HOW THE ARTISTS IN ‘HOME’ SET THE PA­CIFIC STAN­DARD

PST: LA/LA kicks off with a LACMA ex­hi­bi­tion that gives Latin Amer­i­can and Latino art room to ex­plore.

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

On the sur­face, the brightly painted shed re­cently in­stalled in the gal­leries at the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art couldn’t seem more ap­peal­ing. Sher­bet-y shades of or­ange and yel­low greet the viewer. Around the rear, a belt of cam­ou­flage em­ploys candy shades of pur­ple. A door is ren­dered a grassy green.

But study this struc­ture for a bit and it be­comes un­set­tling.

The build­ing is split down the mid­dle, as if it’s about to fall apart. And if the de­sign has echoes of the fa­mil­iar it’s be­cause you may have seen some­thing like it on the news: The piece is a scale replica of “Un­abomber” Ted Kaczyn­ski’s cabin in the Mon­tana woods — ex­cept this one is painted in col­ors from Martha Ste­wart’s Sig­na­ture paint col­lec­tion.

The sculp­ture is a work by L.A. artist Daniel Joseph Martinez and it unites, in one frac­tured mon­u­ment, the legacies of two highly rec­og­niz­able Amer­i­can fig­ures.

“One is Kaczyn­ski,” Martinez says. “He be­lieves that tech­nol­ogy is a threat, so he blows up sci­en­tists — home­grown Amer­i­can ter­ror­ism. And there is Martha Ste­wart, who ad­vances hy­per­cap­i­tal­ism.

“One sells us an il­lu­sion,” says the artist, ges­tur­ing at the bright cit­rus col­ors on his bro­ken build­ing. “The other sells us ter­ror.”

“The House Amer­ica Built,” as the piece is ti­tled, is part of the new LACMA ex­hi­bi­tion “Home — So Dif­fer­ent, So Ap­peal­ing,” which brings to­gether artists from through­out the Amer­i­cas who are us­ing el­e­ments of the do­mes­tic (say, a cabin) to com­ment on larger so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues. In the case of Martinez’s shed, the state of the home­land.

“Home is a very broad con­cept,” says co-cu­ra­tor Mari Car­men Ramirez. “It’s some­thing we as­so­ciate with the ev­ery­day. But artists use it to com­mu­ni­cate nar­ra­tives that have been marginal­ized or re­pressed.”

The show is the first of the Pa­cific Stan­dard Time: Los An­ge­les/ Latin Amer­ica ex­hi­bi­tions, the re­gional se­ries funded in part by the Getty Foun­da­tion and more in­for­mally known as PST: LA/LA. “Home” is the early out­lier in the se­ries, set to of­fi­cially de­but in the fall, when an es­ti­mated 70 cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions around South­ern Cal­i­for­nia will have pro­gram­ming re­lated to Latino and Latin Amer­i­can cul­ture.

This will in­clude an ex­hi­bi­tion about pre-Columbian so­ci­eties at the Getty Cen­ter and work by avant-garde fe­male artists at the Ham­mer Mu­seum — as well as shows on Chi­cano mu­ral­ism, South Amer­i­can ki­netic art and his­toric il­lus­tra­tions of Latin Amer­i­can flora, among oth­ers.

If “Home” is a har­bin­ger of what to ex­pect for the rest of the se­ries, it has set the bar high.

Few mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions syn­the­size cur­rents in con­tem­po­rary Latin Amer­i­can art. And the ones that do of­ten cen­ter on ques­tions of iden­tity — be it eth­nic or re­gional — or around a par­tic­u­lar artis­tic move­ment, such as ab­strac­tion. “Home” ex­plodes that idea. The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures roughly 100 works by some 40 artists from all over the con­ti­nent — in­clud­ing Latino artists from var­i­ous cor­ners of the U.S. And it shows the ways in which these artists, who span sev­eral gen­er­a­tions (there are works dat­ing to the 1950s) have ex­plored a range of global con­cerns.

This is not a show in which Latino artists just dwell on be­ing Latino. It is about ideas: ones that f low from south to north and east to west and vice versa. The show en­gages is­sues such as colo­nial­ism, mi­gra­tion, in­equity, ver­nac­u­lar con­struc­tion (of the sort that pow­ers many Latin Amer­i­can ur­ban cen­ters) and the ways in which ar­chi­tec­ture can serve as a tool of the state.

