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LA Times: At MexiCali Biennial- Art is a Consuming Thing by Christopher Knight

As an eye-catching theme for an exhibition, cannibalism surely ranks right up there.

At East Los Angeles College's Vincent Price Art Museum, cannibalism is the motif driving the third MexiCali Biennial, a show that packs the work of 26 artists and collectives from the U.S. and Mexico into relatively small quarters.

Given the venue, which is named for an erudite actor who was both Yale-trained in art history and popular for ghoulish turns in horror movies, the cannibalism theme also exudes a wry, site-specific cheekiness.

None of the show's binational artists is involved in actually eating anyone's liver with (or without) some fava beans and a nice Chianti. But as a metaphor for approaching art today, an image of consuming the body of one's own kind is what artists Ed Gomez and Luis G. Hernandez and art historian Amy Pederson, who acted as guest curators, have in mind.

Sometimes the trope is blunt. For "Paletas de Sangre," Dino Dinco and Rafa Esparza have filled a jauntily decorated and apparently gruesome street-vending cart with frozen ice-pops said to be made from blood. In reality that's unlikely, but point taken: The blood-pops suggest the rather common knowledge that survival economics on Main Street, not just cutthroat corporatism on Wall Street, are dog-eat-dog.
Usually the metaphor is more oblique, and thus considerably more resonant. Ana Baranda has disassembled and then reconstructed four shirts commercially made for private security officers. Like a garment worker economically thriving because of the threat of crime, she stitched the pieces together to form one long, eight-armed, multi-necked, cascading blouse.

Titled "Échale Ganas," Spanish slang for "Go for it," the succession of shirts creates a visual likeness of one body swallowing another. A privatized descendant of Chris Burden's oversize 1993 "L.A.P.D. Uniforms," made in the wake of the previous year's L.A. riots, Baranda's shirt is big enough for a mutant giant. That the necessarily monstrous wearer of such a garment would be a privately enlisted rent-a-cop, rather than a civil servant, is a sobering conclusion impossible to avoid.

Occasionally the relationship between the work and the show's theme is difficult to decipher. Carolyn Castaño, who is better known for poignantly lurid paintings related to the Latin American drug wars, shows an impressive video that had its debut at Walter Maciel Gallery last year.

"The Female Report" is Castaño's satirical, wonderfully dizzying TV news broadcast whose professionally astute anchorwoman, provocatively attired in a ruffled pink blouse, slides seamlessly between English and Spanish to chronicle snippets of stories by, about and for women in the Americas — North, Central and South. (For the bilingually impaired, her fractured fairy-tale news is closed-captioned.)

Subjects range from serious politics to trivial entertainment, murderous mayhem to lighthearted madness, booming mass media to chaotic social media, all delivered with the same degree of clipped, televisual banality familiar from local and network news.

The speed and circularity with which one subject or language in "The Female Report" merges into another could, I suppose, be likened to events swallowing one another whole through today's filtered media environment. "We have accomplished a lot," intones the reporter in reference to recent developments in women's rights, the depth of her exposed cleavage at the anchor desk suggesting certain limitations to the progress.

But the garbage-in, garbage-out quality of what typically passes for journalism on television is wholly transformed by the artist's skillfully scripted and edited composition. She blows the authoritative source material to smithereens. A viewer, disabused of casual acceptance of televised reality, is left to pick up the pieces.

Christopher Reynolds does something similar in his deft mixed-media painting, "Appetite Apparatus #1 (Baker-Miller Pink, Suppressant)," albeit in a wholly different way. Reynolds takes dead aim at the institutionalization of what was once avant-garde art.

The abstract painting offers up a framed panel of flat, bright-pink color. This particular hue was scientifically developed more than 30 years ago as a biomedical means for calming agitated patients.

That would be you and me, rushing off to see the latest biennial.

A narrow shelf across the bottom holds a small hourglass filled with matching Baker-Miller pink sand, plus a pair of pink-tinted sunglasses — equipment to facilitate a viewer's surrender to the ostensible healing powers of aesthetic contemplation. That the overall hue also screams Pepto-Bismol (burp!) while the glasses are suspiciously rose-colored together puts institutionalized art on the supermarket shelf as a panacea for social nausea.

Equally skeptical of convention is "Border Theory," an elegant, formalist stain painting by Tony de los Reyes. He injects sociopolitical savvy into the supposedly autonomous region of abstract painting.

