Augen Gallery, 224-8782
through April 28

Chicago artist and curator Michael Hernandez de Luna has organized an unusual revival of a Mexican painting tradition. 100 artists from six cities contributed work to Sextablos, an exhibition inspired by retablo paintings. Traditionally, retablos are small paintings on wood or tin depicting Christian icons. But in Sextablos, Hernandez and associates toss out the Madonna and child and insert images that address sex and sexual taboos.

The exhibit pulls on some easy triggers; images of heaving breasts and erect penises lure the viewer in for inspection. Though Sextablos offers such direct imagery, Hernandez explains that the artworks are not about "shock and pornography," though they could be misconstrued as such by the regular, institutionalized, programmed mind. He adds, "It is about the investigation of the normalities that have people existing in a repressed state of mind." While it is fairly unclear as to what this group "investigation" has uncovered, there are a few obvious things to point out; a large portion of the work provides literal responses to the question of sex and sexual taboos. For example, in "Tu Coranzoncito Maniaco," by Ricardo Hernandez of Chicago, the central image is a voluptuous woman climaxing amidst masturbation. Whether this is provocative or not is left for the viewer to decide. The larger question is, how predictable is this image choice? Unfortunately, the bulk of the work in Sextablos is similarly uninventive, relying heavily on image clichés that are mass produced and propagated. The exhibit would have one believe that sex is largely a white and heterosexual activity, one dealt with publicly only through humor.

Another detracting element of the exhibit involves bouts of technical ineptitude. Hurried attempts at rendering, brush work, composition, etc. characterize a slew of sophomoric attempts. A perfect example is a piece called "Blow Job," by the New Orleans artist known affectionately as "Dr. Bob." The title explains the content, though words can barely describe Dr. Bob's lack of painting skill. While Sextablos isn't a powerhouse exhibit, within the large show there are a number of artworks worthy of mention. Takeshi Yamada of Chicago displays a series of Magritte inspired drawings that feature human/plant hybrids. In "Exotic Plant," Yamada depicts a pair of breasts that seem pulled from the earth. Portland artist Susan Seubert showcases her photographic talents in a trio of lush, abstract images. And most notably, David Bradshaw of New Orleans used an unusual set of tools to create his three panels. Bradshaw fired a 9 mm, 10 mm, and .45 automatic separately at three different metal plates. The results are an odd inclusion in the exhibit, yet they add an eerie and hyper-physical presence to the show. This sort of abstract works poke at an intermingling of sex and violence, marking one of the more insightful efforts in the show.

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