Guest critic: ‘Homage to Mango Street’ channels ‘mission to promote dialogue’
by Howard Halle, editor-at-large and chief art critic for Time Out New York
The Chautauquan Daily
Chautauqua, New York
July 14, 2017
Of the artists, only Linda Vallejo deals directly with the politics of identity, or more precisely, the vicissitudes of living as a Latino within a dominant Anglo culture. The Los Angeles-born artist’s “Drunken Revery” is an ensemble of antique liquor decanters, each painted with a reproduction of a classic Norman Rockwell scene. Included are such fan favorites as the artist capturing himself in the process of painting his self-portrait, and another of a tattoo artist working on the bulging bicep of a sailor seated in profile like “Whistler’s Mother.” The reverse side of each bottle has an accompanying label for the picture on the front, its text censored in places by white correcting fluid. Rockwell is famous for gifting Americans with heroic images of themselves that celebrate their commitment to democracy and decency — a view wildly at odds with the experience of Latinos, or African Americans and Native Americans for that matter. Vallejo’s work offers a piquant commentary on a country besotted by its own mythology.
Vallejo’s piece squares the circle going back to the tale of Esperanza and her negotiation between where she’s from and where she lives. As written by Cisneros, Mango Street is more than a setting for a book: It is a metaphor for the difficulties of assimilating while staying true to yourself. In that respect, it is a road that runs through the heart of every work in this show.