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By Sarah Hepola

JULY 20, 1998:  The Young Latino Artists Series" at Mexic-Arte Museum could easily have its title shortened to "The Young Artists Series," despite the fact that the participants are Latin American. For that matter, the museum folks could rename it "The Really Good Art Series" or "The Unusually Insightful Young Artists Series" or how about "The Young Artists Series (Whose Members Happen to be Latino)." Indeed, the fact that the artists in this show compiled by Mexic-Arte are Latino/Latina artists is simply an added texture to an already rich exhibition. Essentially, what we have here is good art by young artists.

For the third year in a row, Austin's most consistently appealing museum has managed to introduce the city to another group of emerging and talented artists exhibiting for the first time outside college or university galleries. Curated by Herlinda Zamora, the 1998 "Young Latino Artists" exhibit features a wide range of mediums, from painting to sculpture to installation to video. The show is both a rewarding glimpse of what young Hispanic visual artists are producing and an examination of universal themes such as alienation, identity, and community.

"One of the reasons for having such an exhibition," explains Zamora, "is not only to assist artists who have never had an exhibition in a museum, but also to let them meet each other and the curators and the people who come to the museum." The 14 artists selected for this year's show work primarily in and around Austin, although one, Frederico Salles Geib, calls Brazil home and will be studying art at the University of Texas next year.

If I had to label the show with a single theme, it would be the search for identity, something that is perhaps more prevalent in the Latin American community, where two cultures vie for equal attention, but also something that is a universal experience for young people coming of age. In Ana Saldaña's artist's statement for her video Dissociation of a Cyborg, she defines the word cyborg as "a being that is a product of many influences" and "a person who negotiates their identity between different paradigms or cultures." The video depicts her father's masculine world in contrast to her possibly lesbian reality, both worlds on which she is having trouble focusing.


Sculpture by Aldo Valdes Bohm "Grania Maugh"

However, to place the entire exhibit in such a tidy box is to cut it short. A stroll through Mexic-Arte's rustic gallery reveals a diverse collection of art. Jacqueline Rush Rivera's highly original work is soil and water on plywood, a sort of mud painting entitled Finity. Rush Rivera also has an installation of soil poured into the shape of two ducks kissing that she calls Finity-Infinity. Jimmy Rodriguez displays Cell Life, a series of sculpture, lithograph, and oil on canvas that is a study of microscopic worlds and their inhabitants. Then there is Gabriela Núñez's series Algun un Dia, in which the work Untitled is a succession of pieces made with wax paper, pencil, and thread. And this is to name but a few.

Of course, Mexic-Arte is not in error titling the show "Young Latino Artists," however much this reviewer may make a case for its universality; several of the artists target their roots as influences for their art. Anica Bazán, whose work is the most figurative and colorful of the lot, is the most forward about these influences, stating, "I have attempted to marry numerous subjects, symbols, and figures to arrive at a representation of my roots, morals, conflicts, and beliefs." Her work Soy Latina is a lively depiction of three nude women who are seemingly crucified on a cross and painted with bold, straight, and curved lines reminiscent of Picasso. The sun is in one corner, the moon in the other, and there is a guitar overlaid with a white bird next to the three women. Alejandra Gómez and Pilar Tomkins also evoke Latin influences in their painting, reflecting travels through Mexico and Brazil and portraits of indigenous women respectively.

Having said this, the exhibition retains a very cohesive atmosphere. There are a few places in the exhibit that come up a little too "young," but generally the artists' visions are strikingly mature and broad-minded. It seems that aside from the obvious Latin influences, most of the artists are affected by a global citizenry; a few artists quote from or include French, American, and even Welsh sources in their statements. In fact, the most direct Latin American art in the museum comes from the ongoing "Diverse and Emerging Artist Series" that is on display in conjunction with "Young Latino Artists." It features the installation and photography work of the California artist Carmela Castrejón as well as the drawing and photography of San Antonio's Juan Ramos. Nevertheless, the "Young Latino Artists" show is a success for the third time in as many years.


Floor Installation by Jacqueline Rush Rivera "Finity/Infinity" 1998

When asked what she was looking for when compiling the artists for the show, Zamora said, "It wasn't important for me that they speak on their ethnicity. What was more important for me was the quality of their work and the development of their work. When the audience comes to see the exhibition, I want them to judge the artists as artists, not only as Latino artists." Certainly this is a show for and about everyone.


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