A Many-Splendored Self-Portrait of the Artist


For “Stab of Guilt,” the first, sprawling survey show of René Treviño’s 24-year practice at the Wellin Museum of Art in Clinton, N.Y., among his other work, the artist has installed 119 paintings, each 18 inches by 18 inches. These are disparate images, some historical, some contemporary, all variations on the circle: heraldry, Aztec symbols, currency, images of the sun and of star patterns, a manhole cover, a disco ball.

This collection hints at how fluidly this Dallas-born, Baltimore-based, Mexican queer artist regards the aesthetic world: He isn’t concerned with rigid hierarchies of being. What he is concerned about is connecting the disparate and layered parts of himself that exist beyond fthe traditional markers of identity.

Treviño — who has been exhibited at the Arlington Arts Center in Virginia, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut and White Box in New York City — is unique in that he doesn’t treat identity as a series of boxes to check, or a set of ramparts to guard, but instead, as a range of paths to explore.

Another group of paintings, the “Celestial Body-ody-ody” series (2020-23) — named after a song by the popular hip-hop musician Megan Thee Stallion — contains images of coral arranged like brain matter adjacent to images of the Earth seen from space. These works, which measure 36 by 36 inches, are a motley combination of the art historical, Mexican cultural history and the everyday curiosities of pedestrian American culture.

In a conversation with the artist, he explained, “My art really is an attempt to kind of squish all of those things together.”

I mistook these paintings for prints at first but found out they are painstakingly hand-painted acrylic on semi-opaque DuraLar archival film. Another theme of the show emerges here: Treviño wants his labor to be recognized as undergirding the art, and he wants its intricacy and splendor to captivate the viewer. Yet the underlying labor required to make the work can be obscured by its grandeur.

At the entrance of the exhibition there is a trio of clothing ensemble pieces the artist has titled “Regalia, Intuition,” 2023; “Regalia, Foresight,” 2023; and “Regalia, Premonition,” 2023. Three mannequins bear robes resembling European coronation capes that are decorated with faux jaguar fur and magpie bits of sequined appliqué, and the robes are topped with spangled masks adorned with wildly patterned headdresses of real pheasant feathers. The trio is presented on a gleaming stage backstopped by a curtain of shimmering gold lamé, blurring the distinction between art, fashion, and theater. This pageantry is so sumptuous and the presentation so seamless it feels that these differences among genres of artmaking are arbitrary rather than necessary. The artist, who used to work in theater, has found the best parts of himself within their exuberant collaboration.

Still, I can imagine a viewer being confused by other work in the show, for example the leather pieces that include “Tree of Life Rainbow” (2017), which shows a rainbow emerging from a Mixtec symbol from the Codex Selden. It isn’t clear whether these are meant to be representations of historical documents or revisionist histories — an attempt to queer the canon, that is, to make space within it for hybrid, hyphenate people like Treviño. But for the artist, the differences between the types of work aren’t crucial to constituting identity; they are part of being a human in the contemporary world.

Treviño’s survey includes other bodies of work, such as the “Sunspots by Day, Asteroids by Night,” a series of digital prints and mixed media on bamboo paper, which I found less compelling, and an exquisitely lovely large “Self Portrait” of a rooster with a languorously long black feathered tail attempting to climb onto a yellow sun. The most compelling aspect of “Stab of Guilt” is Treviño’s demonstration that identity is a many-splendored thing and that serious, attentive care to exploring it can look a lot like a party.

René Treviño: Stab of Guilt

Through June 9, the Wellin Museum of Art, on the campus of Hamilton College, 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, N.Y., (315) 859-4396; hamilton.edu/wellin.


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