Customatism is the first retrospective exhibition of Rubén Ortiz Torres (1964), a Mexican artist based in California and a key figure in contemporary art since the mid-1980s. Ortiz Torres presents a critical, cosmopolitan, technically inventive and intellectually comical visual practice, through an oeuvre that explores the cultural paradoxes of the global world that offers an informed critique of avant-garde art traditions.
His work allows us to observe the way in which the history of the avant-garde negotiates with the popular culture of the American continent, in a constant migration between Latin America and the United States. In this way, Customatism explores a vast terrain that ranges from the utopia of Suprematism to the political enthusiasm of the tropics, in the manner of a kind of cultural agitation that is committed to the complexities of the present.
The exhibition reviews the important role played by the artist in the changing strategies of production in Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s, a crucial moment in a series of radical transformations in the codes of representation that undermined the traditional, elitist and unoriginal forms of art that had been dominant since the mid twentieth century, while also abandoning isolated localisms to move towards post-conceptual languages and forms. His intellectual and artistic role was fundamental insofar as it resulted in the hybridization of the post-avant-garde and the dismantling of modernist ideologies in local art. At the same time, this exhibition and publication will position Ortiz Torres as an essential and unusual alternative to the global domination of minimalism, as the visual stereotype of the 1990s.
His work recovers the uniqueness of historical processes in the internationalization of Mexican art by opening up a new perspective in which the historical avant-gardes of the twentieth century are questioned within an internal genealogy that considered the possibility of Mexico as an alternative site for the development of political and post-colonial artistic practices. Ortiz Torres reconnects and intersects Pop Art with the conceptual strategies of the Mexican School, which promoted a radical change in the shift from high to popular culture; in this way revealing a secret kinship in which Warhol is Diego Rivera’s grandson and, in consequence, illuminating an important group of canonical artists in the United States, who are exposed to reinterpretation as hallucinatory nomadic Indigenists.
Ortiz Torres’ work generates a cartography of labyrinths where the allegories of “the popular” and “the national” are treated with irony, recreating a spiral of migratory flows, hybridizations, cross-pollinations, simulations and parodic mutations. The last 20 years of work relocate Ortiz Torres in California, where, once again, his intervention shapes and participates in the effervescence of the West Coast art scene of the late twentieth century. This opens up a migratory route for the re-conquest of Aztlán (the north). From a transnational perspective, the art of Rubén Ortiz Torres is indispensable for an understanding of the spectacular dissemination of the deconstruction of styles, the dislocation of paradigms of identity, and the new forms of political aesthetics.