New Bronx Museum Shows Highlight City Scenes, Cuba and Graffiti

By Patrick Wall on July 23, 2012 4:59pm 

CONCOURSE VILLAGE — In one photograph in a new exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, called “Rituals of Chaos,” a man wades into a lake to retrieve a lifeless body floating facedown in the clear water.

That appears to be all, until you look more closely at the shadows that ring the edge of the lake. What at first glance seemed to be a row of trees suddenly registers as a crowd of people gazing at the grisly scene.

The photo, “Lake Xochimilco, Mexico City” by Mexican photojournalist Enrique Metinides, is one of many in the group show curated by São Paulo-based Monica Espinel that slyly force viewers to consider the act of staring in the city — whether it be San Francisco, Mumbai, Kingston or The Bronx.

The show is filled with the photographs of Metinides, who was the lead crime photographer for a Mexico City daily, La Prensa, for nearly 40 years.

“I was very intrigued about how and why he was incorporated into the art scene very late in his life,” said Espinel on Friday, when the exhibition, along with two others, opened at the museum.

Espinel wrote her masters thesis at Hunter College about the photographer, whose iconic photos, which eschew gore and often evoke classic cinema, only gained wide recognition beginning in 2000, when Metinides was 68, and retired.

Other highlights in "Rituals of Chaos" include a music video by Jamaican photographer Peter Dean Rickards, that has been slowed so that young men bouncing to hip hop blurs into a kind of modern dance routine, and the series by Swiss photographer Claudia Andujar, who laid on a sidewalk in downtown São Paulo in the 70s and snapped passersby as they gawked down into her camera.

There are also a series of photos from 1980 by Sophie Calle, who asked visitors to Fashion Moda, an early gallery in Melrose, to take her to a spot in the borough they would never forget, for better or worse. The photographs, with accompanying text, show anonymous Bronxites in their childhood school, near Yankee Stadium, on a piece of ground blessed by the pope and, in one case, posing on a bridge that the subject, a young woman, once crossed as she fled from bullies.

Filling two other large galleries is “revolution not televised,” a multimedia group show featuring more than 20 contemporary Cuban artists.

The museum has a long history of showcasing Cuban art and its current director, Holly Block, edited an influential 2001 survey, “Art Cuba: The New Generation,” that introduced the world to some of the island’s most exciting, underexposed artists. The exhibition features work from the museum’s collection, including some recent acquisitions.

Not surprisingly, the spectre of Castro looms large.

A clever photograph by Carlos Garaicoa shows a crumbling marble angel with the word “Fidel” — part of some propaganda painted on a nearby wall — seeming to replace the statue’s missing head.

A large watercolor drawing by the collective Los Carpinteros presents a decadent-looking pool encircled by countless ladders, but it is bone dry — a common sight in post-revolution Cuban, where private pools were banned.

“Opus,” a 2005 video by Jose A. Toirac, simply projects white numbers onto a wall, along with Castro’s disembodied voice barking them. Plucked from one of his famously prolonged speeches, the floating figures now, and maybe then, signify nothing.

The final exhibition is part of a project called “Bronx Lab,” which aims to engage the local community. The current show, “Style Wars,” centers on graffiti, but includes paintings, drawings, sculpture and video.

Among the works are a collection of 16 etchings by Keith Haring, along with handwritten text, which illustrate a chapter from William Burroughs’ “The Western Lands,” a book loosely about the afterlife.

Two 2009 paintings by native New Yorker Valeri Larko forefront two derelict Bronx buildings covered in graffiti.

Like other works in the show, it reminds viewers that art is everywhere in the Bronx — if you care to see it.

The museum, at 1040 Grand Concourse, is open Thursday through Sunday. Admission is always free.

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