A sec­ond prom­i­nent sculp­ture by Martinez, for ex­am­ple, looks at how the ur­ban de­sign of cities such as Irvine, with their dead-end streets and gated com­mu­ni­ties, inf lu­enced the lay­out of Is­raeli set­tle­ments in Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries in the Mid­dle East.

“Is­raelis took the con­cept of gated com­mu­ni­ties, which are al­ready mil­i­ta­rized — it has cam­eras, it has se­cu­rity,” ex­plains Martinez, “and they took those de­signs and mil­i­ta­rized them even fur­ther.”

“Home” was or­ga­nized by Ramirez, a cu­ra­tor of Latin Amer­i­can art at the Mu­seum of Fine Arts Hous­ton, as well as Chon Nor­iega, of UCLA’s Chi­cano Stud­ies Re­search Cen­ter, and Pi­lar Tomp­kins Ri­vas, di­rec­tor of the Vin­cent Price Art Mu­seum at East Los An­ge­les Col­lege. In con­ceiv­ing the show, the three say they avoided do­ing a show that was “about” Latin Amer­ica.

“In­stead, we de­cided to set ev­ery­thing aside and fo­cus on the works that had stuck with us,” Nor­iega says. “And the con­cept that emerged when we looked at those pieces was ‘Home.’ ”

Ramirez points to an in­stal­la­tion of a dozen il­lu­mi­nated light strings by the late Cuban Amer­i­can artist Felix Gon­za­lez-Tor­res, a 1993 work called “Un­ti­tled (North).” “Peo­ple think of it as min­i­mal­ist work,” she says. “But re­ally it’s about the lights that you see when you are headed north.”

In other words, the process of mi­gra­tion — the search for home.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, as Ramirez ob­serves, is not a strict chrono­log­i­cal sur­vey of im­por­tant works by im­por­tant artists. In­stead, it func­tions more as “a con­stel­la­tion” — “putting works in di­a­logue with each other across gen­er­a­tions and coun­tries” in ways that con­nect on the level of ideas or ma­te­ri­als.

“We wanted to see what work talked to other work,” Nor­iega adds. “We saw work talk­ing to work from other coun­tries — even if they might be 50 years apart.”

A pair of wall hang­ings by Raphael Mon­tañez Or­tiz, a U.S. artist of mixed Caribbean and Mex­i­can heritage who made some of his key works in the 1960s, for ex­am­ple, hang ad­ja­cent to an in­stal­la­tion by Colom­bian artist Leyla Car­de­nas, who has been ac­tive for just over a decade. Both pry apart do­mes­tic set­tings to ex­am­ine their psy­cho­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal roots.

Or­tiz’s pieces, which he la­bels “Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Finds,” con­sist of dis­mem­bered fur­nish­ings that he pries apart in vi­o­lent acts. Car­de­nas uses el­e­ments of old ar­chi­tec­ture to con­duct what amounts to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal digs.

Tak­ing sliv­ers of a de­cay­ing 19th cen­tury house from Bogotá, she’s peeled away lay­ers of wall­pa­per to re­veal dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments dat­ing back to the early repub­lic. The struc­ture was made of wood and adobe, in the Span­ish style, but the wall­pa­per added after in­de­pen­dence is English. It marks a mo­ment in which Colom­bia was search­ing for a new iden­tity apart from Spain. All of this she presents as a 4-inch-wide slice of a room that looks like a lab­o­ra­tory spec­i­men on an ar­chi­tec­tural scale.

“From a piece of the room, you can re­con­struct not just the room but the house and the city and the coun­try and what was go­ing on at any given time,” she says. “It fits with the show, which of­fers a trans­ver­sal look at the con­cept of home.”

Other gal­leries tackle the ur­ban re­al­i­ties of Latin Amer­i­can cities.

A 2014-16 sculp­ture — mod­eled on Jan van Eyck’s 15th-cen­tury Ghent al­tar­piece — by the con­tem­po­rary Ar­gen­tine col­lec­tive Mon­dongo, for ex­am­ple, por­trays Buenos Aires’ glit­ter­ing down­town within view of the shan­ty­town known as Villa 31. In the same gallery hangs a piece by Antonio Berni, also Ar­gen­tine, who in the 1960s made as­sem­blages out of de­tri­tus that chron­i­cled slum life.

