(credit: Elsa Munoz, courtesy of National Museum of Mexican Art)

National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 West 19th Street
Chicago, IL
(312) 738-1503
Hours: Tues – Sun, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Free admission

In Claro y Obscuro, running through November 27 at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago-based artist Elsa Muñoz presents a world caught in media res. Muñoz, who earned her BFA from the American Academy of Art in Chicago, has shown her work at Chicago’s Dubhe Carreño Gallery, Framing Mode Gallery, and the Milwaukee Arts Fest. Her chiaroscuro paintings, made with oil on panel, offer a glimpse into private and public spaces.

In each of the works on view, it appears as if something has just occurred or is about to happen. In At the Table, a young girl sits quietly at a table, meditatively looking at a plant. In Ponytail, a girl pulls back the hair of another girl, whose face is hidden. In Spiral Staircase, painted on a tall panel, someone is walking on wooden outdoor stairs, but it’s unclear whether they are going up for down. In each of these paintings, Muñoz offers a silent freeze frame of a moment in time. They’re everyday activities, but Muñoz gives them a weighty significance.

(credit: Elsa Munoz, courtesy of National Museum of Mexican Art)

Muñoz also paints natural spaces, like her Night Forest triptych, which features a dense throng of leaves and trees that are slightly illuminated, as if by flashlights or headlights. Another series, Nightshore, depicts little waves lapping at the sand. Set at night, it’s a beautiful scene devoid of any human presence. In both Night Forest and Nightshore, Muñoz evokes a feeling of eerie transgression, as if the viewer is trespassing after dark somewhere she doesn’t belong.

Muñoz’s paintings may be quiet, but you can feel a powerful pull into each one of them, and the desire to uncover exactly what is going on. Her subject matter, coupled with her excellent use of light, make Claro y Obscuro worth seeing.

Claro y Obscuro is on view at the National Museum of Mexican Art through November 27.

Amy Cavanaugh, CBS Chicago