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April 04, 1986|Robert McDonald

SAN DIEGO — Several artists who are not reluctant to convey specific regionalist concerns in their works are now represented in an exhibition of strong works at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park.

"Border Realities, Part Two, 1986," as the exhibition is titled, focuses on the unease with which the populations on either side of the Mexican-American border live with one another. It was organized by and represents the works of members of the Border Art Workshop (San Diego)/Taller de Arte Fronterizo (Tijuana), an interdisciplinary gathering of artists who meet weekly to discuss the border as a subject for intellectual inquiry and a source for artistic inspiration. The workshop members believe that there is a "border consciousness" that the inhabitants of the area share in varying degrees. Indeed, even the most casual visitor cannot view the works exhibited with indifference. Their aggressive forms effectively convey the brutality and anguish of their content.

The members of the interdisciplinary group--Isaac Artenstein, David Avalos, Sara-Jo Berman, Philip Brookman, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Victor Ochoa and Michael Schnorr--have, in an unusual statement of collegiality, integrated their works throughout the exhibition space in preference to segregating them into seven solo shows. Pairs and groups of the artists created several of the works.

The most powerful work in the exhibition is one of these cooperative efforts, the signature piece of the exhibition, "A los caidos en la frontera/ To Those Who have Fallen at the Border," a participatory altar initiated by Michael Schnorr and Isaac Artenstein. It is a romantic-tawdry, noble-gutsy environment made of what could be the possessions of a bag lady who wanders both sides of the border, indiscriminately gathering the detritus she finds there. Visitors have contributed objects and graffiti. One text reads in part, "Altars often operate as memory. They link us with history and geology." They link us as well with life. Such a work touches us all, a few distantly, most, intimately.

David Avalos, an outstanding artist who lives in this area (He was included in last year's La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art landmark show, "A San Diego Exhibition: Forty-Two Emerging Artists."), is represented by his now-famous "San Diego Donkey Cart" with its maquette and a miniature version, and by three of his remarkable "Hubcap Milagros" (or charms), small wall sculptures assembled from found and made objects.

The versatile Gomez-Pena asks in a graphic diptych "What If . . . " the situation at the border were reversed and "Anglosaxicans" ( Waspos, Wasperos, Waspitos ) were migrating daily across the border to work in Mexican businesses and homes.

He has also created an impressive "Border Newsstand" that integrates magazine cover images with projected images to create a collage of life. Muralist Victor Ochoa's "Border Lottery / Loteria de las fronteras, " the largest work in the exhibition, is composed of the images of lottery cards representing "el coyote," who smuggles aliens across the border; "la bota," the boot of the police, and a mirror labeled "el pollo" in which the viewer sees himself. It reminds us that as long as there is one victim, we are all victims.

It is an instructive exhibition that continues through April 13.

KFMB-TV (Channel 8) will feature the exhibition at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on its "Our San Diego" program, a monthly television production devoted to San Diego's Latino community.

The San Diego Museum of Art, in cooperation with San Diego school districts countywide, is presenting "Young Art '86," an exhibition of more than 300 works of art made by students in kindergarten through grade 12. Jurors from the museum and local school districts selected them from more than 6,500 entries.

Overall, the younger artists are the most interesting, an observation that is a cliche in our culture. As they mature, children adapt our stereotypical ways of interpreting the world visually. As they master the traditional skills, they make less engaging art.

I found myself personally gravitating toward the work of the kindergartners because of its combined freshness and sophistication. A case in point is the still life with fishbowl by Darren Hill, which has a Matissean quality. Kindergartner Sara Kebler reduces a bird of paradise plant to a strong abstract form. Fourth-grader Katherine Han has made a fine urbanscape using newsprint and marker. Billy Marshall's study of modes of transportation, curiously excluding the automobile but including the train (which is more interesting anyway) along with the horse and a flying umbrella, is totally engaging and provocative. Danny Olsen exhibits remarkable powers of observation and motor control in his drawing of a twig with leaves and flowers. Kindergartner Prestin Dane's ranks of high-key colored P's, presumably for Prestin, reveal the developing ego that an artist needs for success.

Among group projects, a large chess board with figures by students of Mission Day School is notable, as is a ceramic project by Ramona School students commemorating Halley's comet. Mervyn's department stores supported the exhibition financially and they merit our thanks.

The exhibition continues through April 13.

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