Review: Outside in 303 tells a real west side story
Outside in 303, the main summer feature at the Museo de las Americas, is absolutely spectacular, and makes a real contribution to local art literacy by revealing a scene of Latino taggers that has been more or less hidden from the rest of the art world -- though their efforts have been visible on the streets and in the railyards.
Installation by Jack Avila, mixed materials.
See also: Over-the-top Tom Wesselman show is a rare treat at the DAM
Outside in 303 was conceived and organized by Museo director Maruca Salazar. "A bunch of kids came to me -- they're in their twenties and thirties, but I still think of them as kids -- and they said, 'What about us?,' and they were right," says Salazar. "They deserved a show, and I decided to give them one." Salazar brought in Gwen Chanzit, curator of modern art at the Denver Art Museum, to tap her expertise. Most important, Chanzit told Salazar that each artist needed to be represented by some major effort, and Salazar clearly followed her advice: Each of the included artists has lots of space in which to stretch out.
Multi-part drawing by Josiah Lopez, charcoal on paper.
To determine those artists, Salazar compiled a list of seventeen people who qualified under the show's premise: All were younger Latinos who had come out of the graffiti scene centered on the west side. Salazar and Chanzit winnowed that initial list to the final seven. But the first large wall of the exhibit features a collaborative piece in which many of the artists who were not included applied their handles. The result, a gray field covered with scribbled marks, brings a sense of equality to the show and is a great way to start off Outside in 303.
Before I rhapsodize too much about the street cred of the selected artists, it's important to note that the majority of those included have transitioned from creating work on the exterior walls of buildings to creating pieces meant for the interior walls of galleries and museums. And though they all started learning how to make marks on the street, sharing and exchanging techniques and styles, most of them went on to study art formally.
Jack Avila has been given the ad hoc title of "street teacher"; he's slightly older than the other artists here and widely regarded as the mentor of the group. Fittingly, he's created one of the exhibit's genuine showstoppers, a mural that wraps around two walls and includes substantial installation elements, including a pile of debris in the corner and a lineup of tools encased in clear plastic vitrines set on the floor. This heroic piece mashes up graffiti writing styles with references to abstract expressionism, pop art and neo-dada, and it's fabulous. Too bad most of it is applied directly to the wall, and so will be sanded and painted over after the show closes.
The rawness of Avila's style is perfectly juxtaposed with the elegant works of Mario Zoots, one of the city's hottest up-and-coming artists. Zoots, who a couple of months ago earned an MFA at the University of Denver, has made a name for himself over the past few years via his signature collages that riff on dada. There's a cluster of these mostly small works included in the show, but a large mural titled "Without Hope, Without Fear," dominates his section. Zoots is interested in deconstructing culture, and that's easy to see in this mural, in which he makes any number of pop-cultural references, including the cartoony renditions of a dismembered mouth with its tongue sticking out, a coffin and a big human hand. Every part of the canvas is filled in with something to look at. The palette is remarkable, too, with Zoots limiting himself to black and white with some sickly shades of green, yellow and brown. As a result, it has a retro, midcentury-modern feel, but Zoots is referring to the kitsch end of the movement and not its high-style opposite. Despite that, the piece comes off -- as does everything I've seen by Zoots -- as super-sophisticated and extremely smart.
"Without Hope, Without Fear," by Mario Zoots, enamel and spray paint on panel.
Keep reading for more on Outside in 303.