The Chacon-Soto Show: Featuring the Greatest Companions, now on view through June 28, is one of the 12 x 12 Artist Talk exhibitions sponsored by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The 12 x 12 Artist Talk exhibitions, curated by Tricia Van Eck, feature new artists and their recent work.
Edra Soto’s installation, The Chacon-Soto Show, focuses on Iris Chacon, the charismatic Puerto Rican performer who starred in the 1970s variety television show El Show de Iris Chacon. Despite her flamboyant and sexually provocative costumes, songs, and performances—with her troupe of male backup singers and dancers— the legendary diva became a controversial figure, signifying different ideas to different audiences. She became a popular family entertainer, a feminist symbol, and an icon for the gay and lesbian population, among others. As part of this work, Soto commissioned over 30 artists to create a portrait of her in the form of a gorilla. Through drawing, painting, photography, and stage elements, Soto analyzes issues of sexuality in Puerto Rican culture through the double filter of her adult understanding of feminist issues and childhood memories of Chacon on television. “Playful and provocative, the show marks the artist’s continuing dialogue on cultural identity and womanhood” framed within the context of a Puerto Rican diasporic memory.
Soto grew up in Puerto Rico. She graduated from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico) and holds an M.F. A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois). Soto was also awarded a one-year painting fellowship at Alfonso Arana’s art studio by the Alfonso Arana’s Foundation (Paris, France). She has worked in a variety of formats and mediums, such as photography, collage, video, performance, painting, and drawing. About the inspiration for this show, Soto says, “As a child, I was drawn to her raw, incomparable demeanor, her perceptibly untrained dance style, and her charismatic and charming persona. Channeling Ms. Chacon as my alter ego and setting the paintings in vintage scenarios inspired by her show, the series questions the fascination of Latino woman for self-exposure and how Latino culture is portrayed in the mainstream popular media.”
As Noah Berlatsky states, although the show ostensibly focuses on Iris Chacon, the iconic Puerto Rican TV star is almost never glimpsed: “A bunch of apelike action figures with painted masks perch on a filing cabinet in one corner of the space, while giant, labial paper flowers [amapolas] squat before the gallery attendant’s table. The paintings on the wall mostly feature anonymous simians and the occasional fluffy dog, all flamboyantly dressed and gyrating on nightclub stages that vanish into garish abstractions. Everything drips tackiness— except, surprisingly, the faces of the apes in the paintings, which are sharply and evocatively rendered. Here, a she-ape kicks up her hindquarters with a look of exquisite delight, there an apparently adolescent missing link furrows his brow in what looks like constipation. Elsewhere two females bend over provocatively, their faces obscured, while in the background lurks a blurred, masked figure. What would we see if they turned toward us? Are they human or not? In the context of the room, their identity becomes not a celebration or even a statement but a question–funny, sexy, mysterious, and more than a little uncomfortable.”
For Noah Berlatsky’s review of Soto’s work, see http://hoodedutilitarian.blogspot.com/2008/11/edra-soto-and-arriver.html