“Arte eXtraordinario” at the Crocker Art Museum is a must-see show of recent acquisitions, both gifts and purchases, by a group of strong artists who have roots in Spanish-speaking cultures of the Americas.
The title of the show refers to “Latinx,” a gender-neutral term for those of Latin American descent that is now preferred by many younger artists and academics.
Addressing themes that relate to history, politics, social activism, religion, pre-Columbian cultures and contemporary life, the show ranges from Alfredo Zalce’s powerful wood engraving of Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata done in 1940 to Ramiro Gomez’s “Clara Cleaning,” 2015, a satire of Jeff Koons’ cynical postmodern appropriations of Hoover vacuum cleaners and stereotypes of Latin American domestic workers.
With a few exceptions, among them Rufino Tamayo’s richly textured lithograph of an abstract figure on a purple ground circa 1980 and Graciela Iturbide’s stunning 1990 gelatin silver photograph of a woman’s hand hovering over a carefully arranged bed of small fish in Oaxacan outdoor market, most of the artists and works included in the show are new to me.
Among the compelling pieces in the exhibition is “Panther Yellow,” 2008, a mixed-media work on a rusty sheet of scrap metal once used as an advertising sign for steel pipe. Done by Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, who worked under the collaborative name “Date Farmer,” it brings together images of a sinister black panther, a Playboy Bunny sticker and an Alcoholics Anonymous self-help card.
I was also drawn to a pair of potent political and social commentaries by Juan Carlos Quintana. His ink and acrylic work on canvas paper, “Celebrating Hubris with Hijinx,” 2017, gives us a dark dystopian scene that blends black humor and savage social commentary about the “arrogance, incompetence, violence, and racism” of the current political scene through imagery drawn from what he calls the rich “gumbo” of African, European and Native American cultures found in Louisiana where he grew up.
Lighter in spirit, though still disquieting, is his quirky oil painting, “Gogo Days Are Over, Enjoy the Party While it Lasts,” 2010, which includes a traditional memento mori skull and comic figures that remind me of those in some of Roy DeForest’s “nut art” scenarios and William T. Wylie’s wry funk narratives but are completely Quintana’s own. This dynamic composition conveys the feverish “If You’re on the Titanic, You might As Well Go First Class” spirit of difficult times and shares a kindredness with the mordant prints of Jose Guadalupe Posada and the bizarre figures of James Ensor’s early expressionistic works.
Titled “Anima, Silhueta de Cohetes (Fireworks Piece), from Silhueta Works in Mexico, 1976,” Ana Mendieta’s C-Print documents a performance piece she did near Oaxaca that gives us an iconic image of an abstracted female form delineated by exploding fireworks. The title “Anima” calls up associations with Carl Jung’s archetype of the strong feminine force within us, a frequent theme of her works.
Kikuli Velarde uses her own image to explore her indigenous ancestry in works from her “Plunder Me, Baby” series done in 2006-2007. Imposing her own face on ceramic sculptures based on clay figures from ancient Peruvian cultures, such as the Moche and Nazca, she seeks to portray various social ills such as the inequality of women and the racial, social and economic inequities of colonialism that still affect people of indigenous ancestry.
That’s quite a mouthful that doesn’t convey the cheeky charm and sneaky social criticism of these squat terra cotta personages with pre-Columbian bodies and contemporary faces.
“Don’t Look Back,” 1991, by Sam Hernandez, is a striking large sculpture made of redwood, oak, mango, resin and oil pigments that offers a new take on the Orpheus-Eurydice myth that wanders up and out like a surreal lyric to a Bob Dylan song. It’s a very strong, formally intriguing work, as is Estelle Chavez’s slightly surreal, hard-edged, meticulously executed oil on panel painting, “Still Life Reflections,” 1965, which calls up associations with the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi and Gordon Cook.
With works that range widely in style from Carlos Almaraz’s splashy Monet-like oil painting, “Echo Park Lake No. 1,” to Matt Gonzales’ elegant, Schwitters-inspired, found paper collage, “Quince-yellow, outside,” this is a revelatory show that introduces new artists and new directions in work by artists of Latin and Native American heritage to the Crocker.
If you go
What: Arte Extraordinario: Recent Acquisitions
Where: Crocker Art Museum, 216 O St.
When: through March 24. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday
Admission: $12-$6, free for Crocker members and children 5 and younger; every third Sunday of the month is “Pay What You Wish Sunday.”
Info: (916) 808-7000. www.crockerart.org