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updated 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ART OF THE FANTASTIC: LATIN AMERICA, 1920-1987

Renoir, Picasso, van Gogh—those European masters are predictable crowd pleasers in the U.S. But to ask a North American the name of a Latin American painter or two is to risk receiving no answer. This traveling exhibit, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art through Sept. 13, is a hopeful sign of discovery. The show includes 111 works by 29 artists who have in common use of the fantastic—that highly charged distortion of reality—as the expressive core of their creations. The exhibit demonstrates that the fantastic in Latin American art bridges conflicting cultural, economic and social elements, as it does in the region's literature.

Conceived by Indianapolis Museum curators Hollister Sturges and Holliday T. Day, this is a haunting collection. Fernando Botero (Colombia), Rufino Tamayo (Mexico) and Wifredo Lam (Cuba) are perhaps the most acclaimed, but there are other brilliant artists in the show. One is Armando Reverón. Born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1889, Reverón was an eccentric who with his Indian mistress Juanita settled in the lush Caribbean village of Macuto. There he created his own fantasy world. Figure Beneath an Uvero Tree, painted in 1920, reflects a New World impressionism. By the late '30s, Reverón was obsessed with the female body, creating life-size dolls with realistic breasts and genitalia. One resembles a Goya-esque slut. Her eyes rimmed in black, she wears an ebony wig and sits suggestively on a bench. The show's most compelling objects, the dolls vividly embody one man's artistic and sexual passions.

Another magnetic artist is the Mexican Frida Kahlo. As a young woman, Kahlo (who died in 1954) was seriously injured in a bus and trolley collision in which her foot was crushed, her pelvis and spinal column broken. In her self-portrait The Broken Column (1944), Kahlo stands straight as a Mexican goddess. Her gaze in the painting is unflinching. She wears a white brace, and in a ghastly surrealistic cross section, a broken column rises through the bloody vertical crevice of her exposed body. White tears, hard as stone, fleck her cheeks. (Kahlo married muralist Diego Rivera in 1929. They eventually divorced, remarried and divorced again.)

As brilliantly as anyone painting in Latin America, Venezuelan artist Jacobo Borges, 56, addresses the issues of political corruption and power. Sometimes he relies on dramatic symbolism. The Communion (1981), is gentler but no less disturbing, showing a dream landscape of young girls preparing for their First Communion. The room is tipped like a doll house gone askew, and the figures resemble puppets on straw legs. Borges, the patriarch, sits in the middle of this nest of strange females. At the right the room opens to the outdoors, revealing the sand-red mountains of Avila and the blue sky. In the tall grasses an ape, like us a spectator, watches the disturbing rite.

Works by a number of other notable talents—Siron Franco (Brazil), Guillermo Kuitca (Argentina) and Luis Cruz Azaceta (a Cuban-born American)—are also in the show. After its run in Indianapolis, Art of the Fantastic, in a slightly reduced version, travels to the Queens Museum in Flushing, N.Y. (Oct. 10-Dec. 6), the Center for the Fine Arts in Miami, Fla. (Jan. 15-March 4, 1988) and the Centro Cultural/Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City (March 25-May 22, 1988). The Indianapolis Museum of Art has published an excellent catalog, (hardcover, $45; paper, $30)

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