play: German Pérez’s Cat Guide by the Moon.
Treasures: Contemporary Latino and Latin American Art
+ Cultural Center at RPI, through Feb. 28
If, like me, you were disap-
pointed to have missed the show of Latino and Latin American
art at the New York State Museum last fall, there’s another
chance. The same collection of work (minus just three pieces)
has been rehung at the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute and will be on view through the end
To clarify definitions, Latin America comprises all the Spanish-
and Portuguese-speaking countries and territories in the Western
Hemisphere; the term Latino refers to people in the United
States whose roots are in Latin America.
Curated by Laudelina Martinez of the Martinez Gallery in Troy,
this cross-section includes work by artists from Argentina,
Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, New Jersey, New York
state, Puerto Rico and Texas. All the works (paintings, prints
and photographs) are two-dimensional.
Martinez has a good eye and clearly enjoys art with plenty
of gusto. She also has eclectic taste, not only in terms of
the variety of media included, but across many genres. In
this comfortably crowded installation, abstraction meets satire,
photorealism rubs elbows with symbolism, and straight photography
tosses secrets back and forth with surrealism.
Unifying factors include a strong sense of color and references
to many of the traditions in Latin American art. But this
show would be equally valid without considering those traditions:
Virtually all the work reveals a solid foundation in European
academic artistic training, and the artists all exhibit strong
Equally, one can discern many specific European and American
influences upon the work here: I was reminded of artists such
as Chagall, O’Keeffe, Tápies, Dubuffet, Malevich, and the
Bechers, among others. But don’t take this as a criticism—like
the work in this show, all excellent art reveals influences
and then goes on from there to transcend mere imitation.
A number of these artists boast impressive credentials; it
would be a fun exercise to try to guess which are the heavy
hitters and which the up-and-
comers without referring to biographical information first.
If you were to do that, I’ll wager that Alberto Mijangos would
be one of your picks for heavy hitters—and you’d be right.
This Mexican abstract painter has both the chops and the recognition
(“collected by American philanthropists and Mexican industrialists”—and
the reverse as well?); his four paintings shown here reveal
a master in top form.
All dated 2001, they are consistent, yet strikingly individual:
One distills its composition down to nearly naught but a black
square in a gray field; another activates the picture plane
with many subtle dashes of color; still another presents a
low landscape presided over by two hovering black shapes.
Among the new discoveries, Roxanna Melendez (of New York by
way of Puerto Rico) shows great promise. Her figurative paintings
combine Fauvist color with a fantasy element to create an
unabashedly exuberant look at life’s simple moments. Fans
of local artist Lori Lawrence may notice an affinity in Melendez’s
use of line, gesture and expressive color.
Another painter in the show who exhibits almost childlike
glee is German Pérez, a Dominican with a wide international
following. His three offerings are all circular and heavily
textured; their neon colors and primitive style evoke the
mystery and joy of the tropics while hinting at historical
Pérez operates on different levels at once: His work could
illustrate a children’s book, but it also has the depth to
hold an adult’s attention.
There are several artists in this show who make specific references
to Latin music. The best among them is Armando Soto, a “Newyorican”
who now lives in Troy. His 2002 canvas El Sol Brilla: Tribute
to Tito Puente combines an impeccable sense of color and
design with a heartfelt sense of loss to create a worthy memorial
for the recently departed king of Puerto Rican bandleaders.
Anthony Montes, a Cuban now living in Saratoga Springs, uses
fashioned graphic style to make nostalgia-tinged paintings
of musical venues. His Cuchifritos celebrates guilty-pleasure
food items alongside the healthier joy of conga drumming;
En El Punto is a portrait of an elegant percussionist
striking a cowbell with dignity and concentration.
Cesar Chelala, one of the artists in the show with another
profession (medicine), presents a trio of photographs in which
street musicians hover at the edges of deep shadows in the
central image. On either side are brightly hued, geometric
studies of vernacular architecture.
Architecture also informs Mercedes Guerric’s photographic
triptych from the Blue Series. A Puerto Rican professor
of architecture who has worked in preservation, Guerric slyly
raises questions of seeing, space and architectural history
by capturing a certain shade of blue on the side of a half-timber
house, then repeating it in the sky near a medieval fortress.
Personal histories seem to be the subject of work by Puerto
Rican painter Angel Rodriguez Diaz and Mexican-American photographer
Kathy Vargas, both of whom live in Texas.
Diaz evokes myth and ritual in two masterful paintings that
combine pattern, dream imagery and very careful rendering
to make strong statements about change. Vargas also uses pattern
in her hand-colored black-and-white prints that impart an
aura of the mystical to simple objects such as a broken chair
and a white dress.
Layered images of oversize orchids by Jaime Arredondo and
biting prints by Cruz Ortiz are also well-realized. Only Nora
Quintero’s solitary mixed-media painting falls short of the
high standard set by the other work on view.
It should be noted that the C+CC—a Catholic church supported
by the independent Rensselaer Newman Foundation that also
hosts a Buddhist meditation group and provides a venue for
music, theater, poetry and art—has recently come under the
direction of Metroland contributor J. Eric Smith. Smith
has put together a broad slate of events for the coming months
and is seeking more artists, writers and performers for this
and subsequent seasons.
The Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer is located on Burdett
Avenue in the midst of the RPI campus; gallery hours are 9
AM to 4 PM, Monday-Friday, or by appointment at 274-7793.