I took some time out last week to stop by Bergamot Art Station – it’s been awhile since I visited. I only took in three galleries: William Turner, Latin American Masters and Lois Lambert Gallery (conveniently next door to one another), all three of which are showcasing works by Latino artists worthy of your consideration.
OLGA DE AMARAL
When I stepped into the smaller side gallery within Latin American Masters, I discovered Olga de Amaral for the first time. Now in her 80s, her work first struck me as similar to El Anatsui, the Ghanaian artist who collects detritus like the pop-top pull tabs on soda and beer cans, the foil that wraps around the tops of wine bottles, gum wrappers, bottle and can labels, connecting thousands of them with tiny wires to “weave” astonishing wall-sized panels that are hung like pleated tapestries.
But Olga de Amaral pre-dates El Anatsui and she is a weaver. She was born in 1932 in Bogota, Colombia, and could be called a textile artist, but that almost diminishes the depth and breadth of her work. After receiving a degree in Architectural Design in Colombia, she came to the US to study English at Columbia University and then fiber art at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. That’s where she learned how to weave the textures, colors and degrees of light that mark her work.
She first came to the art world’s attention in 1969 at a fiber art show at MoMA, and became a pioneer of Latin American contemporary art, expanding her work from two-dimensional wall hangings to the addition of sculptural, abstract, conceptual and installation elements. And in 1982, gold, which plays an important part in Colombian history, became part of her art, inspired by a visit to Japan, where she discovered Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold.
Standing in the center of this small gallery is “Nudo” (Knot), a giant piece that could also be seen as an abstract representation of a human body. Standing floor to ceiling, linen threads painted gold and knotted at the top, spill out onto the floor, encircling the base like fine tassels on a silk shawl. In this room also is “Montana” (Mountain), an undulating, blue-tinged, wall hanging that features tiny individual squares, made leather-like out of gesso and acrylic paint on parchment paper, each individually sewn onto the linen threads of the hand-woven work. And inspired by her Japanese experience, the only piece in the room that is not linen is made of Japanese paper and gold. “Nebula 14,” features circles with spokes, spirals, triangles, grids and blocks of patterned gold leaf around the edges, on a deep blue background.
A typical work by Amaral starts at $150,000 and the highest paid for one of her works at auction was in the $600,000 range. These handwoven works are made by her with the aid of just two female assistants, who are experts in textile crafts and have worked with her for more than 20 years. The works in this gallery were created between 2014 and 2016. They’re beautiful and meditative.
This is the first major solo US exhibition of Mexico City-based contemporary artist Javier Peláez, and his work reminds me a bit of the colorful, geometrically patterned abstract paintings of Sonia Delauney.
In this show, titled “Broken Tree” you’ll see paintings comprised of shapes that look like shattered multi-colored planes of glass, sharply angled in abstract patterns that stand in contrast to the organic shape of a tree trunk, bent into natural and unnatural shapes, both constructing and deconstructing the imagery.
There’s an architectural sense to the organization of these paintings, and that’s not a coincidence: in Peláez’s iconography, the tree represents the father and his late father was an architect.
If this is the tree of life, it is a tree marked by fragmentation, in some cases broken and splintered, as if cut by the sharp-edged shapes that fill the canvas. There is tension between the natural and the unnatural, the figurative and the abstract, the construction and the perception of reality.
The William Turner Gallery, with its darkly lit space and reflective black floor, is a perfect setting for this show. It feels a little like being in a forest…only with paintings.
IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Lois Lambert has found a family of Cuban artists whose media include painting, photography and sculpture. Father Edel Bordón is a painter, his wife Yamilé turns everyday objects into sculptural constructions and son Pablo works experimentally in photography.
Edel’s series of oils on canvas reveal a theme resonant with the Cuban experience: finding individual identity within a collective society. Yamilé takes odd little objects and instead of focusing on their function, finds aesthetic ways to call attention to the beauty of their forms. And son Pablo, who studied digital art, creates alternate forms of reality with both digital and analog photography, through abstraction and manipulated hyper-realism.
It Runs in the Family will be on view at Lois Lambert Gallery through August 31; Broken Tree at William Turner runs through September 7 and there’s no end date for the Olga de Amaral works, as they are on consignment with the gallery.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.