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JR's story about The Virgin Show and Kathy's story about
respecting the art:
The Stuff of Nightmares

See also JR's multi-page photo essay on the Ice House Culture Center.
and Sudden Transitions about passionate art.

An incomplete and inaccurate copy of this story has been "widely circulated."
Read angry feedback
about that version — or read the actual story and make up your own mind.

Send Feedback to The Editor.

the ice house dungeon for good artists

 Kathy had never been, so I broke her in slowly to the city center I've never quite got on the best of terms with. There's probably more art on the outside of the Ice House Cultural Center than could ever fit inside, so I drove us around, pointing out architectural details -- like the barred, dungeonish room (above) on the far end of the front wing where, I told Kathy, they'd probably stick anybody who dared make good art around here.

I've always liked the buildings themselves, and I have a couple pages of Ice House art and architecture to prove it. And there are several exterior paintings, splayed like graffiti all around the site, that I still admire, though many of the colors are fading.

But there's an ornery, probably citycratic, refusal to accept or promote anything approaching originality that permeates this place, and I find that attitude oppressive and offensive.

It's certainly no Bath House, but it would be a cohent and valid question to ask why one city center is so very much better than the others.

a brightly colored chair outside at The Ice House Cultural Center

Still, just as I knew there'd be fascinating new tidbits of color and form around the outside of the building, I was certain that, buried among all the crap I fully expected to be in La Virgen de Guadalupe Art Exhibition 2002, curated by Jose Vargas through January 11 at the Ice House Cultural Center, there'd be a few gems worth wading through for.

As we drove up, we noticed three male Hispanic artists rendering Frida, Diego, a Super Lucha and somebody I didn't recognize, super realistically in lush, dark mural colors on the front wall.

I was dismayed by the un-original images and forms portraying America's most original and individualist artist couple ever. The irony was weightily whelming, and I tried to escape inside the building, but Kathy lingered long out there, insisting I come watch what I'd already seen too much of.

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Inside, we were seriously un-awed and actively annoyed by the tedious exhibition of me-too copies in differing colors but few different concepts lost in a hopelessly PC, taste-free zone. Kathy worried aloud about the nightmares she expected next time she'd try to sleep. It was, she said later, "the stuff of bad dreams."

Among way too many look-alike Virgin of Guadalupe images and outright copies of other famous artists' work in the big gallery, there were less than a half dozen pieces with charm, wit, wisdom, style or originality. They stood out and were easy to find.

Juan J Hernandez's Virgen Hat oil painting

Juan J Hernandez - Virgen Hat
oil on canvas

We both admired Juan J Hernandez's strong, tightly composed, and more than a little mysterious, and subtly colored Virgen Hat.

Raul Servin's La Mera Mera Virgen

Raul Servin - La Mera Mera Virgen
oil painting

Kathy thought Raul Servin's vivid virgin (above) was too lurid, later calling it some "deity of ugly." But I admired its verve, vivid colors, strong, detailed composition, ethnically specific and obvious symbolism -- even though I am culturally ignorant of its meanings.

It was the only art in the show that manifested any mysticism, and it was bulging with that dark, magic, potentially malevolent stuff.

The fiery snake wrapped, like a halo, around the glowing, multiply masked and marked figure, is spookily powerful and surprisingly original. There is nothing remotely similar in this meek little show, and there probably should be. La Mera Mera was an unexpected take on the Virgin of Guadalupe, and I'm admiring it more and more -- perhaps because of what I perceive as its disturbing imagery.

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Enrique Fernandez Cervantes' La Presentacion de las Flores photograph

Enrique Fernandez Cervantes
La Presentacion de las Flores

toned gelatin silver print

The only other work I still admire, now hours after leaving this mostly unremarkable exhibition of earnest but largely talent-less and taste-free artistry, is a small, nearly precious sepia toned, monochromatic photograph of -- not yet another Official Virgen de Guadalupe, but a virgin conceptually similar enough to make us think about the differences.

A small, brown virgin holds bright white flowers, her straw, floral halo propped up behind her on a wall collaged with Spanish words, perhaps a story. Not so obvious, not so similar. Something a little different, more personal, more human and humane.

A little something original.

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Art Needs Respect

PC Art Venues: The Stuff of Nightmares
A personal view by Kathy DelloStritto

I really have no problem with the BVM theme of the Guadalupe show at the Ice House or the unbridled and unedited entrants. The community is participating, etc., etc., etc.

What does bother me is that we can't review it critically without being considered politically incorrect or even racist. What enrages me is that this political bubble suffocates art.

