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Challenging'Salon'

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Ibero-American Display Offers Cutting-Edge Work From 20 Countries

Artists from 20 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries challenge reality, industry and the future of art in the “XV Ibero-American Art Salon” at American University’s Katzen Arts Center. Although they come mainly from Central and South America, as well as Spain and Portugal, the exhibit’s 40 contemporary pieces are as diverse as can be, representing painting, photography, textiles, digital imaging, audio and more.

One of the most eye-catching of these works is by Spain’s José Carlos Casado: a three-dimensional animation that shows the shaved heads of two men facing one another and gyrating so closely that they actually become one. Even after watching for some time, it is difficult to interpret whether they are kissing passionately or simply having a heavily gestured conversation. Either way, they are literally getting inside each other’s head, which, based on the title, “Inside V.07,” seems to be the point.

Next to Casado’s video is “Atardeceres en Campos Petroleros (Dusk in Oil Fields),” a series of small oil-painted landscapes by Venezuelan artist Ernesto Leon. Thirty-five in all, they effectively make up a reverse storyboard of a green Venezuelan countryside transforming into a blackened industrial complex, with each frame in the progression painted on burnt canvas to symbolize the scorched earth. Another work carries a similar environmental theme. In Fausto Ortiz’s photograph “Piedad (Mercy),” the head of a woman wearing a gas mask emerges from a reddish oily liquid and looks up at the sky—or perhaps God. Behind her, white crosses resembling grave markers trail down a green embankment to the blood-red water in which she is mostly submerged.

The photograph is mostly neutral—the only colors being the red water, green slope and blue-tinted sky. The crosses, gasmask and unnaturally colored water likely symbolize death, pain and pollution—a persistent problem along the coasts of the Dominican Republic, Ortiz’s homeland. However, the woman’s expression toward the blue sky also conveys hope, and coupled with the title, one could extract a religious meaning as well.

In contrast to Ortiz’s symbolically and visually rich portrait are three paintings by Miguel Osuna, who is described as a “contemporary landscape minimalist.” His three paintings all depict simple elevated highway structures against pastel skies from different perspectives.

It comes as no surprise that the Mexico City native originally studied architecture. Both the shapes of the subjects and the dimensions of the canvases give the viewer the impression of flying by at high speeds. The images are soft and blurred, as if shot from an out-of-focus camera while moving, which adds to their modern feel.

By this time you will have heard the beeping. Following it will lead you to Federico Muelas’s interactive video installation called “What Do Apples Sound Like?” In it, an apple is displayed on a small plasma screen. By touching one of three small spheres attached to the steel frame, a green beam crosses the apple along its X, Y, or Z axis and plays the sound corresponding to its pitch, panoramic, volume and time values, respectively.

Like Casado’s video, “What Do Apples Sound Like?” implicitly asks and answers the question of how technology will affect the future of art. Casado uses three-dimensional digital imaging not only to create a constantly moving and imaginative work, but something that seems to exist in a surrealistic dimension. Muelas, a Spaniard as well, also uses the technology to expand reality to a different plane, responding to previously unanswerable questions and creating logically impossible sights, such a book of matches that perpetually burned itself out and relit in his 2003 exhibit “The Sound of the Chocolate Flavour” in Barcelona.

“What Do Apples Sound Like?” is part of a project based on the messages we perceive from our senses that help or impede us from properly interpreting reality. The apple itself is a symbol of education and forbidden knowledge, thus listening to the apple might reveal a never-before-grasped truth.

But regardless of the axis you choose, the apple sounds comes out mostly as garbled squeaks, although the piece nonetheless provides an interesting way of looking at the physical world. It also shows the limitations of our senses and begs the question of how much more is out there that we cannot see.

With that in mind, there is much to see in this exhibit, which presents a wide variety of interesting contemporary works by artists who are not very well known to American University, let alone to the American public.

XV Ibero-American Art Salon through Jan. 21 American University’s Katzen Arts Center 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW For more information, please call (202) 885-1300 or visit www.american.edu/museum.

About the Author

Nick Clayton is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on April 7, 2011