Places of origin, present day works
Show puts local Latino artists in the spotlight
There’s a terrific face-off in “Close Distance,’’ a group show spotlighting six local Latino artists at the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts. Curator Liz Munsell has placed gaudy, violent, and Pop-inspired paintings, sculptures, and video by Raúl González III (with help from friends La Die and Len White) directly beside Daniela Rivera’s starkly minimalist installation piece.
Munsell says in press material that “Close Distance’’ addresses the connection between the artists’ places of origin and the work they create today. That’s certainly true of González’s installation, which includes “Disco Ball All-Stars,’’ five mannequin heads plastered with fractured mirrors. It references a gruesome incident in 2006 in which masked drug dealers left five severed heads on a dance floor in a bar in Michoacán, Mexico. González’s muscular, cartoonish “Tranquilandía’’ series of paintings relates stories his family in Mexico has shared with him, and features florid, bleakly humorous images of poverty and violence.
Rivera’s piece, “Fatiga material (Material Fatigue)’’ has everything to do with her examination of the state of painting, and little to do, as far as I can see, with her Chilean identity. Beams that look like part of the gallery’s architecture lean precariously on large white canvases that have only traces of the work’s title and a few drips on their surfaces. The paintings have caught the beams in mid-fall. The installation posits that paintings can’t sustain their space in the gallery - or in art. But they’re still propping up those beams. It’s not over yet.
Munsell’s wonderful juxtaposition of González’s fever dream with Rivera’s cool, bare, but still fraught installation hints that this exhibit is as much about conceptual affiliations as cultural ones, and that both are in a constant state of flux. But the rest of the exhibit doesn’t play that out - everything else here examines culture.
Ricardo De Lima’s thoughtful large-screen video projection “Lo que usted vea aquí/ lo que usted haga aquí/ lo que usted oiga aquí/ cuando usted se vaya de aquí/ déjelo que se quede aquí (What you see here/ What you do here/ What you hear here/ When you leave here/ Let it stay here)’’ enables the viewer, by moving, to pause, reverse, and carefully examine meandering footage of familiar but culturally distinct neighborhoods - Dudley Square, Chinatown, and Harvard Square. Vela Phelan’s dark, goofy “Deviant Idols in the Black Divine’’ is an installation of shrines, melding old icons with new. Darth Vader, vinyl LPs, and E.T. show up, as does a furry-headed, black-painted Buddha with a gold infant in his lap. There’s more to “Close Distance,’’ but it feels extraneous alongside the calamitous dialogue between image and idea at the center of the show.
Chronicler of love. . .
Photographer Elliott Erwitt, chronicler of love and comedy in the real world, is still shooting in his 80s. His exhibit at Robert Klein Gallery is by and large a romp. “Paris France (umbrella Jump)’’ (1989) looks like a still from a Gene Kelly movie. With the Eiffel Tower in the background, a man leaps balletically over a puddle toward an embracing couple. He’s in silhouette, trench coat flapping, flying beneath an umbrella. “Bratsk, Siberia, USSR’’ (1967) catches a young bride and groom, seated in chairs along a wall, but they’re not the focus here - both gaze warily at the guy sitting next to them, who stares off into space with a knowing smirk.
There are moments of tension amid all the fun. “North Carolina (segregation fountain)’’ (1950) depicts a water fountain labeled “white’’ beside one labeled “colored.’’ A black man sips from the latter. And I didn’t know what to make of “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (boy with pistol)’’ (1950), of a young, grinning African-American boy aiming a toy gun at himself. In 1950, I expect it was simply a shot of a boy playing. Now it has resonances about violence and disaffection among young African-American men that make it much more complicated.
Stephen Mishol came up as a minimalist abstract painter. Now he’s painting urban landscapes, on view at Ellen Miller Gallery, but they’re still minimalist abstractions. The scenes - mostly of sometimes-truncated elevated roads, with smatterings of streetlights and skyscrapers in the background - are fictional.
He has drawings on view that lay his process bare. In “Rend,’’ Mishol draws several sections of disjointed road and a skyline, detailed on the left, sketchy on the right. More lines and careful curves fan diagrammatically over the page, extending from edges of buildings and arcs in the road. It’s not clear which came first - the diagrammatic traces or the image. This imagined city seems to have sprung from a cosmos of lines and angles that lurk all the time in the atmosphere.
We don’t see them in paintings such as “Mete,’’ in which roads curve under a straight overpass that ends abruptly at a streetlight near the edge of the panel - as does the skyline. The palette is muted, with a white sky and the hazy grays and beiges of a smoggy city. But this is less about color than about the harmonies and dissonances of line and composition.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.