A red light paints the floor of an enclosed gallery space, creating an ominous foundation for the vacant canopy bed that fills the room. Images of the devil flash across a screen nestled between the bed’s posts. Candles flicker from makeshift altars in the corner. The voice of singer Rosie Hamlin croons over images of a dead body thudding onto the floor of a bar after being attacked by a teenage demon.
In this moment, it’s easy to find yourself asking, “Where the hell am I?” And the answer is “Right Here, Right Now: San Antonio” at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. And specifically you’re confronting Lisette Chavez‘s and Audrya Flores’ seductive and subversive work, “Angel Baby.”
“Right Here, Right Now: San Antonio,” on view through Aug. 5, is the third iteration of the museum “Right Here, Right Now” series. Curated by CAMH’s Dean Daderko, the show navigates San Antonio’s contemporary art scene with work spanning from the 1990s into present day. Installation, performance, ceramics, photography, illustration — the exhibition showcases a strong array of mediums that manage to feel cohesive across the 19 artists within the show.
Thematically, the exhibit delves into San Antonio’s rich Mexican history through the lives of its current Latinx communities and evolves the city’s artistic story into a present-day aesthetic and conversation, one that is varied, dynamic, and highly individualized.
There is no singular topic that encapsulates these artists, outside of their shared city. However, certain subjects do appear throughout “Right Here, Right Now: San Antonio.” There is religious imagery sprinkled throughout, like the beautifully serene, transparent resin-cast Virgen (titled “Madre (Immaculate Conception Mary)” sculpture by Adriana Corral and the aforementioned “Angel Baby.”
Late artist Chuck Ramirez turns the novelty of religion on its head with studio photography capturing the images of the bases of antique saint sculptures, mined from the depths of the now closed San Antonio junk store/art gallery/herbal medicine shop, Infinito Botanica. The nine portraits show the wear, scratches, faint handwriting and other human touches these deified statues endured at the hands of their owners. And with a note of humor embedded into the photographs, discerning audiences will see that the artist’s arrangement of the photos aligns with the Hispanicized names of The Brady Bunch family. The collection is both a subversion of the sincerity of religion and an exalted nod to the beauty that these totems can hold.
Likewise, there is an element of nostalgic study that carries through the exhibition though it’s rendered in dramatically polarizing methods. Artist Katie Pell returned to her neighborhood trees, carved with messages from her friends throughout her youth, and took massive charcoal etchings of the wood onto fabric for “The Woods.” Notes of former love affairs, adolescent ramblings, calls for peace — the etchings contrast the impermanence of youth against a medium that has outlived its original purpose. The scale of Pell’s work remains the most immediately enticing facet of “The Woods” but its novel details are equally worth exploring.
Similarly — though with completely different intentions — Albert Alvarez’s “Inferno” is a hell scape of high school violence told in illustrated, colorful detail. A pregnant teen waddles in front of her class to the jeers and assaults from fellow classmates. A strung-out kid huffs Glade. Two young women — filthy and bruised — admire their work in the form of a new belly button piercing, induced by a safety pin. Aggression pulses out of Alvarez’s tableau making it both an ode to the turmoil-inflicting high school experience and a gruesome portrait of its distorted value system.
For a show of this size, it’s difficult to try and categorize the work with enough breadth and precision to do it justice. So I’ll err on the side of blunt brevity to say that “Right Here, Right Now: San Antonio” is an exhibition not to be missed. Texas teems with notable art, but Daderko’s curation serves as a deft hand and tells the story of a contemporary San Antonio through the art and legacies that make the city iconic.
Audiences to the exhibition will be rewarded with a show that embraces San Antonio as an epicenter of progressive, challenging, experimental work — and not a city to be overlooked by its larger neighbors across the state.