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Mexico: Splendors of Three Decades : Art: A Sylmar gallery features noteworthy modern artists, and picks up where LACMA’s 30-century retrospective left off.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lala Aguilar Sims, an art historian from Mexico City, loved the fact that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art planned to present a huge Mexican art retrospective. But she didn’t think that the museum show, “Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries,” went far enough.

“They stopped in the ‘50s with Frida Kahlo,” said Sims, who now lives in Los Angeles. “I wanted to show the more modern artists, the ones working now, and the influences on them from the past.”

To fill in the gap, she put together “Mexico: The Mystic Past and Future Masters,” an exhibit at the Century Gallery in Sylmar’s Veterans Memorial Park. The show features works by 18 artists, including several well-known in Mexico such as Jose Luis Cuevas, Juan Soriano and Gilberto Aceves Navarro.

“They are not very well-known here and that is one reason for doing the show,” Sims said. Indeed, Cuevas, whose paintings and radical political stance have stirred controversy in Mexico, coined the phrase “The Cactus Curtain” to describe the separation Mexican artists feel from the United States art scene.

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The Cuevas painting in the Century Gallery show is “El Gigante,” a large, dark portrait of a giant man divided into several separate panels. “His work is very monochromatic,” Sims said. “He paints with what he calls the colors of the earth, blacks, browns, ocher. He was influenced by the forms and shapes of Mexican pre-Columbian art, as well as the style of Velazquez, the Spanish painter from the golden age of art in that country in the 1600s.

“So, Cuevas is like the mixed blood of Mexico with his combination of Indian and Spanish influences.”

The Soriano pieces in the exhibit are a painting of a male nude done in blues and a sculpture that depicts an ocean wave. “His work is figurativo, meaning figurative, but he is also something of a mystic,” Sims said of the artist from Guadalajara.

While preparing the exhibit, Sims produced a video documentary about the artists that was directed by her husband, Jerry Sims, who has worked on the production of several documentaries and commercials. They traveled throughout Mexico to visit the artists in their studios and to get their views on techniques, philosophies and cultural influences.

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The last painter she interviewed is by far the most famous of the group, but he is not primarily known for his art. “I wanted Anthony Quinn in the film because he is a painter and because of his Mexican heritage,” Sims said. She first contacted the actor in New York to ask him to narrate the documentary.

Sims persuaded him to narrate the film, but on the day it was to be taped at a New York studio she was nervous because of the actor’s reputation for being a perfectionist and, at times, difficult. Matters were not helped by the fact that the Sims’ plane was late and that the actor was on a tight schedule.

After granting them a short delay and reworking a bit of the narration, Quinn read it in front of the camera.

“Then I told him,” Sims said, “ ‘Now comes the hard part. I am really nervous because now I want to interview you as a painter.’ ”

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But talking about his art is something Quinn loves to do. “In Spanish he said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid, I won’t bite you,’ and he was terrific.”

“Mexico: The Mystic Past and Future Masters” is at Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar, through Jan. 18. The gallery is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is free. Call (818) 362-3220.


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