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Art review: At MexiCali Biennial, cannibalism is consuming theme

A show at Vincent Price Art Museum that features work by artists and collectives from the U.S. and Mexico has some hits and not a few misses.

January 28, 2013|By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic

A narrow shelf across the bottom holds a small hourglass filled with matching Baker-Miller pink sand, plus a pair of pink-tinted sunglasses — equipment to facilitate a viewer's surrender to the ostensible healing powers of aesthetic contemplation. That the overall hue also screams Pepto-Bismol (burp!) while the glasses are suspiciously rose-colored together puts institutionalized art on the supermarket shelf as a panacea for social nausea.

Equally skeptical of convention is "Border Theory," an elegant, formalist stain painting by Tony de los Reyes. He injects sociopolitical savvy into the supposedly autonomous region of abstract painting.

A rainbow of poured colors from the top and the bottom soaks into the raw linen, merging on a diagonal across the center like a classic Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler. There, a thin white line traces the contacts between the colors — a line that the artist says has been manipulated to trace an unspecified portion of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

The radiant color eloquently flows and bleeds. It refuses to respect the bright-line division between the painting's north and south zones, national borders finally being as abstract and mutable as any Color Field painting.

And what of cannibalism? Connections between it and Castaño's video, Reynolds' mixed-media work and De los Reyes' painting are stretched pretty thin. Instead, throughout the show it most often seems to be a subset of standard appropriation — the redeployment into new contexts of objects, images or doctrines that already exist. Those shifts in circumstance alter (or are altered by) whatever has been borrowed.

With some hits and not a few misses, the show is rather woolly — less focused than a commendable, exploratory effort at finding a thread within the diversity of art being produced today. A stark exception is "Tomad y Comed" by Marycarmen Arroyo Macias. In blood scrawled like desperate Spanish graffiti across two adjoining walls, she writes the pointed words of the Christian Eucharist.

Translation: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you."

Ancient Romans slurred Christians as cannibals because of their ritual, while invading Spanish conquistadors did something similar to Aztecs and others in the New World. The term even derives from the belief that the Caribs of the West Indies ate human flesh.

Charges of rampant cannibalism are not uncommon as a way to dehumanize an enemy. Macias' bloody text, written into an enveloping corner of the room, casts an experience of the world in general, and the world of art in particular, as a more appropriate body to be consumed.

christopher.knight@latimes.com

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