"Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post - Latin American Art," opening this Saturday at SFMOMA, looks critically and cheekily toward such figures of baroque art. Sixteen current artists from the Americas present work that riffs modern on the form; they explore the style's cross-cultural exchange as a precursor to today's globalization. Organized by San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art, the exhibition not only highlights a diverse range of approaches but plucks some common threads -- history, legacy, and religion among them -- that bind contemporary Latin American artists.
Among the artists gathered here is Mexican cultural critic Miguel Calderón, who reinterprets the highbrow elevation of figures like Aleijadinho. In his "Employee of the Month" photo series, Calderón reprises many of Mexico City's National Museum of Art's colonial-era portraits by employing the venue's vacuum- and feather duster-toting janitorial crew to re-enact the paintings' scenes. The series is both a hilarious critique on museums and an homage to heavyweights like Velázquez and Caravaggio, who relied on folks off the street as models for their work. Brazilian mixed-media artist Adriana Varejão touches on the theme of violence during the Ibero-American conquest with Carpet-Style Tilework in Live Flesh. A wounded slab of distinctive blue and white Portuguese tiles is gutted to reveal the eviscerated organs beneath. In a less serious ode to conquest, Venezuelan Meyer Vaisman's taxidermied turkeys (an indigenous American species) arrive gussied up in fancy European finery.
The artists gathered here don't force a revision of history; they aim to reclaim "baroque." The term once implied a bastardized, deficient, and hybrid art; these artists' "ultrabaroque" is borderless, a reflection on the present. From Rubén Ortiz Torres' Simpsons-meets-Picasso Bart Sánchez to Yishai Jusidman's paintings of Mexico City mental patients displaying their favorite images from an art history book, this mestizo art resuscitates the baroque and sends it kicking and screaming into the modern world.