Return to Articles


September 13 - November 1, 2008 at Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood

by Marlena Donohue

The temptation is to pan; Jorge Marin is old school and there is a cautionary in the art world that attends anything suspiciously classical, unduly Renaissance-polished if said nod to tradition has not been properly decanted through either the voice of an über hip spokesperson in metro sexual black specs or another appropriately, internationally reified art rag (this impugns neither of those apparatuses of our venerated art machine; I happen to admire both).

And Jorge Marin is classical if he is anything. No matter how trained viewers’ eyes are to take in that particular conflation of mastery over anatomical detail, mastery over materials, tension between emotion and restraint we have come to know as “the classical,” it is quite another feat to actually achieve that unique pitch in practice. The common yarn is that any artist worth her/his weight enters grad school with a full command of draftsmanship, so it’s no big deal. But to get from that technical expertise to what Marin accomplishes (and have this sensibility hold up beyond one-stop visual pleasure) is a matter of maturity, a matter of feel, a matter of natural talent, and of a kind of hybrid temperament particular to this artist and our time.

"En Medio de la Muchedumbre [In the middle of the Crowd]," 2008, bronze, 29.5" x 7.5" x 23.6"

“Fracciones I,” 2008,
bronze and marble, 22' x 9 3/4" x 9".

This last hybrid factor is what I will call the Tiger Woods effect (and here I draw from Kymberly Pinder in her article in “Race-ing Art History” on the particular marketing of biraciality). It began in the ‘90s with a genuine interest in that perceptually, existentially, spiritually, ethnically complex state of liminality--or mestizaje. By that I mean an interest in roots that are comingled of oxymoronic opposites like the Mexican, with its deep origins in both indigenous pantheistic meso-America, as well as Catholic Euro-Spain. We spent some years looking with honest insight at that mixed state (LACMA had a show on race in colonial Mexico; even “Phantom Sightings” cannot be well addressed without at least talking about frontier and mixed identities). But like everything in our late capitalist, globalized market reality, the hybrid has become a marketing tool situated in markers from fine art, to shoes, to Eskimo-Norwegian runway models, to athletes. It is no more than a trope intended to convey “all things to all people” (or intended to “sell all things to first and third world buyers”).

This is more than relevant here because when Marin first hit the Los Angeles art scene there was something immediately and portentously liminal about the work that attracted this viewer. Marin’s stately, elegant heads had a scale, a presence, a tweak of physiognomy in cheekbones set slightly high, nostrils slightly wide and flat that made the eye, body and collective memory confront a contact horizon between Greco Roman hegemony and those “other-ed” hinterlands which Enlightenment imperialism tried, but has apparently failed (look around you) to dominate. That was the ‘90s. To strike this chord in 2008 when national/ethnic aesthetic/cultural boundaries are both more interpenetrated and more shrilly drawn is quite another task.

So here we are before the current work by Marin asking ourselves how this unapologetically classical (read Western/Greco-Roman/Renaissance) and hybridized work holds up in this not-so-brave new world, where the project of liberal multiculturalism and its Doppler twin in art--excellent concept based deconstructive multimedia practicum asking questions about power--may be in a crisis of sorts. (Our aesthetic crises are minor; art loves to reinvent itself yearly, decide the figure is dead and then it’s not; our geopolitical and ethnic dialectics are beyond serious right now.) Are we in a position after all this time/change to look at “very traditional,” classically based sculpture more openly, less openly, can we appreciate or do we mistrust Marin’s particular brand of meztisaje, conflating as it does direct quotes from Michelangelo with a palpable magic realism (as in Marin’s eerily exotic centaur, “In the Middle of the Crowd”) found in a Marquez or a Lorca?

When Marin is on point, we approach fully convinced. When he seems to be repeating himself and confuses tired late-era Surrealism for that erotic, unapologetic, perfumed strangeness of true Latin magic realism, Marin falls short. In ”Deje de escuchar la voz de ventura” (roughly translated, “Stop Heeding the Call of Happiness or Fortune”), we find a technically masterful,  emotionally vacated Greco-Roman bronze head with its Polykeitian full jaw, puckered perfect lips, ratios of symmetry throughout. The idea of hybridity or rupture seems added on for effect, as the bronze head seems to unpeel from the eyes up, like an apple skin or that equally verging-on-the-annoying work by Magritte in which a naked female pelvis telescopes up smaller and smaller.

“La Noche de San Bartolome
[The Night of Saint Barthelemy],” 2008,
bronze and marble, 38 1/4" x 16" x 14 1/4".

“El Rio de tu Elocuencia
[The River of your Eloquence],” 2008,
bronze, 19" x 8 3/4" x 4".
The whole show is titled “Fraccionnes.” There is no exact translation, but roughly this word can mean two things “fraction” or “faction,” depending on context. This is no accident, I would think, for an artist this well read and smart.  A fraction is a law of ratio, ½ means for every one part, there are two equal parts; it is by definition all things in orderly relation to each other. The Greeks considered these careful harmonics to be their birthright, the organizing principle of all reality and the function of art and aesthetics. The other definition--faction--invokes breakage, the removal of commensurability, ideas that the West interpellates onto the Latin “other” pejoratively. It calls to mind that raucous, poetic, sometimes elegant, sometimes brutal unpredictability of parts that Chicanos call rasquache, and which Gabriel García Marquez in prose or Alejandro Inarrito in film authentically intone.

At his very best Marin hits this chord in his own unique way--which is to come at it from the back door of classicism. “In the Middle of the Crowd” features a centaur whose armless torso is inexplicably sublime and filled with grace, while its equine backside is raw, serrated, funny, nasty, assaultive, and ends with a “tail” that looks like a chunky umbilical cord coming out of the wrong orifice. All the works are in metal, and some rest too self-consciously on ornate ebony globes that add to their prissiness. All works are small scale (a change for Marin), and the intimacy can either enhance the saleable art curio feel in those few works that are just too pretty for their own good, or conversely pull you in for more when the tension between cosmos and chaos is struck weirdly and effectively.