Mexican Consulate and Garcia Squared Contemporary group show explores aspects of mortal experience

05/21/2014 7:00 AM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

“Huellas en el Tiempo” (“Footprints in Time”) is a vast and inclusive exhibition of Mexican graphic art from both the 20th and 21st centuries.

The show occupies two venues, the Mexican Consulate of Kansas City and Garcia Squared Contemporary.

Israel Garcia, a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, launched Garcia Squared Contemporary to bring Latino-focused art to a region rich in culture but lacking in any one space designated to showcase the arts of Latin America.

The opportunity to work with the Consulate of Mexico to bring this show of prints to Kansas City was an unusual opportunity.

“For me, the history that comes behind the exhibition is very exciting,” he said. “My job was to take the show as a whole and to break it into two parts — one part at the consulate and one part at the gallery.

“I looked for great contemporary art from Mexico that I felt needed to be seen. Each space is unique in itself and lent itself nicely to the way the show came together.”

Garcia Contemporary is in the former Arts Incubator Building on 18th Street, but entering the consulate, one block away on Baltimore Street, is like leaving Kansas City for Mexico. The language changes to Spanish and the interior is reminiscent of bureaucratic offices in Mexico City, with white tiles and clusters of potted plants.

Lines of people wait patiently for help with visas, passports and visits to the immigration and protection department, but the orderly atmosphere has no palpable anxiety. The officials in charge seem efficient and relaxed.

A sign on a staircase leading to the second floor advertises that the art on display there is available to everybody. One does have to ask to be admitted, but the display is for the pleasure of any visitor to the consulate.

La Parota is the name of a printmaking facility in Colima, Mexico. It was created in 1996 with a mission to strengthen graphic arts in Mexico and to create fruitful interchanges between generations of artists. The more than 60 artists represented in the exhibit range in age and reputation from known and respected to emerging and relatively obscure.

Humanism as aesthetic and content unifies the show in both locations. Each print addresses some aspect of mortal experience, from our collective grappling with the reality of death to our shaky understanding of our dreams and fantasies.

The structure of these wide-ranging investigations is rooted in solid and lyrical drawing. There is not one work displayed that does not employ the language of line, value, cadence and composition to support content.

In this way, the exhibit is tremendously pleasurable to view, as each print functions simultaneously as parable and as poetry.

Directly at the top of the stairs at the consulate is a striking aquatint by Roberto Acosta Yanes. Made in 2013, it is titled “Calavareando Conmigo,” or “Skulling with Me.” In it a strong, male hand grips the hand of a skeleton.

The living hand is lighted from above and printed in yellow ink overlaid in black ink. The skeleton’s fingers wrap around the flesh of the hand and the two entwine, almost like lovers.

This effect of tender rapport rather than violent submission of life to death is achieved by beautiful drawing. Each form lightly engages the other, but there is no melodrama.

It is refreshing to view a piece of art that is sincere and unafraid to address the human condition in a straightforward manner without irony. Goya is evoked in the lush density of the aquatinted black background.

The theme of death continues in a lithograph by Per Anderson that is untitled. In it a femur and a shovel are next to each other, placed like specimens on a petri dish.

The bone is depicted as being as strong as the shovel and both have handles. The imagery implies that we dig into life and death simultaneously and equally.

Other standouts are a lovely, pale aquatint by Leonora Carrington and a lithograph by Olegario Hernandez. Carrington’s title, “Cheese Mine,” and her imagery — of a witch, a bird and a hovering cat — are surreal and mysterious, and made more so by wavering and barely discernible scratchy lines.

Hernandez’s print, made in 2011, is called “Chalasi,” and depicts a tiger hunting deer, the entire small image undulating with frightened animals.

Unfortunately, male artists vastly outnumber female artists in the exhibition as a whole.

Myth, archetype and emotion are not disaffected and ironic enough to appear regularly in American contemporary art. What a shame! This is a show first and foremost for the heart and the eyes.

On exhibit

“Huellas en el Tiempo” continues at the Consulate of Mexico, 1617 Baltimore Ave. and Garcia Squared Contemporary, 115 W. 18th St., through May 30. Consulate hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; Garcia Squared is open noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call the consulate at 816-556-0800, Ext.730, or 816-916-4266.

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