An Overly Broad Brush

Up until this point, "Latin American Women Artists" provides a cohesive look at disparate interpretations of the ideas of the early-century avant-garde, particularly surrealism, in work that is, for the most part, highly personal. The organizers of this exhibition could have stopped here, elaborated on this period, and perhaps confined the whole show to women artists connected with the surrealist movement living in Latin America. (Both Varo, a Spaniard, and Carrington, an Englishwoman, emigrated to Mexico during World War II. The question of whether to call them "Latin American women artists" at all is debatable).

But the exhibition charges on. The next section provides a scattered look at abstraction by artists from different countries and time periods, associated with various artistic movements. Paintings and drawings by Uruguayan Rosa Acle are blatant derivations of the work of her teacher, the grand constructivist Joaquin Torres-Garcia. They would be of more interest within the context of a show about Torres-Garcia and his pupils than they are here. Argentine Raquel Forner's Picassoesque paintings allude to the horrors of war. Examples of late-Fifties geometric abstraction wall constructions by Lygia Clark, the cofounder of the Brazilian neo-concrete movement are cool and jazzy, and stand out among other works in the gallery. A freestanding Sphere in Cube geometric sculpture by Venezuela's Gego, on the other hand, looks clunky and dated. There are four very nice examples of Brazilian fiber artist Olga de Amaral's intricate tapestries -- the beautiful Montana Oro (Gold Mountain), fashioned from fiber, parchment and gold leaf, looks like a precious swatch of medieval mail. Other works, by competent but unexceptional artists hang on the walls or stand around like so much innocuous filler.

In choosing work for the historical sections of the show, curator Geraldine Biller has stuck with artists who are already consecrated figures in Latin America. But in the part of the exhibition that focuses on contemporary artists, she has had to make her own choices, and some of her inclusions are questionable.

The contemporary section takes the viewer from country to country, style to style. Some of Biller's choices are obvious -- Argentine Liliana Porter's erudite, postmodern paintings have been exhibited widely, and deservedly so. Leda Catunda and Jac Leirner are among a group of critically acclaimed young Brazilian artists with a keen conceptual and tactile sensibility. The late Ana Mendieta, whose feminist earthworks explored her cultural heritage and personal identity, is a legend. But why are Mendieta and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, an Afro-Cuban artist whose testimonial installation is reminiscent of the work of Lorna Simpson, the only Cubans represented here? Why is the studentlike installation of live plants and painted panels by Chilean Soledad Salame considered worthy of inclusion? Why is most of the work representational rather than conceptual, and why is there a dearth of work by socially committed artists (the one exception is Chile's Catalina Parra, whose American Blues, a series of collages criticizing U.S. imperialism, is not her best work)? What really, if anything, ties these artists together?

Don't look to the curator for answers.
"The audiences who view this exhibition will have to decide whether or not there exists a common aesthetic among Latin American women artists," Biller writes blithely in the catalogue. A very equitable sentiment. But it would have made for a better show if the curator herself had started out with something to say.

Latin American Women Artists: 1915-1995. Through August 25, at the Center for the Fine Arts, 101 W. Flagler St; 375-3000.

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