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Monday, Feb. 16, 2009

Undressing Life

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"Regardless of sex, color of skin, occupation or wealth, we are all the same when we get to bare bones," says artist Antonio Martorell. Humanity displayed in its bare bones deftly describes Martorell's work, on view at Latino Arts Inc. starting Feb. 20. The exhibit, "La Plena Inmortal" ("Dancing with Death Immortal"), includes more than 75 pictures dealing with subjects Martorell says the public blinds itself to: sickness, old age and death.

Traveling from Ponce, Puerto Rico, to install the exhibition, the 69-year-old Martorell says this is the most creative phase of his life. Martorell participates in weekly radio and TV programs, in addition to publishing and producing his distinctive art by collaborating with his own workshop of young artists. Using multiple techniques, including xylography (woodcutting), drypoint on copper, printing and pasted paper to form collages on plastic, Martorell's images examine the undressing of life.

This undressing occurs when a person faces the inevitable, the invitation to dance with death, which marks the realization that death itself presents the final truth. Contemplating the traditions of Medieval and Renaissance artists who perceived the dressing up of death to be festive, Martorell incorporates figures from cultural history and those from famous paintings together with self-portraits into wall hangings, standing sculptures and a 12-by-12-foot dance floor intended for the samba. The vision that all of humanity is similar in death pervades his exhibition with haunting clarity and brilliant color.

Martorell exudes enthusiasm for life and will dance on his artwork at the opening reception on Friday, Feb. 20, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. He will also give a lecture on these concepts of death. Directly following the opening reception, William Cepeda's Puerto Rican Music Explosion will celebrate the "death that always talks through song and dance."

Portraits also provide the feature element at the Milwaukee Art Museum's "Jan Lievens on a Jet Plane," an event planned in collaboration with Cedar Block on Feb. 20, from 5 p.m. to midnight. To coordinate with the MAM's current exhibition "Jan Lievens: Out of Rembrandt's Shadow," well-known Milwaukee artists have been requested to create a contemporary update of one of the portraits from the exhibit. The one-night-only event, complemented by photo booths, appetizers and music, revisits the artistic legacy of portraiture.

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