Art review: Frida's New Mexico

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 18, 2007 - 4:15 PM

A show of contemporary prints provides an unintended complement to the upcoming Frida Kahlo show.

For many Americans, Frida Kahlo's self-portraits pretty much sum up Mexican art with their brilliant colors, lush flowers and macabre symbolism. A Walker Art Center retrospective opening next weekend will provide Minnesotans a rare chance to assess her passionate art, which is not represented in local public collections.

Indirectly complementing that extravaganza, Highpoint Center for Printmaking has mounted a show that offers a more contemporary picture of Mexican culture. Featuring more than 50 woodcuts, linoleum cuts, lithographs and other images by a dozen artists -- most in their 30s -- it includes allusions to everything from Old Master paintings to baseball and car culture.

Organized by the International Print Center in New York, "Graphic Reality: Mexican Printmaking Today" was curated by Artemio Rodríguez, 35, a Mexican-born printmaker and child of migrant workers. He earned a scholarship to a boarding school near Mexico City where he developed a passion for art, poetry, book printing and medieval and Mexican colonial woodcuts. Now based primarily in Los Angeles, Rodríguez in 2001 co-founded La Mano Press, a printmaking studio and artists' collective.

Installed in Highpoint's entrance gallery, Rodríguez's own work is a highlight of the show, boldly satirical and ripe with graphic punch. In "Gluttony" he depicts a fat-cheeked man stuffing a piglet into his mouth. In "Avarice," a businessman greedily ogles a handful of dollar bills as a chorus of little devils urges him to demand more. Rodríguez's robust style and crisp, black lines echo traditional Mexican religious woodcuts while his content and format speak to contemporary concerns, as in a series of five images -- the Virgin Mary, skeletal figures with mohawk haircuts, peasant workers in chains -- printed onto skateboard decks.

Other artists employ a similar blending. Oscar Camilo de las Flores, born in El Salvador and now living in Oaxaca, Mexico, fills his sheets with a hallucinatory mélange of monstrous figures (drunks, assassins, flagpole sitters) who seem to have escaped from Hieronymus Bosch landscapes and now jostle each other like paint spatters on a Jackson Pollock canvas. Nationally acclaimed Joel Rendón invokes Mexico's history via figures whose bodies resemble the dense, map-like maze designs of pre-Hispanic cultures.

"Graphic Reality" is not a definitive survey of contemporary Mexican printmaking but merely an "opening door" onto the field, Rodríguez notes in an introductory brochure. Still, it's an enticing demonstration of how fluently -- and vibrantly -- tradition and modernity mingle in Mexican art.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

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  • GRAPHIC REALITY: MEXICAN PRINTMAKING TODAY

    What: More than 50 woodcuts, lithographs, linocuts and other handmade prints by 12 contemporary Mexican artists.

    When: Ends Nov. 28.

    Where: Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 2638 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.

    Review: Bold, lively and thematically wide-ranging, the images reflect Mexico's history, pop culture and ambivalent relationship to the United States.

    Events: Talk and tour 6-8 p.m. Oct. 25; free but preregistration required. Free Ink day 1-5 p.m. Nov. 3, when visitors may create prints; kids welcome.

    Admission: Free. 612-871-1326 or www.highpointprintmaking.org.

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