A cou­ple of rooms over, a large in­stal­la­tion by prom­i­nent Mex­i­can con­tem­po­rary artist Abra­ham Cruzvil­le­gas ex­plores the re­lated idea of auto-con­struc­ción, or self-con­struc­tion. Cruzvil­le­gas grew up in a squat­ter com­mu­nity out­side of Mex­ico City in which ev­ery­thing was built, over time, by the res­i­dents. It of­fers an in­trigu­ing counterpoint to Martinez’s sculp­tures about Is­raeli set­tle­ments: the cre­ation of home from the ground up rather than top down.

Also in­trigu­ing is the ex­hi­bi­tion’s ready blend­ing of the work of Latin Amer­i­can and U.S. Latino artists — breaking with a long-held cu­ra­to­rial con­ven­tion that fre­quently dis­plays the work of the two sep­a­rately. (For much of its ex­is­tence, for ex­am­ple, the Mu­seum of Latin Amer­i­can Art in Long Beach did not show work by Chi­cano artists.)

Rep­re­sent­ing the U.S. are fig­ures such as Martinez as well as Puerto Ri­can Amer­i­can Juan Sánchez, who ex­plores the po­lit­i­cal sta­tus of Puerto Rico in his mixed me­dia paint­ings (a timely sub­ject), and Car­men Ar­gote, a Mex­i­can Amer­i­can artist from Los An­ge­les, who has turned the rug from her child­hood home into a mas­sive wall sculp­ture that plays with form and mem­ory.

In the mu­seum’s gar­dens, an in­stal­la­tion by Cuban Amer­i­can artist María Elena González ex­am­ines the ar­chi­tec­ture of pub­lic hous­ing in the United States. Her piece, look­ing like a gi­ant magic car­pet, de­picts to scale the lay­out of the apart­ments at Nick­er­son Gar­dens in Watts.

As with other artists in the show, her con­cerns are as lo­cal as they are in­ter­na­tional.

Ramirez says that the his­toric di­vide be­tween the Latino and the Latin Amer­i­can has had to do with is­sues of class. “Latin Amer­i­can artists are seen as cit­i­zens of na­tions,” she says. “Latino artists are seen as cit­i­zens of a marginal­ized group.”

But in the age of the In­ter­net and glob­al­ized ev­ery­thing, the strict sep­a­ra­tion no longer makes sense — es­pe­cially with Latin Amer­i­can artists pur­su­ing de­grees in the U.S., and Latino artists trav­el­ing to Latin Amer­ica for ex­hi­bi­tions and res­i­den­cies.

The show — along with oth­ers that will be part of PST: LA/LA, such as the Ham­mer’s “Rad­i­cal Women” — is look­ing to close the gap be­tween the Latino and the Latin Amer­i­can.

“Latino artists have had a low vis­i­bil­ity in Latin Amer­i­can cir­cles,” Tomp­kins Ri­vas says.

The cu­ra­tors’ aim is to change that. “Our agenda,” Ramirez says, “is that over the next decade, that peo­ple see the affini­ties be­tween these groups.”

“Home” rep­re­sents an in­trigu­ing ar­gu­ment for the more nu­anced ways in which U.S. in­sti­tu­tions can present work by Latino and Latin Amer­i­can artists, whose rep­re­sen­ta­tion in ma­jor mu­se­ums is of­ten weak.

“I’m ex­cited for all of these ex­hi­bi­tions, for the at­ten­tion they will bring to Latino and Latin Amer­i­can art,” Tomp­kins Ri­vas says. “It might con­vince mu­se­ums to fur­ther in­te­grate these ideas into their pro­grams.”

For cu­ra­tors around the coun­try, per­haps it’s a good time to pay Los An­ge­les a visit.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

A SCULP­TURE by Daniel Joseph Martinez at LACMA’s new show, “Home — So Dif­fer­ent, So Ap­peal­ing,” tack­les the con­tro­ver­sial is­sue of Is­raeli set­tle­ments.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

“ONE SELLS us an il­lu­sion. The other sells us ter­ror,” says Martinez of the two op­pos­ing fig­ures be­ing con­jured in his piece “The House Amer­ica Built,” also part of the LACMA ex­hi­bi­tion.

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