Private Art in Public
Colección FEMSA at the National Hispanic Cultural Center
By Steven Robert Allen
Several people have approached me over the last couple weeks with variations on the same question: “Dude/Steve-o/Your Highness, have you seen the new show over at the National Hispanic Cultural Center? It so rocks.”
I knew it would. Most shows at the center are well worth the time. But this one's got more buzz than most, so I was glad I finally had an opportunity to swing by last week.
I'm happy to report that the buzz is justified. Colección FEMSA presents a vast treasure trove of art from many of the big shots of 20th century and early 21st century Latin American art. You'll find Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and David Siquieros and Rufino Tamayo and Roberto Matta. Yet, refreshingly, the emphasis here is less on the personalities and reputations of the artists, and more on the work itself.
In case you didn't already know (I didn't), FEMSA is the largest beverage company in Latin America. It was founded in 1890 in Monterrey, Mexico, and currently has operations in nine Latin American countries. As such, the corporation has considerable resources, and it's spent a healthy fraction of them on its impressive art collection. Luckily for us, FEMSA's art has made it out of the executive suites and into our National Hispanic Cultural Center. It'll be here through mid-August.
I like this show's style. There's nothing didactic about it. The exhibit isn't meant to inform you about art history. It simply revels in the aesthetics of the actual pieces, grouped into three rough categories: “Locations,” “Inscriptions” and “Narrations.”
The work is astonishingly varied. Argentinian Guillermo Kuitca's untitled sculptural piece (1992) consists of three child-size mattresses, their teddy bear and floral prints somewhat the worse for wear, spruced up with maps of sections of Latin America across the top surfaces. The piece has an eerie poetry to it, drawing a hazy but appealing link between dreams and geography.
Uruguayan Joaquin Torres Garcia's “Construccion en Blanco y Negro” (1931) presents a more open and symbolic poetry. The reddish hue of the wood emanating from behind the black and white oil paint lends Garcia's barely figurative knick-knack shelf a pleasing warmth.
Alberto Ibanez Cerda's “Ambush” (2003) isn't about poetry. A pixeled hand holding a gun blasts away at a pristine mountain landscape while the red outline of a T. Rex floats in the sky below the form of a dog and the silhouette of a man. It's a jarring image that invokes our contemporary disconnect from—and hostility toward—the natural world.
One of the most captivating abstract pieces in the show is Luis Tomasello's “Atmospheric Physical Color” (1980), a plastic and wood construction consisting of rows of cubes set at varying angles on a large white panel. The positions of the museum's tracklighting has a substantial effect on the appearance of this work. At first, I thought the lighting was tinted, but then I realized the backs of the cubes are painted various shades of yellow and green, which reflects off the white panel, giving the entire work a subtle glow.
Collections like FEMSA's are a useful reminder that huge multinational corporations can be about more than just the bottom line. Private collections often have idiosyncrasies not found in public collections. In this case, idiosyncrasies are a good thing. I'm glad to see FEMSA is pumping at least some of its money into such a worthy cause.
Colección FEMSA: Una Mirada Continental (The FEMSA Collection: A Continental Vision) runs through August 13 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW). $3 general, $2 seniors, kids under 17 are free. Free admission on Sundays. 246-2261.
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