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Going goo-goo for LaCa 

The gallery celebrates two years of Latin American liveliness

Parents are familiar with the notion of "terrible-twos," a time when their child will supposedly transition into a miniature monster, throwing tantrums and refusing authoritative demands. The beginning stage of that developmental process could set anyone into panic mode. Starting a new business has its own moments of anxiety as well. Fortunately for the folks at LaCa Projects — who are celebrating the gallery's two-year anniversary — it's been a rewarding experience.

Since opening in the heart of FreeMoreWest on March 21, 2013, the gallery has had more than a dozen exhibits, filling a gap in Charlotte's art scene with works by Latino artists from around the world.

Two years ago, during my first meeting with LaCa gallery director Neely Verano, she had her 8-month-old baby nestled in her arms. Between the smiles and coos, it was relatively calm as we walked through venue, more than 8,000 square feet, where contemporary large-scale oil paintings by Buenos Aires-based artist Juan Dolhare were being displayed.

Like that cute, little newborn, the gallery opened with a message that couldn't be heard, but could be felt. It would serve as an outlet for artists, art aficionados and, more importantly, Latino expression. Dolhare's pop-surrealist style only reiterated this discourse with an unabashed reflection on political, philosophical and religious issues in relation to life in Argentina.

You'll find three works by Dolhare in the current Collective exhibit at LaCa, which serves as a kind of culmination to two years of fine art. All of the artists featured in the exhibit have showcased at LaCa in the past. Roberto Marquez, Cristina Toro, Leandro Manzo, Jeannine Marchand, Vicente Hernandez, Juan Carlos Verdial, Alicia de la Campa, Santiago Quesnel, Otto Apuy and Ricardo "Chino" Morales are all represented in the thrilling collection.

To the right of the gallery's entrance, visitors will find a pair of intriguing works by Juan Carlos Verdial of Cuba. The colorful pieces, titled "Sea Creatures" and "The Four Cardinal Points," feature seductive female creatures with both human and animal characteristics that give them an enchanting demeanor. The artist is clearly influenced by mythology and folklore.

Deeper into the gallery, you'll encounter more surreal expressions through the detailed landscapes of Cuban artist Vicente Hernandez. "The Tower of Babel" and "Still Life" paint vividly bizarre city settings that are populated with looming clouds, inspired by storms the artist has experienced in his hometown of Batabanó.

Nearby, a collection of nine miniature paintings by Mexican artist Roberto Marquez are clustered together along the wall. They are painted on what resembles ancient parchment, with gouache and gold leaf. These are part of Marquez's larger series, "Pecados Veniales" (Translation: "Minor Sins").

"I felt that the antique paper had its own history, which I wanted very much to appropriate," Marquez says. "I have always loved Persian and Mogul miniatures as well as illuminated manuscripts; this group of works is my response to that infatuation."

A larger piece by Marquez, "La Otra Primavera" (Translation: "The Other Spring"), is an allegorical work, alluding to the exuberance of spring. For those who missed it, the piece was featured in his solo exhibit, The Season South of Memory at LaCa back in January. "There were representations of the seasons and the passing of time," he says. "They are an attempt to portray my fears and desires."

Works by New-York-based artist Cristina Toro occupy the adjoining walls with an assortment of large and medium-sized works, largely inspired in part by sights, sounds, exotic animals and rainforest and tropical landscapes from visits to Puerto Rico during her childhood.

Since opening, LaCa has expanded its quarters to include three studio spaces for residencies. Later this year, LaCa will open an onsite café serving authentic Latin American cuisine.

Verano, who is excited by the continuing growth of the gallery, compares it to motherhood. "Being a parent is by far the most challenging and rewarding experience I've had in my life. I can safely say the same about running LaCa Projects Gallery when it comes to my professional journey," Verano says. "I remind myself that the sacrifices that I have made both toward raising my children and 'raising' the gallery have resulted in great joy and reward. When you put love and passion into what you do, whether it's raising children or building a business, the growth will come. There is always something new to learn at every stage of growth, and that is certainly happening at home and at LaCa."

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