Photo by James BunoanAt first glance, Jorge Marín's "Corpus Oris: Myths and Metaphors" at the Museum of Latin American Art is a charming, colorful and action-packed exhibit of skilled sculpting and trompe l'oeil paintings.
Then it shrinks on you.
I've never seen an exhibit that starts out so promisingly yet with each successive work takes up less of one's imagination instead of more. How can this be? Marín's works are beautifully wrought. His sculptures are chunky and smooth at the same time, corpulent and earthy like the Venus of Willendorf. His paintings of butterflies and scarabs are rendered delicately and vividly across canvases aged and cracking. The large gallery is filled with his works instead of a stingy, lazy sampling.
There is something small at work. Perhaps it's that Marín can sculpt the Madonna yet consider her, lukewarmly, myth—or metaphor, for that matter. I have no problem with anyone not believing in Marymotherofgodprayforussinners. I'm not sure I do.
But if you don't believe—if you don't feel a primal connection to this mother—why bother sculpting her? The Queen of Heaven is reduced to something about as important as a three-minute pop song, but less true. Good pop songs are evocative, plaintive, but Marín's Madonnas are not. Here, the Virgin is a design element, wrought of bronze and silver and marble. In Madonna With Child, a woman with a corona sculpted then painted a lovely shade of blue holds two cherubs in Venetian carnival masks and jester shoes. On her halo sits a monkey. Her chest is an open portal, its shutters swung open. It's quite lovely, but on deeper inspection, it's as empty as the hole in her chest through which one sees no heart. And carnival masks? They could represent fleshly lusting and gorging, humanity being human before the enforced somberness of Lent. It could be the god/man dichotomy of Christ or the heaven/earth dichotomy of Mary, who was the only person to be bodily assumed into heaven.
Or it could just be that rich housewives like jester hats.
I'm sure they sell beautifully.
It goes downhill from there. Marín's self-taught self is overly polished. There is nothing raw or unfinished anywhere, let alone naif. Larger-than-life sculptures perch precariously in Cirque du Soleil feats of impressive balance. But larger than life, they're less than human. As public art, they'd work quite well (and no, I'm not trying to be snotty; they really would). Given bloated names like Spirit or Man Elevated, these muscled nude men could be lovely and inspiring on a promenade somewhere. But here, one's impressed with the engineering and then feels . . . nothing.
From there, Marín goes on to a series of The Continents, rendered as tall and regal goddesses, and all but interchangeably pale-faced except for some details in their hats. One seems to be wearing a cheese grater on her head.
Worst of all are some absolutely gorgeous slabs of mancake painted in classical poses of Titanic frustration. Bather With Violin is a sexy, muscley, beefy dude with angel wings and a violin in front of his no-doubt-uncircumcised thingy. It's gorgeous but as shallow as an episode of Blind Date.
Of course there's hope for a man of Marín's skill, and it's evidenced not in his beauties but in his portraits of the old and the ugly. Russian Mermaid is a blotchy, clotty sculpture of a mermaid with curls like dreadlocks, fat cherub jesters (again) perched on her lap. Their little jester penises hang down fat and grotesque, and their knees are dimpled until they look like snouts. Angel Child With Heart and Pumpkin Boy have creepy glass eyes inserted in their faces, like malevolent dolls. And Fish Boy is appropriately mottled and ill-looking, his cheeks puffed out corpulently. But it's Elderly Woman With Wings, with the face of the Dalai Lama, long breasts and a stomach so folded one can make out a separate portrait in it, who's the biggest pleasure to see, nude and grand and ancient.
Marín's technique is undeniable. But like everybody who makes a living writing for Salon, he needs a theme with more depth than Why Nina Is the Hottest Woman on24. Like the rest of our huge commentating class, he needs to do more than idly pick his nose. He needs something to say.
"JORGE MARÍN, CORPUS ORIS—MYTHS AND METAPHORS" AT THE MUSEUM OF LATIN AMERICAN ART, 628 ALAMITOS AVE., LONG BEACH, (562) 437-1689; WWW.MOLAA.COM. OPEN TUES.-FRI., 11:30 A.M.-7 P.M.; SAT., 11 A.M.-7 P.M.; SUN., 11 A.M.-6 P.M. THRU OCT. 27. $5; STUDENTS/SENIORS, $3; MEMBERS/CHILDREN UNDER 12, FREE.
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