Whatever the final verdict of the Bush Restoration tragicomedy — now then, who gets the bill? — it is clear that Anglo-American Imperium is waning and that little brown people will increasingly be given chairs at the grown-ups' table. Postmodern theorists, of course, delight in the new world order of decentralized power, cultural cross-pollination and hybridity; Borderlandia, the Enrique Chagoya show at the Berkeley Art Museum, could be seen as a celebration of the accession of Multicultural Polyglot Diversity. Comprising some seventy works by the Bay Area satirist made in a variety of media (painting, prints, drawings, and amate paper codices patterned after historical Mexican antecedents) over the past 25 years, this is a show that will annoy cultural conservatives and gratify bien-pensant progressives who rightly hold America's moral feet to the fire for past and present colonial sins.
"I believe in the border culture of recycling and re-contextualizing," Chagoya writes, elaborating his credo of a "reverse anthropology," or "reverse Western art history," which generates an artistic "world of hybrids and collisions" analogous to the melting pot of the American psyche. His work fuses three elements: progressive political ideals forged during his teens, when he saw street protesters slain by riot police in Mexico City, which led to his subsequent study of political economics; his childhood immersion in the familiar Disney comic menagerie; and his knowledge of European art, from modernists like Picasso and Monet to political satirists like Daumier and Heartfield to the romantic colossus Goya. Mexican myth and history, American pop culture, and Western art history, then, get fractured and reassembled by Chagoya into a magic-realist fantasy, a counter-reality of cultural reconquista: Reagan and Kissinger nonchalantly paint slogans using the blood of Central Americans while garbed like Mickey Mice; the Bush administration morphs into Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (starring Condi, and introducing W as a Dumbo-eared Dopey); and in drawings riffing on Philip Guston's savage pre-Watergate excoriations of Nixon/Agnew, Chagoya puts our Pinocchio/Pinhead ticket through the art world's satire gauntlet. Other images depict the medieval hell awaiting our immigrant-baiting former governor Pete Wilson amid the cannibals; the invasion of pre-Columbian cannibal America by NATO forces; and the tutued Governator dancing en pointe with those other "girlie men" Mohammed and Christ. Less successful are the etchings after Goya with their derisive anachronisms, which subvert the humanistic, rationalist, and profoundly serious points of the originals. Chagoya's work in general, however, attains a hallucinatory intensity and Brueghelian variety, sprawling out into profligate, proliferating carnivals of anarchic humor and grotesquerie, "nonlinear narrative[s] with many possible interpretations." Through May 18 at Berkeley Art Museum, (2625 Durant Ave., Berkeley). BAMPFA.berkeley.edu or 510-642-0808.
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