A rainbow of poured colors from the top and the bottom soaks into the raw linen, merging on a diagonal across the center like a classic Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler. There, a thin white line traces the contacts between the colors — a line that the artist says has been manipulated to trace an unspecified portion of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

The radiant color eloquently flows and bleeds. It refuses to respect the bright-line division between the painting's north and south zones, national borders finally being as abstract and mutable as any Color Field painting.

And what of cannibalism? Connections between it and Castaño's video, Reynolds' mixed-media work and De los Reyes' painting are stretched pretty thin. Instead, throughout the show it most often seems to be a subset of standard appropriation — the redeployment into new contexts of objects, images or doctrines that already exist. Those shifts in circumstance alter (or are altered by) whatever has been borrowed.

With some hits and not a few misses, the show is rather woolly — less focused than a commendable, exploratory effort at finding a thread within the diversity of art being produced today. A stark exception is "Tomad y Comed" by Marycarmen Arroyo Macias. In blood scrawled like desperate Spanish graffiti across two adjoining walls, she writes the pointed words of the Christian Eucharist.

Translation: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you."

Ancient Romans slurred Christians as cannibals because of their ritual, while invading Spanish conquistadors did something similar to Aztecs and others in the New World. The term even derives from the belief that the Caribs of the West Indies ate human flesh.

Charges of rampant cannibalism are not uncommon as a way to dehumanize an enemy. Macias' bloody text, written into an enveloping corner of the room, casts an experience of the world in general, and the world of art in particular, as a more appropriate body to be consumed.

Last Chance: Art Inspired by the Drug Wars in the Echo Park Patch

The Echo Park Patch gives El jardin Femenil a nice plug. Now go see it. Show closes April 7th, 2012 click here for original.

The Echo Park Patch
Last Chance: Art Inspired by the Drug Wars

By Anthea Raymond

April 2, 2012

Colombian-American aritst Carolyln Castano grew up in Historic Filipinotown and lives in Solano Canyon today. Her latest show "El Jardin Femenil Y Otros Ocasos" closes April 7 at the Walter Macial Gallery.

Decorated Garden Head (Nery)Decorated Garden Head (Nery)

Solano Canyon-based painter and video artist Carolyn Castano has been at the cutting edge for a long while.

Her work was included in the controversial Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement, which originated at LACMA in 2008.

She's been a board member at Highland Park's Outpost for Contemporary Art, and, in 2010, organized a Soccer Tournament benefit integrating performance art and live music on the Vista Hermosa fields in Echo Park.

Castano's parents came to the U.S. from Colombia in 1962, and settled in Historic Filipinotown, where she grew up.

Lately, she's been thinking and creating a lot about narco-traffcking and how women, especially, are affected.

Her show El Jardin Femenil Y Otros Ocasos features paintings and videos on that theme, according to a press release:

The role of women in the male-dominated drug culture is performed in many guises as mules, money launderers, trophies and wives. Not coincidentally, many of these women are also beauty queens, models, actresses, or TV journalists. The show includes large format paintings of young female victims.

Castano also portrays a newscaster modeled after Maria Elena Salinas, a well-known Latina journalist, in a video created for the show.

El Jardin Femenil Y Otros Ocasos continues Saturday, April 7 at the Walter Macial Gallery 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd 90034.

Carolyn Castano's Bedazzled Victims Of Latin American Narco-Wars

To see online article and photo gallery, go here.

Huffington Post

Carolyn Castaño's Bedazzled Victims of Latin American Narco-Wars

March 28, 2012

Narco Venus (Angie)Narco Venus (Angie)

Carolyn Castano explores the narratives of the narco-wars in Latin America, highlighting the female roles in a male-dominated world of violence, politics, drugs and money. Castano's exhibition "El Jardin Femenil Y Otros Ocasos" loosely translates to "the female garden and other dark sunsets (or twilights)".

The metallic collection explores the proximity between woman as reclining goddess and woman as dead weight. Art history overlaps with drug trafficking in that women serve as both passive and beautiful objects for men to exploit.

In the world of drug cartels, women often play mules, trophies, patient wives and eventually victims. Castano's collection depicts nude, dead women buried in dark foliage. The targets are beautiful; in real life they are often models and beauty queens. There is a dark playfulness to her palette, which incorporates rhinestones, glitter and metallic pigments. The morbid subject matter is rendered almost like a Lisa Frank fuzzy coloring poster. The glitter and glamor that characterizes a pretty face translates onto the canvas even after her death. Sick as it may be, she never stops being an object of beauty.

