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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.

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.

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.

"Chicano art, beyond rebellion" - Phantom Sightings Review - April 6, 2008

On April 6, 2008, Augustin Gurza reviewed the Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement, which included four of my paintings.

(The article also included a photo gallery, which included my "Tropical Baby (Self Portrait)", which can be found here.)

Chicano art, beyond rebellion

Jason Villegas's 'Celestial Situations'Jason Villegas' "Celestial Situations,"

'Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement' provides a rare showcase at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

By Agustin Gurza, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 6, 2008

VISITORS to the sprawling Chicano art show opening today at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are greeted by a display of photos depicting a group of daring guerrilla street artists known as ASCO, Spanish for "nausea." The photographs are from the early 1970s -- which seems to defy the show's title, "Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement."

In one famous photo from 1972, in the midst of the movement, the museum itself was the target of these Dadaesque subversives protesting the exclusion of Chicano art from its galleries. In "Spray Paint LACMA," ASCO member Patssi Valdez is seen posing outside the museum's walls, which had been tagged overnight by her rebellious cohorts, Gronk, Willie Herron III and Harry Gamboa Jr. This act of creative defiance -- turning the building into a Chicano canvas -- is now enshrined in the very place that sparked the protest by treating Chicanos as the phantoms of the art world. So does this mean that Chicano artists have finally found the acceptance they sought? That they can now put down their spray cans and pursue careers as equals in a harmonious "post-ethnic" art world?

"I have a feeling if I was a young person today, I don't think I would spray paint the museum," Gamboa, 56, an author and college lecturer, answers slyly. "Because now, [tagging] has been felonized, and to put three signatures on a county building might result in three strikes. Who knows if we would all wind up in prison for life and never have the chance to pursue careers as artists?"

Half the artists in the current exhibition weren't even born when Gamboa and company tagged the museum, but they carry on the ASCO conceptual tradition by expressing their own set of social concerns in bold, albeit at times oblique, ways. Thus, the choice of ASCO as preamble is an intriguing invitation to rethink Chicano art, past and present.

Tropical Baby, Self PortraitTropical Baby, Self Portrait