Latin American Art in the Bronx

The Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos is once again hosting a terrific exhibit, the 5th Bronx Latin American Art Bienal/Biennial.  Featuring about 20 works by artists from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Cuba,Venezuela and Peru, this compact show offers a variety of styles and media.  Let me give you a few of my favorites:

The Dog House by Sandra Mack-Valencia

The Dog House by Sandra Mack-Valencia

Sandra Mack-Valencia, who hails from Colombia, has three paintings on wood panels which revolve around the theme of “home”, especially the American dream of home ownership vs. the reality, so in all three pieces you’ll find homes floating in a cloud-like atmosphere.  In the foreground of The Dog House, a stack of gold and red houses run up the middle – underneath the top house, there’s a small picture of an elderly couple –  and in the background small doghouses are scattered about. While the painting could be a riff on the expression, “to be in the doghouse” the artist told me that perhaps something else is going on – she wants the viewer to make their own interpretation.

El Creador, by Freddy Rodriguez

El Creador, by Freddy Rodriguez

Freddy Rodriguez,   who hails from the Dominican Republic, is showing two pieces, both acrylic on canvas.  In El Creador, vibrant patches of bright aqua, yellow and white burst from a black background, on which he’s painted, in Spanish, a quote from the Argentinean writer Julio Cortazar (Hopscotch) “The Creator is always forging himself” which mirrors Rodriguez’ own philosophy that work always needs to change, whether in technique or subject matter. “And,” Freddy added, “it should have a sense of humor”.

Theories of Freedom: Golden Landscape, by Scherezade Garcia

Theories of Freedom: Golden Landscape, by Scherezade Garcia

Theories of Freedom: Golden Landscape by Scherezade Garcia (Dominican Republic)   is a powerful wall installation composed of inner tubes painted gold and blue, some bearing airline luggage identification tags (often decorated with an image of the Statue of Liberty) and tied together with plastic safety ties, that speaks clearly to migration – both historic and current – by those fortunate enough to fly and those forced to flee on rubber rafts, as well as the enslaved people who were bound and forced to migrate.

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

The rear space of the gallery is given over to Puerto Rican artist Jose Morales’ commanding installation, Puente/Socorro (which means Bridge/Help), which is in two parts:  the above structure and…

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

Puente / Socorro by Jose Morales

on the walls, a series of cross-hatched panels, each with one letter of the word Socorro inscribed on their surface, recalling the scratches that prisoners leave on their cell walls.

You can find more images of the show on my Instagram feed.  Better yet, be sure to get up to the Longwood Art Gallery@Hostos before this fabulous show closes on December 7th!

Spotlight on MEXICO!

Benito Pablo Juárez Garcia

Benito Pablo Juárez Garcia

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, this week, we shine the spotlight on Mexico.  Not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexican army over the invading French forces of Napoleon III, in a battle that took place on the outskirts of Puebla on May 5th 1862. The Mexican soldiers were under the command of Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first indigenous president.

To find out more about Mexican visual and performing artists in New York take a look at the website of the Mexican Cultural Institute New York   You might also want to visit their current show:  Indomitable: Contemporary Photography from Chiapas   This exhibition presents an overview of Chiapas’ contemporary photography through images captured by young artists in search of new paths and answers. You’ll find a wide array of styles in this show of about 40 photographs.

At The Americas Society through June 18th, you can see the site-specific installation Hemispheres:  A Labyrinth Sketchbook by Silvia Gruner  (Mexico City, 1959) who significantly contributed to the creation of a distinct vocabulary for Mexican contemporary art exploring the relationship between identity and the collective.   

This year the Lark Theatre   will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of their Mexico/US Playwright Exchange   

The Jose Limón Dance Company celebrates its 70th anniversary this year!  And the Limón School offers classes, workshops and training programs.

Dzul Dance fuses dance with aerial arts, contortion and acrobatics as a means to communicate indigenous pre- Hispanic, Mexican and Latin culture, and create bridges between contemporary art and historical heritage.

Through May 21st you can see Javier Dzul’s choreography in Cocoa Díos, a high-energy show of transported rituals, music, song and dance – choreography by Javier Dzul – that tells the ancient Mesoamerican legend of how chocolate came to earth. Performances are simultaneously in Spanish and English.  I haven’t yet seen it, but friends have highly recommended this show.

Lotería Perfoming Arts is a sponsored project at Artspire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts, dedicated to promote original collaborations between Mexican and American artists through performances and educational programs

Works by Mexican playwrights and artists are regularly featured at the Repertorio Espanol  , the Hispanic Society  (see the earthenware from Puebla in its collection) and El Museo del Barrio 

Since 2008, Mexican jazz singer Magos Herrera  has been living in NYC. Catch her performances when she’s in town!

Let me also give a shout out to the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, NE Chapter here in NYC, which has been very active bridging the business communities of the US and Mexico.

