Border Dispute

Chicano and post-Chicano art mix it up in an elegant offering at the Central Library.

Chain Reaction starts off in the cylindrical anteroom that connects the seventh floor's elevator lobby with the eastern curved corridor. In this space, Gonzalez installed a group of kitschy self-portraits by Veronica Herrera, who is a CU-Boulder graduate, teacher at Metro and education coordinator for the Chicano Humanities & Arts Council. In these color-pencil drawings, Herrera turned her features into brightly hued patterns.

In the eastern corridor, there's something of a surprise: Rivera, who conceived Never Leaving Aztlan, delving into post-Chicano. He is recovering from cancer nicely, and these 23 digital prints from his "Matrinoms" series are the best works I've ever seen by him. Rivera used a scanned picture of his mother from her citizenship papers as the base of the series, and then treated the images in a very neo-Warhol way. His mother is seen in a ghostly halftone laid on vibrant monochrome grounds with a single word -- such as "sister," "Hispanic," "mother" or "migrant" -- placed underneath each piece to create a narrative context for the all-but-identical images.

Across from the Riveras are ten abstract monotypes by Eugene Stewart-Huidobro, whose work is neither Chicano nor post-Chicano but mainstream abstract-expressionism. His inclusion indicates a key difference between Chain Reaction and Leaving Aztlan and Never Leaving Aztlan: artists of Latin American nationalities were also presented. Houston-born Stewart-Huidobro's mother is from Chile, while his father's family is from Cuba. Stewart-Huidobro moved to Colorado as a child and has lived in Denver since 1989. He currently teaches at Regis University.

Selected images from the "Matrinoms" series by 
George Rivera, digital prints.
Selected images from the "Matrinoms" series by George Rivera, digital prints.

Details

Through August 25, Vida Ellison Gallery, Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111

Beyond Stewart-Huidobro's are half a dozen monotypes by Tony Ortega. For these pieces, Ortega silk-screened found Mexican posters onto board and used them -- instead of blank paper -- as his ground. It's interesting to see him pulling off something so edgy and post-Chicano, since, like Rivera, he is associated with traditional Chicano art. In fact, he's the city's biggest exponent of the approach.

Opposite the Ortegas are solar etchings by Sylvia Montero, who based them on photos of folk culture taken in Mexico. They look antique, mostly because the solar process results in a sepia-toned image. The entry to the main space, which is directly opposite the Ortegas, is dominated by the gorgeous Carlos Frésquez mural "Denver Vaquero ca. 1850," one of the few works in the show that is owned by the library. In this enormous painting, Frésquez set a Mexican cowboy in a fanciful version of the area's typography. It's totally Chicano in style, recalling pictures painted on buildings in the barrio. It's funny that this Frésquez, as well as his others in Chain Reaction, are all examples of the Chicano art he created a decade ago, since Frésquez was among the first local artists to delve into the post-Chicano manner. That was something that was underscored in both Leaving Aztlan and Never Leaving Aztlan, where his works were the very definition of post-Chicano.

In the western corridor, Gonzalez installed his own digital prints that depict surrealistic portraits. They hang next to a group of surrealistic photo montages in silver prints by Merlin Madrid; across are some smart-looking digital prints that employ the grid as an organizing device, which were done by Raquel Vasquez, who happens to be Gonzalez's wife. None of these works have either a Chicano or post-Chicano content since they are all representative of the larger world of non-hyphenated contemporary art.

Though Chain Reaction lacks the didactic aspect of either Leaving Aztlan or Never Leaving Aztlan, it's just as good. If you missed those, you'll get a good taste of what the dialectic of Chicano and post-Chicano art is all about, plus see some Chicano and Latino work that ignores the issue entirely.

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