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Enrique Chagoya: Borderlandia at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Enrique Chagoya: When Paradise Arrived, 1988; Charcoal and pastel on paper, 80 x 80 inches (203.2 x 203.2 cm); di Rosa Preserve, Napa, California; Photo: Wolfgang Dietze, courtesy of Gallery Paule Anglim © Enrique Chagoya.
BERKELEY, CA.- The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is pleased to announce a major, twenty-five-year survey of work by Enrique Chagoya. The exhibition features more than seventy works—paintings, charcoal and pastel drawings, prints, and mixed-media codices (accordion-folded books)—that intermingle icons and cultural references spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Enrique Chagoya: Borderlandia is on view at BAM/PFA through May 18, 2008.

Chagoya’s subject matter reflects his own personal history and interests: Mexico’s complex past, international politics, various religions, art history, and popular culture. He draws on all of these sources, combining cultural symbols to create scenes of hybrid worlds and scathing—and often humorous—political and social satire. According to the artist, “Humankind is in constant war with itself, perfectly capable of total destruction. This is the raw material for my art.”

A consistent focus of Chagoya’s work is the manner in which more powerful nations have dominated others and availed themselves of resources, both natural and cultural. For centuries, Western artists have used Indigenous and folk art as a source for their work: for example, Pablo Picasso’s use of African tribal masks in his Cubist paintings, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s incorporation of Mayan architectural forms and motifs in his designs. Chagoya inverts this practice in a process he calls “reverse anthropology,” placing icons from the dominant American culture within Indigenous or colonial settings, so that Superman faces off with an Aztec god, or cannibals run amok in Monet’s gardens at Giverny. Chagoya has described this world of intermingled influences as a place where “all cultures meet and mix in the richest ways, creating the most fertile ground for the arts ever imagined.”

Chagoya also borrows from the canon of Western art, adapting works by Francisco Goya and Philip Guston (satirizing, respectively, Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and the Nixon administration) to contemporary political contexts (the Reagan and current administrations). He also often utilizes traditional Mexican approaches to art making; his paintings on aluminum directly refer to the folk art tradition of the ex-voto or retablo, while his paintings on amate—fig bark—allude to the ancient Aztec and Mayan codex books. Drawing on the rich tradition of Mexican political prints, particularly José Guadalupe Posada, Chagoya’s intelligent and witty narratives send up and, at times, celebrate the complicated cultural and psychological consequences of more than 500 years of contact and influence between worlds.

Born in Mexico City in 1953, Chagoya regularly visited the museums of the capital city and Teotihuacán as a child. These cultural institutions provided him with his first exposure to pre-Columbian culture. He moved to the United States in 1979 and in 1984 he enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he created the powerful work that begins this mid-career survey exhibition. In 1986 he completed an MA, and in 1987 an MFA, at the University of California, Berkeley. Chagoya has taught printmaking at Stanford University since 1995. His work is included in the collections of many major museums, including the Library of Congress Print Collection and the National Museum of American Art, Washington DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico; Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Enrique Chagoya: Borderlandia is organized by Patricia Hickson, Des Moines Art Center curator and manager of its satellite gallery, the Des Moines Art Center Downtown. After its presentation at BAM/PFA, the exhibition will travel to the Palm Springs Art Museum (September 27 – December 28, 2008).





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