Friday, June 21, 2013

El Museo’s Bienal 2013: HERE IS WHERE WE JUMP

Detail from A Dios (2012) by Edgar Serrano

PL and I visited El Museo del Barrio yesterday to see its 7th biennal show. I've been to the museum before, to see a show about the artistic connections between Puerto Rico and New York, but hadn't seen a biennal there. 37 emerging Latino and Latin Americans who live and work in the New York metropolitan area contributed works. As expected, video works and installation pieces dominated, most of which were thin in conception and casual in execution. To display one's process does not necessarily make a successful artwork. The aesthetics by and large felt derivative. But how does one surmount the problem of coming late to the scene?

One exceptional installation was that of Hector Arce-Espasas, who is Puerto Rican. On top of haphazardly stacked crates stood ceramic jugs made in the shape of pineapples. On the wall was a blown-up reproduction of George I presented with a pineapple by his gardener. Most of the jugs were cracked or broken, showing the effect of their overseas transportation. The installation looked authoritative as a meditation on colonialism and migration. I thought that the crates should look as worn-out as the jugs. They were too clean and looked new. Nevertheless, through the discriminating choice and informed arrangement of symbolic objects, Arce-Espasas created a piece that repaid looking and thinking. The sweat and smell of the dock  had been transformed into a work of art.

Another piece works by capturing a small but significant gesture. Chilean artist Julia San Martin painted  a number of small canvases in which a little girl peered fearfully around the corner of the house. The action, so familiar, even domestic, spoke powerfully of living with violence and terror under a dictatorship. The figures and the houses were never detailed, but quick brushstrokes of single colors gave them a psychological acuity and an emotional impact.

The third approach was to create an anthology of all earlier styles. Edgar Serrano did that successfully in his nostalgic farewell A Dios (2012). The work comprised 24 (?) squarish paintings of the same size, but they evoked earlier styles--figurative and abstract, baroque and minimalist, realist and surrealist--in depicting family, love, sex and art. It was an approach designed to show that one has come of age, but it does not hint at where one may go next.

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