Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post-Latin American Art, featuring dynamic artworks by 16 of the most innovative young artists working in the Americas today, will be on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from August 18 to December 31, 2001. The exhibition explores the artists’ updated use of the complex, dramatic, often extravagant style of the baroque and how this reflects on the contemporary situation in Latin America. In addition, Ultrabaroque addresses the problematic history of the baroque, in particular its relationship to the experience and legacy of colonization, and examines the impact of the current globalization of economies, communications and cultures on the making of art in this hemisphere.
Organized by Elizabeth Armstrong, former senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), San Diego, and now deputy director of art and chief curator at the Orange County Museum of Art, and independent curator Victor Zamudio-Taylor, Ultrabaroque unites artists whose work is well known in their own countries and abroad but in some cases had not been seen in the United States before the fall 2000 premiere of the show at MCA, San Diego. The artists included in the exhibition are Miguel Calderón (Mexico), María Fernanda Cardoso (Colombia/Australia), Rochelle Costi (Brazil), Arturo Duclos (Chile), José Antonio Hernández-Diez (Venezuela/ Spain), Yishai Jusidman (Mexico), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (Spain/United States), Lia Menna Barreto (Brazil), Franco Mondini-Ruiz (United States), Rubén Ortiz Torres (Mexico/United States), Nuno Ramos (Brazil), Valeska Soares (Brazil/United States), Einar and Jamex de la Torre (Mexico/United States), Meyer Vaisman (Venezuela/United States/Spain) and Adriana Varejão (Brazil). The San Francisco presentation of Ultrabaroque has been organized by Janet Bishop, SFMOMA curator of painting and sculpture.
The exhibition, which presents roughly 75 works, encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, video pieces and multimedia works and installations. The ideas and attitudes underpinning the artworks are eclectic, ranging from personal concerns to the exploration of social and political topics, from powerful engagements with regional histories and memories to irreverent critiques of global culture. “The designation ‘ultrabaroque’ is itself a self-conscious (and intentionally playful) hybrid,” notes Armstrong, “We apply it to the art and spirit of this exhibition to suggest a very contemporary, postmodern, exuberant visual culture with inextricable ties to a historical period, style and narrative.” The curators use the term “post-Latin American” to refer to the present moment, when geographical borders and notions of identity are being questioned, loosened and redefined.
Typifying these loosened borders is María Fernanda Cardoso, a Colombian artist now living in Australia (who spent considerable time in the Bay Area over the last decade developing the Cardoso Flea Circus, which debuted at the Exploratorium in 1995). For her installation Cemetery—Vertical Garden/Cementerio—jardin vertical, 1992–99, which recalls the artist’s childhood growing up near a cemetery, Cardoso uses artificial flowers to form large clusters of white lilies that jut out from the wall. “The centrality of death as a theme in both art and vernacular cultures is highlighted in the baroque” and continues into the present, according to Zamudio-Taylor; the work is also a meditation on the pervasive violence that is a constant issue in Cardoso’s native country.
The enfant terrible of contemporary art in Mexico, Miguel Calderón, questions the social function of a museum in his 1998 photographic series Employee of the Month/Empleado del mes. Calderón asked janitorial staff and guards at the National Museum of Art in Mexico City to reenact the compositions of the museum’s 18th- and 19th-century paintings, works they take care of and know by heart. The paintings were brought to life using their subjects’ tools of the trade—brooms, vacuum cleaners and mops. Calderón’s use of real models from unheralded occupations references 17th-century baroque masters such as Michelangelo da Caravaggio and Diego Velázquez, who often employed street people to pose as religious and historical figures; Calderón’s works also draw inspiration from telenovelas (soap operas) and tabloid newspapers. The real bedrooms of actual people are the subject of Brazilian artist Rochelle Costi’s photographic series Rooms—São Paulo/Cuartos—São Paulo, 1998, which deftly captures a cross section of São Paulo society, from the lushly decorated fantasy of a transvestite’s haven in a shantytown to the immediately recognizable jumble of a middle-class teenager’s room.
Both critical and irreverent, Rubén Ortiz Torres’s art details his exploration of the cultural borderlands between Mexico and the United States. For instance, his recent Impure Beauty series of monochromatic paintings are executed in brilliant, hot rod–like colors using metal-flake car paint. He also has collaborated with Tijuana-based painters on a series of works that combine mass media references and 20th-century art icons: Bárt Sanchez, 1991, features a cubist Bart Simpson sporting the stereotypical border accessories of a sombrero and serape. Another of his series spotlights baseball caps—an accessory of choice for urban youth—that Ortiz Torres has altered to add political and historical significance: The hats bear such logos as “L.A. Rodney Kings,” “Malcolm Mex” and “MuLAto.”
In works such as her mixed-media Carpet-Style Tilework in Live Flesh, 1999, Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão uncovers a mass of disturbingly lifelike human organs beneath a rippling painted surface of decorative blue and white Portuguese tiles. “Varejão’s art alludes to the perverse relations between order and disorder, culture and nature, the colonizer and the colonized,” writes Armstrong. Another Brazilian, Lia Menna Barreto, also combines the decorative and the disturbing in a series of works in which she melts plastic dolls, animals and flowers between swathes of flowing silk to form elegant patterns that are equal parts beauty and brutality.
The baroque, “the very term that previously operated to undervalue and marginalize artistic expressions from Latin America,” wryly comments Zamudio-Taylor, can now, in the age of globalization, provide “the key to the interpretation of hybridity in visual culture.” The array of themes, diversity of interests and mixture of media found in Ultrabaroque reflect not only the plurality of international artistic language but also the unique interweaving of cultures, races and voices that characterize the Americas today.
In conjunction with Ultrabaroque, the SFMOMA Education Department will offer daily docent tours and a full slate of public programs. Chief among these will be a major symposium, a teacher’s program, Family Studio activities and talks by the exhibition curators and other experts on Latin American art. Further information on public programs is available at the SFMOMA Web site at www.sfmoma.org or by calling 415/947-1292.
A lavishly illustrated bilingual exhibition catalogue elaborates on Ultrabaroque‘s themes and offers a history of art and culture in Latin America. The 212-page catalogue includes cross-cultural essays addressing historical precedents and contemporary issues raised by the exhibition by curators Armstrong and Zamudio-Taylor as well as Paulo Herkenhoff, director of the XXIV Bienal Internacional São Paulo and adjunct curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Serge Gruzinski, research director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris. The softcover book is available at the SFMOMA MuseumStore for $35.
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Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post–Latin American Art was originated by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Wallace–Reader’s Digest Funds, The Mandell Weiss Charitable Trust, Continental Airlines, Mary Keough Lyman, Christie’s, and Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes. Related programs are funded, in part, by The James Irvine Foundation, the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, and the California Arts Council.
The San Francisco presentation of the exhibition is made possible by Collectors Forum, an auxiliary of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Media sponsor: El Mensajero newspaper.