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Feb 16, 2012
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You can take the boy out of the mountains…

By Jim Duncan

A portrait of Miguel Angel Ríos in San Jose Norte Catamarca, Argentina, 2009.

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 walkabout.

Rios admits a nostalgic attachment to the works in the show.

“I have always felt a longing guilt for leaving,” he confessed.

“Walkabout” plays at the Art Center until April 22 and moves to Museo de Art Carillo Gil in Mexico City in September.

Touts

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



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