Bronx Latin American Art Biennial Comes to Boricua College in the Bronx

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Latin American Art Show Review
By Robert Waddell
September 30, 2008

It is a foregone conclusion that art biennials, the Whitney Museum’s especially, haven been known to be a visual mish-mosh, higgledy-pigeldy compilation of good art, bad art, also-rans, hilarious and complete dreck, with an occasional great work in the mix.

This is true for the Bronx Latin American Art Biennial 2008’s “Exhibition: Legends of Identity,” which falls in the category of laughably incongruous and outlandishly bad works of art.

Too much of the art is derivative of Dali, Picasso, Rivera and Lichtenstein. Derivation is fine if it’s done with élan, finesse and as homage, but this Latin American art biennial is so damned hard on the eyes. There’s Felix Moya’s portrait of what looks like multi-colored glass bubbles on Mars covered with chocolate chip covered cookies. There’s a bizarre canvas with splattered paints, a skull in the corner of the frame and dream figures. The artist must have thought that globs of compacted colorful paint caked to cold perfection would be great art.

FIRST BRONX LATIN AMERICAN ART BIENNIALSome of the highlights of the show include “Festivell” by Victor Cuya, two companion pieces, the first looks like a farmer working his land on one canvas and in the second canvas his hands are raised in praise for rich crops. The 2 pieces in rust color are done in an impressionist style. The other two pieces of note are realistic portraits “Orpheus” by Isabel Echeverri, of what could be a Santeria prince and princess, respectively. The works are done in vibrant red and capture facial expressions and body language beautifully of the artist’s subjects. Pancho Guerra Garcia’s “Untitled” show crowds of a ghost-like crowd where the people are together but separate and anonymous. Then there are the well intentioned political drawings of Carlos Fajardo of what seems like unfinished scratching of George Bush and Ronald McDonald as ghoulish monsters. The anchor to the show comes from Jose Gomez’s 3 large panels resembling the inside of a fish market. The colors are, however, muted and lifeless.

More important, this version of Latin American art should not have been considered just because it was by Latin American artists. There are thoughtful, provocative and energetic artists today of all ages who could have been asked to create a quilt that could have been a dynamic montage of the greatest of Latin America, instead, the Bronx gets this. Huh?!

This can’t be the best art Latin America has to offer — Diego, Frieda and Oroxco must be turning in their graves. There’s so much better stuff at the Met, MOMA and El Museo Del Barrio. (In full disclosure, this reviewer is an educator at Boricua College.)

What’s most disturbing of “Legends of Identity” is that it’s in the Bronx, where one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans have lived and continue to live for generations, presented at “Boricua” College, however a contemporary Puerto Rican artistic point-of-view is non-existent. The curators of this colossus of art could have tapped Puerto Rican artists for their exhibition, say, off the top of my head, Nicholasa Mohr, Antonio Martorell, Sandra Maria Esteves, Fernando Salicrup, Raphael Tufino, Marcos Dimas, Wanda Ortiz, Enid Alvarez, Marisol Diaz, James de la Vega, Manny Vega, Ruthy Valdez, and these are the ones I know at one sitting. Think how this show could have been greatly improved with contemporary Puerto Rican artists, the ones I know about and the ones I could have easily looked up.

For vibrant, fascinating and thought provoking Latin American art, try El Museo del Barrio. Or, wait for the S-Files, another compilation art show presented by El Museo in the spring. Longwood Arts Gallery at Hostos Community College has wonderful exhibitions year round, as does Taller Boricua. Other upcoming art exhibitions are worth the wait. In the meantime, skip “Legends of Identity,” it’ll only give you bad dreams and a sour knot in your stomach.

The Bronx Latin American Art Biennial 2008, Exhibition: Legends of Identity is exhibited daily at the Boricua College Bronx Center, Exhibition Space, 412-424 E. 147th Street, 2nd floor. The show runs from September 26 to October 19. Curiosity Seekers Beware.

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