YLA 12: Embracing Chaos
Despite some enjoyable work by this year's Young Latino Artists, the show overall isn't impressive
Reviewed by Salvador Castillo, Fri., Nov. 9, 2007
'YLA 12: Embracing Chaos'
Mexican American Cultural Center, through Feb. 23
The new gallery at the Mexican American Cultural Center is very spacious with an open floor plan. The airy space offers plenty of room to roam but also leaves clear views into the other exhibit. Resisting the coherent proclamation from Carlos Rivera Pineda in "Hacia la Vida," his retrospective of portraits, you can find some engaging work by youngsters loitering around. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my artwork was included in the previous "Young Latino Artists" exhibition.)
The works of Jesus de la Rosa, with lots of red areas on his large paintings, do the most to attract you as you enter the gallery. They are at once delicate and violent. They appear to be prints, but the impressions suggest a rag covered in charcoal was swatted onto the surface. Wisps of dust spew from the body of the mark as the creases of the fabric settle into place. After a number of visits, the pronounced red paintings reveal more personalities. Building up and damaging the painting's face make it about surface play. But that play plots a topographic map, buttressed by the titles.
Enrique Martinez creates expansive, scrolling landscapes. They evoke graffiti murals and Mad magazine illustrations as the objects, characters, and details wave back and forth. These flowing compositions come out to seduce you, pull you back into their space, and then spit you out. Thomas Hart Benton's murals are called to mind, but in book format; they tap into Mesoamerican codices. Even in the differently formatted video-game drawings, the viewer is invited then repulsed.
In Anna Pilhoefer's matronly work, you find references to sewing and storybook characters. The encaustic pieces use cute animal characters like those of Little Golden Books. Maybe they're telling a sweet story, but the surface and drawn sutures suggest something more. Shadow boxes, saints, physical surgery, and domestic mandalas make the other work more complex. Their format feels a little bit like a retread of ideas, though.
I opened up to de la Rosa the more I visited, but those same subsequent visits dissipated interest in Chuy Benitez's panoramic photographs. The individual portraits were fish-bowled diptychs of figure and environment being distorted, illustrating front and back views. Both strategies investigate some form of Mexican identity. Faced with a whole wall of similar photographs, a question arises: What are the special effects supporting or highlighting in each of these different characters?
Terms like "outsider art" and "untrained artist" can be used to promote and condemn. But I don't want to confuse anybody. Gerald Lopez uses shallow, vertical compositions, and his oil-pastel figures have a cartoon rendering. The works look like hand-painted shop signs. The prints are more successful and reveal an interest in color, but there is no doubt that all of these works participate awkwardly in the show.
Hidden in a blind spot as you enter are Lucilla Flores' etchings made with slightly different colored inks. The marks look like scratches but are actually different equestrian studies. Skeletal, muscular, and planar examinations create all-over compositions. Thoughts of Kicking Bear's Battle of Little Big Horn and Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical studies safeguard these prints.
While some of the work in "YLA 12: Embracing Chaos" is enjoyable, the show as a whole isn't impressive. The installation stutters and sputters along. I'm sure Benitez enjoys owning the middle wall, but how does segregating Flores alone by the elevator complement the work? The alternating vertical and horizontal layout also feels arbitrary. Is that where we're embracing the chaos? The works themselves feel orderly. Curator Angel Quesada was charged with presenting these artists but seems to show little concern for their art by cramming into the space as much of it as possible. I've said it before: Curators are like editors, and sometimes they need to omit pieces and trust in the power of the artist's work.