San Antonio-based artist-run space Presa House Gallery was founded in late 2016. In Corpus Christi, at K Space Contemporary, there’s an exhibition titled Ctrl+A, which is the second part of a gallery exchange that, in this case, presents all the artists who have shown at Presa House thus far.
In a group show of more than 50 artists, you might expect at least a few stinkers. To my delight, every piece in this exhibition stands strong as an individual work. As a group, the work showcases artists, many from Texas, working through American-Texan-Latinx-Borderland issues, through the laser-focused curatorial decisions of Presa House. I suppose this was the point, and the results are impressive. In short, Ctrl+A presents like a most timely biennial.
K Space Contemporary used every inch of its first-floor exhibition space for this show, including the ceilings and the floors. At the opening night, one floor installation served as a performance site for San Antonio artist Jose Villalobos. He stood in a circle of dirt that was punctuated by small mirrors and roses. On the mirrors he wrote words like “fag” and “Joto” in lipstick and attached them to his chest and legs, later breaking them apart with a jewel-mosaic hammer. What’s left behind is Villalobos’s rose-adorned cowboy hat in the center of a circle of dirt, petals, and shards; the hammer lays where it was tossed after the performance. The effect of busted mirrors littered around a makeshift cemetery plot is strikingly unsettling. Lo Que No Existe simultaneously reads as a burial site, a crime scene, and a painfully shattered memorial.
Allison Valdivia’s paintings maintain their quality as constructed objects, while her tightly-rendered scenes are excellent. They seem to come from old photographs, but her painter’s play of focused figures and loosely-adapted backgrounds keep these paintings fresh, as though from recent observation or memory. The Plexiglass overlay on Con Cariño has a remnant of a hand-written letter and signature in red, and the drop shadows it leaves on the image below are somehow more legible than the writing itself. I can’t help but think about families broken up by circumstance, and hidden ancestral histories, and I wonder if the images are derived from Valdivia’s personal history, or someone else’s. I’m not sure it matters. It may seems off-topic, but this painting also leaves me perturbed that cursive handwriting isn’t taught in schools anymore. The personal and intimate marks of the handwritten letter means something when it’s an exchange between people who know and love each other.
Raul Gonzalez — a painter, performer, dancer, stay-at-home-dad, and AirBnB artist — has three object/paintings on display (pictured at top). His odd-shaped, tablet-sized technicolor hunks of concrete are adorned with illustrative drawings and paintings. There’s construction workers riding on the tailgate of a truck, Gonzalez working at home with his daughter, and a yellow road roller. Though small, these have a hot energy to them. (I like them so much that I started to wonder what his drawings and paintings would feel like blown up. Gonzalez’s often-immersive tape/painting/cardboard dance floor installations are a frenzy of color and movement, and it could be something to see his clear-eyed representational paintings and drawings on that scale.)
Ruben Luna’s graphic-novel-style wall pieces house, among other things, a lightning-bolt belt (‘Andalé!’) and a chancla. I’m reminded that they’re used to whack the wayward child or husband. Between the pair, on a pedestal, is an open case displaying a deconstructed broom (like a pool cue), an egg, and Vicks VapoRub: it’s a kit to help you prepare for various Mexican rituals. At first glance, this trilogy of works feels buoyant, but with time it lends itself to heavy subjects, like the preservation of traditions, the frustrations of parenthood, and the ways in which authority — generational or otherwise — is often maintained by physical force.
Other artists definitely deserve mention: Albert Alvarez’s twisted, near-apocalyptic paintings are bawdy and weird. Dan Guerrero’s painting Los Padrinos, in which a couple cradles a huge, veiny snail, the way one holds a baby, is uncomfortably familiar and also funny. Patricia Carrington’s photographs and elaborate Instagrammable interactive photobooth, Aire para llevar, is both beautiful and more than a bit facetious.
In fact, there’s a substantial dose of biting humor throughout this exhibition. When paired against the raw, deeply unsettling works of Angel Lartigue’s Self-portrait as I were Muerto (various small photographs of the naked artist lying in a ditch, or crumpled up next to a structure, with another clothed figure occasionally on the scene), Ctrl+A is downright incisive. With such powerhouse programming through their first two years, I very much look forward to what Presa House Gallery co-directors Jenelle Esparza and Rigoberto Luna do next.
At K Space Contemporary in Corpus Christi through Feb. 22, 2019.