Art Review: Dialogos on View at the Franklin Park Conservatory Gallery

Amid the explosion of vibrant summer flowers, larger-than-life animal topiaries, and extensive collection of Chihuly glass, it might just be a little too easy to overlook the art exhibit. in progress in the gallery of the Franklin Park Conservatory.

Don’t.

It is fair to say that in many ways Dialogs (hosted by Egle Gatins and Elena Osterwalder), matches the vibrancy and intensity of everything you’ll see on the Conservatory grounds this summer. The exhibition features the work of seven Latinx artists, all doing spectacular work in their respective mediums and all showcasing pieces that highlight their unique perspectives.

Curators Gatins and Osterwalder intend the exhibit to invite conversations about the Latinx experience in the United States. Recognizing that perceptions of Latin American art often focus on craft and folk art, the co-curators set out to redirect viewers to the rich fine art tradition found there. The results are as visually appealing as they are thought-provoking. Together, the pieces on display address themes of geography, migration, and our cultural and social histories.

Group exhibitions can be unwieldy, especially when the work is not explicitly tied to a specific theme. This very heaviness, however, creates an opportunity for viewers to create links between the works; to find the threads that create cohesion from otherwise disparate elements.

Christian Casas’ ABC presents the Spanish alphabet as a teaching tool for children, but with an emphasis on illustrations of anti-colonial resistance. It’s a play that not only highlights people and stories that are often overlooked, but also asks us to consider what we learn, when we learn it, and most importantly, who teaches. Drawing on traditional sculpture, vibrant colors and childlike illustrations, it offers the perfect form of cultural subversion.

Left: Michaela de Vivero Red 2021 Gold leaf, wood, dyed sisal, acrylic paint, polyurethane. Right: Christian Casas ABC’s (detail) 2021 – 2022 Pyrographed pine wood, stain.

This centering of colonization then serves to entice viewers to consider the inclusion of gold and gold leaf in the handmade paper works of Michaela de Vivero. These distressed paper hangings suggest recently excavated ancient maps or scrolls, the reflections of gold leaf functioning either as a destination (the acquisition of gold being a primary driver of exploration and settlement in the Americas) or perhaps like the type of repair seen in the Japanese art of kintsugi. As the ABC contributions from Casas, from Vivero to Dialogs recall that indeed, “The past is never dead…”.

Maps, geographies and travels are themes that present themselves beyond the works of Michaela de Vivero. Artist Mabi Ponce de León explicitly states, “I explore what it’s like to ‘be’ from two places and belong to neither.” This exploration is presented to viewers in Ax Mundi, a four-panel topographic mix of land, sky, horizons, coasts, borders and maps. It is a piece that serves to connect and weave all these elements, without centering any of them.

Mabi Ponce de Leon 13°25’27”S 71°51’28”W 2022 Acrylic and mixed media on canvas

13º25’27″S 71º51’28″W similarly inhabits two distinct places and two times. Ponce de León uses literal grid coordinates and illustrations of the Inca Cross (Chakana) to transport viewers to central Peru while employing an application of paint reminiscent of Van Gogh or Monet.

A less literal form of exploration and topography can be seen in the paintings of Elsie Sanchez. Although his works are abstract, there is a journey that manifests in their execution. Like the cartographers of old, it is as if the artist is mapping and exploring something complex and not completely knowable. The edge-to-edge paint application also suggests that whatever is traced is probably bigger than we can imagine.

Left: Elsie Sanchez Entredós 2021 Oil on canvas. Right: Elaina Calle Saari Madre Monte with butterflies 2022 Woodcut on paper.

On the subject of travel, it is impossible to reflect on the large-scale woodcuts of Eliana Calle Saari without considering migration, immigration and the arbitrariness of political borders. His inclusion of the monarch butterfly in many of his prints suggests a natural and enduring connection between the United States and Central America that exists across political borders. These iconic butterflies then serve as a compelling reminder of what could exist if we were more willing to listen and more open to dialogue.

Diálogos is on view at the Franklin Park Conservatory until November 20, 2022. For more information, visit: fpconservatory.org/exhibitions/dialogos/