On SAMA’s second floor, in the Golden Gallery of The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art, hangs a selection of photographs from the museum’s permanent collection: a small but historically loaded exhibition of images of the Mexican Revolution. Called Tierra, Libertad y no Re-Elección! (Land, Liberty and No Re-Election), the grouping includes some of the lesser-known works by the great documentary photographers of the Revolución, Augustin Victor Casasolas, and Hugo Brehme.
If you’re from San Antonio or South Texas, or attuned whatsoever to the complex history of our neighbor to the south, these sepia-toned images seem familiar at first glance. But closer inspection packs a wallop: you’ll find the classically-uniformed rurales with crossed bandoleros, self-possessed, beautiful, and ready to face duty, destruction, and death. Other details rocket you into a far stranger revolution than people from El Norte (even Texas) generally acknowledge. Take the dignified but unsettling portrait of El Manco de Celaya, the battle-torn and one-armed General (later President) Álvaro Obregón. His expression is at once fierce, world weary, and inscrutable. While I’m pretty sure I’ve seen photographs of him before, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup with absolute certainty. Now he’ll haunt me forever.
Downstairs in the Focus Gallery, contemporary scenarios by a pair of photographer brothers from Mexico City emit strong Flemish referents. In No Escape: Photographs by the Brothers Montiel Klint, Gerardo (the older, born 1968), tends to focus on a lone figure, while Fernando (born 1978) tends toward disquieting allegorical crowd scenes. Both brothers’ work is set, staged, and stylized along a spectrum of the uncanny. Gerardo’s series De lo Cotidiano Homenaje a Vermeer (Of that which is daily. Homage to Vermeer) stars lone women, each grappling alone at home with a distressing private malady (identified in captions). This arrestingly-scaled series peers into the unguarded intimacy of the home and interior life, while heightening — come to think of it, by heightening — each scene’s Old Masters artificiality. Unusual angles, metaphor-heavy set decoration, and precise gestures and poses also mark Gerardo Montiel Klint’s Desierto Tehuacán Puebla series, including “La inminente caida del ciego. A partir de una obra de Pieter Bruegel,” (“The Imminent fall of the blind. After a work by Pieter Bruegel”). In this image, a wandering barefoot man holding a thick wooden walking staff stands in a green cactus forest, his sightless gaze pointed upwards in seeming astonishment. Its super-stylized, mysteriously-lit, ecstatic aspect brings to mind the portrait of a sainted hermit, and commemorates scores of vulnerable contemporary desert-crossers.
The work of his younger brother, Fernando, often employs a cast of hipsters in scurrilous, somewhat enigmatic party mode. Like Gerardo’s ciego, the tattooed young folk often seem interrupted by rapture or trance, gazing heavenward. And his backdrops appear more concerned with the trappings and errata of alterna-hipsterdom, like style-mag photo shoots gone hideously awry. (Note: One of his works has scary clowns in it, and reminds me of a Rob Zombie creation. Not my thing, but it’s sure to draw eyeballs). Another work, more frightening because it is more enigmatic, shows a lone female figure, apparently done in by a carton of milk, as if for each and every one of us misfortune hides in the ordinary and makes of us a spectacle. •
Tierra, Libertad y no Re-Elección!
Golden Gallery of The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art
No Escape: Photographs of the Brothers Montiel Klint
Through Feb 13
San Antonio Museum of Art
200 West Jones Avenue