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A Provocative Look at Latino Art

Exhibit: Oxnard's Carnegie museum offers a show that explores cultural roots, with works packed with social commentary.


Chuy Rangel lives close enough to the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard that he could walk to Sunday's opening reception for the Arte y Cultura exhibition, which will highlight the work of more than a dozen prominent Latino artists.

But he plans to drive instead, settling in behind the wheel of the classic, coffee-colored Chevy Belair featured in his acrylic artwork "Puro Inspiration Point."

The painting, an homage to Chicano car culture, is one of seven pieces the 31-year-old artist has loaned to the show, which kicks off the Carnegie's fall season and is designed to peel back layers of Latino culture and lay them bare for a wide audience to explore.

"I would like for the audience here in Ventura County to take advantage of the opportunity to see some of the finest Chicano art available," said Rangel, whose artwork has been featured in galleries from San Francisco to Scotland. "And I want [museum visitors] to be able to engage and interact with the artwork so that, if they don't know otherwise, they can discover what our culture is all about."

The exhibition is part of an ongoing push by the Carnegie museum to build up the Latino art portion of its permanent California collection. Each fall for the past four years, museum director Suzanne Bellah has put the permanent collection on display along with artwork borrowed from artists and collections.

As in previous years, this year's exhibit will also feature educational programs, a lecture series and Mexican folk art honoring the Day of the Dead.

The show runs through Nov. 24 at the downtown museum, 424 South C St. It starts Sunday at 1 p.m. with a reception that will feature a lowrider car show and a deejay.

"There is incredibly creative and technical work being done by California Chicano and Latino artists," Bellah said. "This is our opportunity to share some of it with the public."

There will be plenty to choose from.

From the sobering black-and-white photograph of a tattooed man in shackles to the untitled oil on canvas of a woman in a wedding gown contemplating the institution of marriage, much of the artwork is packed with social commentary and is intended to provoke.

One of Rangel's pieces, for example, is titled "Non-Union Worker" and is meant to depict the refusal of the Chihuahua made famous by Taco Bell to do any more commercials for the fast-food giant.

The museum also gets an opportunity to show off its own pieces, including a colorful, mural-sized painting depicting the history of the Chicano movement. The piece was done by noted Latino artist Frank Romero especially for the museum.

Bellah said there will be a particular emphasis this year on the work of Latina artists. The lecture series will feature artist Diane Gamboa, Cal State Northridge instructor and artist Yreina Cervantez, and poet Marisela Norte.

Oxnard folk-art expert Virginia Ashby Valdez also will have her artwork on display.

Valdez, a 46-year-old Ventura native, has been involved for years with the museum's educational programs and its celebration of the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. She said she is thrilled that the museum is taking a leading role in boosting Latino artists and sharing Latino customs and traditions with a wide audience.

"It's just exciting to be able to reach out to our community and pull everyone in for this wonderful cultural experience," she said. "There's an important Latino voice out there, and it's growing larger all the time. It just makes sense that it should be reflected in everything from pop culture to music to fine arts."

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