D FINE Artists and Exhibitions in the RodrĂguez Collection
Edited by Henry Ballate
Artists and Exhibitions in the Rodríguez Collection EDITED BY HENRY BALLATE ESSAYS BY JOSÉ RAMÓN ALONSO • GARY ANUEZ ODETTE ARTILES • GABRIELA G. AZCUY JANET BATET • SAMUEL BECK ROXANA M. BERMEJO • WILLY CASTELLANOS ELVIA ROSA CASTRO • RAISA CLAVIJO CAROL DAMIAN • ORLANDO HERNANDEZ DENNYS MATOS • ALDO MENÉNDEZ HORTENSIA MONTERO • GERARDO MOSQUERA PíTER ORTEGA • RICARDO PAU-LLOSA JESÚS ROSADO • ANDRÉS ISAAC SANTANA JOSÉ VEIGAS
D Fine: Artists and Exhibitions in the RodrĂguez Collection Edited by Henry Ballate ISBN: 978-164440662-5 All rights reserved Kendall Art Center, The Rodriguez Collection Copyright ÂŠ 2018 Kendall Art Center 12063 SW 131st Ave Miami, Fl 33186 United States kendallartcenter.org
Contents Preface Notes on The Rodríguez Collection The Odyssey of Pedro Ávila Gendis Dopico Lerner: After Chaos Silvio Gayton: Decoded José Bedia’s Transcultural Mill Unlike Any Other Art came from the sea The Order of Things Rings of Fire: A tale of Life Poems Ciro Quintana: Syncretism Neo-baroque Tamayo Slugger Cuban Slugger Burn the Ships 5 in the KAC Made in Cuba: Utopias and some others honors Across Time: Cuban Artists in the Rodríguez Collection Retratos en Chino Source Roto Expone Roto: Adriano Buergo’s Epic of Surviva Fireworks: The ceramics of Carlos Estévez Landscape, abstraction and syntax of the utopia Unofficial: The images and the “State” of things And then the saddest calm You and I, lovers The Pilgrim’s Axioms A gift from the Rodríguez Collection Broken Roots: The Labyrinth and the Thread Ángela Alés: The art of giving birth Paper, Paint & Tattoos: Milena’s Unique Language Across Time: Cuban abstractions 3 Concrete Light Willing: Interview with Collector
8 10 14 16 20 24 28 32 34 36 40 46 52 54 56 60 64 68 72 76 80 84 88 92 96 106 110 114 118 120 124 128 132 136 142
In May of 2016, Leonardo Rodríguez raised the idea of opening his collection to the public. The project seemed simple: Leo had an admirable collection of Cuban art, which he has treasured for more than twenty years; he had the location and the experience necessary in order to turn it into an exhibition hall. For my part, I provided the experience of having created and managed several galleries and collections; in addition to a background in advertising and art education at the academic level. We commenced by crafting a name and identity for the Center and the collection, as well documenting, cataloging and defining strategies. The Center would be an exhibition space, but not a gallery, rather the depository house of the collection that by exhibiting the work of its established, international, emerging and local artists would stimulate critical thinking, art appreciation and awareness in the visual arts. The art in Miami was exhibited, customarily, in Wynwood, Downtown, Little Havana and Coral Gables. Kendall was not an area commonly associated with the artistic flux and that was, precisely, Leo’s reasoning for opening his collection in this area of the city: there was a need that we wanted to meet. Curating the collection and mounting them on the walls, as something static and inert was not enough for Leo: he wanted a lively space. Two months later, the already baptized Kendall Art Center opens its doors presenting “The Rodríguez Collection.” This inaugural event saw more than 200 people in attendance and more than a 1000 visited the space
during the exhibition. The beauty of the space, the quality of the works and the artists, combined with the warmth of its hosts were details that caused an immediate, strong impact on the public and even more on the artists, who recognized and validated the center as a serious and valuable institution, with which they were willing to collaborate. In the first two years, thanks to an extensive program of successfully executed exhibitions, the name of Leonardo Rodríguez as a collector and the Kendall Art Center have managed to establish themselves, not just locally, but beyond Florida, knocking on the doors of permanent collections of great renown, such as the Smithsonian Institution. Said feedback between thesauri was part of the second stage of KAC’s strategy, where the center and the collection intends to present exhibitions in different museums and academic institutions with the aim of promoting and saving the Cuban contribution (the center of interest of the Leonardo Rodríguez Collection) to the nation that welcomes us. Each exhibition has had, since the beginning, curators and specialized critics working hand in hand with the artists. Names known both locally and internationally have been added to our initial intent with the objective of leaving a mark on the Cuban-American artistic production. Thanks to these collaborations, we now have an important showcase of critical texts, which include: José Ramón Alonso, Gary Anuez, Gabriela G. Azcuy, Janet Batet, Samuel Beck, Roxana M. Bermejo, Willy Castellanos, Elvia Rosa Castro, Raisa Clavijo, Carol Damian, Orlando Hernandez, Dennys Matos, Aldo Menéndez, Hortensia Montero, Gerardo Mosquera, Píter Ortega, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Jesús Rosado, Andrés Isaac Santana and José Veigas, all of them cited in the present compilation entitled, “D Fine.” It is precisely at the occasion of said exchange between professionals, that today we are able to present a product that, although unfinished for the reason that it is an eternal work in progress, can give us an idea of what the road traveled has been. The purpose of this book is then, to make accessible a set of written texts about The Rodríguez Collection, The Kendall Art Center, its exhibitions and artists for a holistic understanding of the collection and its development. Under this light, “D Fine” directly reflects the meritorious work of Leonardo Rodríguez as a collector and The Kendall Art Center as an institution dedicated to promoting and safeguarding Cuban art wherever it may be. Henry Ballate M.F.A Art Director and Curator Kendall Art Center/The Rodríguez Collection
