A portrait tells two stories: one about the artist and one about the subject. At the Mexican Museum, the stories are expressed in paintings, ceramics and mixed-media works that speak volumes about culture and identity.
“Caras/Cuentos (Faces/Stories)” explores the rich tradition of portraiture in Hispanic, Chicano and Latin American art. Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition offers a fascinating look at the power of the human face.
Curator David de la Torre hopes visitors will be tantalized by what they see. Several of the pieces have never been shown in public before.
“Each object has its own story to tell,” he says. “We want people to learn something new by delving into these works.”
Portraits, de la Torre notes, have been used to honor family members who have died, strengthen one’s social status, mark rites of passage and for other things. The exhibition includes nearly 40 pieces, some more than 2,000 years old.
Highlights include “Las Cuatas Diego,” a color offset print of a well-known painting by artist Cecilia Concepción Alvarez.
The picture — inspired by a school photo taken in the 1940s — depicts the artist’s mother and aunt, who are identical twins. In Alvarez’s painting, the sisters share a spiritual beauty as they stand in red and white outfits, immaculately coiffed, gazing at the viewer. Other gems include Gustavo Montoya’s “Boy With Watermelon” and Emigdio Vasquez’s “Don Juanito,” a tender portrait of a Mexican-American farmworker.
Nearby is “Young Fool,” a self-portrait painted in 1985 by Carlos Almaraz. It’s a poignant work by the artist, who died of AIDS-related causes a few years later.
Also on view is the Tequila Don Julio Collection. The exhibition showcases some of the most interesting Mexican and Mexican-American artists working today.
There are several pieces worth lingering over, including Ray Abeyta’s “Bomba Barrococo,” a portrait of the artist’s cousin on his wedding day, and Viva Paredes’ “My Pocha Tongues” — an installation of 11 blown glass vessels filled with medicinal herbs.
Both shows are just a sample of the museum’s collection, which includes more than 14,000 objects.
IF YOU GO
Where: Mexican Museum, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; closes Jan. 6
Contact: (415) 202-9700, www.mexicanmuseum.org