WITH TWO SHOWS of Colombian art, the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Seventeenth-century religious paintings from the Church of Santa Clara in Bogota contrast with the work of five of the best contemporary artists in Colombia.
Enrique Grau's "Rita 5:30 p.m." shows a prostitute, in an absurd blue hat, lacing her corset for the evening. In the upstairs galleries, madonnas roll their eyes heavenward.
"Craftsmanship" is what unites the two shows, says curator Felix Angel.
In the case of the "Colonial Art" from the Church of Santa Clara, worship -- not aesthetic development -- was the intention of the anonymous workshop painters. In their gilt ecclesiastical frames, the saints manifest little of the detail of a Caravaggio or the robust flesh of a Rubens.
The paintings, most of them copied from prints or engravings from abroad, served as reverent reminders to a devout congregation.
In the other show, the "Five Colombian Masters" are not self-taught. Active since the 1950s if not before, they have traveled and learned, without relinquishing their heritage.
Of the five, Alejandro Obregon uses Colombian images most; the condor, the Colombian equivalent of the American eagle, flies through his compositions. He paints beautiful violence: In "The Wake" (also called "The Dead Student"), the body is decked out for a celebration, while chickens come and go.
Sculptor Edgar Negret, credited with introducing modern sculpture to Colombia, speaks in exciting aluminum shapes, nuts and bolts, with flat paints disguising the metal. With controlled, rational white sculptures, Eduardo Ramirez Villamizar rebels against disorganization in his society.
Fernando Botero finds his own solutions to Renaissance paintings, making the Jan van Eyck "Arnolfini" wedding couple into Tweedles Dum and Dee. And then there is Grau, with his vulgar ladies of the night. "They look surreal," says curator Angel, "but Latin America is surreal in a lot of aspects."
FIVE COLOMBIAN MASTERS/COLONIAL ART -- At the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America, 201 18th Street NW, through April.