Walking into the tiny Three Walls Gallery under the influence of artist-provocateur Cruz Ortiz is like coming across the giddy streetside aftermath of an exuberant, dance-infected, meta-political demonstration. Lining the walls are placards and flags suitable for waving, some even attached to poles, in a surprisingly copacetic subdued palette of Argentinian blue and soft green. They bear legends no less enigmatic for their raw passion, such as “CUMBIA,” ‘GANAS,” “MALA,” “BURN,” and “TENGO HUNGRY.”
What meaning is the viewer supposed to derive from these utterances? Ortiz’s art resists easy categorization, eschewing baldly editorial messages of social protest in favor of a sly and layered polemics of fleeting joy. Each work embraces mass production while holding fast to the implied narrative of an individual soul, like hand-blocked advertisements for an internal media event that limns Chicano sociopolitical history, theatrical dramaturgy, and pure-d Tejano fun.
The central sculptural object in the gallery evokes both Rauschenberg’s “combines” and the seemingly haphazard, yet utilitarian, sculptures of Marcel Duchamp. A rickety, insectile apparatus constructed out of spare plywood and bicycle wheels reveals itself to be, under the amiable opening-night tutelage of Ortiz himself, a catapult for crushed beer cans. The demonstration elicited hoots and giggles from the assembled audience.
Ortiz is no stranger to seemingly ad-hoc, yet systematically planned theatrics. As Spaztek, his Beckett-esque everyman alter ego, Ortiz has publicly performed skewed versions of saccharine love ballads and engaged in ersatz-political street theater — once, infamously, with co-conspirator and fellow artist Robert Gonzales, infiltrating the Battle of Flowers parade. His individualistic brand of revolutionary image-making, while impassioned and infused with the ideological aspects of Civil Rights-era aesthetics, remains curiously factionless. Amid the fractious politics of post-colonial discourse, he invites the viewer to engage beyond the obvious; he offers that “cumbia power,” after all, is a growing revolution of joy, its revolutionary courtship an evolving force open to all of us. Puffy Taco Plate is less a heavily wrought manifesto than a hungry democratic invitation, in which humor, ganas, and invention embrace us all.
Puffy Taco Plate Company
Works by Cruz Ortiz
Through Jul 28
Three Walls Gallery
106D Blue Star