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Hispanic Museum’s Mix It Up serves up sweet street flavors

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Vezun’s Mix It Up mural

These days, satisfying the need to look at art in Las Vegas is an extreme sport: You’ve got to think fast, do some research and cast your net wide. And as the number of traditional exhibition spaces dwindles, the eye becomes increasingly susceptible to fresh alternatives. Happily, a lot of them are in very public places. From the familiar thrill of well-loved street murals (First Street) to Clark County’s sanctioned efforts (artist Brian Porray’s centennial banner outside the Winchester Center), bumping into art in public spaces is more of a joy than ever.

Add to that list the Hispanic Museum of Nevada. For five years, the museum has filled the lobby of Valley View’s Embarq Building with a wide array of exhibitions and events for the Hispanic community and beyond. Its current display, Mix It Up, blends street flavors in a small survey of local and regional artists. The show also tosses a nice brain-teaser into the mix: What happens when you exhibit street-influenced art within the framework of a cultural institution that just so happens to be located inside a very public facility?

Well, for starters, you get to see a completely awesome mural by Vezun while paying your phone bill. The exhibition’s curator, Brian Paco Alvarez, has given four local muralists one wall each and the opportunity to bring their work indoors. One of those locals is Vezun. A prolific artist, poet and original member of the legendary Five Finger Miscount collective, Vezun should be familiar in name at least. For Mix It Up, the artist pulls out the stops in a dreamsicle landscape where past and present cultures coincide.

In the mural, two scenarios are mirrored in an idyllic overlap of timeless domesticity. As two proud, young women rise equally at the center of a hilly vista, two men peacefully face off in the background, one an indigenous version of the contemporary other. The specific details of each couple are different (contemporary man rides what looks to be a bicycle, ancient man sits astride a bison), but the underlying vision of utopia is the same. The devil is in the details: The modern couple’s dog sits at a stolen abacus, while the ancient couple’s goat plays a video game. But Vezun’s humor never compromises the overwhelming tone of deep cultural pride evident in the simultaneity of the present and the past. Somebody please give this guy more walls to paint.

The Details

Mix It Up
Three and a half stars
Through August 31
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Hispanic Museum of Nevada, Embarq Building
330 S. Valley View Blvd., 773-2203.

But there is more to Mix than its murals. A series of delicate watercolors depicting a variety of insects stands in charming contrast to more dramatic efforts. The paintings are hung by a system of thin wires that add weight and graphic emphasis, a smart move accentuating these quiet pieces.

This graphic flavor is echoed in prints of Hector Silva’s beautifully rendered graphite drawings. Silva blends urban scenes with traditional Mexican imagery, directly addressing Latino cultural identity to gorgeous effect. Haunting calaveras mingle with portraits of Frida Kahlo, the Virgin of Guadalupe and glamorous female gunslingers. But the best prints are quiet, true-to-life street scenes that unflinchingly embrace the social and the political. “Cinco de Mayo,” “Primer Lugar en el Baile” and “Six Dollar Bag of Terror” serve as gentle reminders of the universality of so many specific cultural experiences.

As a curator, Alvarez has demonstrated a keen interest in bringing “urban” culture into a gallery setting (see 2008’s Beneath the Neon at the CAC). But how do you recontextualize street art without neutralizing its edge, the thing that makes it exciting in the first place? The effort itself is problematic. What makes Mix successful is that, by virtue of the public nature of the space, the work still manages to retain its spirit. The vibrant sociopolitical history of the mural, indoors and out, also lends a measure of truth to this context. Mix It Up’s intention is very clear: Art is for everyone.

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Danielle Kelly

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