The Arts > Visual Arts
Truth in advertising
The exhibition Sign Language dominates two San Antonio art spaces through the end of the summer, and it’s not to be missed. Chicago-based artists Michael Genovese and Juan Angel Chávez use elements of advertising signage in their works, but they approach the notion of signs in radically different ways. Seeing Chávez and Genovese’s art together makes for a deeply thoughtful and subversive experience for the viewer; we’re let in on a playful manipulation of the omnipresent chatter and haphazard beauty of consumer detritus — which is way more fun than it sounds.
Genovese learned traditional sign-painting while traveling with a carnival as a 19-year-old (“I opted for that instead of college,” he semi-jokes). He (seemingly) effortlessly captures, in his poster-paintings and his extraordinary, kinetic etching series, the blocky, eye-catching “font” and cheery, starlike appurtenances of commercial signage, back when it bore a stylized human touch. A poster in Korean at Unit B is especially affecting, its communitarian message, related to me by Genovese: “We’re all we’ve got.”
Genovese’s sculpture at UTSA, “Corn Piraguas Chicharrones, Engraved Elotes Cart,” would feel at home in Market Square. The wheeled cart’s aluminum sides bear an ingenious baked enamel finish (used also for his etching series), which he’s engraved with the cart’s deliciously come-on title, as well as a tropical landscape and a heroic ear of corn. There’s an air of authenticity, right down to the included Igloo cooler, the colorful umbrella, and a plexi partition containing papier-mâché fruit and pastries, upon which is taped a single dollar bill. It’s jokey and nostalgic, but the piece demonstrates a real regard for workmanship — not just Genovese’s own, but his respect for that of the cart-workers.
Indeed, Genovese made a personal mission of approaching cart vendors in Chicago and elsewhere, offering sincerely to paint their carts. He was invariably rebuffed by the vendors, though. “They thought I was a con artist, or some kind of cop,” he muses. He’s no cop — more like a visual carnival barker advertising the pleasures of daily human interconnection. Gallery guests are invited to etch messages, also, into two plates, one at each space.
Juan Angel Chávez, a native of the state of Chihuahua who emigrated with his family to Chicago when he was a teenager, is a meticulous composer of repurposed found objects, usually picked up on the streets of “pre-gentrified” neighborhoods. With this detritus — faintly weathered cardboard, swatches of hairy cowhide, delicate bits of plywood, sticks and wire, and yellowed fragments of text — Chávez assembles collages and sculptures of real power. They’re rapturous, mysterious and somehow elusive — they hint at both signage and language, but form an imagistic system completely their own.
Some constructions, such as “2500 Safety Crash,” “2313: Metal,” and “Bucket(s) #1-3” employ cut-out and reformed paper graphic elements, which hint at ghosts of former advertising, but are re-crafted into objects evoking the swoop of feathers, explosions, soarings, tendrils. Chávez’s is an alchemical approach — something like the un-processing of mercantilist elements back into the natural world. These three-dimensional objects are housed simply and elegantly in glass-fronted shadow boxes. His lovely, complex, human-scale collages occupy a territory between delicate abstract technique and hardscrabble materials.
One of his assemblages, an untitled sculpture at Unit B, is “housed” in an oversized glass-light-bulb form. Its contents are dark and spidery, supported up from the base into the bulb by elegant tiny stalks of who-knows-what. It’s like the 3-D representation of the experience of having an idea — of some dark inchoate interior process improbably, in a single moment, coming to light.
Curated by Kimberly Aubuchon
UTSA Downtown Art Gallery
8am-5pm Mon-Fri & by appt.
Through August 25
501 W. Durango Blvd.
Unit B Gallery
Through September 5
1-5pm Sat & by appt.
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