“Surrealism runs through the streets; surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America,” said Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, the quintessential practitioner of magic realism, a writing genre characterized by matter-of-factly grafting magical imagination into an otherwise realistic narrative. García Márquez’s comments apply to the adroit, Chicago-based Mexican painter and ceramicist Rodrigo Lara Zendejas, whose solo exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center contains multimedia sculptures and installations that weave together fact, fiction and fantasy to humorous, satirical effect.
“Panteon Municipal,” one of the show’s most succinct works, features a painted gold sign bearing the titular phrase (Spanish for municipal cemetery), from which dangles a deflated cat in front of a chunky, midnight-blue monochrome canvas. The feline’s human hands, toes and flaccid penis lend a personal air to the deflated creature, which brings to mind the devil disguised as a cat in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita,” a novel rife with magical realism of a Russian stripe.
In addition to wall pieces with ceramic sculptures protruding from painted canvases, the show, titled “La Paz,” contains six free-standing assemblage sculptures, in which drum sets serve as the armatures. Like a visual DJ with classical training, Zendejas turns and tumbles together miniature equestrian or religious monuments, fountains and musical instruments. His ceramics are left mostly unglazed, their whiteness echoing colonial monuments while a roughly textured surface treatment lends visual vibration and energy to the works. The show culminates in a video installation that re-creates a park from the artist’s youth, with film projected above a miniature scene. Protruding from the wall are music cymbals and ceramic portrait busts with exaggerated noses or facial features, satirizing historical, political or religious monuments.
Magic Realism’s absurdist nature lent itself to covert critiques of power and oppressive government structures in Latin America and elsewhere. This show follows Zendejas’ National Museum of Mexican Art exhibition, which directly and critically addressed the United States’ mass deportation of legal residents and citizens of Mexican descent during the Great Depression. “La Paz” contains a more personal vocabulary, yet the fractured, dream-like satire of historical, religious monuments remains, suggesting a certain kind of peace in embracing life’s absurdity. (Anastasia Karpova Tinari)
Through July 17 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell