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Mexic-Arte Museum's "Fotografía y Nuevos Medios: Selections From the Permanent Collection"

The exhibition puts on view a treasure trove of images that have been in hiding for too long in the museum's collections

Reviewed by Melany Jean, February 9, 2018, Arts

Ranging from widely known works to local gems, photojournalism to contemporary performance pieces, Mexic-Arte's permanent photography and new media collections are a treasure trove, brought out for display for the first time in "Fotografía y Nuevos Medios: Selections From the Permanent Collection."

The first section of the show is more documentarian, with papers from Austin Latino organizations and photojournalist prints. Most of the photos are portraits, starting with the most commanding at the entrance, Jesse Herrera's La Reina del Huipil from his 1988 series "The Queen of the Huipil." This portrait is shown twice, once in a blown-up, square crop and again in a smaller rectangular print arranged alongside other photos from the series. It sets the tone of the show well. A woman is shown with a traditional hairstyle and head covering, having won the Cuetzalan title of Queen of the Huipil. She wears the role well, a quiet dignity in her straight back and placid face. The huipil is a traditional woven garment, and the competition awards this title to a woman who has exhibited skill in her weaving and her ability to speak on local culture and customs.

Other portraits include large vinyl photographs of modern Mexican women and snapshots of life along the border and Chicano organizers marching against police brutality. Marcela Morán's Audiencia, a video celebrating lucha libre or Mexican freestyle wrestling, shows an avid attendee saying, in Spanish, "The blood is real. It is part show, but it is also part real."

Guillermo Gómez-Peña's 1990 performance piece Border Brujo serves as an intermediary between this first section and the more contemporary to the right. Situated right between the two, a small screen plays a recording of the piece as his words fill the space. Gómez-Peña, playing a shaman, becomes animated with 15 personas, all exploring some boundary in a bilingual speaker's life. The performance works as a sort of new media mystic, an alloy that, here, joins the disparate experiences of the bilingual speaker as well as the more documentarian section of the show with the more contemporary art space.

The second section serves as an extension into various directions of the Latinx roots and resistance presented in the first. Paloma Mayorga's painterly photographs explore wellness and the body; Chuy Benitez's large panorama Family Chrome Shop, Auto Chrome Plating Co. shows a shop with all the compositional complexity and narrative interest of a renaissance painting.

I laugh at the absurd juxtapositions, the ones I get at least, in Paul Valadez's Selections From the Great American Songbook, a collage series that pastes bits of Spanish clippings and other media onto covers of 60-some American songbooks. To wit: "Serenade for a pendejo!" As is true for the show as a whole, the series will be best understood for all its laden humor and significance, of course, by those whose everyday experience resembles such a montage. For the rest, as is true for the show as a whole, it is an opportunity to learn about and take in art that has been hiding out for too long in the collection on Congress Avenue.

"Fotografía y Nuevos Medios: Selections From the Permanent Collection"

Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress,
Through May 27

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