Tres Proyectos Latinos & Young Latin Artists: Vibrant DialogueAMOA@Laguna Gloria,
through August 10
Mexic-Arte Museum, through July 5
July 8, 1997: The primal human impulse is to find a mirror. We are motivated by a need for self-examination, self-definition, and the search for our own kind. Certainly this seems to be what drives artists who formulate ways to express the personal, and then contextualize that expression by associating and exhibiting with like-minded individuals. Women & Their Work provides a forum for women, Mexic-Arte for Hispanics, and now, through its current exhibition at Laguna Gloria, the Austin Museum of Art explores the diversity of expression within the Latino/Latina community.
Personally, I am not always engaged by the resulting politically correct dialogue with its seemingly endless variations, but the combined force of Mexic-Arte's exhibition "Young Latino Artists" and AMOA's "Tres Proyectos Latinos" at Laguna Gloria has grabbed my attention and won't let go. Press releases from both institutions arrived in the same envelope, physical evidence that the dynamics between Mexic-Arte and AMOA have changed substantially since the old days. Sylvia Orozco, director of Mexic-Arte, says that these exhibitions were planned independently of each other, but the net result provides an excellent opportunity for Austinites to explore thematic and stylistic similarities and differences among emerging and established Latino/Latina artists.
AMOA asked four curators to assemble three projects. Kathy Vargas, artist and director of the visual arts program at San Antonio's Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, curated an installation which, like her own manipulated photographs, deals with layered, figurative images. Her artistic and curatorial points of view intersect.
Victor Zamudio Taylor, art historian from UT, and Henry Canales Estrada, MA candidate in curatorial studies at Bard College, present conceptual work. In keeping with contemporary art historical trends, you may need an art critic or art historian by your side to comprehend the more subtle aspects of their offerings. Locating a specific Latino/Latina point of view may be even more difficult. During the Curators' Dialogue at the opening reception, these three diverse points of view (and the passion they arouse) became quickly evident. Heated words were exchanged.
Mexic-Arte's show (co-curated by Henry Estrada and Albert Jesus Chavarria, art history student at UT) showcases young Latino artists but mirrors exactly the diversity found in the AMOA show. We see paintings that are political (David Godoy's Lady Immigrant), graffiti-style hip (Rene Alvarado and Roy Carrillo), and culturally based (Flor Gaitan Stumbo). Bobby Dixon's diptych and Joshua Rios' acrylic drawings on paper, on the other hand, appear more personal in content, more universal in appeal. There are a number of conceptual works, such as Loud and Large, a work in progress which features the ongoing participation of young people from the Dove Springs area of Austin.
As with all survey shows, it's hard to see where each individual artist is going. And although much of it shows promise, the work is indeed "young." Still, I was happy to be privy to this particularly vibrant dialogue. As Henry Estrada writes in his curator's statement, "`Young Latino Artists' at Mexic-Arte and `Tres Proyectos Latinos' at AMOA collectively expand our awareness of the richness and cultural diversity that exists in Latino art and strengthens the bonds of our community."
Also at Mexic-Arte is a solo exhibition of work by Rosemary Meza, part of the museum's ongoing Diversity & Emergence Series. Her cavorting cut-out figures bear some resemblance to Luis Jimenez's dance hall cast, except Meza's are half dressed (if at all) and somewhat disassembled. Never have pinking sheers, canvas, and paint been handled with such enthusiasm. -- Rebecca S. Cohen
Into The Woods: Which Way?
The woods are thick with symbols, almost as many as there are trees. There is the symbol of mystery: the woods as a place where phenomena flourish, wonders beyond nature. There is the symbol of danger: the woods as a dwelling place of predators, evil wolves and witches. There is the symbol of freedom: the woods as a place where society's restrictions may be broken, where a serving girl may hold a prince or forbidden lover's kiss. The woods hold symbols of temptation, of transgression, of penitence, symbols of time lost and found, of death and resurrection, and so much more.
Around this concept Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine crafted their musical entwining the lives of several familiar fairy tale figures. They give us Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and Jack (of the Beanstalk story) and a pair of Prince Charmings and cast these characters' movements into and out of the woods -- going to Grandmother's, taking a cow to market, attending a royal festival, visiting a prisoner in a doorless tower -- in terms of the characters' dreams and desires, their emotional and spiritual states, with the woods an emblem of their wishes pursued, fulfilled, or denied. The authors audaciously draw together more than a dozen archetypes and strands of folklore and stitch them into one tale -- a musical, no less! -- that sounds all of the original's symbolism. It is, to put it mildly, a complex work.
If it does nothing else, this staging by UT Opera Theatre reflects the play's complexity. Leilah Stewart's scenic design features a series of receding prosceniums, frames within frames that suggest the layers of meaning within fairy tales. Costumer Molly Reynolds and director Greg Fuller add their own layers of symbolism, he with overt theatrical moves -- using braided electrical cords for Rapunzel's hair, covering the witch's exits with smoke blown by a stagehand with a fire extinguisher -- she with costumes drawn from the 1940s and `50s -- white dinner jackets, leopard print capes, two-tone Oxfords. Everything onstage seems to be a symbol, every surface representing something other than what it is.
While these aspects of the production are visually appealing, the layers of meaning they add don't always illuminate the work on which they've been set. Why all the post-war wear? Is it to characterize the late Forties and Fifties as a fairy-tale era, in which Americans falsely imagined they were living "happily ever after"? I'm not sure, but I spent two-thirds of the performance puzzling over it, as I did several design choices. Except for Shannon January's lights, which back the action with vibrant colors and dapple the floor with richly hued shadows, I found most of the visual elements to be competing with the story instead of enhancing it. I felt pulled in several different directions, much of the time unsure which way the production wanted me to go.
The trail of bread crumbs that I followed through this thicket of visual symbols came from the performers. Linda Nenno provides a compelling witch, a flinty figure with a will of stone and a calloused spirit; Nenno makes her pain palpable. Dale Smith's Baker is at first a prickly character, impatient and sharp, but when he winds up on the stage alone, Smith makes him achingly poignant. As his wife, Erica Turrell contributes her own lovely ache; she projects honesty and a steadfastness of heart that, when tested, falls into a bittersweet shadow. William Adams' prince is partly responsible for that shadow, and his regal bearing and slight aloofness are apt and well played. Several others, including Joe Crabtree, David Ellis, Jean Grace, Sabrina C. Guerrero, and the indomitable Jess Walters contribute affecting work that guides us through this wood. They help to keep the humor and feeling and lyricism of Lapine and Sondheim's work in view. And they make you wish that it weren't always so hard to see their Woods for the trees. -- Robert Faires
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