Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers Retro-Perspective closed at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture on January 23, 2023. From there, it will travel first to the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, TX from April 21, 2023 to October 1, 2023, and afterwards to other confirmed venues, such as the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY, and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA.
Known collectively as the de la Torre brothers, artists Einar (b. 1963 – ) and Jamex (b. 1960 – ) de la Torre build their body of work from a long history of Chicanx, Mexican-American, and Indigenous artmaking practices that situate the U.S.-Mexico border as a space that is perpetually in flux. As the inaugural exhibition on display at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano art And Culture in Riverside, CA, Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers Retro-Perspective (June 18, 2022 – January 23, 2023) connected Cheech Marin’s history of collecting Chicano art, including work by the de la Torre brothers, to the goals of the institution at large.1
The exhibition was divided into four subsections titled Hybrid Dislocations, Systems and Cycles, Histerical Vignettes, and Retracollage, spanning nearly thirty years of the artists’ careers, and comprising their first retrospective exhibition.2
Upon the first few steps into “the Cheech”, visitors are immediately greeted by a spectacular two-story lenticular mural by the de la Torre brothers, commissioned by Cheech Marin and the Center on the occasion of its official opening. Titled Gaiatlicue, this new massive backlit mural presents two ever-changing faces of Coatlicue, the Aztec-Mexica mother goddess of fertility, life, death, and rebirth, and Gaia, the Greek primordial goddess and mythological personification of Earth. This monumental permanent installation keeps watch over the building’s center atrium where tickets are purchased, the gift shop is frequented, and various artwork is on display.
Like with Gaiatlicue’s multiple faces, the de la Torre brothers regularly reference ideas of duality, hybridization, and materiality throughout their work. Having spent their entire lives between Guadalajara, Mexico and San Diego, California, Einar and Jamex de la Torre consistently create work that is firmly entrenched in the impact of the U.S.-Mexico border on daily life.3 Even today, they maintain studios and homes on each side of the border, sometimes fluctuating between the two several times on any given day. Even in the name of the exhibition, Collidoscope, the back-and-forth wordplay hints at ideas of collision, fragmentation, and synthesis at once. A kaleidoscope, which uses mirrors to reflect and refract changing patterns through motion, juxtaposed with the idea of collision, an instance where two objects or ideas strike one another, creates a dual sense of connection and hybridity that mimics a cross-border life.
As a lenticular image, Gaiatlicue is both a physical and symbolic representation of the de la Torres’ often utilized ideas of duality and juxtaposition. Lenticular prints like Gaiatlicue are non-motorized combination images with lenticular lenses that splice together two separate compositions at once, appearing to actively shift, change, and move as the viewer walks by and alters their perspective. In Gaiatlicue, each minuscule shift of the viewer’s body alters their perception of the image as birds, maps, figures, and greenery converge in ways that make it impossible to grasp either version of the figure in its entirety. The medium of lenticular photography is transformative by its very nature, and the scale on which Gaiatlicue is designed makes it a deeply effective way to encourage, or perhaps force, their audience to consider the idea that there are multiple perspectives at play, even when at first presented with a clear frontal view.
In other lenticular works, like La Reconquista, (2002) the de la Torre brothers critique the limits of the Eurocentric art historical canon by offering amalgamations of beloved objects from art history layered with provocative imagery that pressures viewers to reconsider how history is represented. La Reconquista is a lenticular triptych that rehashes 15th-century Dutch painter Hans Memling’s (b. c.1430 – d. 1494) Last Judgement (1467-1471) by reimagining the central Archangel Michael figure as the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés. (b. 1485 – d. 1547) Around him, the work blends the horrific history of the Spanish colonial conquest with the Christian threat of eternal damnation, replacing hills with indigenous temples, heads with Mexican historical figures, and Jesus Christ’s face with the mask of Quetzalcóatl, the Mesoamerican Feathered-Serpent deity, among others.4 By hybridizing this well-known masterwork from the Northern Renaissance with the complicated and violent history of Spanish conquest in Mexico, the de la Torre brothers force their viewers to consider: who are we revering? And on whom do we pass judgement?
Beyond two-dimensional works, the exhibition also features many glass sculptures of varying sizes and a large-scale installation work. Colonial Atmosphere, (2002) for instance, reimagines the 1969 Apollo 11 Lunar Landing as one steeped in early Mesoamerican iconography. This immense installation with a footprint of over 38’ x 39’ dominates the galleries as the viewer first walks into the space, subsuming their vision and demanding attention with its sprawling content. An Olmec colossal head replaces the utilitarian metal exterior shell of the Apollo Lunar Module, and the Earth is set ablaze in the background as the viewer walks through spare tire lunar craters and cast resin serpents. Near the Olmec Module, a life-sized representation of Neil Armstrong in his space suit that is part person and part Aztec stone sculpture salutes the viewer as they pass. The work synthesizes multiple time periods and cultures from discrete geographies across the Americas. This creates a disorienting sense of anachronistic time alongside cultural hybridizations between North and South, much like the fluctuations of a cross-border life in the twenty-first century. At once the viewer is on the moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969 and simultaneously located in a pre-contact Mesoamerica, endlessly modulating between worlds in the same way that the artists themselves modulate between countries, lands, and languages.
Oxymodern (2002), a large-scale blown glass version of the Aztec calendar, similarly juxtaposes ancient and contemporary histories. A play on the word “oxymoron” and the idea of modernity, Oxymodern combines Aztec visual histories with anecdotes from their own lives and modern histories of art. Guest curator Selene Preciado notes that the de la Torre brothers “tell a story about growing up with a reproduction of the Aztec Sun Stone as a table.”5 This calendar then functions as both a table steeped in nostalgia and as an art object, propped against a wall like a large-scale canvas. Around the calendar-table, place settings that recall Judy Chicago’s (b. 1939 – ) Dinner Party from 1970 feature glass hearts, piles of black beans, and Mexican pesos as napkins beneath tinfoil silverware. The work draws from both Aztec iconographies and those of Einar and Jamex de la Torre’s childhood home, sporting common household goods like ash trays with half-smoked cigarettes and used bottle caps, as well. Like their other works, Oxymodern modulates between worlds and between histories in a way that forces audiences to reconsider how they experience objects that seem to belong to certain histories and not others.
Preciado leads the viewer thematically throughout the space via astute sections that are both specific to each body of work and deeply interconnected across the retro-perspective, allowing for fluidity and a sense of cohesiveness at once. There is an air of playfulness and excitement that is palpable throughout the galleries, brought on by decades’ worth of experimenting with words, materials, histories, and iconographies that appear as objects with the capacity to both literally and figuratively move in front of your eyes. It is exactly in these dualities that the de la Torre brothers’ biggest impact of the Collidoscope exhibition becomes apparent.
Ultimately, the duality and juxtaposition present in Einar and Jamex de la Torre’s works speaks to more than a simple sense of surrealism or a dichotomy between form and content. They propose new perspectives on known histories that contemplate little-known actors to the U.S. public, and they challenge the conventional stories that are often more readily accessible. Their works push viewers to consider their own perceptions in correlation with marginalized histories and less visible moments in time. In this way, Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers Retro-Perspective actively seeks to collide the ancient with the present, the periphery with the center, and the viewer with the object. Through permutations of humor and critical histories, Einar and Jamex de la Torre expertly layer the multi-perspectival experience that is often indicative of border life and the U.S. Latinx experience at large.
1. The author would like to acknowledge the Rutgers Center for Latin American Studies and the Rutgers Department of Art History for generously funding the research trip that resulted in this exhibition review.
Collidoscope opened alongside The Cheech on June 18, 2022 and closed on January 23, 2023; it developed as a joint project between the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino. See, “Riverside Art Museum & The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture,” Riverside Art Museum, https://riversideartmuseum.org/.
2. The spelling of these exhibition sections listed here are accurate to the original exhibition text.
3. “Einar & Jamex De La Torre,” https://www.delatorrebrothers.art/.
4. Jorge J. E. Gracia and Ilan Stavans, “The Labyrinth of History: Einar and Jamex de La Torre, La Reconquista,” in Thirteen Ways of Looking at Latino Art (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 17–32, https://muse.jhu.edu/pub/4/edited_volume/book/69594.
5. Quote from exhibition wall text; visited July 24, 2022.