The Illusive Eye – a Must See!

detail, Konvex rot-gelb-weis, Almir Mavignier

detail, Konvex rot-gelb-weis, Almir Mavignier

If the current exhibit at El Museo del Barrio   isn’t on your must-see list, put it there.  At the top.  The Illusive Eye  is a wonderful exhibit of art designed to fool the eye but also elicit a response from the viewer, who has to both look a bit deeper and step back to see what is really there and what is illusion.  The works are from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, with most from the 1960’s when interest in kinetic and Op art was at its peak.  In some ways this exhibit is a retort to MOMA’s groundbreaking 1965 show, The Responsive Eye.   El Museo’s exhibit offers an alternative view of kinetic and Op art by prominently featuring Latin American artists, – and many women –  and by embracing its esoteric roots

in Egyptian and Theosophical mysticism, as opposed to treating Impressionism as optical art’s jumping off point.  Even if you don’t particularly like Op art, this show is worth a visit, and may make you reconsider. (Be sure to pick up the brochure for this exhibit at the ticket desk)

The Illusive Eye showcases Latin American artists, especially those from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela,  alongside works by their European and US counterparts, including international luminaries such as Joseph Albers and Frank Stella who were also in the MOMA show.  For me it was the first time I encountered the work of many of these artists.

The show is divided into several sections, each designed to illustrate a feature of op-art:  Generative Paintings, Parallax Apparitions, Optical Sublime, Mandalas and Dervishes, and Kinetic Cascade. All of the works have a three dimensional feel; many are in fact three dimensional, composed of different layers (and sometimes different materials) that are separated from each other, creating the illusion of movement.  In some cases, like mobiles, it is the art that also performs the movement.

With all of these works, your perception of what you see changes as you move in front of and alongside a given piece. And they demand that you also consider the spaces in between.  Here are some of my favorites:

Convex red-yellow-white by Almir Mavignier (Brazil) is a long, slender strip of raised dots of red, yellow, blue and white paint on a black background – by varying the size and spacing of the dots, Mavignier creates the illusion of undulating vertical movement.

detail, 125 Colors, Tony Bechara

detail, 125 Colors, Tony Bechara

125 Colors by Tony Bechara (Puerto Rico) was painted in 1979, but its hand-painted small squares of primary and secondary colors could be seen as prescient, an analog version of digital pixels.

Louis Tomasello’s (Argentina) Atmosphère chromoplastique no 281 is composed of small angled cubes that stand away from the backing, and are painted white on the top and orange on the underside.  Facing different directions, they shift light and shadow, creating the illusion of movement and squares within squares through reflections of colored light. 

Right by it is Variations on the Square, by French artist Jean-Pierre Yvaral, who manipulates black and white paint to create the illusion of squares rising from the center of the canvas.  Seeing these two together provides a master class in how different materials can be manipulated to create a similar effect.

Six Forms in Two Circumferences, Eduardo Mac Entyre

Six Forms in Two Circumferences, Eduardo Mac Entyre

The interlocking delicate red circles and slow color fade outs of Six Forms in Two Circumferences by Eduardo Mac Entyre (Argentina) conspire to create an upside-down heart whose center radiates white light, drawing you in to contemplate its intensity.  Equal in intensity is his Pintura Generative Transparencias; you’ll find yourself drawn in to the infinity symbol created by the delicate lines of the interlocking concentric circles.

Right by it there’s a fabulous painting, M1, by Wojciech Fangor (Poland) of luminous blue and brown concentric circles, whose center is pure white heat.   

When you come to Caio Fonesca’s Blue Invention, you won’t be surprised to read on the wall label that it has a musical inspiration, Bach’s short two piece compositions (inventions); the blue and white-ish S shapes imitate and balance each other, while seemingly moving at different speeds.

Nebula, Ernesto Briel

Nebula, Ernesto Briel

Ernesto Briel (Cuba) has two lovely intricate pen and ink spiral compositions, Nebulosa and Rupture of the Circle, that move beyond classical op art in the way they seem to pulse and spin. 

Be sure to stop at Equilibrio by Miguel Angel Vidal (Argentina); the delicate white net-like “bow tie” that overlays the four pair of overlapping blue triangles makes the painting seem to move in a dizzying fashion

Antonio Asis, “8 White Circles, 8 Black Circles” consists of a metal grill of large punched holes placed a few inches in front of 8 squares with either black or white small circles; the size and place of the resulting image are a function of where you’re standing.

The Nine Mobile Circles by Ivan Contreras Brunet (Chile) seem to change color as they move, and sometimes not all nine are visible, depending on your vantage point.

Untitled, Mario Carreño

Untitled, Mario Carreño

Mario Carreño (Chile) is represented by two pieces, both Untitled, which are formal abstract compositions deftly employing a limited palate of greens and rusts.

