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THE NEW YORK TIMES
'The Selected Files 2002'
By Romy Varghese
January 17, 2003
El Museo del Barrio
Through Feb. 16
The numbers of young artists in New York City continues to grow, but space to exhibit their work does not. In response to this, in 1999 El Museo del Barrio initiated the "The S Files," an annual and hereafter biennial showcase of young Latino and Latin American artists living in and around the city. Work was picked after an open call for submissions. This year's edition, organized by Deborah Cullen and Victoria Noorthoorn, has 30 artists, most of them in their 20's or 30's.
To say they make a diverse lineup is putting it mildly. While the first show in the series cohered in general around questions of identity, and the second around the use of materials, this one casts a wide net, from process-intensive painting to hands-off conceptualism. It also leaves any reductive notion of "Latino art" behind in the dust.
This is, of course, a good thing. It means that artists of a new generation are able to choose, in ways virtually impossible 20 years ago, who they are and what they want to do. Such elasticity also makes a survey like this one hard to pull off. It can't have a look or a theme. The best a curator can do is give each piece some elbow room and compatible neighbors, a strategy not entirely achieved here.
Isidro Blasco's architectural sculpture "Revolving Room" has the advantage of being in a space of its own near the entrance. A construction made from photographs of the artist's Washington Square apartment, it gives an impossibly omniscient view of an interior space, and looks good here. So does a piece by Javier Cambre, who was in the last Whitney Biennial. Using modernist architectural forms as a stage for ego on the loose, the new piece is less resolved than the Whitney work, but it also heads in a new direction, with the artist's first foray into video.
The most impressive of several photo-based pieces is François Bucher's layered quasi-documentary about the life and death of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a charismatic leftist Colombian leader whose assassination in 1948 incited a period known as "the violence" in that country. Mr. Bucher was born in Colombia in 1972; he is a smart, interesting artist. More disturbing is Leticia Stella-Serra's photojournalistic account of her own treatment for ovarian cancer. With its pictures of tubes, medical hardware and bare flesh, the piece is like an in-the-trenches pictorial account of war.
Among more craft-intensive pieces, I especially liked Margarita Cabrera's soft-sculpture kitchen devices a blender, a toaster sewn from pink and yellow vinyl. Fun to look at, they refer to Mexican sweatshop workers who spend their lives making things they can never afford themselves. Alessandra Exposito contributes two strong, best-of-show paintings; and in a lively installation, Alejandra Seeber turns painting into an interactive medium: you look at it, and it looks at you.
Much of the work in the show adheres, in some degree, to this sort of materially grounded Conceptualism. Yucef Merhi's "Telepoesis" invites you to read poetry through a telescope. María Alós combines snapshots and chutzpah in a self-promoting piece about self-promotion.
Finally, Paco Cao has engineered an impressive publicity campaign, replete with Manhattan billboard advertisements, for a contest titled "Do You Look Like JP?" The goal is discover a look-alike for a fictional man named JP whose face a digital composite of several Latino New Yorkers resembles that of Juan de Pareja, the subject of Velázquez's famous portrait. A North African slave, Pareja was eventually given his freedom and became a painter himself. The resemblance to JP can be natural or achieved with "makeup, implants, wigs or surgery," according to a brochure. Potential contestants should contact the museum. The winner will be announced in a ceremony there on Feb. 1. And the reward? A no-kidding deluxe trip for two to Spain, where Mr. Cao was born. Art about identity still has its rewards.