By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Photos of seaside performances by Brazilian Tunga, called Seeding Mermaids - p, q, r, and k (1987-98) which show a decapitated head (cast from the artist's own head), evoke the sense of dread that accompanies any conscionable examination of history, especially since the 20th century has developed into the bloodiest ever, despite organized efforts to become more civilized. For about 20 years, Venezuelan Roberto Obregon has dissected, documented and displayed rose petals with the objectivity of a botanist. His Extra Niagara Para la "Amnesia" de Christopher Grimes (1998) consists of a grid of 16 panels that mix silhouettes of roses with other motifs, including letters and the inscription "Evening in Paris." The work suggests some pictographic message, possibly concerning absence as presence, as though Obregon intends to induce some excised memory.
One of the more curious works is Venezuelan Alfredo Ramirez's Kisses (1997), a video projection of the inside of two mouths as lovers exchange kisses. Like Brazilian Miguel Rio Branco's semi-abstracted images, the mouths also appear so abstract that only the occasional tongue sighting lets you in on the whereabouts. Colombian-born Inigo Manglano-Ovalle presents glasses of water ostensibly tapped from a keg of water collected from an actual iceberg. Given his propensity for pranks, though, one wonders whether the water is indeed from the iceberg in the photo. I downed a glass anyway.
Some artists appear to be heirs of Brazil's Neo-Concretism art movement of the '50s and '60s, and Argentina's Arte Concreto-Invencion and Perceptismo movement from the '40s. Brazilian Waltercio Caldas' Orange (1998) is a marvelous three-dimensional line drawing in metal, which employs the color orange and varying shapes to carve out positive and negative spaces on the frame of this already empty structure. Its airiness and silent repose seem emblematic of freedom or escape from domination. Suspense 5 (1998), by Brazilian Ernesto Neto, proves equally buoyant, consisting of an elastic fabric stretched over extended pins in a star shape. Argentinean Pablo Siquier's three amazing black-and-white geometric paintings not only get the eyes dancing, but their rich optical motifs connote Arabic and Hebrew script, although they're derived from the art deco architectural elements typical of buildings in Buenos Aires and Rosario - a style that links them to Arte Concreto, which was later repressed by dictatorial regimes.
Perhaps the exhibit's most playful artist is Brazilian Marcelo Pombo, who's represented by three energetic abstract landscapes and about five souped-up product containers. In search of gift-box abundance, he has applied lady bugs to an apple-juice carton, a winter scene to detergent, tropical motifs to whiskey, etc.
"Amnesia" offers the viewer much - including opportunities to ponder the long-term effects, on art as well as life, of authoritarian governments, censorship, isolation and colonization. As South American artists emerge from this history, we would do well, as receivers of their art, not to adopt the very restrictive framework they are shedding.