‘Post Mortem Presents: A Very Victorian Christmas,’ Post Mortem Movement Theatre, Long Beach, CA, by James Scarborough
Bruce Richards: “Future/Past” at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, by James Scarborough

“Transformations” and “Esterio Segura,” Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, CA, by James Scarborough

Two shows at MOLAA. Each a precious gem. Each vivid and compelling. Each worthy of being savored again and again.

Photographs courtesy of Mick Victor/COTU MEDIA

“Transformations” represents a perfect use of a permanent collection. It also represents a perfect engagement of a museum with its community. Chosen from a pool of 50, five Long Beach residents worked with Carlos Ortega, MOLAA’s Curator of Collections. Each resident had undergone a life-altering crisis. They chose work that described their emotional state before and after these events. These residents included Rocio (paralyzed by a gangbanger’s bullet at the age of 8). Felicia (homeless, on the street at the age of 14). Lorena (diagnosed with breast cancer). Juan (jailed ten years for criminal activities). And Guillermo (joined the Navy Reserve at 17 to escape his claustrophobic barrio).

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The installation is significant and powerful. You enter the gallery and walk down a center aisle. On the walls are portraits of the co-curators. They are somber and proud. Even without the backstories, you notice the character of each sitter. On the other side of the wall, behind each portrait, along the perimeter of the gallery, are the sitters’ backstories. The backstories feature looped videos of each character recounting their transformative moment. There’s a plinth on which sits each person’s artwork and art tools. Art as a means of catharsis and renaissance. Across from the plinth are works from MOLAA’s permanent collection. A personal quote, poetic fragments, really, accompanies each piece. Each contextualizes the work, makes it specific. It describes lessons learned, trials endured, hope uncovered.

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It’s a heartening and inspirational show. It puts a name, a face and a story to art’s otherwise abstract themes of resiliency, courage and determination.

Museum hours are 11:00am - 5:00pm, Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 11:00am - 9:00pm, Friday. The exhibition runs until May 24, 2015. Admission is $$9 general/$6 students and seniors. Admission is free on Sundays. The Museum is located at 628 Alamitos Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90802. For more information call (562) 437-1689 or visit www.molaa.org.

Photographs courtesy of the artist

This is Cuban artist Esterio Segura’s first solo U.S. show. His work is controversial but it’s also funny. It makes social critiques but it also reveals quixotic and heart rendering personal statements. He’s a dreamer with a sense of humor. He doth protest but not too much, at least on the surface. He examines the effect of a specific social, political and ideological climate, not its causes. This makes his work universal and relevant, not to mention more innocuous than it really is.

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His work describes freedom and conveyance, incarceration and frustration. The installation is spacious at the same time that it’s claustrophobic. A little boy looks skyward. Not so inexplicably, an airplane sprouts from his head. He dreams of flight, of soaring. He wants to escape. Literal or metaphorical, it doesn’t matter. Problem is, he’s in a cage. That nose? It’s a Pinocchio nose. Lies, lies, lies. He’s red. Livid with anger? Or is it an ideological, Communist red? Again, it doesn’t matter. A heart-shaped airplane takes off. Is this what Red Pinocchio looks at? Or might he dream of submarine limousines, fitted implausibly, for escape?

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The work fills you with hope. You wish, faced with similar circumstances, you could be as sanguine as Mr. Segura.

Museum hours are 11:00am - 5:00pm, Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 11:00am - 9:00pm, Friday. The exhibition runs until February 15, 2015. Admission is $$9 general/$6 students and seniors. Admission is free on Sundays. The Museum is located at 628 Alamitos Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90802. For more information call (562) 437-1689 or visit www.molaa.org.