Tuesday, June 23, 2009

campus art

This has never been one of my favorite pieces of sculpture - although I suspect that some of the ways in which I relate to it - it's too bright! the figures are grossly over-sexualized! it's almost cartoon-like! - show that I'm falling exactly into the aesthetic (Anglo) trap designed for me by its artist, Luis Jiménez, possibly best known for his huge blue Mustang at Denver Airport (and not just because a leg of it fell on him when he was working on it and killed him...).   It stands at the entrance to the University of New Mexico, and it's called "Fiesta Jarabe" (actually, on the base it's inscribed "Fiesa Jarabe," but it's 4/5, and at least one of the other 5 has "Fiesta" in full. Nonetheless, whether intentional or not, this serves as an injunction to read the whole thing carefully).   It shows a couple executing the jarabe tapatío, and that already sets it up as a firm statement of New Mexico's Mexican connections - not the old Spanish ones, but more recent immigration and links (Jiménez himself was originally from El Paso).   This dance, the hat dance, had been chosen as the Mexican National Dance in 1924 by the Secretary of Education, José Vasconcelos (much to the disapproval of some in the Catholic Church, who thought it far too lascivious).

The lasciviousness is certainly exploited here - one of the reasons why the statue was controversial, both in NM and in Los Angeles.   When it was installed in UNM - in 1996, I think - it also had people tut-tutting over it because they found the couple's skin color too dark for them to be Representative New Mexicans (LJ, of course, was making a point, here...).

But whatever my gut reaction to the sculpture - and of course it is a clever piece of art, in some ways, when one thinks about it, because it both exploits fiesta stereotypes - as if on the place-mats of a bad Mexican-themed restaurant - and exaggerates the individuality of the couple (one reason why I think it makes me uneasy, and one reason, too, why I photographed it from this angle, is that the man and the women's faces don't suggest uncomplicated enjoyment: on his, in particular, there's a hint of sneering sadism, that lend an aura of potential sexual danger to the encounter, and make one feel doubly uneasy about that tight skirt) - whatever my gut reaction, it pushes me into thinking how good it is to be in a state where stereotypes - of a good as well as a provocative kind - can form a part of campus art and architecture.   UNM engages pueblo style architecture to the full (you can see something of this in the building behind), with its faux-adobe walls and its vigas, its turquoise paint, its curves.   I was in the library today, and a group of high school students were being given a tour: they were being shown, indeed, the individual carving of the vigas, the tin work on the lamps and the chandelier, the NM art - both old and new - on the walls.   Could one do this with New Jersey, and College Avenue?   

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