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Grand Central Art Center Spotlights the Personal and Political

Teresita de la Torre / Courtesy of Grand Central Art Center

Red wedges aren’t exactly ruby slippers, but the idea that there’s no place like home informs Teresita de la Torre’s humble installation “antes muerta que sencilla” at Grand Central Art Center (GCAC).

Curated by GCAC director John Spiak, the show is a series of drawings in Spanish and English, an abstract border marked with three points of entry, some unidentified artifacts, and a set of photographs that share the story of the artist’s mother’s immigration from Mexico. As de la Torre learned more details, she was horrified that her mother wore a pair of red high-heeled wedge shoes in her crossing, hoping to be attractive for de la Torre’s father, who was waiting in America; the shoes were destroyed by the difficulties of the journey.

Obsessed, the artist made herself a similar pair of the shoes by hand, memorializing her mother’s trip. Her documented journey was less strenuous and dangerous than her mother’s—and perfectly legal. Designed from de la Torre’s mother’s memories, the paper shoes didn’t last long, either: the seams busted, the straps scotch-taped. Bright red, they have the sassy quality of something a drag queen might make.

A stronger pair, made by a fellow immigrant, helped the artist perform two more crossings, but it’s not difficult to imagine the vast amount of shoe leather destroyed over the years by other migrants . . . or left behind in the desert.

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Stoneware house with paint, jute and twine by Jose Flores / Courtesy of Grand Central Art Center

The personal and political merge in another GCAC exhibition. “NOW MORE THAN EVER” is a sampling of artwork by seven Cal State Fullerton MFA and BFA students, only a small portion of which has the same power as de la Torre’s installation. The best work in guest curator Kelly Lindner’s lopsided show can be seen from the doorway of the gallery, with the less-than-stellar work shunted into a rear corner.

At the front, Jose Flores Nava’s small sculptures work as precise symbols of immigration: porcelain pots jammed into the middle of small stone walls, then plastered into place, smooth and beautiful (and brown), vastly different than their bland gray surroundings. The containers hold up the sloppily made wall, artfully trapped into being a cornerstone. Hadley Mattwig’s caustic take on Southern women in her mixed media Can Ya’ll?!? is a faux living room, featuring a couch and a television set. Stark and minimalist, it’s decorated with manipulated, off-kilter photographs of animalistic, wolf-headed children; the artist makes two appearances in her own work: as a one-dimensional, black-and-white image conforming to the contours of the couch, watching herself reading on the TV. Her head moves slowly onscreen as she reads a fake book, How To: A Southern Belle, its dust jacket peppered with quotes about female superheroes, suggesting a fanciful mixture of brainwashing and exaggerated self-importance. Yara Almouradi’s three large graphite drawings of Syrian refugees—an artist who paints decorations on weapons of war, a faceless nurse caring for a patient, and a cellist with his dog—are surrounded by ephemera (photos, news stories, personal messages). The artist is asking us to slow down and take the time to get to know each of her subjects; their love for art, their animals and the well-being of others puts a human face on people that so often become just another headline.

Dylan Flah’s self-portrait banners hang outside the gallery. Wearing various male-specific sports clothes and accouterments, complicated by a skirt and make-up, the portraits check the rudimentary gender boxes, but you only need to see one and the point’s made. More than that is just redundant. Pamela Rush’s two projected photos appear to also be making statements about gender (two faces superimposed so they blur into one) and the tawdriness of sexual love (a cheesy, heart-shaped ashtray full of cigarette butts), but that may be reading too much into them.

Untitled graphite paper ephemera by Yara Almouradi / Courtesy of Grand Central Art Center

Vying for ugliest work in the show are Desmond Jervis and Janan Abedelmuti, whose works are buried in the back. According to the press release, Jervis’ conceptual art is aiming to subvert “traditional ceramic narrative” and “racial representation” with his coagulated blob of fired clay on a pedestal and dull, pixilated film loop, both of which come off as somebody taking a piss. Abedelmuti’s stitched words in paper are intriguing, offering a handful of blocky and mysterious Charlotte’s Web-like messages, but that momentum is cut short with her lackluster assemblage paintings. The canvases—a hole cut out, maybe a bit of paint, some pencil scribbles, a piece of lace or what resembles waxed strips of pubic hair—suggest that Lindner may have done the artist more service by making her aware that not everything is art. Her haphazardly sewn-together, crocheted blanket is less unattractive than the canvases, but that isn’t saying much. Neither her work nor Jervis’ qualify as empassioned calls to action, just calls to avert your eyes and keep moving.

Teresita de la Torre: antes muerta que sencilla” and “NOW MORE THAN EVER: CSUF MFA/BFA” at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.grandcentralartcenter.com [1]. Open Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. “antes muerta que sencilla,” through July 14; “NOW MORE THAN EVER,” through Aug. 18. Free.