Mixing It Up at the Neuberger

In a new exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art, four major contemporary Latin American artists – Enrique Chagoya, Demián Flores, Rubén Ortiz-Torres, and Nadín Ospina – are exploring and redefining their relationship to the pre-Columbian past of their countries of origin. The art of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans is a formidable cultural heritage.  However, qualifies Patrice Giasson, curator of Pre-Columbian Remix, it is a heritage that was tainted by colonization. Latin American countries in the 1920’s used the pre-Columbian past as a strategy to foster a national identity, different and apart from the western European model. These artists are putting a contemporary spin on the past, by mixing ancient symbols with cartoon characters in a frequently humorous manner.  The exhibition brings into focus the tensions and concerns about colonization and national identity that have long festered in Latin America, and calls into question what is the real heritage of Latin Americans.

Colombian Artist Nadín Ospino is fascinated by “fakes,” represented by the replicas that are sold at gift shops at archaeological sites.  With the notion that everyone wants to get a piece of the past, he mixes cartoon imagery with pre-Columbian images, in the form of gold casting used to make official replicas.  This blending seems to pronounce their lack of value. Mexican-born photographer Rubén Ortiz-Torres takes the “fake” a step further by depicting how pre-Columbian art has been used as thematic decoration for shopping centers and amusement parks. The monumental images of Demián Flores use ancient Aztec weapons in portrayals of conflict, war and struggle; while Enrique Chagoya portrays a bloody past full of human sacrifice. This exhibition is both dynamic and paradoxical in that it explores the often lofty aura of the Aztec legacy and its contemporary legitimacy; while at the same time juxtaposing social justice issues for Indian populations all over the Americas.

Pre-Columbian Remix is on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College through July 14. Visit www.neuberger.org for more information.

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