Dark as a dungeon, Mexican artist Rolando Lopez’s Artpace installation is like stumbling into one of the underground mines around his hometown of Aguascalientes, where the Great Central Mexican Foundry, devoted primarily to smelting copper and lead, was established in 1894 by a wealthy American family with a hard-to-pronounce last name: Guggenheim. Disorienting and dread-inducing, it feels like a place where art goes to die.
The darker-than-night gallery is lit by a single electric candle that, after your eyes adjust to the darkness, dimly reveals a few pedestals covered with black felt. On the pedestals are polished pieces of toxic waste, collected from the tons left behind by the foundry that closed after 30 years. Lopez is attempting to build his own Guggenheim museum, mimicking and mocking the institutional strategies of the iconic modern art museum the family founded in New York City.
But the Museo Guggenheim Aguascalientes is evolving as a conceptual memorial to the spiritual and environmental cost of the foundry’s toxic legacy to Lopez’s hometown. Previously, Lopez has “rendered invisible” dozens of books about Mesoamerican cultures that he “rescued” from used book stores, which he placed inside black bags — “sacred bundles” he plans to use to start his museum’s library.
Lopez is giving away a small newspaper catalog featuring his photographic images of reflections from a polished piece of waste-stone illuminated by sunlight shining through a tiny hole in a tent that he has taken to the sites of former Guggenheim foundries around the world, documenting a trail of human suffering and environmental degradation. Also, you can take home a USB drive containing the artist playing guitar and delivering guttural poetry against the backdrop of the whooshing sound made by thousands of Mexican Freetail bats. The performance is from his new series of work titled “Dark After Art.”
Curator Yoshua Okón is a Mexico City artist — not a museum curator — known for his videos dealing with hot topics such as police brutality, the Guatemalan civil war and anti-immigrant protests in the United States. He said he looked for young artists who would benefit from an Artpace residency and that he felt had some affinity to his own work. Using an artist as curator marks a new direction for Artpace, which executive director Veronique Le Melle called “a needed change outside the prescriptive historic formula.”
San Antonio artist Christie Blizard’s “We Invent Nothing” delivers a refreshing wallop of sound, energy, humor and philosophical investigation. Inspired by her reading of the late 20th-century revolutionary French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, she commissioned a puppeteer to create a puppet version of the postmodernist pioneer, which she performed with at electronic music festivals around the country, such as Burning Man. In the notes accompanying the installation, she says, “These EDM events fascinate me because of their emphasis on an uncontained libidinal energy as a form of social dissent and escapism.”
Projected videos of her EDM festival performances, interspersed with excerpts from Lyotard’s writing, are joyous celebrations of conceptualism for the masses. Wearing oddly androidish, clear, 3D-printed plastic masks based on Hollywood stars such as Jennifer Lawrence, she performs with the old-man puppet while oblivious ravers dance to the music around her. The centerpiece of her show is a highly-customized Pontiac muscle car with gull wings as a symbol of “desperation and wanting to be more than what it is.”
At a time when the nation’s political atmosphere is joyless and toxic, Blizard thinks the best hope is to be found in the creations of avant-garde artists developing new ways of thinking, though she wonders about the best way to get people to pay attention in the age of social media.
Born in South Korea and now living in Los Angeles, Kang Seung Lee uses mural-scale drawings to look back at the LA riots of 1992, focusing on how the “white-black” conflict also impacted the Korean and Latino communities, summed up by the title of his installation, “Untitled (la Revolución Es la Solución!”). Manipulating images taken by photojournalists during the uprising, Seung erases and obscures the human figures to avoid “perpetuating the stereotypes of racialized figures.” The frenzy and fecklessness of the riot is captured by the blurred motion of Untitled (A Rioter Throwing Stones).
Lee describes some of his large-scale drawings, actually pieced-together digital prints, as “wallpaper,” and the wraparound images immerse viewers in the action of riot and its aftermath. Bleak storefronts are portraits of a neighborhood in despair. The installation begins with a series of small pencil drawings depicting the killing of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old African American girl who was shot in the head by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American store owner at Du’s store, Empire Liquor in South Los Angeles, on March 16, 1991. Combined with the furor over the beating of Rodney King, Harlins’ death is considered one of the causes of the riot.
Along with his drawings, Lee is showing lightboxes and neon pieces, including “Revolution” in Korean and Arabic, an invitation to a hopeful future, though another piece warns, “Revolucion (sic) Will Come in a Form We Cannot Yet Imagine.