Young Contemporaries

DCA attempts to give Latin-American artists more visibility with its 'Traditions, Boundaries and Cross Currents' show

At DCA--the gallery formerly known as Dinnerware--the current juried exhibition has just about every medium you'd expect in a show of cutting-age contemporary art.

In the shocking-new-materials category, there's an old pair of men's jeans mounted on a black board and hung on the wall. Pockmarked with burned-out holes and painted epithets, "Liar Liar" by Frances Giron is an apparent anti-homage to the artist's ex-husband. (For proof, we need look no farther than Giron's adjoining piece, "Believe the Lie," a shadow-box filled with bitter souvenirs of the wedding: a dried-up rose, a scorched wedding invitation and statues of a bride and groom with their heads chopped off.)

Carmen Lizardo exhibits up-to-the-minute digital prints; in her series of manipulated self-portraits, she imagines herself in skin shades from white to pink to black. The trendy outsider aesthetic suffuses Hector R. Del Campo's "Abuelos," a spray-painting on canvas inspired by the calligraphy of street graffiti. Lina Puerta's installation, "Manantial de las Americas," features stoneware masks on the wall and dirt on the floor. Regina Araujo Corritore ("Migrant's Roulette") turns conventional furniture into platforms for political messages.

As expected as all the shock-of-the-new materials are, this show does deviate in one important way from the standard contemporary art competition: As the astute reader has already divined, entrants had to be of Latin-American heritage. They also had to have lived in the United States for two years or longer, and their work was supposed to fit, more or less, within the theme suggested by the show's title, Traditions, Boundaries and Cross Currents: Young Latin American Artists.

We've come to expect Latino/a artists to produce work with links to the rich imagery of traditional Hispanic folk art and crafts; we're used to their updates on the religious retablo genre, say, or reworkings of Día de los Muertos skeletons or postmodern folk shrines. Some of the works in this show fall into this category. Tucson's Mauricio Toussaint, a DCA co-director, for example, exhibits encaustic wax paintings that draw on the wild pictures of Mexican lotto cards. And some labor with tried-and-true materials, the old standbys of oil or acrylic on canvas and black-and-white photography.

But quite a few of the 14 artists whose works are assembled here confound the Hispanic expectation and reject conventional materials. They're simply contemporary artists doing contemporary work on a variety of themes. Giron's jeans, for one, are less about identity or ethnicity than they are about toppling fixed ideas about what art is. (Not to mention toppling the pride of the man whose pilfered pants inspired the piece.) That said, these contemporary artists do have plenty to say about current Latino issues, from immigration to identity within the larger American culture.

Toussaint said that the gallery initiated the competition because of what its members consider a "lack of visibility of Latin-American art in Tucson." The Raices Taller gallery and the Latin collection at Tucson Museum of Art notwithstanding, Toussaint said that the city's location close to the Mexican border argues for greater exposure. To judge the entries, the gallery lined up independent curator Joanne Stuhr, formerly TMA's curator of the art of the Americas.

DCA was a little disappointed by the low number of entries, Toussaint said; out of 47 artworks submitted, 37 ended up in the show. But the directors were pleased that the artists live in assorted places around the United States, in Denver, New York, Tampa, California and New Mexico, as well as Phoenix and Tucson, giving locals a chance to see beyond Baja Arizona.

Del Campo, who did the graffiti-like work about his grandparents ("Abuelos"), is the Tampa artist, but he originally came from Cuba. His painting investigates the rupture of family ties when migrants flee their native land. Del Campo used a standard stencil to spray paint the figures of his four abuelos onto his mostly white canvas, and he's arranged them around a central point, like rays of the sun, their four heads nearly touching. To heighten the emotional effect, he's also stenciled in their evocative names: Alonso, Moises, Ana, and the name of the equally lost motherland, Cuba.

Corritore, she of the reworked garden furniture, is Nuyorican, a Puerto Rican by way of New York City, now resettled in New Mexico. Her own segmented life doubtless inspired her "Diaspora." The piece comes right to the point, taking a look at world migration.

A low garden table in ceramic and steel, it has a star-shaped Chinese checkers game arranged in colorful tile on the circular tabletop. In between the points of the star are labeled maps in ceramic, chronicling the places of origin of the 21st century's tempest-tossed, as well as the places they've ended up. She includes the expected El Norte, Sur America and Mexico, but she broadens the discussion by adding Africa and China. The playing figures nestled in the holes of the Chinese checkers board--Chinese, African, Latino--are part of a worldwide game of chase-the-jobs and flee-the-poverty.

Lizardo's digital self-portraits look at what happens to people who find themselves living far from home, or living as a minority in the dominant white American culture. A New Yorker, Lizardo experiments with racial color-coding, wondering what would happen if we could change color like a chameleon. Would race still matter? In "Self-Portrait With White Face," she's so white, she's almost albino, with ghostly white skin and a red gash of a mouth. "Self-Portrait With Black Face" turns her ebony black, and in "Pink Face," she's rose-red.

Tony Ortega of Denver deftly works some more traditional material. A printmaker, he has taken the ubiquitous advertising posters found on every Mexican calle and used them as a busy base for his own monotypes and silkscreens. His prints on top of these posters celebrate traditional barrio life in simplified, stylized drawings, filled in with bold passages of color. In one, a muscular carpenter hammers the roof overhang of a classic adobe rowhouse; his hair is purple, his shirt orange, his house wall vivid blue-green. But over these exhilarating colors, Ortega has traced a figure that may well take the man out of his barrio. Like a god hovering on high, a yellow-gold Uncle Sam points his greedy finger. And as the daily tolls of the U.S. dead in Iraq demonstrate, many Hispanics--some not even citizens--have answered his imperious call.

The most delicious painting in the whole show is Monica Del Basque's "Into the Unknown," an acrylic on canvas. Painted in the brilliant colors of Mexican paper flowers, it's a room abstracted, its topsy-turvy floor and walls veering off in lively diagonals. The floor is peach layered over darks; one wall racing toward the corner is yellow-orange, the other red. A lime-green chair teeters in a corner, and at the top, a bright green door defiantly breaks away from Euclidean geometry, sailing into space. Its open door leads to an open sky of the bluest blue, a vivid space where all futures seem possible, no matter whose ethnicity we're talking about.

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