1. José Bedia, Señora del Chichicate, 2015, oil on canvas, 71 x 88.5”
Leonardo Rodríguez demonstrates that the relationship between patronage and collecting is still valid 10
NOTES ON THE RODRÍGUEZ COLLECTION Raisa Clavijo
At the present time, private collections are the engine driving the art market. Larry’s List, the largest worldwide database of private collectors, created in 2012 by the German economist Magnus Resch, demonstrates the immense power of collectors in the international art scene. If twenty years ago a masterpiece sold at Christie’s, Sotheby’s or Phillips was destined for a public museum in London, Paris or New York; today it would very probably end up in a private collection in London, New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, Sao Paulo or even Saint Petersburg. The first global report on contemporary art collectors prepared by Resch states that there are currently between 8,000 and 10,000 collectors of importance, whose actions influence the global art market. This study also points to a notable increase in museums and private exhibition spaces open to the public. Resch reveals that 72% of these spaces have been established since the year 2000. The creation of museums and exhibition spaces has become a well-chosen strategy in order to increase and professionalize private collections. The injection of private funds into the budgets of public art institutions has also increased, as has collectors’ active participation on museum advisory councils, committees and boards of trustees. In the last fifteen years, Miami has witnessed a growth in private collections for the enjoyment of the public, as well as in the presence of works of art from private collections displayed at various museums. Also worthy of note has been private collectors’ support for numerous projects oriented at inspiring and promoting the work of contemporary artists. Among the many collectors who have contributed to changing the image of the city, of note are Martin Z. Margulies, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, Don and Mera Rubell, Jorge M. Pérez, Norman and Irma Braman, Debra and Dennis Scholl, Howard Farber, Ella Fontanals Cisneros, Craig Robins, and the Ortiz Gurdián family. The collection accumulated by Leonardo Rodríguez and his family over several decades has recently been added to this considerable list. This collection is available for the viewing pleasure of the South Florida community at the Kendall Art Center to be inaugurated in the month of July.
Leonardo Rodríguez is of Cuban origin and has for 30 years treasured a vast collection of modern and contemporary Cuban art, which is continually being enriched and expanded. Leonardo started buying and selling works of art in his native Havana at the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century. He basically started off by acquiring antiquities. Then he started buying works by modern and contemporary Cuban artists. When he emigrated to the United States at the end of the 1990s, he was only able to bring twelve works of art, the least valuable. In Miami he continued this passion; he got to know artists and reconstructed his collection, which currently has several hundred pieces. His passion for collecting is guided by the relationship he sees between the work of the artist and his own vision of the world. “When I buy a piece, I always investigate; I find out about its meaning and the context in which it was created. I have to establish a dialogue with the piece in order to live with it,” he commented in a conversation we had in May of this year. The Rodríguez Collection contains several outstanding pieces by José Bedia. Among them, of note is Señora del Chichicate, a large oil painting presided over by a central figure whose symbolism could be associated with Obatalá, a major orisha, creator of the earth, lord and master of all minds, thoughts and dreams. Manuel Mendive is another of the artists present in this collection whose work is inspired by the legacy of the Afro–Cuban culture and religion. Pieces such as Espíritu del monte (1999), and Hijos del agua (1991) transport us to a mythical universe, filled with ancient stories and teachings. Another outstanding piece is Staging of the Last Farewell to Cuban Art (2013) by Ciro Quintana, iconic representative of Cuban art of the 1980s, whose work in neo-pop codes combines the aesthetics of comics with a neo-historic revision of the legacy of western art in order to question the institutional and market excesses and the outdated canons of valuation that govern artistic creation. Another piece that is worth mentioning is Adorno Número Uno (2015) by Rubén Torres Llorca in which the artist appropriates kitsch codes and icons from popular American culture to question what is traditionally recognized as “art” and “high culture.” The collection also contains several works by Pedro Vizcaíno from his series “Gangueros,” which along with pieces by Angel Delgado, Geandy Pavón, Aisar Jalil, José Orbeín, Néstor Arenas, Henry Ballate, Ahmed Gómez, Zaida del Río, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Pedro Avila Gendis, Silvio Gaytón, Vicente Dopico–Lerner, Ramón Carulla, among other artists, offer a panorama of the evolution of Cuban art over the past four decades both within and outside of the island. Additionally, the collection is enriched by the works of Gina Pellón, José María Mijares, Cundo Bermúdez, Guido Llinás and Hugo Consuegra, artists of the so-called “avant garde,” an expression of modernism in the Cuban context.
