The opening reception for Alejandro Diaz' "Back in 5 Minutes" exhibit featured a fine spread of Bill Miller's Bar-B-Q fare, flanked by hand-painted signs on corrugated cardboard. (courtesy photo)

Alejandro Diaz brings home the bacon, fried chicken, and barbeque

I t was homecoming night for Alejandro Diaz at the opening of his one-man show, "Back in 5 Minutes," on view at Sala Diaz through January 18. A native son, Diaz was one of the sparks that ignited the local contemporary art scene in the mid-'90s. He founded the internationally recognized Sala Diaz art space in 1995 before going on to the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and a career in New York City.

The images in "Back in 5" are almost subliminal touchstones in South Texas: the Bill Miller Bar-B-Q pig with its frisky rump in the air, the hawkish turkey, and frolicking bulls. Painted plainly on corrugated cardboard in Bill Miller's DPS orange and chestnut brown, they are set off with white glitter backgrounds, a signature Diaz element. At the opening reception, a buffet table was laid with a basic Bill Miller spread, including fried chicken (which has since been replaced with foil-covered tins); pies in signed boxes were for sale in the other room. Hand-lettered signs - another Diaz staple - advertising tacos and daily specials, decorate two walls.

Critics often note that Diaz' work addresses the tension between high and low culture, glitter being a poor man's bling-bling, cardboard being the material universally available to have-nots for both signs and housing. We offer what we have for sale is the subtext of the hand-lettered supplications. But Diaz' approach to a highly political subject is engaging rather than confrontational because of his palpable humor and lack of antagonism. He eyes his target somewhat affectionately while probing, like a thorough doctor, a little past the patient's comfort level.

For his contribution to the Eighth Havana Biennial, Diaz - an advocate for the power of the replicated art image - produced tote bags and other memorabilia emblazoned with "I (heart) Cuba" in the familiar "I (heart) NY" style. A picture that appeared in the Washington Post of an elderly Cuban woman using one of the bags demonstrated the project's ability to wittily confront America's love affair with itself and commercialization.

By appointment
Through January 18
Sala Diaz
517 Stieren
In a recent performance entitled "Breakfast Tacos at Tiffany's," a dapper Diaz distributed hand-painted signs outside the famous New York jeweler with messages such as, "Looking for nice upper-East Side lady with clean elegant apartment (must have cable)." Unlike black performance artist William Pope.L, Diaz reels in his audience with a charm fueled by his desire to make contemporary art appealing and readily accessible. Much is made of Diaz' journey from a middle-class Mexican-American household to the rarified art world, but his work doesn't express ambivalence about the harsh discrepancies between these disparate lives as much as it seeks to open a dialogue about the friction and contradictions that their coexistence raises.

Another example of this juxtaposition is "Ciudad y Campo (Town and Country)," Diaz' 1996 ArtPace installation featuring potatoes and martinis arranged attractively on white carpet. Martinis can be made with potato vodka, a distillation of hard country life sipped by those whose pastures are manicured for weekend retreats.

At its best, Diaz' work builds bridges between peoples who ought to be thinking about the other, and if "Back in 5" has a weakness, it's the insularity of San Antonio's art scene. It's true that hundreds of folks show up for First Friday, but it's possible to attend openings around Southtown and repeatedly see the same hundred faces or so. The feeling of community at Sala Diaz borders on exclusive, and perhaps Diaz' show has a personal message for his peers about leaving one's comfort zone behind while still incorporating identity and place. But there's plenty on the buffet for residents outside Southtown and Alamo Heights to ponder, and we've got to get them to the table for Diaz' work to realize its potential. •

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