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Ruben Ortiz Torres - The Texas Leaguer Turns Baseball on Its Bobble-Head at the Glassell School of Art

January 15 - March 7, 2004

 

Baseball and artistic inspiration meet in the work of Ruben Ortiz Torres, who creates ball caps, bobble-head dolls, photographs, and video footage to make ironic comment on cultural stereotypes and to underscore the cross-cultural influences that exist in daily life. His work will be shown at the Glassell School of Art beginning January 15, 2004 in Ruben Ortiz Torres - The Texas Leaguer. The Glassell School, 5101 Montrose Boulevard, is the teaching wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The exhibition will be on view through March 7, 2004.

"Ruben Ortiz Torres looks at how baseball, culture, and history overlap," says Valerie Loupe Olsen, associate director of the Glassell School and curator of The Texas Leaguer. "Most Americans, even those who are not diehard baseball fans, are familiar with the images and objects associated with the game. Ortiz Torres uses those images and objects to entice us to look at the game and society in a different way."

Ortiz Torres, who was born in Mexico and is now based in Los Angeles, is himself a devoted baseball fan. He collects player cards, caps, autographed bobble-heads, and other memorabilia. He began to consider baseball and its byproducts as the basis for artworks after altering a cap that read "Malcom X," given to him by an African-American friend, to read "Malcom Mex," to emphasize his own heritage. That inspired him to look at caps with sports-team emblems.

"I alter baseball caps and their logos in order to re-codify and re-contextualize society's signs and ultimately to comment on their relation between aesthetics, history, mass media, culture, fashion, politics, and different communities divided by arbitrary rules and signs like sports teams," Ortiz Torres says.

The artist modified a Chicago Blackhawks cap by applying Native American beadwork emblems. He altered a San Diego Padres cap with images of traditional Hispanic milagros; images of Juan Soldado, the patron saint of the border and migrants; and small religious portraits. On a cap with the Minnesota Vikings logo, Ortiz Torres intertwined a Finnish design. The Jewish baseball legend Sandy Koufax is honored in Dodgers Yarmulke, a blue cap with LA embroidered at the center and a decorative border.

For The Texas Leaguer exhibition at the Glassell School, Ortiz Torres created a series of Houston Astros caps incorporating NASA space-shuttle mission patches. The patches link baseball with the concepts of aeronautical speed, outer space, and heaven. They will be shown with a selection of bobble-head sculptures, including Fernando Valenzuela aquí y en China, a multi-headed bobble-head of the great Dodgers pitcher, and an installation of photo murals of baseball fans.

A video piece created by Ortiz Torres in collaboration with Texas filmmaker Jimmy Mendiola is also part of the exhibition. The video explores the role of team mascots in sports and transforms ordinary mascots, with the help of computer technology, into hybrid creatures. In the piece, The Mapping of the Mascot Genome, a ball player mutates into a jalapeño pepper and then into a hybrid human-jalapeño pepper, and ultimately becomes Ballapeño, a cartoon mascot of the San Antonio Missions, who then becomes an advertisement for the taco stands in the stadium. Ballapeño and other mutated mascots created by Ortiz Torres and Mendiola are appealing in their absurdity, but the artists also believe they offer a meaningful new take on the global mix that defines contemporary culture.

 

About the Artist

Ortiz Torres studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City and CalArts in Valencia, California. He moved to Los Angeles on a Fulbright Grant. His works are in museum collections around the country, including the MFAH, and in Mexico and Spain.

 

Catalogue

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition features an essay by Valerie Loupe Olsen, associate director of the Glassell School of Art and curator of exhibitions, and includes a video CD. It will be available in the MFAH shops.


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