Cultural connections of Latino art


The 500th anniversary of Columbus' "discovery" of America has been the occasion for more than visits by reproductions of his three ships. Some art exhibits have looked at the world of 1492, while others have showcased the cross-cultural influences found in today's Latino art. It's safe to say that as the 1990s progress, and as the Latino proportion of the U.S. population increases, the art world will pay even more attention to Latino art.

On the local front, an exhibit titled "Approaching the Quincentenary: Latino Art 1982-1992," running at Goucher College through Oct. 12, presents 10 artists of Cuban or Puerto Rican extraction living on the East Coast. Curated by Jose Rodeiro, an artist and associate professor of art at Frostburg State University, this touring exhibit does a pretty good job of showing how these artists balance their Latino artistic heritage with the more Eurocentric modernist tradition.

And if you really get hooked on making some of those cultural connections, there is extra credit to be had by heading to Washington, where an exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum through Sept. 7, "Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers," impressively deals with an earlier generation of artists -- Diego Rivera, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Wilfredo Lam and Matta -- who turned modernism to their own purposes.

The Goucher exhibit often seems at its best when it's most direct. Arturo Bassols, for instance, makes wood sculptures of a simplicity that is both folkloric and reductively modernist. "La Sagrada Familia" is a shrine-like setting for an altar topped by statues of Roman Catholic saints. The accompanying tape loop of Afro-Caribbean music and chants fills our ears with the sounds of Santeria, the Cuban folk religion combining elements of both Catholicism and African religions. The same artist's "Los Sonidos de la Selva" is like a tropical jungle stage set, and its tape loop features enough rushing water and crying animals to prompt rain forest musings.

Also playing directly on his background -- though in a pointedly satiric rather than reverential manner -- is Tomas Marais, whose painting of Fidel Castro presents the dictator as a cloven-hoofed, horselike creature standing on a red plain that includes Kremlin-evocative domes in the distance.

Marais also has four collages playing comic riffs on the iconic image of the Mona Lisa. Although it's a silly surreal treat to see her wearing a red Chinese armband or a wedding dress, Dada and Pop artists have sent up the Mona Lisa for so many decades that this latest spoof seems merely glib.

The surreal tendency found in so much Latino writing and artwork is more effectively deployed by Jose Marin in such pieces as a small untitled painting of a tongue with two nails driven into it. There are both religious and political implications to such a grotesque little picture. Carrying a similar political charge is the same artist's print "Three Simple Stories," which incorporates a nocturnal image of a raft on a tropical shore. Yes, the artist was born in Cuba.

Most of the abstraction-oriented art in this show isn't nearly as interesting, but a particularly lively example is the late Carlos Alfonzo's gouache on paper "Ballet I (Study)." Its highly animated, arcing lines impose a sense of form over varying tonalities of black, white and gray.

Latino Art

What: "Approaching the Quincentenary: Latino Art 1982-1992"

Where: Goucher College, Towson.

When: Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., also evenings and weekends when events are held in Kraushaar Auditorium, through Oct. 12. There is a slide lecture and reception at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 in Merrick Hall.

Call: (410) 337-6116.

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