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Arts & Culture

La Carpa Guadalupe: Contemporary art under the big top

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While the CAM Perennial focuses on the community that made the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center what it is today, GCAC’s La Carpa Guadalupe takes cues from the Mexican-American tent shows that popped up in parking lots, city limits outskirts and fields across Texas, New Mexico and Colorado in the early 1900s and throughout the Depression, including plenty here on the West Side. Typically family-run, these traveling spectacles offered old-school escapism via vaudevillian routines, acrobatics, operettas and even political commentary in the form of comedic sketches and satirical poems.

Documented in the Witte’s Hertzberg Circus Collection, Carpa García was a key player on the South Texas scene, as were Carpa Monsiváis and Carpa Cubana—an operation some found to be a step above the rest. In his dissertation “Carpa y Teatro, Sol y Sombra: Show Business and Public Culture in San Antonio’s Mexican Colony,” Peter Clair Haney includes a quote from the late Tejano singer and guitarist Lydia Mendoza (aka “The Lark of the Border”): “The Carpa Cubana was a higher-class operation. We sort of ‘graduated’ to working at La Cubana after we had been with García’s for a while.” A fascinating read, Haney’s 500-page study paints a vivid scene under the big tops. Equally intriguing, La Carpa Guadalupe carves “a blank space for the artist” and challenges “the notion of conventional exhibition practice.”

The artistic circus makes its first appearance Friday in the Museo Guadalupe parking lot (6-9 p.m. Fri, Mar 21, 723 S Brazos), with scheduled pop-ups in the lot across from Liberty Bar (6-9 p.m. Fri, Apr 4, 1111 S Alamo) and at the Tejano Conjunto Festival (6-11 p.m. Fri, May 16, noon-11 Sat, May 17, 1-11 p.m. Sun, May 18, Rosedale Park, 340 Dartmouth). Curated by GCAC Executive Director Patty Ortiz, the traveling exhibition features installations by local artists Cruz Ortiz, Chris Sauter, Andy Benavides, Victor and Sarah Pagona and Mat Kubo.

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