Towards the end of the exhibit, in a darkened semi-enclosed space, you’ll find the show-stopper:  Spazio Ad Attivazione Cinetica 6B, by Marina Appolonio (Italy).  Covering the floor, this spiral of lines of varying widths and distances creates the feeling of a surface that moves and has three dimensions; walk slowly around it, as it really can make you dizzy!

Overall, this show will make you appreciate anew (or at least reconsider) optical and kinetic art by providing a deeper and different point of reference.  The Illusive Eye  runs through May 21st.

More images are on my Instagram feed 

Latin American Classic

La Catrina String Quartet  & Richard Boukas- OLG Dec 5, 2015

La Catrina String Quartet & Richard Boukas- OLG Dec 5, 2015

You can find some of the best music in places you’d never think of.  That’s what I did when I went to a concert earlier this mont at Our Lady of Guadeloupe Church on 14th Street.  The evening’s performance featured the grammy award winning La Catrina String Quartet (LCSQ)  , whose members all hail from Latin America:  Daniel Vega-Albela (Mexico), Jorge Martinez-Rios (Mexico), Simon Gollo (Venezuela, and Jorge Espinoza (Chile).  In addition to playing new works by living composers throughout the Americas, LCSQ also programs existing Latin American works that are rarely performed, and interprets classical, romantic and twentieth century masterpieces.  I had gone to hear the quartet play their version of Chorizinho, by the American composer Richard Boukas (who’s also one of my teachers); it was absolutely delightful; other highlights for me were Gavota by Manuel Ponce, Wapango, by Paquito de Rivera and the Suite del Angel by Astor Piazzolla. 

LCSQ is the string quartet-in-residence at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, where they also conduct outreach programs.  They haven’t announced any NYC dates for 2016, but you should keep an eye on their calendar, and catch them the next time they’re in the Big Apple, or you’re in a city where they’re performing!

Iberian and Latin American Treasures

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, Francisco de Goya, 1797

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, Francisco de Goya, 1797

Where can you find 3 Goya’s, 4 El Greco’s and 3 Velazquez’ under the same roof?  If you said the Hispanic Society of America, you’d be right on the money.  Tucked away in Washington Heights, the Society  – which is both a museum and a library – houses one of the more important collections of books, paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics and textiles from Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

 

Detail of Castille, The Bread Eaters, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Detail of Castille, The Bread Eaters, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

On the first two floors, you’ll find not only paintings by the aforementioned masters, but other  works from Spain’s Golden Age (1550-1700) – think Jusepe de Ribera, Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The19th and early 20th centuries are also well represented:   one room is devoted entirely to “The Provinces of Spain,” 14 large scale canvases by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, depicting the country’s regional costumes and cultures.

 

Drop-front secretary, Spain, 1630

Drop-front secretary, Spain, 1630

 

There are also several fine examples of altars, statuary and tombs of various aristocrats and bishops in Gothic and Renaissances styles with intricate grotesqueries or decorative motifs.   As you go through the main gallery, take a close look at the handsomely decorated writing cabinets.  

   

Tin-glazed earthenware plate with cuerda seca decoration, Seville ca. 1500

Tin-glazed earthenware plate with cuerda seca decoration, Seville ca. 1500

On the second floor, off the main galleries I came across an amazing collection of ceramics, most of which seem to have been made between 1500 and 1800:  soft-paste porcelain from the Royal workshop in Alcora, Spain, and tin-glazed earthenware tiles, vases, bowls and plates from Spain, Portugal and Mexico.  There was also a small collection of blown-glass drinking vessels from the same period.

The Hispanic Society was founded in 1904 by Archer Milton Huntington a noted scholar and philanthropist, whose collection of Spanish manuscripts, decorative arts and paintings underpins the organization.  In addition to commissioning the complex where the Society is housed, Huntington also sponsored archaeological expeditions in Spain and Latin America. 

The building, which dates from 1908, is undergoing renovation, so there were parts of the collection I couldn’t see.  However, I would recommend that you pay a visit, because what’s on view is worth the trip.  You’ll also be able to spend as much time as you want with each piece;  on my last visit, there were only a handful of other people.  Hopefully the Society’s profile will be significantly raised, now that Philippe de Montebello , former director of the Metropolitan Museum, is it’s Chairman.

El Cid, by Anna Hyatt Huntington

El Cid, by Anna Hyatt Huntington

The Hispanic Society , located at Audubon Terrace (Broadway between 155th & 156th Streets) occupies one part of a complex that also houses Boricua College  and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.     Be sure to linger a bit in the courtyard to admire the statue of El Cid and the reliefs by Anna Hyatt Huntington that adorn these buildings.

On the last Saturday of each month, the Society hosts Cuéntame un cuadris, an educational program offered in Spanish at the Hispanic Society for families and children from 5 to 14 years old.  You can find more information here