By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Some people believe a picture is worth a thousand words, but others swear a well-made poster can more effectively sway the masses.
The image of a slippery soap bar covered in pubic hair on display at CCE Miami (the Spanish Cultural Center) evokes thoughts of a brutal prison rape and rubs the senses in a raw way.
Instead, it is a shocking graphic design created by Mexico's Paul Domínguez to promote Marlon Brando's stab at porn in Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial Last Tango in Paris, which showcased the actor as a middle-aged widower who engages in a sexually violent relationship with an anonymous young woman.
Domínguez's striking image is part of "Art Encounters: Interstices Between Literature, Cinema, and Graphic Design." The exhibit, featuring 50 provocative posters by several generations of Latin American artists, explores the corner where the disparate genres collide.
The ambitious but sharply focused show, organized by local curator and art critic Janet Batet, is part of the Latin American Graphics 20th-21st Centuries project initiated by Cuba's René Azcuy, a master designer and illustrator. It was displayed at Mexico City's Museo Mexicano del Diseño in 2007 and Havana's Casa de las Américas in 2008. Next year, it will travel to Madrid.
Divided into two sections, highlighting established and emerging graphic designers, the show will also be complemented by a series of workshops and film screenings.
"We haven't given the poster the importance it deserves," Batet observed during a recent tour of the show. "During the last half-century, graphic design in Latin America has evolved incredibly, and one can see how everything from pop art to minimalism to conceptual art has influenced how these images are made," she says. "We are also going to have lectures by contemporary artists on how posters and graphic design have informed their own work."
Many of the masters' works from the '70s convey an inherent edginess found in Azcuy's Stolen Kisses, with its featureless face in a subtle black-and-white design superimposed by a smear of scarlet lipstick.
Fernando Pimienta's 1979 poster for Erotic Stories, an anthology of short, racy titles, delivers a real charge, drawing the viewer in with its stunning metaphor of sexual desire. Using only a watermelon against a velvety red background, the image would make any classic still-life painting blush with shame. The Brazilian artist simply carved the end of the melon in a provocative ovoid shape, revealing the succulent interior folds of the fruit to suggest a ripe and moist vulva that the viewer wants to poke.
But it is the younger talent here, whose works have been specifically commissioned for the show, who seem to revel in pushing (and even licking) the envelope through their imagery.
In her poster for Alfonso Arau's film Like Water for Chocolate, based on the novel by Laura Esquivel, Mexico's Arlene Sánchez uses two fried eggs to evoke the tale of a young maiden who deploys her considerable culinary charms to drive the man of her dreams to ardent passion. Like the heroine of the story, Sanchez has tenderly nested the perky eggs, whose yolks have been tweaked to resemble a pair of nipples, in a casserole dish placed atop a delicate white lace doily. Her savory design surprisingly conveys the drama and romance of the popular film and novel.
Likewise, Renato Aranda Rodríguez captures the torrid nature of Vladimir Nabokov's classic novel, Lolita, via a tantalizing visual pun, even though he misspells the author's name in his alluring poster. The story about a middle-aged cad who becomes besotted by a sexually precocious 12-year-old girl was adapted for the silver screen in 1962 by Stanley Kubrick.
The young Mexican graphic designer creates an erotically charged image using a wad of chewed bubblegum shaped like a prepubescent girl's labia and cradled in the partially open wrapper to confect a beautiful bit of eye candy.
Not all the posters scampering across this minefield of eroticism are as equally naughty. Ana L. Ramos's ode to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, for example, with its seamstress's sewing dummy sporting a red corset and a trio of snazzy bowler hats, could be an announcement for a high-end bordello.
Pulses won't pound either for Minerva Ruíz Cortés's entry. In her Eden-esque tribute to Bruno Barreto's comedy Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, based on the novel by Jorge Amado, a red apple sits with two bites chomped off on opposite sides.
Many of the other graphic designs hew to tension-laced imagery to evoke classic masterpieces of cinema and literature including Rosemary's Baby and A Clockwork Orange.
For his take on Kubrick's film based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, Mexico's Héctor González García conveys the dystopian lunacy of Clockwork's violent young thugs by peeling back the rind of an orange to expose addled brain matter and wrapping the unsightly citrus in barbed wire.
José Hernández conjures the diabolical nightmare of Ira Levin's best-selling novel, later adapted for the screen by Roman Polanski, in his Gothic visual interpretation of Rosemary's Baby, which weaves the tale of a young woman unknowingly impregnated by the Devil. His eerie poster depicts a baby bottle in the shape of a Spanish Inquisition-style torture device reminiscent of an iron maiden. He has placed the menacing contraption against a vibrating electric field of crimson that brings to mind Satan's aura.
Guadalupe Betanzo ratchets up the creep factor with her spin on Albert Camus' The Stranger, one of the touchstones of existentialism, which features a callous anti-hero who shuns the sight of his dead mother. Betanzo grapples with the umbilical discord by wrapping a rope and the tongue of a silhouetted figure around its neck to create an image at once ambivalent and searing.
In a separate room of the gallery, another 200 posters are continuously projected, offering a further examination of Latin America's rich graphic design tradition.
"We wanted to expose the public to the evolution and breadth of these works and to place them in their rightful context in art history," Batet concludes.
At the Spanish Cultural Center in Coral Gables, this provocative and informative exhibition makes a compelling argument for the curator's vision.