The Los Angeles based artist incorporates a bling factor to her works that recall the rush of new money. Her paintings contain a bit of Rousseau's "Equatorial Jungle", Andy Warhol's pop and memento mori iconography. There is also a psychedelic element to the paintings, drawing a connection between a drug-induced nirvana and a post-mortem one. Whether dead or alive, a reclining nude is a reclining nude, even if she is covered in glitter.

Art review: Carolyn Castaño at Walter Maciel Gallery

El Jardin Femenil Y Otros Ocasos receives a wonderful review from Sharon Mizota of the LA Times. Click here.

LA Times

Culture Monster

Art Review: Carolyn Castaño at Walter Maciel Gallery

by Sharon Mizota

March 22, 2012

Narco Venus (Angie)Narco Venus (Angie)

Carolyn Castaño’s latest exhibition at Walter Maciel Gallery serves as an ambivalent memorial to female victims of the Latin American drug trade. Four large paintings, each named for a real woman, depict idealized nudes reclining in lush, glitter-strewn tropical landscapes. The women are equal parts art history and pin-up poster, but there’s something sinister about the large, Rousseau-like vegetation that surrounds them. Studded with skulls and other images of death, ominous swathes of pure black press in, giving the figures’ white skin an otherworldly glow.

Smaller paintings feature the severed heads of male drug lords — a seemingly vindictive symbolic act. While Castaño restores the women to life, she tosses the men’s heads in the long grass. Still, they too are encrusted with glitter and sparkly flowers. Perhaps they died much as they lived: astride an undercurrent of violence papered over with rhinestones.

The paintings are darkly beautiful, but the highlight of the show is a video featuring Castaño as a newscaster rattling off a litany of sound bites on the history and status of women in Latin America. Alternating seamlessly between English and Spanish — often in mid-sentence — the work pokes fun at the quick-cut, non sequitur nature of TV news while rattling the viewer’s linguistic and cognitive circuits. It undoes what we think we know about Latin American women, clearing a space, hopefully, for something more real and complex.

El Jardin Femenil Y Otros Ocasos in Notes on Looking

Notes On Looking reviews my exhibition at Walter Maciel Gallery, El Jardin Femenil & Otros Ocasos. Look here for original.

Notes on Looking

By Carlyn Aguilar

March 5, 2012

New mural in Culver City for Siqueiros, Papel y Madera, Fabian Debora at Homeboy, Frida Kahlo está en Wonderland, Carolyn Castaño’s Narco Venus & Mi Familia

Narco Venus (Liliana Andrea)Narco Venus (Liliana Andrea)

Here is an excerpt:

And if it’s women you want to see, then definitely visit Carolyn Castaño’s exhibition El Jardín Femenil y Otros Ocasos showing now at Walter Maciel Gallery in Culver City. When you enter the gallery space, you enter into a world of lush gardens, at first colorful and bright. Beautiful, naked women are covered in glitter and rhinestones. The flowers seem to be blooming. But then the darkness creeps in, and you realize this is not the Garden of Eden, but a garden of death and tragedy. The blackness in the paintings begins to set the tone. The sun may be shining, but the black mountains seem somber and isolated. The skin of the Latin women is no longer brown, but pure white, bloodless and ghostly. The women are forever trapped in this tropical garden of opium poppies and marihuana and coca leaves, surrounded by decapitated heads and calaveras. But these women do not look sad. Two rest peacefully while the others recline in flirtatious positions and stare at their audience with their beautiful glittering eyes, confident, tough, sexy, inviting.

Art Review: 'COLA 2011: Individual Artist Fellowship' at Municipal Art Gallery

Narco Venus (Liliana Andrea)Narco Venus (Liliana Andrea)

Christopher Knight reviews the COLA Individual Artist Fellowship Award 2011. For online version click here

LA Times

Culture Monster

June 9, 2011

by Christopher Knight

The gallery housing Danial Nord's "State of the Art" sculpture at the Municipal Art Gallery is pitch-black. Until your eyes adjust, pretty much all a visitor sees is shards of bluish-white light flickering like broken glass on surrounding walls, as well as inside some unfathomable structure taking up most of the small room.

