Rodrigo Lara Zendejas's garden of unearthly delights takes over the Hyde Park Art Center | Art Review | Chicago Reader

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Rodrigo Lara Zendejas's garden of unearthly delights takes over the Hyde Park Art Center

The artist’s solo show is a surreal exploration of memory.



A lot of great art confuses, suggests, and forces us to make associations, in part because of what's left out of its message. "Rodrigo Lara Zendejas: La Paz," the title artist's solo show at the Hyde Park Art Center, is all about its own spaces and mysteries. The exhibit is based on Zendejas's memories of his first studio, in his grandparents' garden in La Paz, San Luis Potosí, in central Mexico.

That's a nostalgic topic, obviously, but Zendejas approaches nostalgia elliptically. The show is put together like a book with pages ripped out and then pasted in again in the wrong place and at odd angles. Burghers of El Rayo features a group of monklike, roughly foot-high ceramic figures standing sidewise on a canvas hung on the wall; two fight each other, bones in hand, another, on closer inspection, has a bird's beak. The sculpture Monumento al Minero is a drum kit with blue ceramic feet at the base of its legs. Resting on top of the kit is a large, toy-size faux-Grecian temple; balanced on top of that are small sculptures of two laborers who resemble WPA art from the 30s. Mina San Ignacio is another drum kit, this time including busts of a man and a woman in place of a couple of the cymbals. The busts' clothing looks like dated finery, but the facial expressions are crudely drawn smiley faces.

Since the show is about Zendejas's youth, connections can be thought up—perhaps he, or somebody he knew, played the drums. But other references are pleasantly, or ominously, opaque. Are the sideways monks in Burghers of El Rayo a reference to something Zendejas saw, or something he imagined? Are those busts on the drum kit meant to represent his grandparents, and if so, why are their faces so disturbingly schematic? Enano, Coneja y Rigo is a painting of children, one of whom is bearded, brandishing guns; stuck to the top of the painting is a 3-D ceramic hand. Is this a memory of childhood? Is Zendejas one of the children? Whose hand is that, and what is it reaching for?

Panteon Muncipal is a gray-white sculpture of a cat hanged by the neck. The dangling feline has human attributes, from the handlike paws to a frankly rendered penis. The work doesn't convey the playfulness of the rest of the exhibit—its frank grotesqueness makes it an outlier. But perhaps that's why it belongs in a show that's about how time and space, memory and the present, can fail to mesh. The garden is in Zendejas's mind, parts of which are unseeable—most likely, there are things even he can't identify. Memory in "La Paz" is imperfect, uncertain, and private, filled with discomfort, confusion, and joy.  v

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