Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Life Returns To New Normal: Futuro Pasado At Plaza de la Raza


Futuro Pasado | a two person exhibition by Emilia Cruz and Rick Ortega


Direct questions or reserve a free ticket by clicking link above, or be free to call (323)223-2475 or e-mail info@plazadelaraza.org 


Michael Sedano


Last July, United Statesians breathed a collective sigh of relief at shrinking numbers of plague deaths and stabilized hospitalizations. People whipped off their masks and went about sharing air and space with random tipas tipos  in public space. All was copacetic until it wasn’t, and that wasn’t arrived with a vengeance in January 2021. The statistics hit the fan.


Deaths and hospitalizations grew; 300, 500 new cases a day. But to our credit gente, generally, wore masks and respected social distance. Then some of us started getting shot and normalcy hung like a carrot on our horizon.

But we'd put the cart before the horse and got comfortable. Now, the Delta Variation. 1000 new cases a day. Can we afford not to mask? What can we do to have life again in our darkest days? 


"Cruz". Emilia Cruz. Collection of Nicki De Necochea

Fiat Lux, and there it was, light on the luminescent walls of Boathouse Gallery at Plaza de la Raza on Friday night. Light glowed out of the paintings hanging there. The paintings illuminated your Soul in perfect evocation of the show's theme, Futuro Pasado.

Had Curators Jimmy O’Balles, Summer Bernal and Juan Escobedo chosen to keep the house lights off, no one would have noticed. Emilia Cruz and Rick Ortega’s masterpieces generate enough energy to cut Plaza’s electric bill until the show closes on August 21. 

Note that date. Numerous works are borrowed and collectors have a way of wanting back their treasures.


Plaza’s art gallery opens by appointment, Plaza de la Raza operates Tuesday - Saturday | Noon - 5:00pm. Plaza urges gente to feel free to call (323)223-2475 or e-mail  info@plazadelaraza.org.


Rick Ortega’s visceral strength is as fulfilling as Cruz’ ambiente, Pre-Raphaelite but with brown people. Rick grabs your gut with raw visceral power. Emilia enchants your wonderment with the worlds she paints, the artists she quotes. 

The child's portrait dominates an entire wall and no one notices the empty space. She sits in a quiet moment, ropa de cama a mess but she's brushed her glistening hair and resides within herself. Some visitors might look at the beautiful child and remember De Vinci's ascription to another portait, Virtutem forma decorat, which is to understand the painting and at the same time wish all little girls quiet happy moments of such beauty and purity all their lives.

Emilia Cruz spins toward a well-wisher.

Astonishment will be a visitor’s initial response upon making eye contact with any wall. I liken the impact to the Plaza visitor to strolling into el Castillo de Chapultepec's big room where González-Camarena’s blood red warriors stand eight feet high. Eight feet! Maybe ten!

Or walking into the Goya room at Museo del Prado, enter be drawn to the right wall, the two Maja paintings. Sated with the artist’s color and detail, the visitor turns to exit only to be confronted by the yellow dog wailing out of a pool of oblivion. I fell on my nalgas when I saw it.

Plaza should upholster the floor.

Some of these paintings hit with the impact, emotion, drama of the world's best art.  What a way to re-open America. Knocked on your back with delightful astonishment by a pair of raza artistas.

Rick Ortega shares art stories with a fellow artist. He confesses to working to the last possible minute. The painting partially seen at left is still wet. Like the Cruz portrait, the woman embodies Virtutem forma decorat. 

 That’s what happens when you turn Right at the entrada. That’s also what happens when a visitor gets the all-clear from security, enters, grabs a price list, and turns Left. On your butt. Just wow, like all those kids say. The kids in line at Plaza. Some who just showed up, others who had made a reservation for the Opening. They're learning. Waiting in line is part of the action, so maybe why make a reservation? Darned kids.


I enjoyed democracy in action. I was chatting up the lead curator, Jimmy O’Balles, when a young woman, a kid, hugs him and I’m introduced to his daughter. A few fatherly consejos and O’Balles directs his elegantly garbed daughter to go wait in line. With everyone else.


Waiting in line, gathering inside, are what an art opening is all about, plague-time be damned. The big difference is it's like a thirty-foot conga line where you can’t touch, owing to social distancing. 

