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Texas Contemporary by Arturo Almedia

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A Second Look
July 18, 2014 By Gabriel Diego Delgado

The Texas Contemporary Artist Series at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures highlights 12 contemporary artists who call the Lone Star State home.

By: Gabriel Diego Delgado

Half a decade of curating a groundbreaking contemporary art exhibition series has finally culminated for UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures Exhibitions Curator Arturo Infante Almeida. The highly revered final Texas Contemporary Artist Series and summary exhibition on display at the Institute of Texan Cultures from May 3, 2014, to Oct. 26, 2014, showcases both new and old artwork by all 12 artists who have participated in this five-year program, spearheaded by Almeida.

In his curatorial statement, Almeida lays out the vision behind this encompassing curatorial endeavor: “Engaging in the understanding and celebration of Texas cultural heritage, I chose to focus on the work of contemporary artists who call Texas home. The selected artists cover a broad spectrum of artistic styles and mediums. Common to all of their work, however, is the bold vision and unbridled exuberance that is the quintessence of Texan culture.”

With spotlight artworks by Luis Valderas, Leigh Anne Lester, Carmen Oliver, Henry E. Cardenas, Luis M. Garza, Rex Hausmann, Henry Catenacci, Franco Mondini-Ruiz, Ana Fernandez, Luisa Wheeler, Pepe Serna and Lauren Browning, we see a varied display running a gamut of themes, genres and subjects filling out the first floor of the building. The exhibition is displayed with a purposeful linear arrangement of skewed freestanding walls that dedicate individual and intimate space to each artist, separating the works from each other and giving more room for visual appreciation on a singular level.

Post-modern and contemporary flair inserts itself with a visual quirkiness in quasi-traditional renditions. In mixing splattered floral, Mylar botany, high society collage, outsider/primitive love stories, Xeroxed family lineage applications, contrasting sculptural textures, Texas/self-identity issues, depression, eccentric pop art, landscape banality, structural expression and faceless home décor portraits, Almeida has conjured an eclectic assortment of recognizable artistic prestige.

The artwork is accompanied by monitors that greet visitors by playing short video clips of artist interviews and curatorial explanations. Leading into the first art displays, the entrance is surrounded by photographic storyboards from all 12 opening nights. With such deliberate appreciation, highbrow treatment and an elevated cachet, it is no wonder the exhibition series has been recognized on the city and state levels, granting each artist an official senate proclamation document, a certificate of congressional recognition and a signed letter of official congratulations by Mayor Julian Castro.

However, it is important to note that as it is a summary exhibition, Almeida also gave freedom to several artists to explore new avenues from previous bodies of work comparative of their individual solo exhibitions.

Fernandez chose to submit exploratory work that derails from her signature urban cityscapes, an aesthetic she mastered in an eerie pictorial of San Antonio residency and identity. Presenting more expressionistic and gestural mark making mixed with strong linear elements, Fernandez layers a kind of de Kooning aesthetic over her simplified sketches of urban living. From preceding work, we know underneath the deliberate breakaway lies the essence of her old self (the house, the lawn, the figures, the low-rider cars, etc.), but masked by purposeful distortions, unresolved juxtapositions and admirable cross-outs.

Like a visual scrubbing, Fernandez gives us a middle stage of maturity, of voice, of progression – finding her own way past the local identity that garnered her national attention. She is almost saying in bold brush strokes that she is free from the bonds of repetitive composition and theme. To present this kind of self-destruction and reanalysis takes courage as well as confidence, giving the viewer a sneak peek at a personal need to evolve.

Serna’s two lithographs give an admirable presentation to outsider art. His solo exhibition titled “La Mona Risa” was comprised of decorative portraits of inspiring women in unflattering executions. By representing Serna with cartoon-like couples in “I Do” and “Honeymoon,” the overt gaudiness takes backseat to the dynamic relationship between the bride and the groom. Their sincere admiration for each other is captured by simplistic facial expressions, and the decorative motifs add a festive element to the artwork.

Browning’s exceptional play off texture and precise carving techniques are executed in such perfection that her stone-carved sculptures radiate with an inner luminosity. A fluorite, vesicular basalt and granite combination, “Resilience” is a masterful play of contrasting surface qualities. With a Texas-based assumption and title supposition, one can almost perceive an abstracted cactus with blooming tundra.

Browning’s past career with NASA, her Ph.D. in geology and her geochemist background give her exceptional knowledge in her materials of choice. Her prominent understanding of resource is evident.

Rounding out incomparable eloquence is the large floral by Mondini-Ruiz, an internationally recognized San Antonio painter. “Wildflowers I” is a large traditional still life painting that is made up of expressionistic wisps, outlines and gestures. Interpreted as flowers in a vase against a non-addressed background, we give attention to the bouquet – an explosion of simplistic petals, stems and blooming florets.

Executed in a manifestation of impressionism mixed with expressionism and paired with pompous attitude, “Wildflowers I” is a perfect visual of self-identity for Mondini-Ruiz. Admirable in scale, appreciative in gesture and defiant in detail, the flowers give grace, vibrancy and spouting elegance, all the while defying the almost limiting outlines that strive to define the subject.

Although Mondini-Ruiz has often painted his patrons, collectors and supporters in this simplistic manner, this spotlighted rendition of classical muse almost reflects back the larger-than-life and charismatic persona that is the artist himself – an undeliberate mirror of ostentatious grandeur.

In essence, we see varying sides of each artist as Almeida presents a second look at the chosen few who given opportunity to give voice to Texas identity, heritage and culture.

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures is located at 801 César E. Chavez Blvd. in San Antonio, Texas. For more information, call the institute at 210-458-2300, or contact Gabriel Diego Delgado at gabrieldelgadoartstudio@yahoo.com

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