The Ice House is one of the City of Dallas venues that reflect the culture of their location. It's not unlike other venues around town, private and public, that are associated by intent or by habit with visual art made by and seen by a particular age, culture, ethnic or religious group. Think Ice House, The Biblical Arts Center, South Dallas Cultural Center.

Unfortunately, this often means that any criticism of the art shown there can be deflectedor quashedby the Politically Correct Defense. Criticism equals Discrimination, even Racism, and therefore, will not be heard.

Hands over ears, hum John Phillip Soussa loudly.

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Unfair for me, a White North Dallas Middle Aged Episcopalian Woman, to criticize the quality of the art at those places, right? I could never be considered for a ethnically-based Dallas Contemporary Mosaics Show. Although in some sectors just being a Woman is enough to qualify me as a Minority. But I digress.

Our visit to Oak Cliff's Ice House was the stuff of nightmares for me.

As a teacher I want all artists encouraged and supported to develop their creativity and skills.

But I also want Art to be Respected. I want it to grow and evolve. I want it to challenge and excite and touch the viewers. I want it to challenge, prod, and push the artists to their full potential.

Does cloaking art and artists and art venues in narrow cultural, or racial or religious identities give those artists previously unrealized voices and opportunities? Or does it restrict the art?

Does it restrict the art sometimes to the point of suffocation? No one can disagree or challenge. The artists can not feed off ideas and visual stimula that are different. And the ethnic, cultural, religious identity of the venue dictates and restricts the art produced and shown there.


Why else does this bother me so much?

VSA Arts and I have been flirting with each other for about two years now. VSA Arts and Art Without Walls are groups developed to represent artists with disabilites.

I am an artist, and I am multiply disabled. And that makes me a member of one of the afore mentioned ethnic, religious, cultural groups, if you count discrimination, exclusion and segregation as prerequisites for admittance.

If losing my left arm in a chilhood accident wasn't enough, then the severe Scoliosis and the accompanying huge Milwaukee back brace that I had to wear throughout my adolescense, and the daily pain I have had for 50 years, guarantees me a spot on the front row.

I've lost jobs or had to defend my talents and abilities needlessly. I have endured endless stares and thoughtless remarks made about me, in my presence as if I had lost my hearing too. And I have been assaulted by endless stupid questions.

No, I can't grow another arm — so I can be just like you. But I can cut off one of your arms, so you can be just like me...

So when the VSA suggested that I apply to be an Artist in Residence in Wasington, DC, I looked into it. And it became apparent very quickly that I was NOT VSA material.

First of all, I don't do art about my disability.

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And secondly I had to produce and promote a local show of disabled artists. This was to prove that I do Good Lady volunteer work with my own kind. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have always done volunteer work for the arts, my sons' schools, my church, The SPCA, DallasArtsRevue and others.

But that does not count here.

I dutifully looked at the web site of the Texas VSA chapter and talked to its director. I looked at the art featured on the web site. And that's when my Artist In Residency evaporated.

One Disabled Artist was a brilliant portrait and figure painter. There were several artists who do art with wheelchairs. Literally. They decorate wheelchairs. The next artist showed Inspirationals for The Disabled — Bible verses printed around schmaltzy photos.

There was no evidence that the photos were original. Then there is the artist known as Joni who is quadriplegic and has a Christian ministry that gets wheelchairs for needy kids.

How can I fault her? Because she has spent more of her creative energy promoting herself as a Mouth Painter than she has spent growing and evolving as an artist.

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The great Normal public loves a Carnival Side Show. As much as you don't want to admit it, you have to acknowledge that slavery for Blacks, Asian and Latinos, and carnival freak shows for the physically disabled were accepted career paths in the not so distant past.

Could I get away with setting perameters for art to be shown that would probably exclude some of these artists? Would I be discriminating in the educational, aesthetic sense? Or would I be discriminating in the exclusionary segregation sense?

My point here is that I don't paint my disability. I paint my feelings, usually unconsciously -- my perceptions, my experiences and my imagination. I feed off the world around me. The whole world. In his own way so does the portrait figure painter.

And I don't usually advertise my disabilities, because I want people to know ME and see My Art instead of only seeing The One Armed Huntchback Girl and her One Armed Huntched Back Art.

If I produced a show, I wanted to show good art by artists who just happen to be disabled. This would go miles to break the stereotype that people with disabilities are limited. And it would show a great respect for Art and Artists.

So I want Art Centers to show good art by artists who just happen to be from certain ethnic and cultural and religious heritages. I want them to inspire and challenge and motivate each other.

I want their creativity to grow and evolve to its fullest potential. I want their Art to be respected. I want them to be respected as Artists, not segregated by limiting stereotypes.

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