Don't show your face around here. Ponte mascarilla. No pedo about being safe, not here, not among raza. We’ve been hit hard by the GOP Disease. We’re not taking chances. Our gente wear masks. 


Yes, we are. A spectre is haunting Los Angeles, the spectre of Delta. Innoculation, masking, social distance mean health and safety. Some of us are desperate to go out and break the year of isolation. It's been too damn long and, except the unvaxxed, we've got this licked. 

But the unvaxxed get it and get sick. And get dead. Give it to us before that.

Organizers at Plaza earn huge kudos for maintaining a low-key comfortable feeling to crowd activities. The organizing goes unnoticed, a sign of incredibly skilled planning. Those in attendance obviously love one another and take pains being plague-safe. If this is as good as it gets, don't let down. We can do better.


That masked and social gapping crowd is el futuro, as much as the youth of Cruz and Ortega are Chicanarte's futuro. American Arte's future. 

One maskless is one too many. Plaza security doesn't offer masks nor exclude maskless

Get used to it. Get used to paying for snacks. Five bucks for 5 ounces of pretty good Jamaica. I bought two and spilled thirty-five cents worth walking out to find a wall to park on.


Those paintings are el past and el futuro. I think of how movimiento poetry came to revolve around a set of common themes viz. the lost and destroyed homeland; the Anglo devil; Amerindian America, Aztlán, as a separate Eden; carnalismo; chicano linguistics. In Rick Ortega I see a distillation of several thematic impulses, particularly Ortega’s Edenic vision of Amerindia. 

Rick paints with the spirit inspiring Jesus Helguera’s Edenic visions, like Helguera's immortal Popo and Ixta. El future for Rick Ortega is like that. Not an arrow in the heart, but widespread acknowledgment; more exhibitions.

It would be puro hubris to say “immortal” because it’s just canvas and paint, or in the final work in the show, an aluminum plate. I won’t forget Rick Ortega's canvases, there’s a modicum of immortality.


Emilia Cruz perplexes you in the best way and laughs at something, not you, but maybe, as she’s quoting Renoir, Manet, all those pre-Raphaelites doing oddly compelling portraits. Cruz does it with the chingonaness of a Chicana painter who doesn’t give a hoot for convention. But respects the hell out of tradition. And her skill.

Cruz gives you the painterly depiction of Chicana ethos, of raza characters placed in settings so ethereal they exist within their own Eden, or most assertively in Ortega's work, primordial Aztlán. Cruz doesn't overtly push her politica. She is herself. In fact, look at the women in Emilia Cruz’ portraits: a frozen mirror of introspection wearing her face, e.g. "Cruz". 


Poet Abelardo Delgado asks, “What moves you, Chicano, to stop being polite?” Es La Causa, the poet answers. Emilia Cruz doesn’t triangulate her art on outsiders, so being “polite” is no element of her idylls, her declaratives, her vision of life in and out of time. Cruz’ focus is the world inside her painting, first, then enfrentando realidad by technique and mixtures of realism and irony. Choose any thousand words and that won’t encompass as much as the bottom left corner of any Emilia Cruz painting. Así es. You gotta see the work up close.


The futuro, if gente persist with masks, respect social distance, make reservations, el futuro offers a return to art openings, a return to gatherings of gente with taste that’s not only in their mouths but in their wallets. It's the past, only different.

Thanks to the efforts of Plaza de la Raza and the curators, cultura has re-opened, hasta in Delta time. More old Latino wisdom: Ars longa, vita brevis, art like this will outlive us.


The futuro of Chicanarte resides in the hands of two geniuses. El pasado is the buyer’s lament that I shoulda bought them when they showed at Chimaya ya hace tantos años. Your futuro waits for that visit to Lincoln Park and Plaza de la Raza. 

The future is an open world again. Plaza de la Raza shows we know how to do it right.



1 comment:

ndeneco said...

Maesto, you outdid yourself. You've painted a masterpiece here within this review. Delicious to read. It just flows, and does justice to the pintores, the venue, the organizers and of course the lovers of Chicanarte. Gracias amigo, what a great experience and night to remember. Nicki De Necochea