The 'Bleeding Heart' Motif Pervades a Contemporary Exhibit Exhibitions and Sales of Mexican and Latin American Artists' Work Have Hit an All-Time High. A Huge Show in Los Angeles Covers 30 Centuries, While a Small Boston Show Offers Current Art. MEXICAN ART

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THE heart is the symbolic battleground of belief, passion, and fear, and is the organizing metaphor for the exhibition "El Corazon Sangrante/The Bleeding Heart," at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art. The heart is alluded to, even if the 16 artists don't always deal with it literally.

Analogously, "this is an exhibit which moves through Mexico, but is not about Mexico," says one of the show's three curators, Matthew Teitelbaum. "It aims to re-create the idea of Mexico, but not so much as a geographical entity but as a syncretic culture of various traditions.... We tried to show the fractured nature of Mexico, not as a continuum, but a clash where art makes powerful and beautiful statements, and at the same time reveals a great deal about a society."

Jaime Palacios's "The Wedding of the Virgin" is a painting that is emblematic of the exhibition: He depicts a human figure from the chest up with its hair shorn, flanked on the left by a braid of hair, on the right by a pair of scissors. Mr. Palacios has drawn on the pre-Hispanic concept that loss of hair removes supernatural powers from sacrificial victims, whose hearts the Aztecs cut out.

The floating/dangling placement of the braid of hair, scissors, and pan is much like the way trinkets are placed on devotional images of Christ in Mexico. The painting is also reminiscent of Frida Kahlo's 1940 work, "Self Portrait With Cropped Hair," also in the show.

Like Kahlo, and due to the ambiguity in depicting the face, Palacios's figure is androgynous in the sense of rejecting sexual stereotyping, or a way of avoiding sexual polarization. The figure is a statement about the precariousness of identity, especially when we try to define it solely through gender, national origin, or race.

Other artists in the show probe the pitfalls of gender identification, like Adolfo Patino (whose collage/tapestry includes a portrait of himself as Frida Kahlo) and David Avalos (who takes cliches of popular culture like hubcaps, lipstick, and martini glasses) by making powerful statements about desire and sex roles.

Beliefs, religious or otherwise, are as explosive and delicate as gender, and the "Bleeding Heart" is equally frank in dealing with religious convictions. Though many artists in the show draw inspiration from pre-Columbian myths and practices, Roman Catholicism and its image of the sacred heart are central to the exhibition. …