Critics’ Picks

Anna Ortiz, Piedrota (Stone), 2022, oil on canvas, 18 x 22".

Anna Ortiz, Piedrota (Stone), 2022, oil on canvas, 18 x 22".

New York

Anna Ortiz

Dinner Gallery
242 West 22nd Street Buzzer 1
January 12–February 25, 2023

According to legend, the capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan—today known as Mexico City—was founded by the Mexica (the early Aztecs) when they left Aztlán, their former home, in search of a new one. To do this, they followed Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun, war, and conquest. The deity told his people that they should build their new kingdom upon a site with a particular sign: an eagle perched upon a cactus that is devouring a snake. Painter Anna Ortiz’s exhibition here, “Hacia Aztlán” (Toward Aztlán) is filled with reverence for the mysteries of the cosmos and a palpable longing for her ancestral home.

In the canvases Acróbata (Acrobat) and Amapolas (Poppies), both 2022, the artist depicts stone deities bent into contorted, inhuman asanas. In spite of their discomfort, each entity appears to glow from the inside out in radiant shades of yellow, blue, and coral: the colors of the Mexican desert. This landscape literally spills off the canvases, as Ortiz rendered a mountain range on the gallery walls as a backdrop for her paintings.

Gods appear everywhere in this exhibition, and some are more menacing than others. Take the subjects of El borrador (The Eraser), 2021, and Yo mismo aztlán (Me as Aztlán), 2022, who appear as shadowy specters in twilight, grimacing in discontent. Cascabel (Rattlesnake), 2022, depicts Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of light, wind, and wisdom, wearing the skull-shaped helmet of Mictlāntēcutli, the deity of death. Yet this grand figure seems bereft and appears to be moaning under a midnight sky.

Overall, the most monumental work here, at eighteen by twenty-two inches, is also one of the show’s smallest and quietest: In Piedrota (Stone), 2022, we see a smattering of delicately budding flowers inexplicably growing from the side of a boulder, perhaps in an attempt to offer the cold object some warmth. The scene exudes the mysteries of the natural world and the stories of old that get passed down through generations. Ortiz, who was born to an American mother and a Mexican father, is keenly attuned to the space she occupies: It’s a zone between cultures that’s frequently affected by assimilation. Clearly, she’s looking for signs—not unlike what the migrating Aztecs were doing—that will eventually lead her home.