A vaguely militaristic audio-remix of the familiar "Mickey Mouse Club March" theme song, its rat-a-tat-tat snare drum echoing repetitiously (even relentlessly) inside the chamber, gives a clue as to what slowly comes into view. A 17-foot-long sculpture of Mickey lies on its side. The cartoon rodent, fabricated from cast-off television sets, recalls an armored vehicle.

The sleeping-or-dead pose is critical to the work's creepy success, as is the sheer volume of old TV sets from which the work is deftly cobbled together. Nord's video-sculpture wedges itself into an electronic zone somewhere between a numbed life and eternal death, between commercialized seductions of youthful play and the cast-off consumer culture that has long-since replaced the "idiot box" of the cathode-ray tube era with today's ubiquitous digital flat-screen. Mickey is dead; long live Mickey!

"State of the Art" (even the title blows a cold breeze) is video as sinister inevitability in our globalizing march. It's also a strong work in a strong exhibition -- "COLA 2011," the public presentation of works by artist-recipients in the most recent round of the city of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department's individual artist grants. Ten artists are in the show.

Ken Gonzalez Day's large ink-jet prints put photographs of figure and portrait sculptures by artists and anthropologists in confrontation and conversation -- a colonial American woman and a classical Venus, for example, opposite Japanese and Eskimo women. Similarities and differences are thrown into high relief, but it's the blank chasm between them (in this case, between cultural conceptions of East and West) that looms largest.

Carolyn Castaño, who is Colombian American, elaborates her eye-popping brand of extreme netherworld celebrity portraits with a series of brightly painted, glitter-encrusted, life-size reclining nudes that she calls "Narco Venuses," fictionalized tabloid girlfriends of drug lords here adorned with cascades of poppies, pot leaves and skulls. Heather Carson merges Dan Flavin's industrial-strength fluorescent tubes and lighting fixtures with Agnes Martin's painted pastel abstractions of horizontal color bars, forming an unlikely pairing for wall sculptures simultaneously ephemeral and muscular.

Amid paintings, a harpoon-sculpture and altered book texts, Tony de los Reyes flips a 31-star American flag, which dates to circa 1851. That's a year after California joined the Union, sea-to-shining-sea, and the year Herman Melville published "Moby-Dick," his epic sea-faring tale of obsession on nature's whiteness. The flag's symbolic colors are replaced by watery swirls of black and white, evoking a turbulent run-up to the Civil War.

Anna Boyiazis' documentary photographs of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa compose lyrical images of love, loss and human fragility. As the pandemic's 30th anniversary arrives, the pictures also mark time.

Dont Rhine, working with a sound-art collective, orchestrated John Cage-like "listening tours" in which small groups were instructed to briefly visit a place without speaking, then report back on what they heard. There's not much to look at in the gallery; however, playing against a very loud society in which everyone clamors to be heard, a paean to the virtues of listening is worth, well, hearing.

Soo Kim makes a not-unrelated admonition about the value of seeing through a forest of visual clutter. Parts of her large landscape photographs have been neatly excised with a razor blade, mingling real and depicted shadows.

Less satisfactory are the skillfully drafted yet prosaic commercial icons -- Tony Tiger, Charlie Tuna, a Kool-Aid grin -- painted in tattoo-like markings by Mark Dean Veca. Their sense of rotting decay is held too much in check by pretty fields of flat, decorative colors. Those colors are said to have socially relevant sources, such as the mercury base of the vermilion in the Charlie Tuna work, but it's a stretch with no visual payoff.

And Yong Soon Min's room-size video installation projects images over vinyl letters on the floor, documenting email exchanges that often concern the difficulty of communication. Nearby, a split-screen video monitor plays fragments of what appear to be television soap operas. The context is far too obscure to hold interest, though, while the scale of the projection dilutes the whole.

Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 644-6269, through July 3. Closed Mon through Wed.
For the record, 7:57 a.m. June 12: An earlier version on this post incorrectly listed Municipal Art Gallery in the credits for all photos.

LACMA East:"Phantom Sightings"Chronicles the Rise of Post-Chicanoism

Christopher Miles of the LA Weekly says- Carolyn Castaño’s hyperdecorative and fanciful images from what seem an ethnically flaired postpsychedelic disco cartoon telenovela to read more go here

LA Weekly

Phantom Sightings"Chronicles the Rise of Post-Chicanoism

April 29, 2008

"Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement” begins with photos chronicling the art collective Asco (Spanish for nausea). Patssi Valdez, Gronk, Willie Herron III and Harry Gamboa Jr., aspiring artists, writers and filmmakers when they formed Asco in the early ’70s, drew from Chicano traditions and contemporary art strategies to address hot-button issues — from representations of gang activity in the media and the underrepresentation of Chicano artists in museums to the war in Vietnam. (See Daniel Hernandez's feature on Asco, "The Art Outlaws of East L.A.")

