Mexican Combos

Mexico's influence is on display at the CVA and the Museo.

A principal leitmotif of Colorado's history is the influence of Mexican culture. Though not equal in legend and lore to the cowboys and Indians, it has been more enduring. Mexican explorers coined the state's name, and the southern half was actually once a part of Mexico. Thus Mexican-Americans have been a major component of the state's population since way before there was even a state.

Colorado may be pretty far from old Mexico now, but with New Mexico right at our doorstep, the connections have never been more pronounced -- despite Tom Tancredo's wishful thinking.

The Borderlands exhibit at the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts addresses this relationship, combining artists from the Southwest (primarily Colorado) with their Mexican counterparts.

"A Fairy Tale," by Carlos Frésquez, mixed media.
"A Fairy Tale," by Carlos Frésquez, mixed media.
"Bird Walking," by Juan Soriano, cast bronze.
"Bird Walking," by Juan Soriano, cast bronze.


Through October 18
Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street

Miradas del Arte Mexicano A Vision of Mexican Art
Through November 29
Museo de las Amricas, 861 Santa Fe Drive

The show is an enlarged version of another Borderlands that was initially presented in Russia. Organized by University of Colorado art professor George Rivera, the original exhibit was a comparison of Russian and American art. "George's show gave me a good beginning," says CVA director Kathy Andrews, who put together Borderlands. "I think what we did was a great way to further George's idea about building bridges between the U.S. and other countries."

Andrews pared down the Rivera show, editing out the Russian pieces and then expanding Borderlands, adding several installations and an impressive section devoted to the legendary Luis Jiménez. The Jiménez portion of the show is virtually a stand-alone solo, and it is definitely the most notable aspect of this otherwise extremely uneven and unfocused exhibit. (Interestingly, considering the show's topic, Jiménez, who now lives in New Mexico, was born in Texas to parents who were illegal Mexican immigrants.)

"One of my goals is to bring national artists here, and I called Luis Jiménez -- he had a single piece in George's show -- and asked if he was interested, and he was," says Andrews. "He sent me several new works, both on the border theme and on the DIA theme," she adds, referring to the not-yet-completed "Denver Mustang," a monumental horse sculpture to be installed at Denver International Airport. "There's a lot of interest in the DIA piece." A tremendous understatement.

The interest -- maybe "concern" is a better word -- is that even though the sculpture was commissioned a decade ago, it's still nowhere to be seen -- except in preliminary drawings and prints included in Borderlands. "Denver Mustang" was first conceived as a thirty-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture of a rearing blue horse with orange eyes -- an example of shameless pandering by the Broncomaniacs who selected the art at DIA. It was to be installed outside Jeppesen Terminal, where, it's easy to imagine, it would look wonderful against the backdrop of that white-tent roof. Sadly, we'll just have to consign this image to our imaginations, because now the sculpture (if it ever gets here) will be smaller than planned and installed inside the terminal.

The most important pieces on display related to "Denver Mustang" are two huge, majestic drawings -- "Head #1: Working drawing for 'Denver Mustang'" and "Quarter scale drawing for the 'Denver Mustang'" -- that date back to the original commission. Other "Denver Mustang" works here are two lithographs, one from 1997 and the other from 2003 -- proof, I guess, that the project is still on Jiménez's mind.

Andrews supplemented the prints with two marvelous sculptures borrowed from local private collections that, although small, are nonetheless signature Jiménez. The first is "Progress II," a 1981 polyester-resin sculpture of a mounted vaquero roping a steer; the second, "Jack Rabbit," is a 1977 polyester-resin piece depicting a rabbit leaping out of a large cactus. Both sculptures date back to Jiménez's classic period and are glossy and colorful, finished more like lowrider muscle cars than traditional sculptures. Their inclusion informs viewers about the tactile qualities of Jiménez's sculptures and better enables us to envision his intentions for "Denver Mustang."

The Jiménez pieces, which occupy an entire gallery at the CVA, dominate Borderlands and are clearly its main attribute. However, there are a few other outstanding works, though the remaining artists are represented only by single examples.

One of these is "A Fairy Tale," a mixed-media piece from 2001 by Denver's Carlos Frésquez, one of the area's most accomplished artists. Frésquez has made a two-decades-long career out of mixing images from Mexico and the United States, and in the neo-pop "Fairy Tale," he sets the cartoon characters George and Jane Jetson against a map of the world with caption balloons of George speaking Spanish and Jane speaking English. While the piece could be characterized as embracing a hands-across-the-border sentiment, the title makes it ironic.

Closely related to the Frésquez is "Borderland," an acrylic on plywood from 2001 by Boulder artist Ricky Armendariz. Obviously custom-made for the Rivera version of the show, "Borderland" looks like an old billboard and brings to mind the well-known work of former Denver artist Gary Sweeney, of "America, Why I Love Her" fame (the two U.S. map murals at DIA). In the Armendariz, Mexican and American subjects see each other as "foreign," but the overall perspective is decidedly Mexican, with an endearing drawing of a Latina juxtaposed with a cruel caricature of a gringo.

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