“Pio Pulido: The Last Exhibit of the 20th Century” at the MACC

This retrospective is like visiting an artist's crowded studio and yet provides just a glimpse of this visionary's output

Visiting Pio Pulido's "The Last Exhibit for the 20th Century" is like visiting the crowded, colorful studio of a busy working artist, or visiting that artist's dreams. It is a wide open space holding so much work that paintings have to be stacked one atop another to hold them all. I'm told Pulido, a co-founder of Mexic-Arte Museum, had many more works that simply wouldn't fit in the gallery. This means "The Last Exhibit" is only a glimpse of this visionary artist's output.

The glimpse is a satisfying one. Pulido doesn't spend a lot of time perfecting the realism of his images or refining the presentation of his canvases. There are no frames, and at least one canvas, Consciousness for Mortality (Female), is warped enough so that a corner extends almost two inches from the wall. Landscapes, such as the vivid Landscapes in My Mind, like a Technicolor canyon on Venus, are flattened until they look like they'll slide off the walls. Even more precise images, like Cotton With Pollution Landscape, featuring a single dying cotton plant on a barren plain, surrounded by rotting corn and a dead fish, look collaged. A bright pink worm writhes in the dirt at the plant's base, somehow floating off the surface in a way that isn't quite right. Brown twigs reach into the blue sky beyond, betraying the frayed, scraped-on appearance of paint applied from a nearly dry brush. However, the white, swirling tufts of the single cotton boll are meticulously rendered, giving the moment a bright substance.

In many of the paintings, such as Conversations With Sandro Botticelli (Venus), it is the crudeness that brings the work to life. In Conversations, three women wade in the sea. They're surrounded by fluttering swans and mincing dolphins. One woman stands on a shell at the image's center and takes a deep bow as though she were onstage. The other two stand below. One is being either hugged or drowned by an octopus. The third woman has her back to us and appears to have been badly burned by the sun, as her skin is near crimson in places. As with the Cotton piece, objects in Conversations seem like they've been dropped in from somewhere else. The haphazard look is unapologetic, betraying a dedication to experiment, production, color, and symbolism that is both refreshing and exciting, a "fuck you" to everything traditional European painting is supposed to be.

Pulido does so many things that it's difficult to pin down a particular strength. My favorites happen to be the surreal, Arcimboldo-esque portraits. Self-Portrait features the artist's bust made from frogs, birds, rodents, and fish, topped off with a crown of water. Consciousness for Mortality (Male) forms a profile from moths, caterpillars, and a snake. Contra, palpably darker, is made from toads, tarantulas, and rats. Assassin, by contrast, isn't another collage, but a nearly indiscernible mash of red paint mixed with other, more earthy hues, piled on in thick layers until it looks like a tortured wound, as though the canvas were made from decimated flesh. It's possibly the most violent, uncontrolled image in a show of barely contained works.

It's rare to see this kind of honesty on display – like a heart that has been opened up. We need this from time to time to remember why we even make or look at art. Is it to buy? To enjoy? Or is it to play and speak? To moan the truths we live and die with.

“Pio Pulido: The Last Exhibit for the 20th Century”

Sam Z. Coronado Gallery, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center
Faster Than Sound: R&B Innovator Nayome Gets Personal
Faster Than Sound: R&B Innovator Nayome Gets Personal
Sade-loving local Naomi Sutton previews sophomore EP, Latin music enters Live Music Fund conversation, and more music news.

Rachel Rascoe, Aug. 14, 2020

More Pio Pulido
Sam Coronado: In Memoriam
Sam Coronado: In Memoriam
Remembering the founder of the Serie Project and Austin printmaking legend

Robert Faires, Nov. 22, 2013

A Claimed Space
A Claimed Space
Mexic-Arte blazed a trail in Texas by making a place for Mexican culture in a museum

Belinda Acosta, Aug. 14, 2009

More Arts Reviews
Art Review: “Masters: Calder and Dalí”
Art Review: “Masters: Calder and Dalí”
Rare gems get the chance to shine at Ao5

Cat McCarrey, July 19, 2024

Art Review: “Encounters in the Garden”
Art Review: “Encounters in the Garden”
Laredo-based artist renders open interaction with the unfamiliar

Lina Fisher, July 12, 2024

More by Sam Anderson-Ramos
“Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler: Giant” at the Blanton Museum of Art
“Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler: Giant” at the Blanton Museum of Art
The film is good at showing the fate of the film set of Giant, but it leaves open the question of what's happened to Marfa

Aug. 25, 2017

“Young Latino Artists 22: ¡Ahora!” at Mexic-Arte Museum
At a time when Hispanic identity is ever more complex, the artists in "YLA 22" seem pretty sure of their own

Aug. 18, 2017


Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center, Pio Pulido, Mexic-Arte Museum, This retrospective is like visiting an artist's crowded studio and yet provides just a glimpse of this visionary's output

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle