The 16th Annual El Corazón exhibition opens Saturday with an opening reception at the Bath House Cultural Center. Jose Vargas has curated the show each year since its inception. He took some time away from hanging the show earlier this week to discuss what he looks for in the art he’ll display and what the art says about the people who created it as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: You’ve been curating this exhibit since 1993. What gave you the idea originally?
Jose Vargas: It came out of a bingo game from Mexico. There are cards with numbers on them and a lot of images. One of them, No. 27, is El Corazón, which is basically a bloody red heart in the sky with an arrow shot through it. When I first saw it, it really captured my imagination. So I decided to base the exhibit on that particular image. The focus of the show is, of course, the heart.
A&S: There are more than 40 artists represented. How do you decide who’s in an who’s out?
J.V.: The first thing, of course, is that I want the work to be really well done, well executed. People are going to come in and look at the work, and since I’m the one who organized it, my name is on there. So I want it to be the best that it can. That’s really what I look for: Is it well executed? Does it convey an emotion? … I kind of stay away from things I consider cute or sweet. With the heart being part of a human emotion, it’s like a rollercoaster ride – the person’s either extremely happy or say or somewhere in between. I want the artists to do work that represents all of those areas.
A&S: Are people these days depicting their hearts as happy or sad?
J.V.: It’s kind of a median – it really depends on the individual. Since I’ve been doing this for a number of years, it depends on what’s going on. For example, with 9-11, that was on people’s minds, and of course I saw it in their art work. … Any time there’s an event that happens that’s worldwide and captures a lot of people’s attention, you’re going to see that reflected in people’s work.
A&S: Are you surprised by any of the pieces that were submitted?
J.V.: To be honest with you, not really, because some of these people I’ve worked with for a number of years. Going back to what we were talking about earlier, a lot of it has to do with what’s going on with the individual artist. You can imagine if somebody’s going through a divorce, or there’s been a death in the family, it’s going to be reflected in the work.
A&S: What happens to all the art after the exhibition?
J.V.: Well, they get to take it home with them, and hopefully they’ll be in other exhibits. And, of course, some of the pieces that come in here somebody has done for themselves as their own personal reward. And some of the pieces that are brought here have been done with someone else in mind, and they give them to somebody that they care a lot about.
A&S: After 16 years of curating this show, are you tired of looking at hearts once a year?
J.V.: No – I was just telling somebody else, “You would think that people would run out of ideas for hearts.” But it’s not true. It’s just like music or dance – people never run out of ideas. … Everybody has a heart, and everybody feels the blues once in a while and you’re on top of the world some days when you’re falling in love. This is a good way to express it.