Beyond Ordinary Thresholds: Magical Realism in Contemporary Latin American Art

Magical realism, a term used to describe themes prevalent in Latin American fiction, accepts the existence of magic in the rational world, and suggests certain objects may act as links between this actuality and another.

Exploring relationships between objects’ performative values and material utilities, "Beyond Ordinary Thresholds" features the work of eight Latin American sculptors and installation artists visualizing the legacies of magical realism with both contemporary and historical materials and iconographies. Referencing “magical” or traditionally ritual-based objects like altars, calendars, masks, totems, and doorways in their works, these artists consider how objects can be used as portals to another reality.

Maintaining allusions to Latin American folk art, mythologies, and religious customs, each artist approaches the potentially mystic and supernatural qualities of the art object in a different way. Fiber artist Olga de Amaral, beader Santos Bautista, and sculptor/painter Christian Ruiz Berman contemporize traditional Mexican and Pre-Columbian art traditions, using Huichol beading patterns, gilded fabrics, and feathers, bones, and quills, along with modern imagery and materials to reference objects used in ancient shamanistic and ceremonial settings.

Inspired by Aztec and Mayan visual culture, sculptors Pedro Friedeberg and Fernando Mastrangelo, and glass artist Isabel de Obaldia fashion totemic objects styled as surrealist royal thrones, circular calendars adorned with traditional food offerings for the gods, and larger-than-life sacred animal figures—each capturing earthly and metaphysical phenomena in their work.

Installation artists Amalia Mesa-Bains and Lucien Shapiro construct different altar-like spaces from found materials, as well as one-off objects that might be found within those installations—like ofrendas for Mesa-Bains, or reimagined ceremonial masks for Shapiro. Each artwork bridges historical and contemporary narratives as well as material and otherworldly realities, while referencing the performative aspects of both making and viewing these objects.

Relating art historically to the theatricality of both Baroque and Minimalist works and the fantastical imaginings of Latin American Surrealism, "Beyond Ordinary Thresholds" requires viewers’ physical and mental interaction with these works in a way that may inspire alternative relationships to the reality of objects. The McNay’s broad curatorial interests in performance and objects in the Southwestern Art and Mexican print collections also lend inspiration to the exhibition, and perhaps could be used to compare and contrast the contemporary objects on view.

Each artist will exhibit one to three works. Graphic and exhibition design will mirror the vibrant colors and patterns within many of the works. An accompanying catalog will feature high quality images and essays by the curatorial staff and a Latin American art historian from a local university. Interactive gallery component may include a community altar, where visitors are invited to sculpt, draw, or loan items they find to be “magical” in their day to day.

Programming for the exhibition includes an artist lecture and art making workshops facilitated by San Antonio-based artists. Mark Menjivar will give a talk on his forthcoming book, The Luck Archive. Interested in the power of objects to change our behaviors and perception of reality, the artist exchanges photocopied four leaf clovers for conversations about the objects people believe bring them good fortune, or have special powers. Making Milagros, part of the Art-FULL Wednesday series, features local artists working in different mediums teaching participants how to create their own personalized milagros!

This proposal was originally submitted during a finalist round for a 2015 curatorial fellowship at the McNay Museum of Art in San Antonio, TX.