Museum of Art – DeLand presents an ambitious new show to go with its new name 

‘Forging an Identity: Contemporary Latin American Art’ is dramatic, complex, visually intense

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LES SLESNICK


Across the street from Stetson University sits a little gallery with a big name: the Museum of Art. No qualifiers, just art. When this DeLand institution changed its name from the Museum of Florida Art to be simply the Museum of Art, it announced that it had grown up.

Befitting its new, ambitious name, the second floor hits the viewer with Forging an Identity: Contemporary Latin American Art, an exhibition of internationally famous Latin artists along with emerging talent, some of them with student-master relationships. This exhibit is nicely partnered with Private Spaces: Mexico, by Orlando photographer Les Slesnick, whose work provides an introspective pause before entering the carnival in the main gallery. The Latin heart is glimpsed, in all of its beauty and chaos, through these two shows. MOAD education curator Pam Coffman explains, “Slesnick’s work was paired here because his Private Spaces: Mexico project offers us a way to see the environment in which many of these artists are working.”

Slesnick has been on a quest to document people’s living rooms, kitchens and other spaces within their own homes. Discovering a Dunedin teenager who scrawled graffiti in her closet has led him farther and farther afield in search of the revealing surprise. Here his Mexican interiors glow with bright reds and ochres and azures, contrasting with desultory and unkempt interiors. A woman, unsmiling, sits in turquoise dress on striped blanket before pink walls, holding a large portrait of another unsmiling woman. The colors are happy; the people are not.

His careful formula yields a medium-range view of the Mexican character. A maroon velvet sofa, with two hats artfully arranged against blue-washed plaster walls, is gorgeously sensuous in its color and texture. This photo, “Sr. Rosel’s Hats,” without Señor Rosel, leaves the viewer to speculate where he might be from his scarred, cracked walls and weatherbeaten sofa.

Mexican poet Octavio Paz cautions us that the Mexican spirit is elusive to outsiders, so perhaps Slesnick is prudent in not giving too much away. These are photos by one of our own, offering a window into another country’s character. From them we turn to the work of many Latin American artists in the next series of galleries, and this show slakes our thirst for the dramatic, the complex, the visually intense.

There is much here, densely packed together, and it’s astounding. Fernando Botero, a Colombian modernist, is well-known for his paintings of heroically sized women and smooth, balloon-figured sculptures, like the bronze “Woman Lying on Cloth (2004)” seen here. On one wall, two paintings by Chilean artist Roberto Matta seem to be partly exploded architecture, or robots, or something floating in indigo and sea-green atmospheres. Matta was leaving his period of figural and crucifixion themes behind; these works are from the moment of transition before he followed his surrealist masters into an alternate universe, one captivating to architects and artists alike.

Matta and Botero need no qualifiers; they are not “Latin American” artists, but simply artists, striding upon the world stage. The Museum of Art has done its job: given us serious art and left us wanting more. The compelling work in this room leaves one’s eyeballs vibrating, brain feverish and soul satiated. This institution has grown up, and with it so have we as we begin to see more world-class art in Central Florida. It has been a long time coming.

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