Simply put, it has been a banner year for Latin American art in South Florida. Consider that we have already seen such major shows as "Wifredo Lam in North America" at the Miami Art Museum, "Unbroken Ties: Dialogues in Cuban Art" at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, and "Of Rage and Redemption: The Art of Oswaldo Guayasamín" at Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt Center Gallery. Add to that the Luna half of the new "Pablo Picasso Ceramics/Carlos Luna Paintings," also at MoA/FL, and a pair of smaller exhibits at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, "Guillermo Trujillo: Panamanian Master" and the current "José Clemente Orozco: The Graphic Work," and you have as lavish a feast as you could hope for.
It is only in this context of great abundance, then, that "Visiones: 20th Century Latin Art — Selections From the Nassau County Museum of Art," now winding down at the Boca Museum, can be considered merely adequate. It's a modest side dish alongside the richness of the previously mentioned appetizers and entrées.
The exhibition includes 32 artists, by my count. (Promotional materials also feature reproductions of works by Wifredo Lam and Carlos Luna that, unless well-hidden, were not in the show when I visited.) Nearly half of the artists are from Cuba, with another handful each from Mexico and Brazil, two each from Argentina and Chile, and the remainder from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Haiti. I mention this imbalance only because, in light of the Lam at MAM retrospective and the "Unbroken Ties" and Luna shows at MoA/FL, Cuban art has already made such a strong showing this year that the Cuban work here seems almost like a footnote.
The introduction makes the claim that "representational imagery is the theme that prevails throughout the contemporary arsenal of varied artistic techniques on view." In other words, if there is a theme at work here, it is a very loose one: pictures of stuff.
Some of the stuff is quite fetching. Miami-based Cuban artist Glexis Novoa weighs in with Londres-Downtown Havana (2000-01), another of his surreal, vaguely futuristic cityscapes that blend reality and fantasy, in this case a combination of London and Havana. Another Cuban, Augustin Fernandez, who settled in Puerto Rico after a stint in Paris, captures the sinuous forms of the title creature in Anaconda (1988) with a chilly biomechanical feel. Teatro de Naranjas (Theater of Oranges) (1991) by Salvadoran Ana Maria de Martinez lives up to its title by presenting the subject matter of still life in a highly theatrical way.
These are random snatches of beauty that jumped out at me as I made my way through the exhibition. There are other rewards along the way. Seeing the interlocked, alien-looking creatures near the center of Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta's Re-Evolvers — La Couple (1954), afloat on a sea of grays and whites accented by cool blues and greens, is weirdly like running into old friends, such was Matta's mastery of his familiar style at the time.
Given the longstanding political volatility of so much of Latin America, the exhibition has surprisingly little political content. Brazilian artist Adriana Varejao's Carne Marinha — cinco platos (Meat Seascape — five plates) (1999) is an exception, and a powerful one. It consists of a canvas torn to reveal what look like human viscera underneath, pieces of which can also be found on the five ceramic plates surrounding the canvas. As the wall text aptly sums up, the work "graphically illustrates her contention that the civilized veneer of Portugal's empire was built on the bodies of the colonized and the enslaved." Mexico's Carlos Aguirre is more oblique but no less forceful with his Daño Colateral (Collateral Damage) (2003), which consists of intermingled red and black vinyl letters applied to an opaque acrylic sheet. The text looks like gibberish until you realize that, read independently by color, the black letters spell out COLLATERAL DAMAGE and the red ones read MURDER OF CIVILIANS.
One of the strongest works in the show is a suite of color and black-and-white digital prints that opts for the intensely personal over the political. For Absence (2002), Elizabeth Cerejida, another Cuban, examines the universal human theme of loss in horrifically immediate terms. One of the framed panels that make up the installation includes text in which Cerejida explains how she set out to capture the impact of her mother's encroaching Alzheimer's.
"I have chosen to photograph seemingly mundane objects that gain importance due to my mother's increasing inability to operate them," she says, referring to such articles as a purse, a space heater/cooler, and, most poignantly, a sewing machine that has been unplugged and covered with a cloth to indicate its obsolescence. "Part of the process of living with this condition is the continuous problem of permanently misplacing things of everyday use."
Among the photos are two panels with white lettering on a black background: "My father's umbrella" and "Her wristwatch." And as if to anchor these ordinary objects in a very specific personality, Cerejida also includes a simple headshot of her mother, looking directly at the camera with a blankness of expression that leaves us painfully free to project almost anything onto her placid features. Like the best art, this is work that transcends its most intimate details to speak to larger concerns.
"Visiones" is supplemented in a side gallery by more than a dozen related works from the Boca Museum's permanent collection, including pieces by Matta, Pérez Celis, Armando Morales, Arturo Rodríguez, Guillermo Trujillo, and Haitian-born, Miami-based Edouard Duval-Carrié (who is also represented in the main show by two paintings). While it's nice to see these works again, they do nothing to alter the impression that this exhibition overall is a worthwhile but only moderately satisfying endeavor, best approached with limited expectations.