Quid Pro Quo

Fittingly, conservatives brought down the curtain on their eight years of failed and perverse policies by announcing that the theater was, in fact, on fire. It’s almost too much to ask of people to get excited about Barrack Obama’s election as president considering by now everyone’s probably suffering from sheer exhaustion, if they’re not frantic with worry about losing their jobs and homes. So it’s with a psychological acuteness that Galería de la Raza has titled their current show Strange Hope. They seem to have zeroed in on the feverish schizophrenic state of the union, where optimism somehow still finds root in the detritus left behind by the former administration.

quid11Strange Hope began with a gesture, the blind exchange of the works now on display amongst the participating artists on opening night. It’s a clever way to ground the exhibit in the moment by reinforcing a sense of community in the face of an outgoing ideology that largely looked after the monied interests of the few at the expense of the people they had sworn to protect, some of whom would end up face down in oil-soaked water thanks to disregard. Victor Cartagena’s Untitled, 2009 is the perfect spectre for a new era of economic hysteria: a bald-headed red-faced Polyphemus, the center of a dollar bill representing his single eye. The torn pages of script that frame it (Hebrew?) invite further exploration (any polyglots out there that can identify the text?).

All of the works are of the same dimensions, 8.5″ X 8.5″, all are works on paper, but there is considerable variety amongst them. Veronica Duarte’s Vision of an Immanent Order, 2008 for instance at first glance appears to be covered with layers of cardboard cut-outs forming wavy Pepsi logo-like hills piled one on top of the other. Actually, the paper has been skillfully folded to bulge in bas-relief. Strips of artificial turf and a single tiny tree adorn the crests. Sylvia Buettner’s Plaisir, 2009 uses affixed sheet metal and charcoal to heighten the contrast between two facing figures. The woman’s profile is incised into the white ink in precise little lines, whereas the man’s is rendered in charcoal. A printed floral design, perhaps from a woodblock stamp both divides the composition and thematically ties them together.
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Two of the most striking images come from Tân Khánh Cao and Jesus Barraza. Untitled, 2008 by the former artist is a silhouette, Kara Walker style, of a little girl on her pony. Perched atop her head like a mortar board is a miniature F-117A Stealth Fighter. Barraza’s work is a silk screen print of a Native American man in blue and flesh tone against a field of white clouds. The economy of the colors in Alcatraz, 2009 calls to mind Shepard Fairey’s work, the iconic image after all helped convey the burden of our aspirations during the election, but Barraza’s work is obsessively detailed which complements the stripped down color scheme nicely.

Images were a little hard to come by for this post, but I managed to track down a few on the artists’ websites for your continued browsing pleasure. Check out Rio Yañez’s rather accommodating Batman here. Scott Macleod makes visible what we’re all thinking. Finally, the piece at the top of the post that appears on all the show’s fliers is by Jenifer Wofford, whose work I mentioned in passing way back in October when I stumbled across it on a kiosk on Market St. In my recent post on public art, I suggested that Wofford’s stuff deserved to be blown up to enormous size on a city billboard or wall, so get on that SF Arts Commission would you?

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