In this semi-regular department, arts editor Seth Combs reviews a notable new art show or exhibition
It's important to remember that the seven-acre Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, which includes the country's largest collection of outdoor murals, could have been a parking lot. That's exactly what it would have become had residents and activists not staged a non-violent takeover of the area in 1970. The rest is, as they say, history.
It's easy to understand why the neighborhood has been so attractive to hip 20-somethings, young families and, consequently, real estate developers ever since. That's why an exhibition like Bifocal: Bridging Perspectives seems so auspicious and poignant. The show is subtitled "Connecting the Past and Present of Barrio Logan" and, on the surface, does seem rather conveniently timed to coincide with the annual Chicano Park Day Celebration (there will be an after-party event there from 5 to 9 p.m. on April 23).
However, there's nothing blatant or opportunistic about Bifocal. Curated by Mesa College Museum Studies professor Alessandra Moctezuma, the exhibition attempts to bridge the gap between the "artivists" who were there in the '70s and a new generation of artists who are only beginning to understand Barrio Logan's cultural cachet. Up through April 28 inside the newly opened Gallery D (1878 Main St., Unit D), the exhibition includes a myriad of works from OG muralists like Armando Nunez, Victor Ochoa and Salvador Torres. One of the more impressive works is "Ella, Bella, Strella," an unfinished painting from 1970 by Mario Torero that features a woman astride a rather fantastical looking steed. One could easily envision the woman having become some kind of glorious Aztec warrior on the side of the I-5. The fact that she was never completed brings to mind all kinds of convenient metaphors of the neighborhood itself (to be saved for another day).
While the older works make sense for a survey show like this, some of the emerging artists seem strikingly out of place. While I appreciate the pop-culture references in the drawings of Jules Centeno, as well as the mirrored, mixed-media works of Kline Swonger, their inclusion seems forced. Both are immensely talented, but I'm just not sure what the work brings to a conversation about connecting the past and the present other than the fact that it's, well, present. Still, Bifocal is a bold and highly respectable show that doesn't blatantly attempt to speculate on the past or the future, but rather simply tries to do what it can for the neighborhood in the present.