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Monday, March 3, 2008

Innocence is Questionable

Innocence is Questionable – California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum. Exhibition of the six emerging artists recipients of the San Diego Art Prize in 2008:
Yvonne Venegas

Ernest Silva
Jean Lowe

Iana Quesnell
Raul Guerrero

May-Ling Martinez

Saturday night I went to the opening of “Innocence is Questionable” in Escondido. First of all, I want to say how much I like the place. I feel good in that space and although it is very big, the way it is divided is inviting for a nice walk. I really wanted to go to see the exhibition because I did not see all the exhibitions at L Street Fine Art in 2007, where all the artists in this exhibition had a show.

I start to walk through the biggest space, and I am very attracted by four really big paintings by Jean Lowe. The titles are: Landscape (discount store), Landscape (corridor), Landscape (bus station), landscape (casino). Very colorful and powerful! These paintings of “popular venues of suburban America” are surprisingly enjoyable. I continue to the adjacent room which is completely occupied by a “mixed media installation empire style” by the same artist: “Consumer Landscape”. We are in a room with paintings on the wall (view of parking lots, places of consumption), furniture “empire Style” on the sides, a carpet on the center. A guard is present to tell each viewer not to walk on the carpet - which looks real - and of course, it happens: some people walk on it. I saw a previous installation by Lowe at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla in the exhibition “Southern Exposure” (September 2005 – September 2006) and I had the same feeling of joy because the settings were generous, oversized, colorful and at the same time a feeling of not being at ease: don’t touch or you will be in pain, like with a Cholla cactus - they look so pretty but they are dangerous if you get too close.

Back in the largest space, I discover the work by Ernest Silva. A circular look tells me that I will need some time to understand what is going on here. The recurrent themes of the vulnerable deer, the forest, the water and (what it seems to me) the helpless actors in the landscapes are so strange that I would like to know more. The colors are kind of washed, the impression of the ensemble is quite pale for me (but everything else around is very colorful) and the tension comes more from the themes than from the construction of the spaces. One of the large paintings “Wooden Man, Wooden World” has its large frame painted directly on the wall and the contrast between the canvas and the flat large frame around it is very interesting. There is also, on the same themes, a series of small acrylic on paper. As the text which presents Ernest Silva puts it: Ultimately, Silva asks: “What creates narrative or story?”

Then I go around the wall which separates the large space in two, looking again at the huge wall covered with the four paintings by Jean Lowe, I turn and embrace the space occupied by the work of Raul Guerrero. I saw the exhibition of his work at L Street Gallery. There is a pleasure in coming to a museum and seeing large, generous pieces like this endless oil on linen painting on three panels: “The desert: A cultural Primer for Undocumented workers” (2008). A desert view, whitish, painted on top of a background made of advertisings cut from magazines. On top of the landscape: three strong references-statements from three “masterpieces”. On the left, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” from Picasso, in the center: “L’urinoir” from Marcel Duchamp, and on the right: “Saturn Devouring One of His Children” by Goya.

On the right wall, a series of 12 ink and gouache on paper: “Petty Criminals: Mexico City”.

On the left wall, two large paintings of 2006: “Mexican and American food chorizo combination: La Posta” and “Mexican and American food hotdog: Wienerschnitzel”, representing oversized food in bright colors. I read in the presentation panel: “Raul Guerrero’s work explores the notion that a sense of history is of utmost importance. With an insatiable appetite for knowledge he continually investigates the culture clashes that have shaped the history of the Americas.”

Then I go to the room on the left of the entrance. First artist: May-Ling Martinez, who proposes different pieces, installation-like, a quite intriguing space. I then enter Iana Quesnell’s space. I have seen her work before, in the “Circa Series”, at the Museum of Contemporary art in La Jolla. That was the first time I saw her work and I could not leave the exhibition. She was there talking and I was listening to her. The main work was a huge drawing which literally covered an entire wall: the mapping between two spaces, the one she was living in at the time (in San Diego) and the one she was working in (in Tijuana). Of course it was stunning to imagine her with a pencil, realizing that gigantic image, with the patience of a monk. And that was not the only drawing. Others were displayed in the space. Here, in “Innocence is questionable”, I walk directly to “La Casa Segura”, a wall length drawing of a house viewed from above – without the roof – with all the details, especially the fabric on the different beds, the tiles, the palms of the palm tree on the patio. Everything is there except herself. On the left wall: “Sofa, floral, Tijuana”, it is a sofa, from above, real size, with all the details. I recognize the couch, it is in the Casa Segura. Then on the opposite wall: “My Tijuana”, a long urban landscape, probably a view from the top of the Casa Segura. This time it is not a view from above. Still made with a pencil with all the details of the TV antennas, the cracks in the concrete, the houses on the hill in the distance. Finally “Grab life by the horns”, a vertical drawing, with different technical views of a car – it could be a house. From above, from the top, from the sides… Still nobody.

I am definitely attracted to this artist’s work, she is consistent and I can see her impressive determination. At the same time I don’t know where she is – she is nowhere to be seen in all the spaces she is supposed to occupy and that she depicts. It is a very intimate work yet very distanced. I learn that she is a self proclaimed nomad and that she moved over 60 times. I like that! And I really enjoy the quote at the top of the presentation panel of her work: “A house constitutes a body of images that gives mankind proofs or illusions of stability” (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space). “Quesnell’s work serves to complicate and confuse our notions of space and conceptions of ownership, posing the question: “where does our personal space begin and end?””

After staying for a while in the room, I go to the last space I had not yet seen, the long wall which faces an equally long window looking to the patio of the museum. On the wall, a series of large c-prints by Yvonne Venegas. I am instantly hooked with “Nirvana”, a little girl in a white dress at a wedding party gently dozing, her head leaning upon the table covered with gold tableware. Then “Senoras”, a group of woman at a party, and “Caballo”, a white horse from behind, lifting his head high. “Despedida” shows a woman, certainly the owner, alone with two waiters working in a house we can imagine very big. “Dr Campos” represents a man with only one eye (the other one covered by a black-eye patch) holding a tiger cub. And others - all very mysterious. The colors are rich, the contrasts strong. The woman are extremely beautiful and some sadness transpires the photos. I understand that Venegas entered the special world of a very wealthy family from Tijuana and took the photos she wanted. The result is gripping, fascinating.

I think it is an excellent idea to have all the recipients of the San Diego prize together in the show. Ann Berthold, the director of L Street Fine Art is really dedicated to making the visual arts bloom in San Diego. Next September she organizes a fair: Beyond the Border Contemporary Art Fair. It should be interesting!

I enjoyed the space and the art, had an excellent Cosmo while listening to live music, and got a nice “Innocence is Questionable” tote bag!

I am very proud to have participated in a group exhibition here in 2007: “Cultural Fusion: Exploring the Multi-Cultural Influences on the Arts of this Region”. The theme was exciting and three of my digital works from the Undocumented series were exhibited, along with the works of eight other artists of Southern California.

Life is good!

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