monterey, Mexico, and now lives and works in El Paso, TX. She comments on manual labor and traditional craft in her ceramic works, which depict tools such as saws, hammers, and shovels covered with earth colored birds, flowers, and symbols. In this series, “Arbol de la Vida (Tree of Life),” Cabrera makes references that date back to ancient Olmec traditions.
San Francisco-based artist Enrique Chagoya is well-known to visitors to SJMA, which holds numerous works by Chagoya in its collection. Chagoya emulates pre-Columbian codices by painting directly onto amate (bark) paper and fashioning a long, folded book that is read from right to left. He juxtaposes secular, popular, and religious symbols in order to address the ongoing cultural clash between the United States and Latin America.
Artists Yesika Felix, Sergio Martinez, Miguel Perez, Fernando Sanchez, and Ireri Topete together form the art collective, Colectivo La Malagua (“The Jellyfish”). In 2008, Colectivo La Malagua remade the classic Mexican card game lotería. Loteria is similar to bingo, but uses cards instead of numbered balls. With images such as El camaron or El gallo, the cards may remind some viewers of tarot cards. The exhibition includes the original paintings for the card deck.
Máximo González was born in Paraná, Entre Rios, Argentina, and now lives and works in Mexico City. In his “Magma” series, Gonzalez wove together out-of-circulation and devalued paper currency into intricate, abstract wall hangings. By transforming cash into art, Gonzalez raises questions about the value of art and craft traditions.
Gabriel Kuri re-creates his own sales receipts from the Mexican grocery store, Superama, as fine, hand-knotted Gobelin tapestries. The artist commissions a group of Mexican craftspeople to painstakingly transform the disposable scraps of paper, which detail everyday purchases like Cheetos and pasta, into luxurious works of art.
Franco Mondini-Ruiz combines vintage, European-style porcelain knick-knacks with pottery and artifacts from pre-Columbian Mexico. Through these works, the artist comments on the mestizo culture (that of people of mixed race).
Mexico City-based artist Betsabeé Romero’s work ranges from tires carved with pre-Columbian icons and symbols in order to subvert the wheel’s traditional symbolism of technological progress to an installation comprising car mirrors and video. SJMA has also commissioned a new, site-specific installation from Romero for Mexicanisimo, entitled Every Head: A Universe, to the Underdogs. Romero plans to use sombreros as symbols of the Mexican people as “underdogs.” In a March 24 workshop, Romero will oversee a small group of students and practicing artists as they paint and inscribe sombreros with texts about the Mexican revolution, migration, and immigration. Clusters of hats will be joined together into orb-like hanging sculptures.
Brothers Jamex de la Torre and Einar de la Torre were born in Guadalajara, Mexico. They now live and work in San Diego, CA, and Ensenada, Mexico. In their blown glass and mixed media sculptures, the de la Torres play with traditional and contemporary images associated with Mexico, from Aztec symbols to lucha libre wrestlers.
SJMA has planned a variety of public programs related to the exhibition, beginning with an opening reception on Thursday, March 29, from 7 PM to 8:30 PM. The reception, which includes a tour by Evangelista at 7:30 PM, is free and open to the public (no-host bar). On Wednesday, May 2, at noon, Gregorio Mora-Torres, lecturer in Mexican-American studies at San Jose State University, will give the Lunchtime Lecture “San Jose’s Chicano Heritage.” At a DIY Art program on Saturday, May 12, from 1 PM to 3 PM, participants will make pieces combining traditional tin art with pop culture icons. Enrique Chagoya will speak about the cultures and traditions he explores in his paintings and prints as part of the Museum’s “Creative Minds” series on Thursday, May 17, at 7 PM. The Museum will offer a free Community Day on Saturday, May 19, from 11 AM to 5 PM, coinciding with International Museum Day. Details and ticket information on these programs are available online at www.SanJoseMuseumofArt.org.
Mexicanisimo Through Artists Eyes is on view March 30 through September 23, 2012. The San Jose Museum of Art is located at 110 South Market Street in downtown San Jose. The Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 AM to 5 PM (to 8 PM on the third Thursday of the month). For more information, and a calendar of public programs, visit www.SanJoseMuseumofArt.org.
SAN JOSE MUSEUM OF ART
The San Jose Museum of Art celebrates new ideas, stimulates creativity, and inspires connection with every visit. Welcoming and thought-provoking, the Museum rejects stuffiness and delights visitors with its surprising and playful perspective on the art and artists of our time.
The San Jose Museum of Art is located at 110 South Market Street in downtown San Jose, California. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 AM to 5 PM, and until 8 PM on the third Thursday of the month. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens, and free to members and children under 6. For more information, call 408-271-6840 or visit www.SanJoseMuseumofArt.org.
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Programs at the San Jose Museum of Art are made possible by generous operating support from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the Lipman Family Foundation, the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the Koret Foundation, a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San Jose, and, with support for exhibition development, Yvonne and Mike Nevens.