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Art&Seek Q&A: Liliana Bloch

by Tina Aguilar 16 Sep 2010 3:37 PM

The MAC director discusses the space’s mission as well as two Mexican-themed shows opening in the gallery space this weekend.


Video still (detail) from Quin Mathews' "Los Colores del Cielo/The Colors of Heaven"

Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities at El Centro College.

This week, the McKinney Avenue Contemporary (MAC) and San Angel Gallery present “Los Olvidados/The Forgotten Ones” and “Quin Mathews: Los Colores del Cielo/The Colors of Heaven.” This rich extravaganza is one of the many citywide festivities aligned with Mexico’s Bicentenario/Bicentennial and this week’s Diez y Seis celebrations that recognize the country’s Independence Day. The collaboration includes Hank Lee, curator and director/owner of the San Angel Gallery in San Antonio, and artists Quin Mathews and Kyle Hobratschk.

“This show is about the forgotten ones, Los Olvidades, consequently, the imagery includes Santa Muerte (the patron saint of the forgotten ones), piñatas (locally made) of forgotten ones (transvestites, the wounded, poor, deformed, hungry, those passing through),” Lee says. “We’re asking how Mexico has continued to be colonized, if not under the aegis of a flag or a ruler, then under the sanction of ‘free trade,’ which opened up the borders for more exploited labor in Mexico, and, currently, under the rule of drug wars, as Mexico serves for the conduit to drugs flowing to the United States. Though our approach may appear humorous, colorful, our aims are serious.”

MAC Director Liliana Bloch discusses the shows’ creative ideas, contemporary and culturally relevant imagery, and historical connections in this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:

Tina Aguilar: Before we get into the upcoming exhibitions, can you tell me about the MAC as a place?

Liliana Bloch: Yes, the space was founded 16 years ago with the purpose of being a unique venue in Texas – one that would support art in all disciplines and that really defines the space. This is a building that has two theatres and three art galleries and a lobby that can accommodate people to spend as much time as they want to – if they want to stay – and a bookshop and a bar. So the space was specifically designed with the intention of its current use, and I think it’s just perfect. The idea came from Claude Albritton, our board president. I think he was brilliant, because he wanted to cross-pollinate the audiences from the theaters and the visual arts and I think it works very well. When people are coming from the theater shows, they have to see the galleries and vice versa. People inquire when there’s a show going on, and that’s how it’s done and that’s how the galleries stay active.

T.A.: What is the space’s mission?

L.B.: The mission of the MAC is being a non-profit dedicated to supporting art in all disciplines and focusing on freedom of expression. There’s no censorship other than the quality, and that really defines our programming and makes it, I would say, very different and extremely unique and extremely important, too. Because that means that we are not scared of talking about issues that we think are important for current times – whether they are with artists that are national, international, local or even not contemporary.

T.A.: What about this area of town along McKinney Avenue?

L.B.: Well, that’s a super plus for the MAC, I think. Uptown is great, because it is very young, people are always on the move, and that can be good or bad depending on how you want to see it. But that means that we get the traffic from this area. It is safe, and we’re talking about a place that is extremely hip and super safe. It’s a great location, and on top of that we have parking entrances on both sides. We have access to the other side of 75, where we have public schools there, and we have the trolley passing, so that means you can come to the MAC and then take the trolley and go to the DMA and continue your art tour.

T.A.: That’s great that you are next to the Arts District, so you can bridge across to the other locations.

L.B.: By the same token, we are really close to the Design District, where not all but a lot of commercial galleries are, and that’s perfect too. I only think that it is going to get better, because I came here 10 years ago and the art and the cultural scene has exploded. I mean, it’s so much better than before, so I think we are actually very privileged. With the location of where we are, there’s always room for wanting more. But I think we’re great.

T.A.: You have a new venture in Downtown Dallas. Tell me about that space.

Bernardo Cantu's Juanita’s Beauty Salon & Chupacabra Exterminators can be found at Mercantile Coffee House.

L.B.: Yes, because we are always on the lookout for sponsors. Our development coordinator, Stephanie Webb, was working with other businesses. One of them is Mercantile Coffee House and the owner [Oscar Ghelber] is an art lover. He is going to be sponsoring the MAC, and we’re going to provide artistic programming for a year. We’re going to focus only on emerging artists, because there’s never enough space to accommodate everybody that we would like to. We thought about the emerging part. Lisa Hees, who is the assistant director and an art historian from UT Arlington, just got out of school, and she has been relating to other students and artists who are talented. The idea works really well and is going to be a MAC satellite. I think it’s very important that people will experience the difference that art makes when it’s displayed; it completely changes the space. It makes you focus, it teaches you to observe, and then in the end you end up knowing more about yourself. And by that you’re just hoping that people will learn how to look and learn; how to raise questions that might be important for them. And then there’s that curiosity that we want to spark, themes that are behind any artist’s pieces.

T.A.: You are in the middle of an installation and getting ready for this weekend. Tell me about the two upcoming exhibitions?

L.B.: One is in the large gallery. It’s an installation that will cover both galleries, and it’s based on the new cult that is surging in Mexico devoted to La Santa Muerte – the Holy Death. I read an article in National Geographic, and then we started to watch documentaries. We started to do research, and we became fascinated. I think it’s important to present the history with a historian’s eye. The Conquest was not romantic; extremely valuable cultures and people were gone forever. But you cannot focus only on that. There’s beauty that came out of it, and that’s what I think is a main component in this exhibition. It’s so culturally charged … if people want to know more they can. This cult originated with the underprivileged society that is suffering a lot, as usual, from all the drug trafficking. In Mexico, the Catholic Church or their saints were not working for them anymore, so they resorted to the Holy Death. They started resorting to her and started praying to her. When I say them, I mean the underprivileged – we’re talking about prostitutes, the families of people that are in jail, the forgotten ones of society. The altars that they build are gorgeous, and they are in all of these houses and it’s gaining strength. The Catholic Church will not recognize it, of course.

T.A.: Keeping with the idea of a blending of cultures, can you talk about Quin Mathew’s piece?

L.B.: Quin’s work, I think, is an extremely important part of the show, because he’s giving the public, in his show, the versatility of the MAC. Here we are in the 21st Century with a current and very important issue, and then Quin is bringing something current that is a direct result of the Conquest. The video for this show is a result of a trip to Mexico that he did, and he fell in love with the churches because these were churches painted by the people and preserved by them as well. For Baroque, they are unique. It’s just what happened there and the remnants of it, and I think it’s great that there are still places preserving the beauty and the history of what we we’re saying. They make you silent. It’s extremely moving and beautiful. People can have the best of both worlds if they open their minds.

T.A.: What are we going to see in the finished mural by Kyle Hobratschk (above)?

L.B.: With this mural he is basically recounting the story of La Santa Muerte based on his research. … He has depicted a timeline that evolves, because you see the evolution from Pre-Columbian to where the Spaniards came and it’s a continuum that ends with the God of Death. It’s just seen by different generations and in completely different times and under extremely different circumstances.

T.A.: What do you have planned for the Saturday reception?

L.B.: We’re going to have tacos, sangria, snow cones and we’re going to have a Chihuahua parade. This is in conjunction with Operation Kindness and the Chihuahua rescue group. I really like it, because that’s consistent with who we are and always trying to help. It’s all about the community, and that’s another way, hopefully, that will introduce people who are animal lovers to the art world.