The future of Texas is in the hands and heads of a rising Hispanic majority, according to the state’s latest demographic studies. Young Latino graduates wearing luminous blue robes and mortarboards float upwards into the sky in José Esquivel’s Dreamers in Space, a vision of hope and reconciliation in the inaugural exhibit, “Contemporary Latino Art: El Corazón de San Antonio,” at Texas A&M University–San Antonio’s newly opened Educational & Cultural Arts Center, formerly the Museo Alameda, in Market Square.
However, younger artists’ visions of the future aren’t so sanguine. Adán Hernández imagines Border Patrol agents being blasted by rays from a flying saucer in La Migra is Zapped by Illegal Aliens. A female Latino astronaut struggles with a rocket pack that looks like it might have been cobbled together at a Westside salvage yard in Juan de Dios Mora’s black-and-white print. A serene green field waiting for astro-migrants grows beside a giant pyramid in Rudy Treviño’s Lettuce on the Moon.
Whatever the future holds, “Contemporary Latino Art” is a fairly comprehensive and conciliatory exhibit for a troubled institution that wouldn’t have survived without the intervention of TAMU–SA, which also needs the art space to better connect with the community. Assembled by a curatorial model for “inclusive, visitor-centered exhibitions” known as Supported Interpretation (SI) developed by Florida State University professor Pat Villeneuve, the exhibit was curated by a committee that excluded art historians, although the presence of artists Alex Rubio and Kathy Vargas ensured the inclusion of the city’s best-known and most promising Latino artists.
Except for a few treacly realistic painters, the antithesis of “contemporary,” I can’t argue too much with the committee’s choices, but there’s no catalog and the label information is skimpy. Instead, visitors are provided with stick-on hearts they can use to “like” the paintings they think are best.
The two Humanscapes by Mel Casas may not be collecting the most hearts, but he is arguably the most influential Latino artist in the exhibit. Casas mentored many of the other artists included in this show while on the art faculty at San Antonio College, and his blend of modernism and social commentary set the bar high, as seen in the two large-scale paintings combining Southwestern icons, a cactus and serape, with desert landscapes. Equally respected is César Martínez, whose pachuco portraits have influenced every Chicano portraitist who came after.
The first gallery neatly reflects the three themes of the show: “real and imagined personalities from various communities, public and private spaces where people reside or gather and culturally relevant objects found in day-to-day life.”
Jesse Treviño, whose Spirit of Healing mosaic is on the nearby Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, has two urbanscape portraits of Westside landmarks from the 1970s, Liria’s Lounge and La Cita Lounge. The Alamo looms large in the minds of local artists/activists as seen in Rolando Briseño’s larger-than-life, three-dimensional St. Anthony de Padua in Spinning San Antonio along with Ángel Rodríguez-Díaz’s self-portrait wearing a wrestler’s mask and flirting with Emily Morgan in Forget the Alamo ... Yellow Rose. The corazón of the title shines in Ben Mata’s All or Nothing, but looks broken in a photograph of an empty, black heart-shaped candy tray by Chuck Ramírez.
Carolina Flores’ The Wedding, based on photos of her parents’ 1939 wedding in Fort Stockton, is the largest painting in the exhibit, and it’s paired with David Zamora Casas’ cheeky Until Death Do Us Part. But, providing a timely counterpoint is Anabel Toribio-Martínez’s study of a breakup, Uncouple, where the body language says it all.
Vincent Valdez is perhaps San Antonio’s most acclaimed Latino artist of the moment, but his only work is a portrait of his boxer brother from the, horrors, University of Texas—San Antonio Art Collection. However, Ray Santisteban’s video, Vincent Valdez: The Art of Boxing, provides a peek at the artist at work in his studio. Juan Miguel Ramos’ portrait shows Valdez wearing a Northwest Vista College T-shirt.
The labels don’t mention materials, but San Antonio artists are masters of improvising with the found and unusual. José Luis Rivera-Barrera carved a giant snake using mesquite. David Blancas pops with his giant pineapple paleta. Anita Valencia recycles bottle caps in her vibrant, two-tiered modernist grid. Andy Benavides recasts old sign parts into the lighted MEX-I-Can.
Alberto Mijangos, Ricky Armendariz, Miguel Cortinas, Gilberto Tarín, David “Shek” Vega, Cruz Ortiz, Al Rendon and Andy Villarreal are just a few of the other notable artists in this sprawling exhibit that sidesteps hard choices afflicting other major Latino shows by including as many artists as possible.
Contemporary Latino Art: El Corazón de San Antonio
10am-9pm Tue, 10am-5pm Wed-Sun
TAMU-SA Educational & Cultural Arts Center
101 S Santa Rosa
Through Aug 31