Exploring the unexpected

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An East Side exhibition focuses on the contrasts in Mexican Surrealist photography


  • "Judas," Lola Álvarez Bravo, 1942. Gelatin Silver Print, 8 x 10 in. Photo: Throckmorton Fine Art

  • "Tótem," Flor Garduño, 1987. Gelatin Silver Print, 16 x 20 in. Photo: Throckmorton Fine Art

  • "Imagen Místical," Flor Garduño, 2005. Gelatin Silver Print, 16 x 20 in. Photo: Throckmorton Fine Art

In Mexico circa 1987, photographer Flor Garduño stumbled onto a mysterious scene. A man holds a bull by a rope. On that bull stands a small goat as if someone had purposely stacked the two creatures like toys. It was a scene she didn’t compose. According to Garduño, she just captured the peculiar moment in Mexico’s history, titling the image, “Totem, Mexico.”

Today, the intriguing photograph hangs on the wall at New York City’s Throckmorton Fine Art Gallery on the East Side — one of 40 black-and-white photographs featured in the gallery’s “Surrealismo Ojos de Mexico: Surrealism in Mexican Photography” exhibit.

A gallery that specializes in the work of contemporary Latin American photographers, Throckmorton Fine Art seeks in their newest exhibit to demonstrate the enduring influence of Surrealism in Mexico’s history of photography.

“We wanted to highlight this wonderful period,” said Norbereto Rivera, photography director at Throckmorton. “We start off with one of the greats, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, up until Flor Garduño and the current torchbearers in Mexico whose works have a lot of Surrealist influence.”

The gallery’s executive director Kraige Block explains the tug-of-war behind the Surrealist movement in Mexico. Many Mexican artists often resisted the labels of Surrealism by refusing to adhere to the “high culture” of Europeans.

Other artists viewed Surrealism as a mechanism for celebrating strange juxtapositions.

“Surrealism was not an art movement of protest, but instead one that explored the irrational, the unexpected in life,” Block said. “Our world is so Eurocentric. It is actually very rare that there is a focus on Latin America.”

Surrealism in Latin America provides a lens for viewing a country’s history with its many contrasts. Many of the photographs focus on the stark contrasts between rich and poor, ancient and modern, tradition and innovation.

The photographs range in content from a 1942 image of “La Quema de Judas,” (the Judas burning), a traditional Easter-time Mexican ritual to a simple 2005 image of seven, silver fish heads, floating in dull water.

Despite the emphasis on contrast, most of the images in the exhibition reveal a serious, unifying subject — Mexico and its people.

“The current headlines regarding Mexico are unfortunate, but that’s always been a part of Mexico’s history,” Rivera said. “There’s always hardship, but then there’s always this growth and beauty and flourishing in the arts. They are resilient.”

Ilona Golovina, 30, a student at the International Center of Photography, appreciated the photographs’ representations of a rich cultural history. “It’s a good look back,” she explained. “You can experience their past through each of these photographs.”

The exhibit opened in the midst of National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15. However, “for the gallery, it’s Hispanic Heritage Month everyday.” said Rivera. “Latin American art is underrepresented here in the states. [This exhibition] is a good way to start the fall season, and we are happy to be a part of the month celebration.”

“Surrealismo Ojos de Mexico” will be open for public viewing at 145 East 57th Street until December 2, 2017.

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