Nuevo and Improved

Chicano artists go beyond their identities in an important show at the CVA.

Less successful -- even if they better qualify as being post-Chicano -- are the DVD projection and digital photos by Juan Ramos of Texas that are installed in a corner of the back space. As far as I could tell, there is nothing special about these combination live-action and animation pieces. They really reminded me of the kind of thing people do when they are still in art school.

It's really hard to make Illinois artist Diana Guerrero-Macia's two marvelous neo-pop compositions made of stitched felt fit into the post-Chicano theme, but they're so good, who cares? "Never Mind the Twist" is composed of three separate wooden panels covered in the fabric. One, in pink, green and black, is based on a well-known Sex Pistols album cover; another, in black and yellow, references a Twist album cover; and in between is a panel covered with a woven checkerboard pattern in black and white trimmed out in pink. For "Punk Painting," Guerrero-Macia created what looks like a poster that reads "A bulletproof soldier high on rebellion made you." These Guerrero-Macia felt-and-wood "paintings" have a lot of tactile appeal and are among the best pieces in the show.

Hanging adjacent to these works is the least post-Chicano piece included -- unless it's supposed to remind the viewer of the hood of a lowrider -- California artist Rubén Ortiz Torres's monochrome, titled "New Gold Dream." The urethane-on-aluminum piece is done in an otherworldly shade of metallic olive, and it is fabulous. Too bad it's been hung in the absolute worst spot, at the center.

"Tiempo Trippin'," by Carlos Frésquez, altered ready-
made.
"Tiempo Trippin'," by Carlos Frésquez, altered ready- made.
"Never Mind the Twist," by Diana Guerrero-Macia, 
fabric on wood.
"Never Mind the Twist," by Diana Guerrero-Macia, fabric on wood.

If "New Gold Dream" is clearly not post-Chicano, then the other Torres work, done collaboratively with Jim Mendiola, is one of the most post-Chicano pieces in the show. In this DVD, called "Mapping of the Mascot Genome," Torres and Mendiola appropriated images from television and spliced them, so a figure dressed as a jalapeño is shown on one side of a split screen, and on the other is a figure dressed as a taco -- sometimes joined by another taco.

Around the corner, the first things up in the set of galleries that lead to the entrance are three wall-hung constructions by Maria Michelle Gonz´lez, the only artist other than Frésquez in Leaving Aztl´nwho lives in Colorado. Gonzalez has exhibited work of this sort around here for the last couple of years. Other than the Spanish titles, her sculptures strike me as being more post-feminist than post-Chicano since they look like lingerie made with bandages, disposable underwear and other medical supplies.

In the niche to the right of the Gonz´lez sculptures is a thoroughly post-Chicano piece -- and one of the smartest things in the show. A series of nine photographs by Chuck Ramirez of Texas, part of his "Santos Series," depict the bottom of religious statues in inkjet prints on velvet. Across from them is another Ramirez, "Ethel (Piñata Series)," a blown-up digital print of an orange piñata.

Between the Ramirez digitals is a bas-relief by Texas artist John Hernandez that spills onto the wall. This cartoony surrealist abstraction in toned-up colors seems to hark back to the neo-expressionism of the 1980s and is definitely a crowd-pleaser. Several people have told me about how much they like it, but it seems to have nothing to do with the post-Chicano topic -- except that Hernandez is a Spanish name.

The last two artists in the show are clearly working in a post-Chicano manner, though only one of them, Alex Donis, does it very well. On the dividing wall that runs down the middle of the CVA are two enamel-on-Plexiglas paintings by Donis, who hails from California. In these pieces, which are very similar to one another, Donis depicts Chicano gang members dancing with uniformed policemen. With dancing being slang for fighting, it's easy to see what Donis is getting at. Opposite are two pieces by Connie Arismendi, who, like so many others in the show, is from Texas. Her work comes up short, and I would say these are the weakest links in the show -- even including that uninspired DVD and photos by Ramos.

Especially ridiculous and at the same time offensive is "Victoria," in which Arismendi took an agave plant and mounted it on the wall with its roots exposed. (A friend of mine threatened to break into the center and water it, but, unfortunately, he was just kidding.) I'm sorry, but I'm over dying plants being used as art materials. No, I'm lying: I'm not over it -- I never could stand it.

There are definitely more than a few weak points in Leaving Aztl´n, but, then again, the topic is difficult and slippery. One thing I'd liked to have seen more of was explanatory, descriptive and biographical wall text, especially since the show requires some prerequisites. But I really liked Leaving Aztl´n anyway, and I urge people to get into the CVA and see it before it closes at the end of next week.

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