At institute, groundbreaking art by Latin Americans

February 13, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

"Latin-American culture has an involvement with and respect for the land on a personal level," says Suzanne Garriguez. "There is a belief that everything is alive in the natural world and has a spiritual presence -- trees, animals, people. The hierarchy of meaning imposed from above in Christianity doesn't exist. The philosophy is infused with spiritual presence, with reverence and respect for every living thing. Thus there is the concept of taking care of our home, where every living thing resides."

That is the concept behind "Rejoining the Spiritual: The Land in Contemporary Latin American Art." This groundbreaking exhibit will begin tomorrow at the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

The groundbreaking is literal as well as figurative, because ground will be broken. The exhibit will consist of seven installations created by Latin-American artists, and earth -- dirt, ground -- will be used in at least one of them.

Groundbreaking because a part of the project will be the artists actually making their works for the first week; you and I can go watch that and ask them questions. Ordinarily, an exhibit's opening date is scheduled for when it's fully installed. But this case is different.

Six of the seven artists -- Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Rimer Cardillo, Josely Carvalho, Ismael Frigerio, Catalina Parra and Regina Vater -- are coming to town this weekend and will begin constructing their installations tomorrow in the institute's Fox and Mount Royal Station buildings. They will finish by the end of the week. (The seventh, Ana Mendieta, died in 1985; a work of hers will be reconstructed by others.) The institute will allow the public access to the exhibition spaces beginning tomorrow.

Groundbreaking because institute students will collaborate with the artists in creating the installations, as part of their course work in "Gritos de la Tierra/Cries From the Earth," given by Ms. Garriguez in conjunction with the show.

And groundbreaking because the catalog will be produced not before but during the exhibit. Usually, an installation exhibit's catalog contains photographs of the artists' previous works, because the current works don't exist before the exhibit. In this case, photographs of the works created here will be taken when they're complete. The catalog will be ready by the closing reception for the artists on March 31, another little change from the usual opening reception.

"Rejoining the Spiritual" was the idea of Ms. Garriguez, who became interested in Latin American art while attending the University of the Americas in Mexico City in 1970, and has since earned a doctorate in the subject from the University of Maryland. The show came about also, she says, "because of my own interest in the land as a source of feeding and nurturing, from spending time in New Mexico becoming involved with the land and what it is to live with the land."

She is co-curator of the exhibit with Inverna Lockpez, director of a Latin-American art gallery in New York who has been curator of more than 200 exhibits of Latin-American art.

The artists hail from Uruguay, Brazil, Cuba and Chile, but all now live in this country. From the perspective of a new country, these artists learn to be particularly aware of their own lands, Ms. Garriguez thinks: "Their consciousness is heightened by a new environment that doesn't quite accept them. They are in between, neither this nor that."

The art these artists create is "multilayered in meaning," she says. "It's tied to ecological art, the issue of trying to save the earth, and also social and political issues. In Latin America the land is a political issue, because someone's always trying to take it away from them."

Involvement with the land, in fact, "involves the philosophical and spiritual belief system," Ms. Garriguez says, "because when you take the land away you take the culture away."

But if the land is a common theme, the artists are not all saying the same thing, the curator notes. "Some are more spiritual or more political or more feminist or more anthropological. And there are many materials and media: clay, prints, video, wood, photos."

The involvement of students in collaboration with the artists is particularly important, Ms. Garriguez says, for it reflects a Latin-American approach. "In Latin America there is more collaboration. There is the idea of working with larger groups rather than working in the studio privately. There are exceptions, but most students here don't come from that kind of experience. They come from individual experience. The [collaborative] process is a metaphor for the cultural foundation of Latin America."

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