Jose Clemente Orozco is considered one of “Los Tres Grandes,” which doesn’t mean much in the US unless you’re a fine arts major that decided to take special interest in Mexican muralists. The term “Los Tres Grandes” refers to Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros who started their promotion of Mexican muralism in the 1920’s as a way to unify a post-Mexican Revolution society. Together they created a style that defined Mexican identity. They used their works to teach a largely illiterate population about Mexican history depicting everyday people as heroes fighting the revolution and liberating the masses. They truly believed in the power of the new mixed race generation that would forge the next great era of Mexican history. However, a shifting political climate paired with diminishing commissions caused Orozco to move to New York in 1927 and in 1930 he became the first Mexican muralist to paint in the United States. Orozco’s Pomona College fresco also happened to be his first commission since his move to the US.
Orozco’s Prometheus recounts the Greek mythology – Prometheus is said to be mankind’s creator and greatest benefactor by giving humans fire that he stole from Mount Olympus. Zeus sentenced Prometheus to have his liver eaten by an eagle every day and every night it would grow back just to be eaten again for all of time. I know, way harsh! Thematically it is said to represent the struggle between generations and the struggle of the small against mighty seemingly omnipotent forces. In giving humans fire Prometheus also gave them enlightenment, thus knowledge is a theme also explored by the mural. Fast forward to today, the Prometheus 2017 exhibit is four female Mexican artists’ re-examination of Orozco’s mural as an agent for myth-making, social change, as well as the unresolved tensions wrapped up in the dreams of a Mexican Utopia. It’s heavy stuff, all dealing with art as politicized expression and the messy business of US/Mexican relations from the female voice and perspective in what, to me, was quite different than anything I’d seen before.
Rita Ponce de Leon
Ponce de Leon’s exhibit struck me because it was painted directly onto the walls of the gallery and makes interesting use of negative and positive space. Her work is by far the most abstract in terms of her process – she creates imagery through dialogue. From November 2015 through June 2017, Ponce de León facilitated meetings and conversations with students from The Claremont Colleges. At each meeting, students reflected on questions, including “What does Prometheus mean to you today?” and “What does art mean to you?” After each meeting, the students would created a packet of their most best ideas, that would then be passed on to other members of the group who would then add their own ideas. This became the the material that she used to conceptualize the imagery. Pretty cool, right?
Carillo’s exhibit “Mano Izquierda” (Left Hand) is a symbolic portrait of Orozco based on the loss of his left hand to the fireworks he was making to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day at the age of 21. Her installation is a collection of divinatory readings that explore Orozco’s mysticism and esotericism created by studying archival documents. It’s almost like entering a lab, there are microscopes with beetles where the slide should be, test tubes filled with graphite and gunpowder, as well as a palm readings, an astrological slide show, and traced outlines of Orozco’s hands that form constellations. Carrillo’s art is quite literally an experiment where she explores the overlap or art, parapsychology and esotericism in order to reinterpret Orozco’s life.
Goldbard’s exhibit is a multimedia project that combines large scale piñatas, video, and pyrotechnics. She builds replicas of vehicles that have been central to recent acts of political violence and destroys them using traditional Judas-Effigy burning practices and “Torito” as a way to contradict and question the “official” reports made by the press and the Mexican government. The burning of Judas is an Easter-time ritual held by Orthodox and Catholic communities. It is a scapegoating ritual where the corrupt official or character that would harm the people is burned, beaten or blown up. Many see burning the traitor as a way to exorcise evil, betrayal or corruption and purify the soul of the spectators. “Toritio” are paper mache structures fitted with fireworks that are typically worn in celebrations for La Virgen De Soledad in Oaxaca, Mexico. Both are steeped in indigenous and Catholic tradition, both highlight the destructive and purifying effects of fire – as Orozco does in Prometheus. Goldbard’s exhibit includes film of her three most recent instances of political violence Lobo (2013), Microbus (2014) and Plutarco, putos (2015).
Imagine the teletubbies and a 90’s screen saver set to music and strange choreography and you’ll have a taste for what you’ll encounter in the room that holds Rincón-Gallardo’s work. It was definitely my favorite part of the exhibit. Her “music videos” offer viewers alternative realities and radical social experiences. She gathers other artists and musicians together to question official versions of history. Her work Odisea Ocotepec (Ocotepec Odyssey) (2014) features nine videos that explore counter narratives through acid trip sing-a-long that combined music, literature, drama, and feminist pedagogies along with protest songs, science-fiction, and Mexican liberation theology of the 1960’s and 70’s. Her videos refer back to the philosopher Ivan Illich’s Epimetheus archetype, which came to represent those who give, treasure life and preserve hope – essentially looking at the myth from the perspective that knowledge and enlightenment should come from communities and free-form learning, not institutions. It’s definitely something totally different that really makes the viewer think about the function of knowledge as well as the vehicles used to deliver it.
The exhibit will be on display at the Pomona College Museum of Art until December 16, 2017.
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is the latest collaborative effort from arts institutions across Southern California.