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Toledo Museum of Art highlights contemporary Latino artists

By Fletcher Word

La Prensa Staff Writer

Fortunately, there are many different ways to view the treasures on display at the Toledo Museum of Art.

There are more than 35 galleries from which to choose, there are exhibitions that stop by the museum for brief periods and, frequently, the museum brings works of art from its vaults and rotates them into the galleries.

One can also make use of the guides and tools—earphones and brochures, for example—that the museum has to offer to assist the visitor in appreciating the efforts of the various artists on display.

If you get really lucky, however—and La Prensa did on our last visit to the museum—you could end up with the best guide of all: Don Bacigalupi, president and director of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Last week, Bacigalupi took La Prensa for a spin through a gallery that is currently presenting the works of a few contemporary Latino artists. Bacigalupi’s specialty is modern and contemporary art, particularly the work of African-American and Latino artists. Upon his arrival, just over a year ago, in Toledo , the new museum director recognized the need to boost the museum’s attention to the contributions of contemporary minority artists.

Bacigalupi scoured the museum’s vaults for such works and was able to immediately find the works of African-American artists. He started displaying that art last April. Since then he has been making an effort to acquire the work of more Latino artists, many of whom he is personally familiar with, since he earned his bachelor’s degree in art history (summa cum laude) from the University of Houston and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Texas. In fact, until his arrival in Toledo , Bacigalupi had spent his career in the Southwest United States .

The works of three contemporary Latino artists now grace the walls of Gallery Four: Vik Muñiz, Kathy Vargas, and Luis Jiménez

After a brief introduction to museum visitors, the art will be integrated into the rest of the museum which is organized primarily in chronological order.

Vik Muñiz, a native of Sao Paolo who now lives in New York City , combines sculpture, painting, collages and photography to create “very playful” images, according to Bacigalupi.

The Toledo Museum of Art has a Muñiz work, “Chuck,” that is a photograph of a collage. The collage is an image of artist Chuck Close, who himself has a large painting in the museum hallway adjacent to Gallery Four titled “Alex.” Close’s work is a painting of a photograph of another artist, Alex Katz.

Muñiz is “clever and adept,” says Bacigalupi, at creating art in a particular medium and then photographing his creation to change his statement.

The Close portrait—painted squares forming a collage then forming a photograph—is a kind of ironic “triple-layered portrait of an artist” who creates similar tributes, in reverse order, of others.

Kathy Vargas is an internationally acclaimed artist/photographer who resides in hometown of San Antonio .

Her piece at the museum, “Broken Column: Mother,” is a tribute to her own mother who has long since died. Vargas uses traditional photographs as a background for her drawings. The museum piece is a composite of individually framed photographs, arranged in the shape of a cross, that show the artist’s mother resting in her coffin. Parts of the body are x-rays with other images floating about—such as crowns of thorns. The elegiac homage is reflective of the sort of Día de Los Muertos altars celebrated in several Latin American countries, particularly México.

Bacigalupi described the Vargas work in general, and this one in particular, as “culturally specific” with respect to social issues, such as references to the impact of AIDS, that affect the Latino community.

Luis Jiménez grew up in a barrio of El Paso and arrived on the New York art scene in the late 1960s. He is a sculptor and a draftsman and was the first Latino from U.S.-America to be given a full-scale retrospective by the Smithsonian.

Jiménez was greatly influenced by the pop art movement of the ‘60s, but his work is distinctive in that it “celebrates working class heroes,” says Bacigalupi. His art is an effort to “recognize and elevate images from the working class.”

Jiménez has two drawings on display at the museum—“Sodbuster” and Steelworker”—that have been used by the artist as the sketches for the oversized fiberglass sculptures he specializes in. Regrettably, the sculptures themselves are not here in Toledo .

The sculpture of “Sodbuster” is 24 feet in length and is replete with “references to other cultures.” The very soil that is being tilled turns up artifacts, for example, of ancient indigenous peoples. The sculpture of the “Steelworker” is 12 feet high and is “a powerful image of celebrating laborer,” says Bacigalupi, “who would otherwise not be recognized.”

The museum director’s goal is to gradually collect more Latino art from three major periods: the contemporary (1960s to present); the classic modernist period (which peaked in the 1930s with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera); and the vice regal period that stretches from the European conquest of the New World to the early 1900s which was marked, says Bacigalupi, by “a great deal of mixing of European tradition with indigenous cultures.”

Gallery Four contains not only the aforementioned Latino artists; there are also pieces from other pop and contemporary artists. An Andy Warhol “Brillo Pad” has been placed on the floor in the center of the gallery. A sequence of black and white photogravures by David Levinthal—“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”—re-enact the story of the 19th Century’s most widely-read novel by means of photographs of period-piece lead figures.

“I think his goal was to take us back a step and re-examine the period,” says Bacigalupi of Levinthal.

The art in Gallery Four has been assembled both to showcase Latino artists and to reflect the transition from 1950s abstract expressionism (as exemplified by Jackson Pollock), to 1960s pop art, to today’s contemporary phase.

The Toledo Museum of Art is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Gallery Four is located on the second floor.






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