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Label Conscious

Latin American artists defy categorization at the VMFA.

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Nowhere is this more evident than in "Printmakers from Argentina" section, which features a broad scope of work. Etchings, drypoints and lithographs by Alfredo Guido, Rodolfo Castagna and Hemilce Saforcada demonstrate little coherence apart from their emphasis on the human figure. Their relative monochromatism contrasts with the show's colorful centerpiece, Mauricio Lasansky's "Young Lady" (1978).

Serving as a foil for this group of figurative works is the sole modern sculpture in the exhibition, José de Rivera's "Construction" (1958). A sensual, curving tube of aluminum, the piece's linearity resonates with that of the nearby prints, while evoking the stark works of concrete art produced in midcentury Brazil and elsewhere in South America.

For a show that defines itself by geographic and linguistic boundaries, it is interesting that curator Tosha Grantham included de Rivera's work. Born and raised in Louisiana, the artist spent much of his long career in Chicago. Including his work raises provocative questions about what it means to be a "Latin American" artist and to produce and collect "Latin American" art in the 21st century.

More identifiably Latin American imagery features in the show's second themed section, "Mexican Renaissance," including works on paper by three giants of early 20th- century Mexican art: José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and Rufino Tamayo. Demonstrating the social realism that pervaded the visual culture of Latin America in the 1930s and '40s, the prints in this part of the exhibition are icons of conflict and despair.

The show's third section, "Photographs of Manuel Alvarez Bravo," is also its most visually compelling. In "Two Pairs of Legs" (1928-29), a billboard fragment depicting the lower bodies of a man and a woman is juxtaposed with a pair of open windows. In "Box of Visions" (1930), a carnival stereoscope becomes an enormous camera operated by the photographer's wife, Lola. Bravo, who died in 2002 at age 100, produced photographs with abstract perspectives and unorthodox compositions that appealed to Mexican surrealists, and the works in this show are fine examples of his visionary style. S



"Selections: 20th-Century Latin American Art in the VMFA Collection" is on view until March 13 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2800 Grove Ave.

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