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ART : '29 Latino Artists': Against the Stereotype

December 20, 1990|MARY HELEN BERG | Mary Helen Berg is a regular contributor to The Times Orange County Edition. and

Paul Apodaca says that as soon as he tells people he has put together a show called "29 Latino Artists," he has "to start working against the stereotypes that people are going to expect."

The curator of folk art at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Apodaca has juried this show for the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art across town, where it continues through Jan. 4. "If you said you were having a show of 29 'New York' artists," he continues, "people should come looking for the artwork."

But with a show called "Latino Artists," people assume the work will be "themed around political or class struggle, or the search for roots."

Apodaca's program notes attempt to derail such expectations, urging viewers to embrace the works for their vision, humor and value as art rather than as cultural expressions. The 70 paintings, etchings, sculptures and photographs range from the social realism of Emigdio Vasquez to the surreal world of Gomez Flores. Apodaca hopes the diversity will "rip the fabric in your mind."

A sampling:

* The playful, squat and boxy three-dimensional characters of Sylvia Raz's "Mamy, Llegaron a Los Tios" ("Mommy, the Uncles Have Arrived"), who welcome visitors to the show.

* The woman in Frank Guiterrez's large acrylic "In the Serene Shadow," captured during a quiet moment at a stream's edge, sheltered by her guardian angel.

* The conical, otherworldly creatures in Flores' "The Guf," sinister and humorous at once. Apodaca says they seem to "connote reflections on modern life."

Apodaca says this is the first Orange County gallery show for Latino art that he can recall. Why has it taken so long? He places at least part of the blame on "ethnic artists who are afraid of being absorbed, and mainstream exhibitors who are afraid of being lowered to the common denominator."

The result has been limited exposure for minority artists, who often find their only audiences at such cultural community centers as Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles or El Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego, where powerful exhibitors rarely venture.

So far, though, "29 Latino Artists" has attracted gallery owners and even corporate buyers, as well as students and a broad audience from the Santa Ana Latino community. OCCCA officials are talking about making the show a biannual event.

"I think history is catching up to Orange County," Apodaca says. "The multicultural base of the county is reaching such huge numbers that a passing of the baton is happening."

Besides, as he writes in his program notes, "there is nothing to be afraid of . . . the art does not create or confirm stereotypes. It doesn't not present a united view or make one statement. It is the art of 29 Latino artists. Enjoy it. Be amazed by it."

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