Welcome to the funhouse
February 6, 2010
Over the past week, the Main Gallery at the Kimball Art Center has been transformed from the Sundance House, a filmmakers’ hub, into a carnival-esque atmosphere that ignites the imagination, celebrates Latin culture and traverses the U.S.-Mexican border.
"Inter-Continental Divide," a collection of 22 blown-glass and mixed media pieces by Einar and Jamex de la Torre, is the central exhibit in Arte Latino, the Kimball’s annual homage to Latin artists and artwork. The show opens today, Feb. 6, and continues through April 18.
"The de la Torre brothers have been on our radar for a few years," says Erin Linder, exhibition director for the Kimball Art Center. "Their work encompasses so many ideas, layers and visual components."
Upon entering the gallery, guests will immediately discover what makes the brothers’ work unique. Turn to the right, and they’ll run into "Tula Frontera Sur." Veer to the left, and they’ll meet "Tula Frontera Norte."
At first glance, the pieces are intrinsically similar they resemble oversized robots, with glass cases forming their trunks, TVs embedded in their midsections and masks situated on the crowning pieces. However, upon closer inspection, the statues are worlds borders, actually apart.
The glass cases contain items that were collected either south or north of the U.S.-Mexican border. Tula Frontera Sur encloses straw figures characterizing the Mexican Revolution, a frog-figure mariachi band, and a studded porcupine as the "animal self," which resides behind the mask as the brain of the operation.
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Tula Frontera Norte houses a collection of golf clubs, antiqued photos from the World War II era, and a row of taxidermy jaw sets all items gathered in the Midwest.
Beyond the statues at the entrance lies the centerpiece of the exhibit, a grand-scale kinetic installation called "La Belle Epoch." The piece, Einar explains, is inspired by the Aztec calendar. The two wheels represent the Mayans’ two concepts of time one faster, one slower. One side is lighter and more colorful; the other is darker.
On the front wheel, blown-glass hearts dangle like the gondolas of a ferris wheel. With each revolution, the hearts dip in a canoe filled with a red, blood-like liquid. At the top of the structure, throwing knives keep the time, clanging with each revolution.
The de la Torre brothers are presenting their first show in Utah. They were born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to Southern California when Jamex was in junior high and Einar was in elementary school.
In order to avoid ridicule from their peers, the brother learned English and adapted quickly to American culture. But as the youngest of six children, Jamex and Einar’s older siblings refused to let them be swallowed by the mainstream and forget their Mexican roots.
The family also made frequent trips back across the border to visit their dad in Mexico, which resulted in their adolescent years being steeped in both cultures. "It was really hard, but it was also the best thing that ever happened to us," Jamex says.
Both Jamex and Einar developed an infatuation with art at a young age, and by the time they graduated high school, they had individually committed to pursuing careers as artists. They became roommates in college, where Jamex nurtured his talent for sculpture and Einar gravitated toward painting.
At the time, neither imagined that they would become a pair in the art world. "The thing that inspired us to think about [working together] is blowing glass," Einar explains. "It’s a very technique-oriented medium."
After college, the brothers started a craft business creating glass figurines for gift shops and specialty stores. In their early 30s, they began seriously collaborating on mixed-media pieces and larger creations. The glass figurines they had mastered became elements of sculptures and installations alongside plaster, metal and resin castings.
Along their travels, the brothers started collecting various items from thrift shops, dollar stores and swap meets. If they found something they liked, they bought a whole box. People sometimes refer to the trinkets as "found items," but Einar says he isn’t fond of that term. "We don’t just come across things in the street. It takes a lot of time."
In the early years, the duo made art that addressed their Catholic upbringing and interpreted pieces of Pre-Columbian era history. Their more recent work remains tied to Mexican folk art and mythology while incorporating digital imagery and new media.
The de la Torres have always used artistic expressions as a type of social and political commentary. Recurring themes of human sacrifice, immigration, identity, popular culture and Meso-American symbols reflect their own experiences as well as the histories of different peoples. They connect those elements to present-day issues such as the drug wars in Mexico.
"We’re a little too tongue-in-cheek," Einar says. He adds that puns are intended and the implications in their work are not meant to be subtle.
Because of their mixed background, oftentimes galleries and curators try to put the brothers in one box, like Latino artists or immigrants. "There are a lot of hats you can wear," Einar says. "At some point we realized this has to do with people’s need to categorize. We feel like self-defining is self-limiting."
At the same time, the brothers are happy to be included in an art show that pays tribute to Latin artists’ contributions, such as Arte Latino. "In this case, when it coincides with a celebration, it makes all the sense in the world [to be put in that category]," Einar says.
The brothers work closely, collaborating on projects from start to finish, and they maintain that sibling rivalry never gets in the way of their work. "We both know we have a lot to gain from our partnership," Einar says. If they do disagree on the direction a certain piece should take, "We’re lucky in that it never gets farther than one of us needing to leave to cool off," he says.
They also emphasize that, despite their shared interests and mutual passion for art, they are not the same person. If that were the case, Einar says, "We’d be fighting with ourselves."
When they’re not traveling to shows or working on both sides of the border, the artists spend time teaching at art schools. They recently created public art collections for the San Diego International Airport and the Phoenix Convention Center. They also enjoy watching and playing soccer and, in June, they’ll take a break from work to enjoy festivities surrounding the World Cup.
The Kimball Art Center will host an opening reception with the de la Torre brothers on Saturday, Feb. 6, from 7 until 9 p.m. The event, which will feature live music, refreshments and collaborative art, is free and open to the public.
Also as part of Arte Latino, the Kimball will open "Utah Latinos, a Proud Legacy: A Close Look at Utah’s Latino Contributions" in the Garage Gallery and "Minuteclan," an art installation created by local artists, in the Badami Gallery.
The Kimball offers free tours for school and various educational opportunities in conjunction with exhibits. For more information about the upcoming exhibits and events surrounding Arte Latino, visit http://www.kimballartcenter.org .