Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle is a conceptual artist, an idea man. Born 31 years ago in Madrid, raised in Bogotá and Chicago, he’s got a lot to say and two languages to say it in, an arsenal of words behind every image.

The artifacts of everyday life are his material. They walk right up and offer themselves as metaphors. Inner tubes, cake pans, green cards, government forms. He hangs them, mounts them, blows them up, turning them at once into aesthetic objects and political statements.

His latest vehicle is the humble juice bottle, appropriated for a show at his alma mater, the School of the Art Institute. It’s the kind of show that usually raises his hackles, a collection of “Ibero-American” artists, mounted in honor of the “Colombian quincentenary.” He’s a curator himself, and it’s not the sort of thing he would do. “I’ve never curated a Latino show, never an artist-of-color show, never a show about women,” he says. “I very infrequently allow myself to be in shows of Latino artists. This will be my second. And in both cases, I presented work that talks about the show.”

These zippy, “100% Politically Correct” six-packs of mixed juice (Border Punch, Meztizo Mix, Eurocentric Citric), inspired by the slick pitch of a Tropicana Twisters commercial, are a comment on the state of multiculturalism. It started out as a way to transform society, Manglano-Ovalle says. Now, like guava cut with OJ, it’s been reduced and repackaged by mainstream cultural institutions to make it easily digestible, mostly for themselves. While the art of marginal cultures has become the “new object of desire,” the hierarchy of the art world remains frozen.

“I’m sick and tired of going to panel discussions where the moderator is always from the mainstream,” Manglano-Ovalle says. “We have a lot of critics, curators, institutions theorizing on, talking for others, rather than allowing them in to do the curating, to do the writing, to be on equal footing.

“It’s really no longer the job of the mainstream to educate others about quality and criteria of art. There’s so much out there they don’t know about. Unless they allow those voices in as part of a dialogue, we’ll keep doing Black History Month, Hispanic Cultural Month. Once a year, you’ll get your show. And we will decide to call you Hispanic. We don’t care if you call yourself Latino. We’ll call you Hispanic.”

Manglano-Ovalle’s “Multi-Cultural Fruit Juice,” along with his green cards and inner tubes (La Nina, La Pinta, and La Santa Maria), are included in “Los Encuentros” at the Betty Rymer Gallery of the School of the Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, through October 14. Admission to the show is free, and gallery hours are 10 to 5, Monday through Saturday; 443-3703.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Loren Sanotw, Michael Tropea.