Monday, June 30, 2014


We were delighted to be reunited with several of our Cuban tour group members at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach on Saturday evening...

We were there for the opening of the exhibition of Roberto Fabelo, an artist whose work we had seen and admired at the art museum in Havana--and were treated not only to a comprehensive view of Fabelo's work, but also to three other fine exhibitions: the Mexican artist Marcos Ramirez Erre, a group show entitled Neomexicanism, and another entitled Magical Realism and Modern Oaxaca.  An eye-opening, not to say mind-bending combination.

I can't begin to "review" all four exhibitions here.  What I can say is that I felt a healthy sense of shame for having failed to visit this museum before.  Created in 1996, it's a remarkable institution, devoted to the exhibition of Latin American Art and to educating the public about the art of our neighbors to the south.  It was good to hear (from our fellow tour member Isabel Rojas-Williams: see her post on Viva Cuba!) that the museum will now extend its embrace to the work of Latinos born in Los Angeles--a policy she has been proposing since the start of the museum.  The enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Saturday's grand opening was testament to the flourishing of a culture I had been--to my own loss--only peripherally aware of.   The museum itself is an elegant and capacious building...

... offering generously proportioned gallery spaces for its exhibitions, along with other fine amenities including an intriguing gift shop stocked with books and trinkets relevant to the museum's theme.  It's a cautionary reminder--to myself, and I suspect to many others--of just how insular, self-referential and self-congratulatory our "Anglo" culture has become; and how much we stand to benefit, particularly in Los Angeles, from learning to pay attention to those others that thrive in our midst.

I'm going to be writing more about the Roberto Fabelo exhibition in a while.  Meantime, I was struck both by the quality and the passion evident in the other shows.  Marcos Ramirez Erre's accomplished work in his project room was a conceptually-based critique of the dominant corporate oil economy; it included a powerful row of high-tech, finish-fetish riot police shields created out of oil drum halves, emblazoned with the modified names of oil giants ("SHELL" becomes "HELL"), each installed with an adjacent police night stick.

In the "Neomexicanism" and "Magical Realism" shows, I thought a lot about the difference between our North American visual arts culture, where social criticism seems often to proceed from an intellectual, conceptual position, and the bred-in-the-bone social passion that permeates even the painting of our southern neighbors.  The aesthetic heritage of lofty Modernism--and of those influential mid-20th century critics who preached the self-referential quality of all art, including painting--is far stronger in our culture than in others, which never lost their contact with "the people" they addressed.  There is a sad undercurrent of truth in the assertion that our American art has become elitist, a pleasure reserved for those in the know--and inaccessible to the majority of the population.  A visit to the Museum of Latin American Art is a reminder that artists, too, can have a voice in the much-needed social conversation.  See, for example, this historically revisionist view of Zapata as martyr:

Mónica Castillo (Mexico, b. 1951) Plato de Zapata / Zapata’s Dish, 1987. Oil on canvas. 23 3/4 x 48 in. Nicholas Ingram Collection. Photo by Blue Fire courtesy of Teresa Eckmann

I responded, too, to the artists' willingness to put their visual skills to work in exploring the depths of their own psyche, revealing sometimes darker aspects of their inner lives.  Here's one who does it with whimsical, poignant humor in a "wedding portrait":

Nahum B. Zenil (Mexico) Retrato de boda, 1992 Lithograph, 50/100, 21 x 28 in. Robert Gumbiner Foundation

I'll want to talk about this aspect of Latin art in greater depth when I start to think about the solo exhibition of Fabelo.  Stay tuned.

No comments: