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‘Vernacular Glamour’ excavates the material world

Artists use opulence to reflect on identity at Cambridge Art Association’s Kathryn Schultz Gallery

Maria Yolanda Liebana’s mixed-media collage “Victorious.”Image courtesy of Kiley Richards

Ballroom, high fashion, Baroque painting, and sacred traditions resonate through the resplendent and gritty “Vernacular Glamour” at Cambridge Art Association’s Kathryn Schultz Gallery. The show spotlights Latinx artists using rhinestones, faux fur, glitter, and neon to reflect on power, privilege, and representation.

The show is curated by Juan Omar Rodriguez as part of the art association’s Platform Curatorial Opportunity.

Glamour is used to sell things. It signifies wealth and beauty. It can be a tool of capitalism, flooding our screens and shaping our ideas of worth and value. The art world has long had a love/hate relationship with glamour’s easy seductiveness.


But artists have never shied from opulent materials to convey power, both sacred and profane. Think of Fra Angelico and Gustav Klimt. The artists here employ glitzy materials you might get at Michaels. Progenitors of this show include Felix González-Torres, who used sparkling beaded curtains to suggest transcendence, and Amalia Mesa-Bains, who crafted an altar from a vanity to honor the passing of a movie star in “An Ofrenda for Dolores Del Rio.”

Many “Vernacular Glamour” artists use sumptuous materials and curvy, feminine figures in the pop culture tradition of pinups and the art historical tradition of nudes. Maria Yolanda Liebana’s mixed-media collage “Victorious” features emboldened versions of the languorous nudes in Rococo painter François Boucher’s “The Triumph of Venus.” The four haloed feminine figures shimmer; they hum with pattern. Fashioned from decorative materials such as beads and glitter, they’re ornamentation made flesh.

Juan Arango Palacios, "Queers with Tears," colored pencil and rhinestones on paper.Image courtesy of Juan Arango Palacios

Lounging is also the posture of the powerful. In Rixy’s “To Not Give a Mango’s Damn,” painted on a cardboard box, a dazzling, Day-Glo-bright femme figure with taloned feet rests back as if on a throne and regards us, turning the power of the gaze on viewers.


Rixy's "To Not Give a Mango's Damn."Image courtesy of Kiley Richards

“Vernacular Glamour” is about more than claiming interpersonal status, though. In Jhona Xaviera’s digitally manipulated photograph “ra 06h 45m 09s dec -16° 42′ 58″ (sirius returns),” the artist stands nude, turning to greet a massive sun on the horizon and the planets beyond. It reads like a personal invocation of the divine.

Jhona Xaviera’s digitally manipulated photograph “ra 06h 45m 09s dec -16° 42′ 58″ (sirius returns).”Image courtesy of Jhona Xaviera

Indeed, all the works in “Vernacular Glamour” feel in some way like personal reckonings. Glamour may broadcast power, but in this show, all that dazzle is an avenue to discovering it within.


At Kathryn Schultz Gallery, Cambridge Art Association, 25 Lowell St., Cambridge, through Feb. 19. 617-876-0246, www.cambridgeart.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.