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Style and Substance

April 20, 2005, 12:00 am
By
Hand over the museum keys, this art deserves it.


Like the larger Mexican-American community it draws from, Bilingual Press' new hardback coffee table book, Triumph of Our Communities, is large, varied and demands much more reckoning than the so-called "dominant" culture is likely to give it. Fortunately, Triumph mostly ***image1***doesn't care what an established, conspicuously white art world thinks but rather plays a celebratory role for the artists and organizations that have built a fertile and potent cultural movement across the US. From obvious candidates Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico, to less-obvious locations like Indiana and Illinois and Oregon, the book presents more than 600 color plates representing the past 40 years of Mexican-American art.

The aggrandizing title rightly applauds the leadership role community arts organizations have taken in promoting, commissioning, archiving and otherwise enabling a thriving landscape-many of the included works were originally commissioned by such organizations-but the text in the book never moves past the same ***image3***self-congratulatory tone or attempts to assert any real position about the state of its subject and its interface with a larger world. All things being equal, that's more space per page for drool-inducing imagery, but in the context of such a handsome and purposeful graphic interface, it's a missed opportunity.

So much of the work is overflowing with content, though, that any lack of sharp, written analysis is more than made up for in the images included. Predictably strong in graphics, posters, murals, portraits and fantasy images, the book also exudes a particularly Raza reconfiguring of traditional elements, pop culture and political iconography. ***image2***There is a clear cognizance in the most contemporary work of the "exotic perception" of both the Mexican tradition and the barrio stereotype and a clever absorption of such tricky and quirky social dynamics into a stylistic melange that's not always immediately readable or appreciated by eyes tuned to a more dominant, less street, less border-aware aesthetic. But it's there, it's more alive than anything in your local museum and, whether they get it or not, white people everywhere are about to start talking about how exciting it is. Time to get rid of that Santa Fe Interiors book and lay out something with a little more spice.

 

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