Sunny conditions for Latin American art exhibit

The painterly colors are as bright as a tropical sun in some of the artwork in the "Contemporary Latin American Art Exhibition" at the Columbia Art Center. Although the subject matter of all four artists tends to be puzzling, it's easy to enjoy their otherwise baffling imagery.

The two most colorful artists in this exhibit curated by Marcel Wah are Jose Acosta and Jacqueline Matute.

Acosta's acrylic and mixed media paintings are densely conceived compositions in which humanoid figures, natural references and pure bursts of color hold your attention.

A few of his paintings are relatively easy to interpret, such as "Storm," in which the predominant blue and gray tones establish the stormy mood; there also are storm-tossed waves and oversized raindrops to emphasize those atmospheric conditions. Other paintings are more difficult to pin down in terms of meaning, such as "Once Upon a Time," with its single-eyed humanoids sharing pictorial space with a sun-evocative yellow orb.

Acosta taps into the surrealist tradition here, because his visually busy paintings seem like they're an accumulation of objects and emotions culled from the subconscious. In that respect, trying to reduce them to a single interpretation might not be the best approach to paintings that are best appreciated in terms of painterly vigor.

Matute's oil paintings typically have larger and fewer figures, but they can be just as mysterious. In "Broken Heart," a seated nude woman has a scar on her chest. There is no need to wonder how she got that scar, because she's holding her own detached heart in her hands. She's also surrounded by clown-attired dolls, which add a whimsical touch to what might seem a rather ghoulish image. This fantasized female portrait will remind you of surrealist paintings by iconic Latin American artist Frida Kahlo.

Potentially disturbing imagery comes across as playful in Matute's paintings. "Justice" features two rooster-headed human boxers squaring off in the ring. A packed audience comprised of chickens has tossed dollar bills into the ring. This boisterous crowd is following the punches so closely that it's primed to shout fowl, er, foul if the boxers resort to illegal tactics.

Matute ventures into the just plain silly with her painting "Day in the Park," whose four canine subjects enjoy a picnic in which the blanket and food seem designed for people and not dogs. The composition recalls a famous 19th-century painting, Manet's "Le dejeuner sur l'herbe," which has been spoofed by other artists over the years.

The remaining two artists have at least two things in common: their smaller-scaled artwork is subdued in coloration, and they're sisters. Scherezade Garcia has mixed media works on paper that have charcoal-drawn faces partially obscuring such old photographic images as a 1908 shot of soldiers parading at a fort in New York harbor. The past is nearly concealed by such figurative layering.

Her sister, Iliana Garcia, has monoprints in which beach chairs, the sea and words drawn in the sand establish a human presence without ever directly depicting people. A day at this beach seems rather ominous.

The "Contemporary Latin American Art Exhibition" runs through Sept. 30 at the Columbia Art Center, 5100 Foreland Garth in the Long Reach Village Center in Columbia. There is a reception Saturday, Sept. 15, 3- 5 p.m. Call 410-730-0075 or go to

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