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A fascinating conversation with a deep-thinking artist

CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE

A lot of what you read in the newspaper and the Beehive is short, punchy and — let’s face it — fairly easy to understand. Sometimes arts stories can’t be those things. For my Sunday Spotlight column, I wrote a piece about Caleb Duarte, one of the six artists featured in the Fresno Art Museum’s terrific “Breakthrough” show. Duarte made an installation for the museum based on a performance-art piece he did in the state of Chiapas, Mexico.

I’d describe the performance piece and the installation in an easy paragraph for you, but I can’t. Hence, the column. Let’s just say Duarte’s work involves getting nearly buried alive. It includes some intriguing ideas about physicality and the corporeal experience we have of being in our own bodies, plus some pretty heady musings about economic and political issues. And it helps to know Duarte’s own back story when considering his art.  I feel privileged to have the space when I need it to dive into complex issues, because art sometimes needs to be complex.

So, if you have a few minutes to really get into the meaning and spirit of a work, take the time to read this column. I enjoyed getting the chance to talk at length with Duarte and enriching my own experience at “Breakthrough.”

After the jump, I include some photos that help add to the understanding of Duarte’s work.

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Meet the artists of ‘Breakthrough’

Sunday’s Spotlight section puts the spotlight on “Breakthrough,” the terrific new Fresno Art Museum show featuring six vibrant artists with Fresno connections. You can read my centerpiece column about the show here. (Sneak preview: I loved it. My only regret with this column is that I didn’t have enough space to go into as much detail as I would have liked with each of the six individual exhibitions that make up “Breakthrough.” But I’m sure I’ll have more to say in the weeks to come.) Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss and John Alvin collaborated on the image above.

I asked each of the six artists to complete an email interview with me about themselves and their work in the show. We feature interview excerpts in Sunday’s print edition. (Also, don’t forget that we have a nice online photo gallery where you can view examples of each artist’s work.) On the jump you’ll find the extended versions of the interviews.

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Wow, what an opening

You know there’s excitement ahead at a Fresno Art Museum opening when you have to drive WAY down the block to find a parking place. I’d never seen so many people at an opening as for last night’s “Breakthrough.” I heard through the grapevine that as many as 600 people (update: final count was more than 750) crowded in for this exhibition devoted to six promising artists with Fresno connections. And many looked to be in their 20s and 30s, exactly the demographic the museum needs to keep the momentum going.

One of the highlights was Caleb Duarte’s installation piece, a work loaded with meaning. For the show, Duarte recreated a performance art piece he originally made in a small village outside Chiapas, Mexico, that involved the villagers burying him and his partner, Mia, up to the head in a shallow, hand-dug hole in the dirt. For the museum version, Duarte created a 12-by-6 foot slab of “dirt” (made of concrete and soil) that seems to float out from the wall. There’s a hole for a person to stand in the middle of that slab.

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