The iconic image from the foursome’s provocative tenure, before the group swelled to a larger organization and then disbanded in the ’80s, is a 1972 photo showing Valdez, looking like a nervous spokesmodel, posing by a wall on which her cohorts’ names are tagged. Though the photo yields few clues, the lines of architecture betray the transgression’s location, as confirmed by the work’s title: Spraypaint LACMA.
Gamboa Jr. referred to Asco’s aerosol siege, spurred by a LACMA curator’s derogatory comments about Chicanos and their art, as “the first conceptual work of Chicano art to be exhibited at LACMA,” and that tongue twister of a description goes to the heart of Asco, which is presented as a touchstone for this exhibition of works by mostly much younger artists. Asco’s art can be described using multiple choices from a long list of categories — guerilla, graffiti, performance, conceptual, postminimalist, interventionist, critique of representation, institutional critique, Chicano, post-Chicano and so on. Add art after any of the words listed, then add in photography, film, video, painting, drawing and sculpture, and you have a lexicon for delving into Asco and the rest of this impressive show.
The exhibition’s curators, Howard N. Fox and Rita Gonzalez of LACMA, and Chon A. Noriega, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA, brought together 120 works by 31 artists, with the goal of following “an idea rather than representing a constituency,” thus focusing on a slice of art produced by young artists with mostly Mexican roots, working from “conceptual and interventionist tendencies.”

No doubt, much of what is on view at LACMA can squeeze into this curatorial garb. Consider Sandra de la Loza, who has placed unauthorized plaques around the city to commemorate overlooked, or, in the case of David Alfaro Siqueiros’ 1932 Tropical America mural, literally whitewashed history. At LACMA, she creates a museum exhibit within the museum exhibit, offering documents and souvenirs that reveal brutal, ruthless, occasionally romanticized and at times downright bizarre ways in which white-Chicano relations have manifested themselves in Los Angeles culture, while her video work animates the terra-cotta figures in downtown L.A.’s Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial frieze so as to desolidify popular accounts of regional history.
Equally smart, conceptually rooted and interventionist in the most brilliant of ways is Ruben Ochoa, whose works of the past few years have utilized a variety of postminimalist strategies to breach ethnic, cultural and class barriers, as well as the literal barriers that shape the urban experience. His “Phantom” exhibit includes the documents and relics from a project in which Ochoa covered sections of a freeway divider wall with digital photo wallpaper, creating the illusion that sections of the wall had been removed to reveal the hillside behind it.

But the more you examine “Phantom Sightings,” the clearer it becomes that the curators didn’t actually succeed in defining a slice of artistic production and then locate the artists within it. Rather, in an odd reductionism, perhaps even a kind of essentializing, they imagined a show, and a group of artists, narrower than either are.

I’m not convinced that the presumed framework of this exhibition has much to do with, or does any favors for, Nicola López’s frenetic woodblock-printed Mylar cut-outs depicting colossal postindustrial infrastructural failures; or Rubén Ortiz-Torres’ paintings of pure atmosphere produced by coating aluminum panels with Kameleon color-shifting auto paint; or Victor Estrada’s constellation’s of linked bulbous forms and cultural detritus that charm you until you begin to understand they are something like networks of receptacles for mental waste. I’m as happy to see all of the above in this exhibition as I am to see Carolyn Castaño’s hyperdecorative and fanciful images from what seem an ethnically flaired postpsychedelic disco cartoon telenovela; Margarita Cabrera’s sewn soft replicas of hard goods ranging from blenders to Hummers; and Ken Gonzalez-Day’s conversion of a photographic history of Los Angeles lynchings into a provocative and deeply poetic, haunting experience. But I’m not sure how they wound up in this show. It’s as if in developing the premise, the curators laid out a rule and then made a series of exceptions. (Yay!)

Tropical Baby, YandaraTropical Baby, Yandara

The good news is that what was likely a simplistic meeting-room common denominator was trumped by enthusiasms aroused by something else the trio of curators apparently share: well-tuned radar for sophistication and talent. And the artists who chose to participate — some invited artists turned down the gig for fear of a “surname-based” exhibition — had a good bit to do with such trumping. If the works here do share a tendency toward intervention, the biggest intervention seems to be something akin to talking your way in the door, and then taking over the party.

