Los Angeles

“Twentieth Century Latin American Naive Art”

La Jolla Art Center

This large show of Haitian, Cuban, and South American so-called primitive painting and sculpture, with its concerns and methods so different from those we ordinarily encounter, is certainly the most impressive such exhibition to be assembled on the West Coast in recent memory. It poses certain problems of definition. To call “primitive” all this stylization of odd animals in brilliant grasses, or these religious objects swarming through scenes that are really minds naive, is merely to define primitive and naive as meaning narrative. Every piece in the show is telling a story, funny or serious, and most are doing it in a sophisticated manner, within a tradition as rigid as the academy. This is only to disagree with the statements in the show’s catalog. It may be, as the catalog says that these people are Sunday painters. If they are, Sunday’s a big conscious working day down south. There really isn’t much a critic can do in the presence of a show like this except to note that some of these tales are told differently than others. Haitians and Cubans seem to have a lot more fun than their counterparts in other areas; Hondurans and Nicuaraguans seem to take a more factual view of things, and so on. Actually, talking about this show is like reading out loud from a political science textbook during a news broadcast. Who needs that?

––John Reuschel