To enter the main exhibit hall at the Kimball Art Center in Park City this month it is necessary to run the gauntlet between two giant, standing figures that flank the entrance. These are the Sentinels, primarily glass but with mixed media inclusions: an installation by international artists Einar and Jamex de la Torre. Confronting each other across the passageway, they recall guardian figures from the tombs, temples, and palaces of innumerable cultures, but specific details link them to the popular cultures and historical realities of the United States and Mexico: specifically, Kansas City (on the left while entering) and Michoacan (on the right). Like the monolithic Toltec figures of Tula they closely resemble, the Sentinels are covered with symbolic imagery and decoration. Like Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess with her skirt of writhing snakes and her necklace of human hands, hearts, and skulls, their details caution that reassurance is an illusion and nothing can be taken at face value.
The space occupied by the Sentinels’ crowns, heads, torsos, legs, and feet are marked out in space by sheets of glass that, being transparent and visible only by the light they reflect from within and without the figures, operate like three-dimensional versions of an engineer’s drawing, simultaneously showing the outer form while revealing the interior. Within, their bones are golf clubs, their lungs television sets playing video images that blow hot and cold like digital winds, their guts busy digesting personal memories and family histories. Everywhere there are signs of memories consumed: busts of Elvis dance with bottles of beer in Kansas City’s crown, while his trouser legs are decorated like the suit of lights worn by toreadors—or mariachis.
Inter–continental Divide, by any standards a large exhibit, is the product of four years of determined effort by Erin Linder, the Kimball’s Director of Exhibitions. While the de la Torre brothers have studios near Ensenada, in Baja California, and outside San Diego, the exigencies of glass—including adequately large melting and annealing furnaces and crews of an many as ten skilled assistants—require them to work in geographically diverse facilities. I first blew glass in the same time and place as they did: in the 1970s, in the hot shop of what was then Long Beach State College (now University), but in the thirty or so years that I’ve followed their careers, I’ve never seen their installations or public works in person. Like so much glass art, their works are large, heavy, and fragile, so assembling so many of them in one place is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment. Any one of these pieces contains enough color, humor, cultural reference, political commentary, and human satire to keep the beholder busy, so it makes sense to plan more than one visit. As far as passing on Inter–continental Divide altogether is concerned, to miss this show would be nihilistic self-denial bordering on artistic vandalism.
Inter-continental Divide will be at the Kimball through April 18. Contact the gallery at >a href=”http://www.kimballartcenter.org” target=”_new”>www.kimballartcenter.org or by calling 435-649-8882 for details on talks, tours, special events, and workshops related to this and two related exhibits: Utah Latinos: a Proud Legacy and Minuteclan. The March edition of 15 Bytes will look more closely at some of these activities.
Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.