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The Arts
10.07.09

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Phaedra

TRIPPY TRIPTYCH: Worlds collide in the de la Torre brothers' 'La Reconquista.'

Stones in A Glass House

At MACLA, the de la Torre brothers blow glass and minds with a mashup of conquerors and conquered

By Michael S. Gant


THE MEXICAN-American artist/brother team of Einar and Jamex de la Torre use blown glass in ways that would appall the guild members at the Murano or Steuben factories. With bravura technique and a wicked sense of humor, they fuse sensuous fat rolls and globs of colored glass and assemble them into comic grotesqueries.

Not stopping with glass, the de la Torres freely mix and mismatch plastic flotsam and pop-culture detritus into their impish figures. Working with symbols both potent and denatured, they satirize the whole dubious enterprise of globalization as practiced for 500 years, from the first encounter at the point of a lance between Old World and New to the 21st century's homogenized but still hypercharged cross-border blend of pre-Conquest traditions and modern commercial kitsch. The whole project inextricably links multiple cultures topsy-turvy until it is impossible to tell who has colonized whom, hence the clever title of their current show at MACLA: "Reconquista."

In the large wall piece Eggs Benedict (2007), for instance, a papal-garbed figure with a pig's red snout stands on an enormous red saber as some natives flee before him. In his hands, God's rep also holds the disembodied heads of some "saved" souls in what look like balloons.

Again and again in these pieces, Mayan, Toltec and Aztec figures both succumb to and subvert intruders. In Mitosis (2008), a circular assemblage, an Aztec calendar wheel is overlaid with fragments of a Western-style clock face with Roman numerals. The disc is heavily encrusted with molded plastic panels featuring some of the de la Torres' familiar tropes of modernity: automatic weapons, sneakers and giant gold coins.

Especially intriguing is the array of hand-painted metal Logo Glyphs. These license-plate-size versions of Aztec word symbols, lacquered with bright colors, look sleek and shiny, reborn as modern objects instead of worn stone artifacts. New talismans—Tide, Sony, Nokia brands—are overlaid in clear resin to create layers of artifice, as if corporate logos were markers of the gods.

The individual pieces are arresting, but the star of the show is the large installation La Reconquista. All of the brothers' themes come together in this impressive work. A whole corner of the gallery is plastered wall to ceiling with blow-up color images of a church in Oaxaca. The spires and arches of the church, digitally stitched together, are encrusted with ads for Bimbo bread, Quaker State and Coca Cola. Grinning half-masks of natives' face done in clear resin emerge like ghostly visitations.

In front of this backdrop sits a large altar, complete with gold-painted wood framing and elaborate columns. Two strange statues—Venus in an Aztec headdress standing on a half-shell, her intestines snaked out of her belly; some kind of coy frog-headed deity—flank three amazing 3-D panels crowded with famous and infamous historical and contemporary figures.

In the left-hand panel, a great procession spills out of a church mockingly topped with a Bank of America sign. This painting changes depending on the angle from which you approach it. The visages of the congregation switch from familiar to frightening, from benign to baleful, as if revealing the true selves lurking behind their public masks. The figures include some up-to-the-minute two-faced celebrities, like Shakira, Sonia Sotomayor, Edward James Olmos, Barack Obama.

The central panel is centered on a floating Christ/Quetzalcoatl attended to by a heavenly chorus of historical dignitaries—Felipe Calderon, Vincente Fox, Zapata. On Earth, a winged Cortez harrows the naked masses, from Benicio del Toro and Marc Anthony to Frida Kahlo and Salma Hayak. This section is done in a three-layer process that imparts a stagey sense of depth. On the right, in full Boschean mode, the condemned are thrown off a ziggurat-shaped stone temple into the fire of Christian hell, to be forever poked and prodded by the devil's pitchforks. The 3-D effect here shows demon faces flashing into pillars of flame.

All time collapses in this vision. The past is completely present. The conquerors and the conquered flip-flop depending on one's angle of approach. Such a perspective, forever shifting, is both scary and exhilarating.


LA RECONQUISTA: NEW WORKS BY EINAR AND JAMEX DE LA TORRE runs through Oct. 24 at MACLA, 510 S. First St., San Jose. Free. (408.998.2783)


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