Baroque on the Border
The MACC goes for baroque with the narco corridos
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Aug. 3, 2012
Rigoberto A. Gonzalez: Baroque on the Border, Matthew Bonifacio Rodriguez: Scruffy KittyMexican American Cultural Center, 600 River www.maccaustin.org Through Sept. 1
Size matters, as a local opera singer tells me in a different context, and certainly the size of some of these oil-on-linen works by Texas artist Rigoberto A. Gonzalez is sufficient by itself to impress your jaded glassies as you stand boggling before them in the soaring interior of the Mexican American Cultural Center's main gallery upstairs.
At least one of Gonzalez's vivid tableaux in "Baroque on the Border" is larger than any single wall in your home (unless you've got some enormous place that altweekly reporters can't afford) which renders the painting's subjects almost lifesize. This lifesize quality is true for a few of the other works, too, and it's especially disconcerting when the subjects – people engaged with or caught up in various drug deals and drug-war-related program activities – are waging bloody, methodical violence on each other.
These are scenes of agony rather than ecstasy hanging on the MACC's tall verticals, with Gonzalez's images offering less of a Caravaggio tone and more of a Brothers Hildebrandt sort of display – especially in the staging and the arrangement of light and shadow – and a viewer will hope to be as unlikely to personally visit the depicted situations as they would be to visit the depths of Mordor. Two walls of the vast gallery are used to display much smaller paintings by Gonzalez; however, many of these depict the decapitated heads of folks foolhardy enough to wind up on the wrong side of some cartel's business agenda, so they're no less unnerving.
How smart of the MACC curators, then, to have artwork by Matthew Bonifacio Rodriguez in the smaller, first-floor Community Gallery: These cartoony depictions of cats and foliage and so on in "Scruffy Kitty," these bits of deep family history lovingly documented and framed, are like a Topo Chico chaser that's perfect to wash away the draught of drug-war wormwood yet gurgling through your mind's eye's throat. Maybe you'll want to watch Steven Soderbergh's award-winning movie Traffic before driving over to witness what fills the main upstairs gallery, but you'll definitely be best served by checking out the Bonifacio sweetness immediately thereafter.