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One of the hardest things in the world is capturing the essence of a person. A person is comprised of so many experiences and emotions that trying to show exactly who that individual is, tends to be extremely difficult. It would seem logical then that capturing the essence of a large group of people would be practically impossible.
That being said, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art has made a very noble attempt at the impossible with its exhibit “From Azaceta to Z?-iga,” which opened Nov. 5. It’s the museum’s collection of 20th-century Latin American art that is as varied in media as it is in message. With over 150 paintings, sculptures, photos, documents and sketches, the exhibit does a fantastic job of not just capturing what it’s like to be Latin American, but what it’s like to be human.
Consisting of pieces collected by the museum since the 1950s, the exhibit is able to be diverse and unified in theme. David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera (the “Big Three” of Mexican muralism) are likely the most well-known of the artists in the show, and there is a substantial amount of their work on display. While much of the art is by Mexican artists, many Caribbean, Central and South American countries are represented, especially Uruguay, Chile and Cuba. This is the first time the museum has shown all of the pieces together and the effect is really powerful.
The show is organized with a deliberate division between realistic and abstract work. One section showcases the Latin American abstract art movement of “art for art’s sake,” featuring a good deal of early- to mid-20th-century mixed-reality oil paintings that is really breathtaking. Alongside these paintings are some more contemporary works, mainly sculptures, which make for a nice balance.
The realistic section contains many traditional paintings, lithographs and sketches, separated into different areas according to style and artist. I found the group of self-portraits to be particularly interesting where 20th-century Latin American artists like Jose Luis Cuevas adopted the styles of Cezanne and Rembrandt for portrayals of themselves.
The abundance and assortment of artists, media, styles, eras and movements in this exhibit is what makes it wonderful to see, as well as difficult to describe. “From Azaceta to Z?-iga” successfully demonstrates the love, sadness, religion, familial values, suffering and hope of a people, and I think that’s as close to essence as we can get.