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Traditional Latin influences unite with street art techniques to create Porter Butts Gallery’s ‘(R)amped,’ an exhibition curated by Nicole Rodriguez.[/media-credit]

A halfpipe is an unusual thing to see at Memorial Union.

Yet that does not seem to faze artist Sofia Maldonado. A Puerto Rican native, Maldonado hosted an opening reception for her new exhibit in the Porter Butts Gallery Friday, adding her typical street art flair. In front of the live audience, she painted a quarterpipe that was previously built inside the gallery’s walls by local ramp builder Travis Shipley. Shipley also built the halfpipe present in the gallery.

(R)amped encapsulates the essence of Maldonado’s street art roots in a gallery setting. The exhibit features two full skate ramps, numerous canvas pieces, drawings and skate bags. Her works interweave elements of Latina fashion, skate, graffiti and hip-hop subcultures.

According to Maldonado, she “primarily focused on the aesthetic, to try and visually define those street cultures.” The bright colors and stylized characters stand out against the familiar, antiquated backdrop of the Memorial Union and the 1930s era styling of the Porter Butts Gallery.

The gallery space features works with Maldonado’s usual street art style with one of the ramps sitting squarely in the middle. The works usually focus on large-breasted females with wide hips, pouted lips and squinted eyes, which keeps in line with her typical artistic style. They look somewhat similar to the painted females of the famed graffiti artist Miss Van.

When discussing the focus of her works at the opening reception, Maldonado said, “I definitely wanted to focus more on the Latina female,” which can clearly be seen. “She Dances Alone” features numerous women on their knees around a man waving money, but the piece is an exception. Throughout the exhibit, the focus certainly remains only on the women in the pieces.

Providing the audience with the opportunity to watch her paint was certainly a welcome addition to the reception. The fact that the ramps were built on site, and painted there as well, helped provide (R)amped with a sense of uniqueness. With Maldonado so accessible at the reception, it helped draw the audience into the art more, but watching her finish one of the largest works of art in the gallery, on the night of the reception, really allowed for people to feel involved.

Maldonado bears no resemblance with her hyper-sexualized characters. During the reception, she sported a plaid shirt, heavy-soled work shoes and thick tights under her skirt at the reception. Yet the dichotomy between the various elements of the exhibition helps to make it intriguing. Seeing the distinct urban influences in the traditional student union, and seeing the difference between Maldonado and the works she creates, helps to magnify the exhibit’s style.

There is, however, one unfortunate form of discord in (R)amped. Despite a distinct street art influence, there is a sense of dissonance among the pieces, specifically between the ramps and skate bags and the rest of the exhibit. While they are stylistically similar, it’s difficult to see the connection between skateboarding and the rest of the subcultures in (R)amped. Given that two giant ramps dominate the space, this disjoint creates too much disunity for such a small exhibit and stops it from being a single coherent entity.

An exhibition in the Porter Butts Gallery could easily be worth a trip on its own if the space had been used correctly. But (R)amped stays true to its name with its two sizeable ramps. Even though one is on its side, they dominate a considerable amount of space in the gallery.

Maldonado’s artistic style is unique, and an exhibit like (R)amped is uncommon in such a location, but it might not be worth a trip of its own. Fortunately, however, the Wisconsin Union Galleries features exhibits from numerous different artists. Together, they make (R)amped a worthwhile stop for anyone passing through the Union with time to spare.

(R)amped in the Porter Butts Gallery will run until March 22nd. Photos and more information can be found at fiaaas.blogspot.com/2011/01/ramped.html

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