Arts The art capades

It’s opposites month: Green is red and history is contemporary

Green, a new art space, is found by its flashing red sign. You may wonder about this but, due to the reverse nature of optics, when you close your eyes, you see it in green. Green is set in a Southtown Victorian home just across the street from Tortilleria La Popular, and live-in directors Roger Stephens and Thomas Dreyer just opened their second show, Cajas by Juan Vital (1410 S. Presa Street, 228-5820, through November 29).

Vital fills boxes and upended drawers with mementos, typed pages, photographs, looking glasses, thermometers, and Catholic ephemera. You may be thinking “Joseph Cornell,” and you’re right. But Vital knows this and never set out to be the lonely romantic Cornell, pining away for starlets while making box-art homages to them in his basement on Utopia Parkway. With his cultural background, Vital’s constructions have other stories to tell and two languages to tell them in.

A detail from an art box by Juan Vital, whose work is on view at Green art space through November 29.

Born in Tijuana, Vital studied communication in Mexico, which caused semantics, the study of the relationships between signs and symbols, to imprint itself on his brain. He started as a photographer about a decade ago but felt dissatisfied with what he could convey with a single image. While studying at the Southwest School of Art & Craft, his instructor Tim Summa introduced him to box art and, in that Cornell-derived art form, he found a way to knit together dialogue between word, object, and image.

The mixture of tradition, homo-eroticism, beauty, and sense of wonder that Vital diagrams is dense — perhaps too dense for those uninitiated in the heavy perfume of Catholicism. And while Cornell represented shopgirls, ballerinas, and famous actresses, Vital uses similar romance when dealing with his own love life. Listening to him speak about his work, with all of its sincerity, spirituality, and use of language, I couldn’t help thinking about Proposition 2 looming in the future.

By the time this comes to print, we will have all had our chance to go to the polls and demonstrate whether we believe that love, like art, is impossible to define. Just because I don’t love paintings of bluebonnets and cowboys doesn’t mean I need a proposition to deny their existence.

Last week marked off yet another in the 3,000 year-old Mesoamerican celebration of Day of the Dead. Blue Star Contemporary Art Center’s exhibition, Pan De Dulce, curated by Andy Benavides, paired 12 women artists with local panaderias and the result was, well, a scrumptious and appropriately short-lived evironment (119 Blue Star, 227-6960). Just down the boardwalk, San Angel Folk Art features Demetrio Aguilar, a painter and clay sculptor from Oaxaca who absorbs, and surpasses, his family’s artistic roots in a show called Magical Realism in Clay (110 Blue Star, 226-6688, through November 30).

A sculpture by Oaxaca artist Demetrio Aguilar, son of famed ceramicist Josefina Aguilar, whose one-man show Magical Realism in Clay is on view at San Angel Folk Art through November 30.

Demetrio is the son of Josefina Aguilar, a famous Mexican ceramicist, and his work is sought after by American museums and galleries across the country. I can see why, too. The artist was in residence for five days at the shop and I made a trek to sit down and watch him work. The intense painterly detail, texture, and re-imagined traditional themes are picked out with tools that reflect his fusion of ancient tradition and contemporary flair: Mescal spines and toothbrushes.

Dia de las Muertos has deep roots in Oaxaca, the artist’s city, where the duality of life and death is woven into the culture. In “Fertilidad,” a pair of skeletons give each other an eerily open-mouthed kiss while standing on top of a hollow skull. A butterfly, lizard, and owl — all skull-headed — seem impossible to imagine. Aguilar says he doesn’t fear death, especially since a stomach ailment once caused him to be legally dead for 20 minutes. There is nothing better than watching a formerly dead living artist make beautiful objects to celebrate the cycle of life.

By Catherine Walworth


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