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Unmasked: August 27 - November 15, 2014

Work by Carlos Donjuan, Hector Hernandez, Dulce Pinzón, & Rio Yañez

MACLA opens its 2014-15 season with UNMASKED, an exhibition on real and re-imagined superheroes.

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Diversity has come to comic books. As women and minority consumption of comic books and graphic novels has risen, so has the push to diversify its representation of superheroes: an African-American Captain America, a female Thor, and a Puerto Rican Spider-Man named Miles Morales, to name a few re-workings of the superhero stories we know so well. The Latino artists featured in Unmasked explore cultural and social issues of identity and otherness through the visual language of comic books, science fiction and superheroes; they also incorporate the heroic story of and expand on the mythology of the superhero.

Superheroes have been a large part of the American literary, graphic, and pop culture landscape since the early 20th century; their history can be traced back to epic tales of good versus evil and superhuman and otherworldly figures such as Achilles and Zeus. The idea of the heroic figure is also ingrained in the American consciousness from folk tales of Paul Bunyan, a larger-than- life lumberjack with superhuman qualities, to Mose the Fireman, the toughest firefighter in all of New York City, eight feet tall and strong enough to lift a New York streetcar with ease.

Superheroes have captured the popular imagination because they are aspirational while simultaneously exhibiting human vulnerabilities. They possess extraordinary talents or superhuman powers, but just as frequently they display their humanity: a refined sense of justice and equality, inventiveness and courage, all the while concealing their identity. As curator Joey Reyes says, “to unmask is to reveal. The artists in this exhibition reveal a malleable vision of the superhero as icon, one that embodies the qualities of hard work and sacrifice, humor and satire, vulnerability, and the ability to overcome adversity.”

Carlos Donjuan was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and currently lives in Dallas. He received his BFA in Drawing and Painting from the University of Texas at Arlington and his MFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas San Antonio. He has exhibited widely, including at AlterSpace, San Francisco, Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Gravelmouth Gallery, San Antonio, Texas, Houston Fine Art Fair, the Hamptons Art Fair, and the Scope Art Fair. In his work he frequently revisits a childhood question: what do illegal aliens look like? Donjuan recalls hearing the term frequently, but never fully understood its negative implications. “I always wondered what everyone was talking about, imagining weird creatures in my head…I wanted to meet one and to know what they looked like.” He interprets these childhood memories and converts negative stereotypes into complex, yet joyful portraits. In his paintings, masked figures, hybrid animal people, pyramids and blob creatures create describe the journey they have embarked on in search of a better life.

Hector Hernandez is a mixed media artist, photographer and installation artist. He was born in Laredo, Texas, lives, works and curates in Austin and has exhibited nationally and internationally. He is also the creator of the art blog “Art Czar.” Recent exhibitions include those at MOHA (Austin, TX), the Texas Contemporary Art Fair FOTOFEST, the Mexic-Arte Museum of Art, and the McNay Museum in San Antonio, TX. His long history with mixed media and photography has driven his most current work, as he has returned to such traditional materials as paper, fabric, photographed images, and fabricated artifacts to produce works that focus on the process of creating surreal characters/creatures.

Dulce Pinzón was born in Mexico City in 1974. She studied Mass Media Communications at the Universidad de Las Americas in Puebla Mexico and Photography at Indiana University in Pennsylvania. In 1995 she moved to New York where she studied at The International Center of Photography. Her latest project, The Real Story of the Superheroes, comes full circle to reintroduce the Mexican immigrant in New York in a satirical documentary style. Her work has been published and exhibited in Mexico, the US, Australia, Argentina and Europe. In 2001 her photos were used for the cover of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. In 2002 Dulce won the prestigious Jovenes Creadores grant for her work. She won an Honorable Mention in the 2006 Santa Fe Center for Photography project competition with The Real Story of the Superheroes.

Rio Yañez was born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District and currently works as a curator, photographer, and graphic artist. His primary interest is in combining icons and mythologies. His images bring together heroes, friends, and childhood fantasies with Chicano aesthetics, traditional images, and politics, as a response to the lack of Chicano art and iconography in cultural staples such as comic books, pro-wrestling, music, and Godzilla movies. As a curator he is a frequent collaborator with his father, Rene Yañez, and the pair have been developing exhibits together since 2005. He has exhibited in cities ranging from San Francisco to Tokyo. His re-imaginings of Frida Kahlo have included the Ghetto Frida Project, a series of prints, writings, and performance pieces featuring a thugged-out Kahlo. Yañez is also a founding member of The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, the world’s most dangerous tortilla art collective. Yañez currently works at San Francisco’s SOMArts as a curator and manager.

Previous Exhibition

Vargas-Suarez UNIVERSAL

May 2—August 2, 2014
California Premiere

COSMOS CODEX is a commissioned, site-specific work by artist Vargas-Suarez UNIVERSAL. This is MACLA’s first art exhibition dedicated to the relationship between art, astronomy and space research, the artist’s first solo show in California and the first time he has publicly exhibited sculptural objects.

Vargas-Suarez UNIVERSAL (VSU) is primarily known for large-scale murals, paintings, drawings, and sound recordings. He sources American and Russian spaceflight programs, astronomy, and aerospace architecture to create commissioned, studio-based and public artworks for museums, galleries, private and public spaces.

A major aspect of the exhibition is VSU’s dialogue with scientists and other subject matter experts at the NASA Ames Research Center to gather information directly informing the artworks in the exhibition. Vargas-Suarez explores concepts for retrieving materials from Mars, asteroids and other orbiting bodies in our solar system with the intention of allowing artists, architects and designers access to these materials to expand and explore possibilities not available to them with traditional materials available here on Earth.

The exhibition installation in MACLA’s gallery is set up as a mock “clean room,” or spacecraft processing facility, typically found at NASA operations centers. The installation includes hand-intervened new digital prints, murals, paintings, sculptural objects, and a video produced in collaboration with artist Barbora Bereznakova. The exhibit was curated by Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, the Senior Curator and Associate Director at MACLA.

Read Press Release
Read Function and Form: an essay on VSU by Carla Stellweg


Cosmos Codex: Art + Science in Conversation
May 2, 2014, 6:00 p.m.

Vargas-Suarez UNIVERSAL and NASA Ames Research Center staff Christopher P. McKay, Ph.D, and Yvonne Clearwater, Ph.D, will be in discussion about the innovative ways in which scientists and artists use their complementary skills and sets of knowledge to produce new perspectives and exciting projects. Click on the title link above for more information.


This exhibition was organized by MACLA. Presentation is made possible by Applied Materials, SVCreates, a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the Castellano Family Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Applied Materials Excellence in the Arts Grants through SV Creates, the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, ArtPlace America, and MACLA donors. 

MACLA especially thanks Yvonne Clearwater, Ph.D, from the NASA Ames Research Center for her enthusiasm for this project, and Jaime Austin from Zero1 for the introductions.

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