Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Miguel Angel Rojas in the Sicardi Gallery's Offices

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

Scene--the opening of Sicardi Gallery's new space. Crowding the place were collectors, artists, critics, and clowns who came just to drink. Fernando Brave the architect was justifiably puffed up, while the exhibiting artist, Oscar Muñoz from Colombia, was noticeably unassuming despite the fact that his art had recently entered the permanent collections of MoMA and the Tate Modern.

Sicardi Gallery’s new building at 1506 West Alabama across the street from the Menil is perhaps the most elegant commercial gallery space in Houston. Along with the predictable exhibition rooms and offices, it has an elevator, kitchen, bar area, library, and second story deck. I returned a few days after the grand opening to see it again without the crowd, and according to Sicardi’s Annalisa Palmier Briscoe, numerous others did the same.

On that second visit I encountered another Colombian included in MoMA’s permanent collection, Miguel Angel Rojas, about whom I had written in 2008. Rojas’ Nowadays is hanging prominently in one of Sicardi’s offices.

Miguel Angel Rojas, Nowadays, 2001/2008, Coca leaves mounted on acetate, 27 1/2" x 142 1/4"

Nowadays is constructed with small pieces of coca leaves formed into text that inscribes the title of Richard Hamilton’s 1956 Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? By borrowing from an iconic pop collage that alludes to consumerism, Rojas insinuates that Colombians are harmed by cocaine production and trafficking that is driven by U.S.-dominated consumption and demand.

My first encounter with Rojas was in Station Museum’s 2008 Apertura-Colombia exhibition, in which his art compellingly illustrated horrors and bits of beauty in his drug and war ravaged country. Something truly memorable about that time was my discussion with Jim Harithas about his curatorial trips to Colombia during which he learned of the discovery of thousands of mass graves.

Just after that the chance to write about Rojas’ Sicardi exhibition presented itself and it was then that I saw David, a photographic series of a Colombian soldier who lost his leg to a land mind while working in drug enforcement. The nude amputee assumes the contrapposto pose of Michelangelo’s David.

Miguel Angel Rojas, David, 2005, black and white photograph, about 7 feet

Speaking through David, Rojas bemoans the inadequate education that relegates Colombian youths to limited choices between military service and illegal drug activities. This deplorable situation was evidenced by the fact that his model had never heard of Michelangelo or of the Renaissance masterpiece. It’s important to know the artist channels his profit from the photo series into helping drug enforcement amputees.

Concerned with offending advertisers, the publication for which I wrote about Rojas cropped David down to the bottom part of the image, but they can’t be blamed. Advertising income is important, and some people have a fit if you show a man’s dick, nevertheless it was regrettable. David is a visually striking, conceptually pristine, breathtaking piece of art.


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