Ethnic identity isn’t the hot art issue it was in the ’90s, but in “The L Factor” it’s evolving into something cooler and a lot more complicated. This “conceptual portrait” show includes commissioned works by 31 new artists about Latino role models. “We were looking for the next generation of Latino artists,” explains Jeanette Ingberman, who with Papo Colo has long kept Exit Art ahead of the curve.
Latino role models? The theme can’t help but lure out all the old stereotypes: Carmen Miranda as Chiquita Banana, Ricardo Montalban as Latin lover, Cantinflas as bumbling sidekick, even Speedy Gonzales as a Pez dispenser. And of course it’s a trap for superficial attributes. Two artists focus on Frida Kahlo’s iconic eyebrow. Three go with J.Lo’s ass. But her cotton-candy figure by Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz and Edwin Gonzalez is a delectable comment on celebrity, and her glittering Grammy dress, re-envisioned by Milton Rosa-Ortiz in broken glass, is transcendent. With subtlety, humor, and paradox, these artists stress, stretch, and neatly dispose of both old and new Latino clichés.
From Ileana Emilio’s paper boat for historic educator Eugenio Maria de Hostos to Manuel Acevedo’s pistol-shaped perfume bottle for Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebron (who shot up the U.S. Congress in 1954), this show expands notions of identity and complicates things. What’s more Latino: Claudio Arrau playing Beethoven sonatas in Christian Torres Roje’s cerebral audio-bed piece, or the hip-hop oracles on 20-year-old Jose Mertz’s celestial mural? Worldwide soccer hero Pelé, who inspired a luminous video by Alex Villar, or the late major leaguer and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, levitating in Eduardo Gil’s video homage? In the end, this show is about the Latinness that has always been part of our national culture as well as the Hispanic presence here and now.