Bad Commies!

Unlikely interpretations at MOLAA- or is that MOOLAH?

The 17 artists in the exhibit allspent time in state-financed art schools, and their works, spread through two huge galleries, are potent and electric. Unlike the ragtag mishmash of a Cuban exchange show at UC Irvine's Art Gallery last year (the exhibit comprised the worst characteristics of your typical lazy, young LA assemblage artist), the MOLAA works are expertly constructed narratives. Nor do they shy away from shrill condemnations of materialism and consumerism. I love shrill!

The second-most common theme here is that of the refugees—those who, like Elian's dead mama, chose shark-infested waters over universal education and health care. Kcho offers In Order to Forget, a kayak afloat on a sea of Coors bottles. Sandra Ramos' Migrations II is an empty suitcase, its lining pitted with painted mines. Far away, past the lethal obstacle course, is the American flag, and a woman squirts fierce tears out of her eyes while riding through the water on her lover's back. Osvaldo Yero crafted Sea of Tears, dozens of plaster casts of hands, painted blue, rising and falling in waves.

But materialism is the most constant theme for Cuba's well-educated young artists: Pedro Alvarez's High, Low, Left and Right: Homage to the French Revolution is a triptych of red, white and blue for the French, American and Cuban flags. Each panel shows a chic '50s-era, high-rent interior, straight out of a magazine spread. Plopped sadly into the middle is Lady Liberty as the French paint her: a sassy redhead. She looks very small and confused.

Abel Barroso's plywood cutouts of the "good life" include hot mudflap babes sunning themselves by swimming pools; his icons include a piggy bank, an AmEx card, a cross, a condom and a gun.

Let's play the Unlikely Interpretation game again. Wait! I've got one: "While Barroso's reliefs might seem to mock American consumerism, the fact that they are constructed of wood slyly belies the rigidity and falseness of those who would condemn the 'American way of life.'" Isn't that fun?

Mmmm, semantic manipulation!

"Contemporary Art From Cuba" at the Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, (562) 437-1689; www.molaa.com. Open Tues.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sun., noon-6 p.m. $7; students/seniors, $5; children under 12/members, free. Through Sept. 10.
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