Walking through “Phantom Sightings” feels not so different from visiting the current “Biennial Exhibition” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where three of these artists (Ruben Ochoa, Eduardo Sarabia and Mario Ybarra Jr.) are among the 80-plus artists included, or the just-ended “Unmonumental” exhibition that inaugurated the New Museum’s new building in Manhattan’s Bowery neighborhood, or the Hirshhorn Museum’s 2006 exhibition “The Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas: Recent Sculpture.”Though filters regarding ethnicity, nationality and genres shaped these four exhibitions differently, the fact remains that you could take much if not most of the work from any of the four shows and plop it into any of the others, and it would fit nicely. That might attest to the contemporary art circuit’s capacity for rapidly internationalizing just about anything, but it might also speak to something the artists in the exhibitions, as well as the curators, variously tapped — or backed into.

Carlee Fernandez, Self-Portrait: Portrait of My Father, Manuel Fernandez (2006)Carlee Fernandez, Self-Portrait: Portrait of My Father, Manuel Fernandez (2006)

Pondering whether it might be a “biennial for a recession-bound time,” the New York Times’ Holland Cotter indulged the Whitney’s curators, Henriette Huldisch and Shamim M. Momin, in their invocation of “lessness” — a turn away from spectacle and toward sustainability, collaboration, ephemerality and nonmonumentality. But it seems in each of these shows something even less comfortable than that is afoot — a kind of collective conflictedness about where to stand in the world, as individuals and as groups, with regard to participation in the production and consumption of material, popular and high culture, particularly within the context of an urban experience.
You get an extra helping of such conflict in “Phantom Sightings,” seen not so specifically from a Chicano perspective, or a post-Chicano point of view, but from the assorted vantage points, contexts, backgrounds, preoccupations, enthusiasms, neuroses, acuities and skills of artists who share variously overlapping experiences, and who happen to have surnames of a shared descent.

It’s disappointing that artists who passed on this exhibition for fear of a label didn’t have the faith that their work could participate in the terrific hijacking this show turns out to be. And the exhibition might well have been more untidy in an interesting way if the curators, in what might have signaled that the complexity of all that falls under the Chicano umbrella goes beyond surnames, had included works by artists whose parentage might hail from just about anywhere, but who, as living and breathing malleable and responsive beings in contemporary America (certainly in contemporary Los Angeles), give evidence through their work of the influence of Chicano culture on the production of contemporary art. All this said, LACMA shows via this exhibition that it does indeed have an edge, and as the three curators contend in the introduction to the exhibition catalog, this is an exhibition “you need to see.”

PHANTOM SIGHTINGS: ART AFTER THE CHICANO MOVEMENT | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. | (323) 857-6000 | | Through Sept. 1

It's Complicated Review - Christopher Knight, April 2009

Beauty Queen and Druglord (Laura Zuñiga and Angel Garcia Urquiza)Beauty Queen and Druglord (Laura Zuñiga and Angel Garcia Urquiza)

Christopher Knight's review of my 2009 show at Walter Maciel Gallery, "It's Complicated." You can find a gallery of images from that show here.

Review: Carolyn Castano at Walter Maciel Gallery
April 17, 2009 | 10:45 am

In his cartoonish style, Colombian artist Fernando Botero once painted a picture of slain drug kingpin Pablo Escobar as an obese, rooftop-dancing gangster amid a hail of bullets — sort of “Fiddler on the Roof” for the degenerate set. He presented the brutal criminal, once listed by Forbes magazine among the world’s richest men, in his pseudo-Robin Hood guise, dangerous yet cuddly. I’ll take Carolyn Castaño’s version any day. Her new work at Walter Maciel Gallery shuns easy moralizing for the sheer strangeness of modern media celebrity.

Seven punchy portraits, each 5 by 4 feet, chronicle men and women associated with Colombia’s drug-addled travails. Paired with Escobar is Virginia Vallejo, the television news anchor who, improbably, was also his mistress. Nearby is Laura Zuñiga, the Mexican beauty queen who last December lost her crown when she was arrested on an alleged cash-and-weapons-smuggling trip to South America. Rodrigo Echeverry, Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas and others who have flashed across TV screens also make appearances.

Castaño renders each one as a two-dimensional line drawing in rudimentary black paint on a blank white ground. Something as mundane as a facial feature — the curve of a nose or the shape of an eye — is faithfully rendered. But likeness is swamped by the overwhelming sparkle of glitter-encrusted paint on hair and lips, showers of syncopated geometric patterns in bright, eye-dazzling colors and lush cascades of ornate, stylized flowers.

There’s a visual insanity to the blaring execution of this imagery that meshes perfectly with the craziness of the subjects’ outlandish tabloid stories. A kind of Extreme Celebrity Portraiture, Castaño’s gonzo pictures make weird sense of inscrutable lives.
-- Christopher Knight

"Carolyn Castaño and her alter-ego" - May 2008 Review of "VIDEOworks"

Vanitas PrintVanitas PrintHere is David Ng's review of VIDEOworks at SB London in 2008. You can find a gallery of images from the show here.

Presenting the artist and her alter-ego

By David Ng, Times Staff Writer May 3, 2008

MANY artists would envy the kind of exposure Carolyn Castaño is receiving this month. The L.A.-based painter and drawer has four large-scale creations featured in "Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement" at LACMA. And beginning Saturday, she will unveil a series of video work in a solo show at SB London in Silver Lake. Castaño describes her body of work as containing elements of feminist, pop and Latino art. "I've grown up with all of these influences. But I'm not carrying a flag for any one movement," she says. In "VIDEOworks" at SB London, the artist will show four new video creations that feature the artist's alter-ego, "Betty Ramirez," who is alternately played by Castaño and actress Victoria Ramirez. Each video is about five minutes and explores specific cinematic archetypes like the femme fatale, the romantic heroine and the big-hipped mother figure. "La Extranjera" follows a mysterious woman who wears a Mexican wrestler's mask around her apartment. One evening, she creates her own fake passport, packs her suitcase and dons a white trench coat. She struts around downtown L.A. as if in her own fashion show and ultimately decides to take the Gold Line Metro train. "The title of the video means 'foreigner,' " Castaño says. "I was thinking that as a foreigner, you wear a mask and no one knows who you really are beyond the exterior that you create for yourself." "Fragrant Afternoon" portrays an appealing young woman sitting on a bench who becomes attracted to the man next to her. As she slowly inches toward him, the video cuts away to a fantasy scene of the two characters wandering through a forest glen, encountering exotic flora and fauna. Castaño explains that she wanted the video to evoke the sensory experiences of romance. "Love really happens in your ears and your nose," she says. Visitors to the gallery will be able to purchase all four videos in a DVD. (There's also a bonus movie on the DVD that the artist describes as "erotic" in nature.) Higher-quality versions of each video will also be available for special collectors. Castaño, born in L.A. to Colombian parents, has spent most of her life in Historic Filipinotown. She teaches at UCLA and at other universities around the city. The LACMA show features four of Castaño's large mixed-media portraits. In each work, she deliberately uses tacky material such as glitter, rhinestones and shiny baubles. "I'm interested in the way people decorate and embellish themselves," the artist says. "I was inspired by the graphics you see in beauty salons. It's as if my subjects are in a beauty salon of their own creation." Castaño says she didn't get to choose which works would go into the LACMA exhibition. "They told me which ones they wanted," she says. "I have to say I've never seen my work displayed so beautifully. They have their own corner in the museum and the lighting is close to perfection."

'Phantom Sightings' at LACMA - Christopher Knight Review, April 15, 2008

Christopher Knight's 2008 review of the Phantom Sightings show. My name-check reads as follows: Carolyn Castaño's cheerfully loud glamour-paintings merge personal fashion and street advertising with abstract painting.

Cheerfully loud!

'Phantom Sightings' at LACMA

Mexican American art has come a long way since the movement of the 1970s. LACMA's 'Phantom Sightings' traces its zigzag path.

By Christopher Knight
Times Art Critic

April 15, 2008

THE king is dead. Long live the king!

In this instance, Chicano art is the new monarch ascending the throne to extend the line of succession. What's passing into history is an aesthetic that matured in the 1970s, produced by Mexican American artists with an eye toward articulation of Mexican American experience. A full generation later, what has arrived on the scene is something different -- an aesthetic produced by Mexican American artists with an eye toward articulating whatever they darn well please.

At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the sprawling exhibition "Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement," brings together a diverse and satisfying array of recent painting, sculpture, video, installation and mixed-media work. Sometimes the art is specific to questions of ethnic identity; often it's not.