- Published on Thursday, 07 February 2013 17:14
By Lisa Y. Garibay
UTEP News Service
Red plastic checkers. Mopping buckets. Children’s toys. Cooking utensils. And hundreds upon hundreds of red lightbulbs strung together by black power cords, electrical tape and zip ties. The lobby of the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts has never been so ornately or uniquely adorned.
College kids, little kids, and very grown-up kids take it in with awe. They snap photos of Máximo González’s installation, while in the adjacent gallery award-winning photographer Julián Cardona puts the finishing touches on his exhibit – the first local solo show for this former El Diario de Juárez photojournalist. In an upstairs gallery, the work of a third artist, Guy Tillim, brings views of colonial and postcolonial Africa to curious locals.
After many hours of work and coordination to prepare for the opening of these three exhibits on Jan. 24, hundreds of visitors will pass through the Rubin Center to see them before they depart on March 15. It’s just as inspiring an experience for Kerry Doyle, interim director of the museum, as it was for the wide-eyed patrons who arrived in waves for the first official viewing.
“We are really excited about the combination of exhibitions,” Doyle said. “The loan of Guy Tillim: Avenue Patrice Lumumba, curated by Karen Irvine of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, is being complemented with an excellent exhibition by Cardona. Both exhibitions use the architecture to reflect social and political change.”
It’s the kind of topic that a quickly evolving El Paso can certainly relate to. And in the Rubin Center’s continuing efforts to use art as a bridge between the border cities of El Paso and Juárez, Doyle also points out that they are partnering with the Museo de Arte in Juárez, which will open a concurrent exhibition of Cardona's work on Feb. 15.
In addition to illuminating the Rubin Center’s atrium, González has a variety of other unforgettable pieces on display as part of his Magnificent Warning exhibition. Born in Argentina but based out of Mexico City, González uses found objects, obsessively detailed handiwork and performance-based techniques to explore the values of currency and raw materials in the international economy, and the use of war as a mechanism of control over these resources. The stunning red display suspended from the Rubin’s two-story atrium ceiling was commissioned specifically as part of this exhibition and is officially titled Magnificent Warning Monument.
“Installation is only one part of the work,” González said when asked about the five-day, four-person process of putting his work on display inside the Rubin’s atrium. “You have to see the space and design specifically for it, decide what the first thing to connect will be, then come up with the plan for mounting everything. It’s very complicated and the electrical installation is very sophisticated.
“Production is another thing. Three people spent about three months working to produce the pieces. I decide every single connection and how everything will be assembled, then we figure out the electrical aspect of it. We had sketches and a 3-D architectural plan of the space and that’s what I used to design the project.” All of the materials for the project were purchased at markets in Mexico City’s Centro Historico – just blocks from González’s studio – with every plastic item selected personally by González as a small yet critical piece of the much bigger picture.
González’s work has been featured in 31 solo exhibitions or special projects and 80 group shows spanning Latin America, the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.
Tillim’s part of the show consists of 50 photographs from 2007-08 documenting the decrepit architecture and infrastructure of colonial and postcolonial Africa. All of the photos were taken on streets named after the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba (1925-61), who served briefly as the first elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo before he was killed by rebels in collusion with the Belgian government. After his assassination, Lumumba came to symbolize an idealist vision for postcolonial rule. Tillim’s collection explores the legacy of colonialism in Africa and the ways in which its unfulfilled promise of modernity manifests itself in civic spaces.
Tillim’s many awards include the Higashikawa Overseas Photographer Award in 2003, the 2004 DaimlerChrysler Award for South African photography, the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2005, and the first Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in 2006.
Cardona’s Stardust: Memorias de la Calle Mariscal (Stardust: Memories of the Calle Mariscal) features photographs that document the government-funded demolition of one of the most notorious streets in Ciudad Juárez. Beginning in the early 20th century, Calle Mariscal became increasingly populated with bars, 24-hour clubs, dance halls and brothels. Americans flocked there in steady numbers during the Prohibition period and Mexican drug cartels sold marijuana at the intersection of Victoria Alley and Calle Mariscal with such regularity that it was nicknamed “the happy corner.”
In the years leading up to its destruction, the road remained central to the city's nightlife, but was increasingly overrun by the growing violence in Juárez. Beginning in 2007, the Juárez government decided to bulldoze the Calle Mariscal, knocking down active businesses and historic buildings in the process. Cardona’s photographs of this process are presented alongside interviews that he conducted with dancers, bartenders, and others who had a close relationship with the Calle Mariscal.
A self-taught photographer who was born in Zacatecas but settled in Juárez as a child when his family moved there, Cardona contributed photographs to Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future (1998) and collaborated with Charles Bowden to produce the photographic essay Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields (2010). In recognition for his important work, Cardona was awarded the 2004 Cultural Freedom Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation.
Both the UTEP community and the general public are welcome to stop by the Rubin to see the exhibitions and relish the work that UTEP’s Rubin Center does in connecting the public with modern art. Gallery hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Weekend hours are by appointment only. Visitors must obtain a parking permit from the Rubin Center receptionist to park in the museum’s designated spaces in the lot off Sun Bowl Drive (at the south end of Sun Bowl Stadium). For more information, call the Rubin Center at 915-747-6151 or visit rubincenter.utep.edu.