A Universal History of Infamy at LACMA

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The early short stories of Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges were published as A Universal History of Infamy. Taking liberties with the truths on which they are based is the basis of an exhibition of 16 Latin American and Latino artists selected by a triumvirate of curators: Rita Gonzalez and José Luis Blondet, both of LACMA, and Pilar Tompkins Rivas, director of the Vincent Price Art Museum. Though part of the Getty’s initiative, Pacific Standard Time: LA/Latin America, the show is something of a meditation on the impossibility of ever coming to terms with such a diversity of histories and cultures. As a result of that lack of resolution, there are a number of projects that entice speculation and even wonder. The question might be, "How to categorize the uncategorizable?"

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Zinny & Maidagan, "Word for Word: Décor for Distance"
(Palabra por palabra: décor por distancia), 2017
Courtesy of the artists
© Dolores Zinny & Juan Maidagan / Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

In most cases, the artists themselves seem to acknowledge that difficulty or perhaps were selected for the mercurial nature of their work. Among the many projects arrayed inside and outside of LACMA, including the palm frond banners on the front by Argentinians Zinny & Maidagan. Here are few that captured my attention:

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Oscar Santillán, slide from "Afterword," 2014–15
The spirit of Nietzsche, stolen paper, HD video,
slide projection, and two ink-jet prints
Courtesy of the artist
© Oscar Santillán / Photo courtesy of the artist

Framed sheets of paper with typed words were selected from Nietsche’s own archive by Ecuadorian Oscar Santillán along with a slide show explaining the German philosopher’s frustrated relationship with the newly invented typewriter. A Plexiglas tile houses a tiny fragment of paper that the artist purloined from the Nietsche archive to provide an energy source for a psychic. Or this all may be an elaborate fiction like the stories of Borges.

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Ángela Bonadies, detail from the series
"David Alfaro Siqueiros, Street Meeting, LA, 1932," 2017
Photographic mural, 160 × 120 in.
Courtesy of the artist
© Ángela Bonadies / Photo courtesy of the artist

An installation of photos and text by Venezuelan Ángela Bonadies obliquely captures the imprecision of history. Each looks like a fuzzy blot of color framed by tape. In fact, they are all that remain of a 1932 mural, Street Meeting, by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Almost entirely covered in white paint, it is now the wall of a school cafeteria in MacArthur Park. By conventional definitions, this was an important artist and important work. But important to whom? What are the forces that dictate what survives and how it is interpreted? Evanescence swirls around this and other works in the show.

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Vincent Ramos, "Obliteration Poem (Gauguin Along the Rio Grande)," 2017
Mixed media on paper, from installation comprised of
50 drawings and ephemeral materials, 14 × 17 in.
Courtesy of the artist
© Vincent Ramos / Photo courtesy of the artist

LA artist Vincent Ramos has built a rough-hewn room out of discarded walls retrieved from dumpsters. His own framed drawings document celebrities who were born in the United States of Mexican parents: Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez, Vicki Carr and countless more, most of whom concealed their heritage as part of assimilation. Large glass topped vitrines contain a huge assortment of related ephemera: books, albums, magazines, photos. Like the larger exhibition, Ramos doesn’t try to contain the implications and associations of a Walt Disney comic of Donald Duck in a sombrero next to a 1970 report on Un-American Activities in California. Further, an additional installation by Ramos will be mounted in December at the Charles White Elementary School in MacArthur Park.

Since many of the projects began as residencies at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, it can be seen as an exhibition without borders, an idea as close to Borges as can be imagined. It is on view to February 19, 2018.