Featuring more than 80 sculptures, installations, photographs and video clips, Betsabeé Romero’s exhibition “Black Tears” looked back at the past decade of her work and ideas. Born in Mexico City in 1963, Romero has shown extensively in Mexico and overseas, becoming one of the better-known representatives of a generation of Mexican artists interested in artworks as actions and as objects documenting actions. Automobiles and tires were Romero’s raw materials in almost all of the works on view. For Romero, cars, especially Volkswagen Beetles, symbolize dreams of a better life—perhaps on the other side of the border, in “Gringolandia.”
The photograph Exodus I (2007), for example, shows a caravan of those brightly colored vehicles buried up to their windows in the hillside they “climb,” each one loaded down with bundles of migrants’ possessions, presumably once headed to greener pastures. The installation A Stairway to the Other Side (2006) features an actual VW Beetle painted with sky and clouds. A tall wooden ladder juts out of a hole in the car’s roof; at the exhibition it stretched upward into the dimly lit room.
Romero repurposes tires by carving new treads with decorative patterns evoking traditional Mexican motifs. When coated with ink or paint and rolled across various surfaces, including towels, T-shirts and city streets, the tires function as big rotating rubber stamps, leaving behind tracks significantly unlike those made by ordinary tires (and also unlike the more generic tread marks in Automobile Tire Print, 1953, the famous 22-foot-long collaboration of Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage). A video showed
Romero’s tire tread actions at the 2003 Havana Biennial, where she delighted onlookers. In the wall-mounted White Tracks (2006), designs in flattened-out tire treads are filled in with goopy masticated chewing gum. In Urban Mosque (2007), Romero suspended the halves of 17 tires from the ceiling in parallel rows like Moorish arches; their motifs are filled in with gold leaf. As Romero noted in an accompanying statement, the display referred not only to Islamic architecture but to “the need to recycle.”
She also showed scale models and photos of vehicles covered with plants, a custom-knitted blanket and colorful ceramic tiles, all bespeaking soulful crafts. Romero’s inventive and affectionate attitude toward all kinds of everyday objects imbues her works with both poetic value and humor.
Photo: Betsabeé Romero: Exodus I, 2007, color photograph, 491⁄4 by 861⁄2 inches; at Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso.