The Abbreviated Tour

The title of one of the exhibitions on view at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is oddly grand, vague, and somewhat misleading, all at the same time. "A View of the Contemporary: Latin American Artists" features more than three dozen highly diverse works by 25 artists from eight countries. Taken individually some of the pieces are quite striking, while others don't quite click -- just what we've come to expect from most group shows.

But the show as a whole left me feeling even more dissatisfied than the most uneven group shows. After examining the catalog a bit more closely, I began to see why. The works have been culled from a larger traveling exhibition called "Latin American Artists," which was first assembled by curator Carol Norman of East Tennessee State University nearly two years ago, and 11 of the artists originally included have been omitted from what's on display at the Art and Culture Center.

"The show does not pretend to be an all-inclusive survey of contemporary Latin American art, but is presented as a taste of its incredible diversity," Norman writes in her forward to the catalog for the original exhibition. She goes on to explain, "Rather than select a particular theme or representative look, we have collected a varied body of work without a significant visual common denominator."

Fine. So the show isn't meant to be all-inclusive. But couldn't it be at least a little more representative? More than half of the pieces are by Cuban and Argentinean artists, with another dozen or so from Mexican and Puerto Rican artists. The remaining handful of works are by artists from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Colombia (misspelled as "Columbia" both in the catalog and on the museum wall). That leaves the seven countries of Central America completely unrepresented. As for South America, focusing on 3 out of 13 countries barely scratches the surface of that vast continent. (The original traveling exhibition was slightly broader, including works by artists from Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay.)

And while I'm quibbling, let me point out that while the West Indies are technically Latin American, it's not unusual to think of the cultures of the Caribbean countries as having more in common with one another than with those of Central and South America. Norman seems to have anticipated that concern. "We use 'Latin American Artists' as a broad term," she writes, "no more descriptive of the particular than 'European Artists' or 'North American Artists.' We include artists who currently live in Latin America, others who are originally from Central and South America but reside in the United States; and artists who were born and/or raised here but maintain close identification with their ancestral homes."

Very well, then. Let's take the curator at her word and move on to the art. The show offers a handful of fairly traditional paintings on canvas or wood and a comparable number of photographs and photo collages, with a smattering of prints and a drawing or two. But the work, in general, is heavily weighted toward multimedia constructions and sculptures. The paintings run the gamut. The least impressive (and most obvious) is The Last Rafter, by Cuba's Julio Antonio, a large, garish image of a creature that looks more like an alien escapee from an episode of The X-Files than a human, painted in ghoulish greens, grays, and blacks accented by a bit of bright yellow. The best is "A" From Mar de la Furia (Sea of Fury), by Lydia Rubio, also of Cuba, who conjures up the plight of refugees with a sleekly painted image of a ship in the latter stages of burning at sea. It's painted on a square wooden panel, with the image enclosed by a circle with the legend "Aug. 1995, Straits of Florida, Marquesas Keys." Rubio captures the look and feel of raging flames especially well.

Somewhere in between these two extremes are two pictures by Argentineans. Rebeca Mendoza's The Cross consists of a simple wooden frame and, recessed within it, another frame surrounding a canvas painted with a cross so stylized that the image approaches abstraction. Maria Gnecco's Pajaros Mecanicos de Obatala (Mechanical Birds of Obatala) is a large, unframed canvas divided into eight panels, each featuring one of the metallic title creatures.

Of the photos, only the black-and-white Nude XII and Nude LXII, by Elizabeth Cerejido of Cuba, stand out, with their luminous bodies almost swallowed up by the inky black of the background. Puerto Rican mixed-media artist Gloria Rodriguez contributes three photo collages that come across as halfhearted and dated, while two large, untitled photos by the Venezuelan couple Allen and Teresa Diehl reach for artiness with blurry focusing and washed-out colors.

With a couple of exceptions -- the cheesy ceramic Tree of Sustenance by Esperanza Cortes of Colombia and the miniature Duane Hanson knockoff La Gorda Del Changuito (Fat Woman With Shopping Cart) by Argentinean Betina Sor -- the show's most exciting pieces venture into three dimensions. Heavy Toys, by Eduardo Daniel Fiorda of Argentina, is a set of five makeshift helicopters assembled from odds and ends of metal, including screws, bits of pipe, and sparkplugs. They're simultaneously whimsical and mildly sinister. (It would be great fun to see them displayed alongside Mechanical Birds of Obatala.)

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