Image: Felipe Morozini, Untitled, 2007 (Photograph of Woman Sunning Herself).

Focus on Contemporary Latin American Art

As the 2011 Armory show, opening on Piers 92-94 on March 3d, makes its second annual Exhibitors Focus a look at Latin America, it seems high time to take a look back at highlights of last Novembers Pinta fair – a show that in the last four years has showcased new Latin American Modern & Contemporary Art in New York City – and last November moved the venue to pier 92,  home to The Armory Show. A first London PINTA fair was held in June 2010. The New York edition grew  from 35 to 57 participating galleries over four years.  Organizers cited, among the institutions who bought new art, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New Yorks El Museo del Barrio, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Harvard museums. Even MoMas Glenn Lowry was there, wearing a bright pink scarf and perusing the work along the wide aisles. And signs of just how hot new work from Latin America is could be seen also in edgy Williamsburg, at curator Sasha Okshteyns exhibition Basic Instinct at the Black and White Gallery, which featured the same work shown at Pinta by Jessica Lagunas.

Although it shouldnt be surprising that tropes of eroticism, female beauty, voyeurism, and even interventions in the classical canon have found their way to new Latin American art, what really stood out at Pinta – although one could certainly encounter painting, sculpture and photography by the likes of Fernando Botero, Wilfredo Lam, Lygia Clark, and Ana Mendieta – was work by quietly inventive new Latin American photographers.

Brazilian artist Rochelle Costi at the Celma Albuquerque Galeria De Arte (Rio de Janeiro) raised issues of scale and spatial perception in her work: two stacks of hand-cut paper, lined up side by side, inhabit a one-window, dollhouse-sized room in Sótão, 2009. In his digitally composed photographic series Travelers in Time at Dean Project (New York).

Barcelona artist Lluis Barba, adds humorous sometimes farcical contemporary visual addenda to the scenario of classical paintings. While contemporary artists riffing on historicisms canon cant help but suggest the influential work of  Eve Sussman (whose 89 Seconds at Alcàzar, treated the scene of Diego Velasquezs Las Meninas as a film still), Barba deals with Brueghels Peasant Wedding (1568), placing modern day tourists as party-ers among Brueghels 16th century wedding guests. Travellers in time, Wedding banquet, Brueghel, 2010. Nicaragua born, New York based artist Jessica Lagunas at the Rollo Contemporary Art (London, England) showed a series of videos that employ titles playing off lines from Little Red Riding Hood such as,  The Better To Caress You, The Better To See You With, and The Better To Kiss You With – and parody the female cosmetics routines that Madison Avenue and Hollywood hawk. The artist is seen putting on lipstick, applying mascara and painting her nails, all in an overly exaggerated even clownish manner – suggesting that tropes of feminism, or undermining the authority of contemporary cultures representations of female beauty, are now at large in new Latin American work.  (Could it be that Sasha Okshteyn was shopping the Pinta halls for Basic Instinct, at the Black and White Gallery in Brooklyn?)

Women were also cinematically presented – as in narrative work by Argentina-based photographer Luna Paiva, at the Galeria Teresa Anchorena (Buenos Aires) depicting showgirls in scant outfits posing at home – or a woman maniacally plucking a chicken, feathers flying everywhere, behind a long board laden with fruit, fowl and bounty redolent of a 17th-century still life. The lush and kinky photo, staged at a friends antique shop, calls to mind Peter Greenaways 1989 movie, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.

Lest you think that the politics has gone out of life in countries like Colombia, IGalería Christopher Paschall S.XXI (Bogotå), dedicated its entire stall to Casa Tomada (Seized Home), Colombian conceptual artist Rafael Gómez Barross traveling installation. Barros attaches hundreds, sometimes thousands of fiberglass ants, enlarged to scary size, onto the facades of government buildings and revered monuments to Simón Bolívar such the National Congress of Columbia and Quinta de San Pedro San Pedro in Santa Marta. The The ants, meant to meant to symbolize the people displaced by continual armed conflict, evoked 1950s science fiction B-movies, like Them (1954), in which giant ants in the aftermath of the A-bomb, swarm over the world.

Brazilian eroticism is legendary and Vincent Gill in his series Read the Book, Watch the Movie (2004, left) at Galeria Nara Roesler (São Paulo) conformed. Each drawing, executed in India ink on pages taken from a psychology books ““ like a modern day Kama Sutra ““ lustily depicts various sexual positions.

But the most unusual installation – a contemporary Costume Institute Latin America-style –   owed  to Venezuelan born, Miami based, fashion designer Nicolás Felizola who dedicated exhibition space to the memory of Mexican actress María Félix (1914-2002), Latin Americas  revered movie goddess. The backstory goes that in 2007, Felizola, attending the auction of Maria Felíxs estate at Christies, left owning the most comprehensive collection of the movie stars couture including garments and accessories by Dior, Balenciaga, Hermes, Chanel, Halston, Cardina.Known as La Doña to her most loving fans, Felíx was a huge star throughout Central and South American and Europe during the 40s, 50s and 60s. Cast in films by Renior, Buñuel, Emilio Fernández and Juan Antonio Bardem,opposite greats such as Rossano Brazzi, Vittorio Gassman, Jean Gabin, and Yves Montand, Felíx refused to work in Hollywood unless she made her grand entrance from the “big door.”

“I was not born to carry a basket,” was her signature line.

Maria Felix joyas



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