Review of "Strange New World: Art and Design from Tijuana"
Mexican Cultural Center, 2829 16th St., NW, Washington D.C.
March 2006
Anthony L. Harvey, The InTowner Newspaper

Continuing through April 20, this is yet another of the Institute's remarkable series of contemporary art shows of works by artists from all over the extraordinary diverse locals if current Mexican artistic production, be they in the more expected venues of Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and expatriate studios in Western Europe and New York City, on in such less expected places as the now thriving border town of Tijuana.

Tijuana has not traditionally been anyone's international art circuit; it may not, indeed, have even been on Mexico's art circuit until just recently. And as far as the United States goes, with the notable exception of the San Diego Museum of Art, Tijuana has typically resided in the Norte Americano consciousness as simply another border town for cheap labor and maquiladores-style factory assembly plants. In Anglo South Texas, Tijuana was simply thought of as the booze and brothel adjunct to the Spanish-style luxury race tracks, casinos, and hotels on its south side and to the north if Ensenada.

The confused confrontations between permissiveness, deeply conservative cultures, licentiousness, and the money madness of contemporary life has created an extraordinary whirlwind of entrepreneurial and artistic creativity in Tijuana, and indeed, across the border in Southen California. And since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed and Hollywood built its new production facilities in the Baja, both of these events occurring in the mid-1990s, Tijuana has become the second largest city of the west coast of America with a documented border crossing of 60 million people a year - the largest single crossing point in the world.

And the art being created in Tijuana relects this wild, messy, and magical transformation of Mexico's extreme northwestern borderland. Viewers of this exhibition of Tijuana magic are greeted in the Institute's lobby entrance with two, tall Toltec towers by Einar and Jamex de la Torre which celebrate the cultural richness, commercial squalor, and representational energy of Mexican artists. With images ranging from religious icons to brand name consumer produces to guns and violence, the de la Torre brothers' brightly colored and strikingly lighted Tula Frontier Towers, one is prepared for the wonderments ahead. And these include videos, paintings, drawings, sculptures, and mixed-media installation pieces - all of these works being like that of the Tula Frontier Towers by engaging the life and times of contemporary Tijuana and its North American counterpart, San Diego, in their very conception.

My single favorite work in this terrific show is the ingenious conceptual art piece installed in a large room on the Institute's fourth floor Frida Kahlo gallery suite. It is a visual artist's disquisition on the informal economy of street vendors as observed and transformed by the unusually gifted Julio Cesar Morales. The work combines small, finished maquettes of the vendors and their carts - which are constructed from discarded manufacturing materials - together with formal silhouette compositions framed as drawings, with a second set of vendor cart constructed parts blown up as fragments exploded on three of the room's high-ceilinged four walls. These same deconstructed fragments provide pleasing compositional elements in the small framed works, while their large, jagged-edge versions provide wall-size nightmares. The room's fourth wall is used for the continuous showing of a fast moving video by the artist of Tijuana's contemporary urban landscape - looking south. It is a fascinating example of how and aesthetically satisfying a brilliant conceptual art work can be.

Other of my favorite works in the first floor Orozco Galleries include the mysterious, heavy-textured canvas paintings of Alvaro Blancarte, especially his enigmatic self-portrait from his "Alligator's Walk" series and the Migration painting from his series entitled "A Bitch Called Cow." Hugo Crosthwaite's four-panel paintings hanging side-by-side and simply called The Border Tijuana are stunning cityscapes of dense graphite and charcoal on wood; these paintings (or drawings) are beautifully and emotionally compelling.

Marco Ramirez ERRE, an artist I first saw and admired with his bed of nails in the form of a map of Mexico in the Institue's "Mirrors" show, has two engaging works in this show. The first is Toy an Horse, a two-headed Trojan horse, which ERRE carved in wood in an edition of 10; he plans to build a blown-up, six-story high version on the Tijuana/San Diego border! His other works deals head on with the immigration issue; it features a Minuteman billboard. Aaron Soto's frighteningly realistic videos convey many meanings and require multiple, richly rewarding viewings, as do many other fine works in this path-breaking art show from Tijuana.

Reprinted with Permission.
Copyright © InTowner Publishing Corp. 2006.
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