A portrait of Miguel Angel Ríos
in San Jose Norte Catamarca, Argentina,
Miguel Angel Rios grew up in Argentina’s Calchaqui
Valley of Catamarca. Wielding boleadores like
an experienced gaucho, he became an expert hunter
by the age of 10.
“We would chase wild burros and ostriches for
sport. They were experts at running through
sand dunes, so we would chase them until my
father sensed they were tired. Then he would
look at me to signal to move in and lasso them.
I was also expert at the slingshot. (Partridges)
would fly in straight lines so we would chase
them to the river, then line up to take shots
where our dogs could retrieve them,” he recalled.
Rios left the Andes to attend the Academia Nacional
de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires and to teach
at the National University of Buenos Aires.
Then the mountains called him home to a job
at the National University of Tucuman until,
at age 30, he had an epiphany.
“I realized I wanted to be an artist, not an
art professor. I had to leave the Andes to do
that. So I moved to New York City,” he confessed.
Artistically, Rios never left. All his work,
from early collages about colonialism to his
latest videos, has been rooted in Andean wistfulness.
“Because of where I come from, I work with wide
open spaces, not walled in spaces like Europeans.
That makes sense — Catamarca is larger than
Spain,” Rios explained.
Curator Gilbert Vicario titled Rios’ current
Des Moines Art Center exhibition “Walkabout,”
after Nicolas Roeg’s film.
“In that film, Australian school children become
lost in the desert and are rescued by an aborigine
boy on his walkabout. Miguel’s work provides
similar guidance, to cultures that have been
spiritually lost since 9-11,” Vicario explained.
Three videos provide the exhibition’s focus.
They employ wide-open spaces and South American
sports, to scrutinize human attraction to both
spirituality and violence. In “Ni me busques…
No me encuentras” (Don’t look for me, you won’t
find me), Rios and his cinematographer take
an hallucinogenic voyage on peyote through a
Mexican desert. After observing a seven-piece
band and escaping a train, the artist enters
an adobe house like the one he grew up in. He
hears “the sound of my mother baking bread”
before the house divides itself elusively.
“Mecha” (Fuse) observes the game “tejos,” popular
in the barrios of Bogota. To an Iowan’s eyes,
it looks like bocce ball with bombs. Courts
are walled off within empty factories, then
youthful players toss specially constructed
balls at clay tablets, some of which explode
when their gunpowder fuses are hit. We never
see people, just running legs and throwing arms.
Explosions are beautiful in slow motion. Continuous
action becomes an allegory for war lust. Hand
held cameras transmit the point of view of war
journalists in combat. An accompanying cutout
paper drawing appears to be an abstraction until
one sees that all its shapes are gun barrels.
In “Rooom, Rooom,” Rios returns to Catamarca
to observe the slings of boleadores, some wielded
by his childhood friends and their offspring.
We observe only their shadows, dramatically
elongated by filming at sunrise and sunset.
The sound of the slings mesmerizes a black and
white world, like the songlines of an aboriginal
Rios admits a nostalgic attachment to the works
in the show.
“I have always felt a longing guilt for leaving,”
“Walkabout” plays at the Art Center until April
22 and moves to Museo de Art Carillo Gil in
Mexico City in September.
Michael Watson’s “Familiar Faces,” at Fluxx
Gallery, includes 100 portraits… Yoshitomo Nara’s
“White Ghost” in Pappajohn Sculpture Park was
named a “Top 20 Acquisition of 2011” in Antiques
and Fine Arts… Dario Robleto’s exhibition at
Des Moines Art Center was named “Top 2011 Exhibition
New Yorkers Won’t See” by Guernica. CV