The Rodríguez Collection has an acquisition program that aims to enrich this cultural offering not only with the work of Cuban artists, but also with the contribution of creators from other parts of the world, in keeping with the multicultural social context of today’s Miami. Initiatives such as that of Leonardo Rodríguez demonstrate that the relationship between patronage and collecting is still valid. In the international art scene there are many informed and responsible collectors, who bet on the work of the artists they collect and support them in their careers. Collecting means being sensitive to artistic production and understanding the period and its historic flux, since what we collect today will be part of the history of art within a few decades. It is not merely a matter of establishing an emotional and fetishlike relationship with the object, but also of conceiving of the collection as a space for the exchange of ideas, a platform for the research and development of art, while contributing to the formation of more cultured and socially–committed people of all ages. Miami, June, 2016.
2. Manuel Mendive, Espiritu del monte, 1999, acrylic on canvas, 48.75 x 63.5”
3. Pedro Ă vila Gendis, Untitled, serie Espacio interior, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 60â€?
a continuous sum of incredibly small personal stories, of intertexts, of secrets, silenced or shared 14
THE ODYSSEY OF PEDRO ÁVILA GENDIS Roxana M. Bermejo I have always considered the interpreting of abstract paintings through figurative tools to be a sterile activity. It results in being a vain exercise in which the viewer tends to equate what is unknown to the familiar. The idea of discovering an algorithm to decipher the forms is as erroneous as the intention to analyze the man behind the brush, outside the horizon of his circumstances. The artist is–I would dare to categorize–always a continuous sum of incredibly small personal stories, of intertexts, of secrets, silenced or shared. Precisely, under the title of Shared Secrets (Kendall Art Center, September 23 October 21, 2016) we receive the most recent exhibition of visual artist Pedro Ávila Gendis, who was born in Camaguey in 1959. The artist, a Cuban of those who carry the island in their suitcase, cannot avoid evoking fluvial themes in his works. Nature–wounded, hardened, vivacious, rises on the quadrangular surface of its abstractions, with a homogenous and vibrant rhythm of reds, whites, grays and yellows. The sea, without being explicated by the presence of watery tones, flows through the walls of the Kendall Art Center, flooding everything… a corporeal sea that I crave unquestioningly, even though up until now it was I who defended the innocuousness of the non-figurative language. Pedro Ávila Gendis is not, however, an artist who insinuates through his forms: he is a gestural, expressionist, abstract artist like so few. What happens, perhaps, will be a matter of empathy; it will be the damned circumstance when artist and spectator share the same island in the bowels. And the sea–Oh the sea!–Always a recurring motive for the Cuban. Then, I conceive it to be impetuous, from my personal reading, bathing each of the series that make up this show (The voice of the earth, Sublime Landscapes and Interior Spaces). In the end, I do not doubt that this strange sensation of nature in suspense, of maritime depth … is just a distinction of mine, a need to-as stated beforereturn to the origins by the road already traveled; but I know for a fact that I am not the only person devoid of the Cuban sea in Florida. That is why I recommend, in any case, to experience with one’s own flesh the condition of humidity that is born from the work of the painter, when the gallery is penetrated. That sea (or not a sea) of Pedro Ávila Gendis insists on reminding me of that immortal poem by Miguel Ángel Asturias: Intimate friend from the dream, Ulysses / returned to his hazy destination, / like returning from other countries/ to his country. For being of sea salt.
4. Vicente Dopico-Lerner, El Justo, 1995, charcoal and ink on paper, 48 x 40â€?
expression of his internal desires, his weariness, his unhappiness, his pains and longings 16
DOPICO–LERNER: AFTER CHAOS Raisa Clavijo
Through works assembled in “After Chaos,” Vicente Dopico–Lerner (b. 1943) addresses his concerns about the origin of the universe. According to the Theogony of Hesiod, chaos was the origin of everything; it was the first god, the most ancient. The term ‘chaos’ comes from the ancient Greek Χάος translated as ‘a space that opens.’ It is understood as a fissure or crack between heaven and earth that opens up so that we may gain access to the mysteries of creation. That fissure is a metaphor for the tireless search for truth that has been the leitmotiv for almost all of the great discoveries and contributions of mankind. Dopico–Lerner knows that one only reaches the truth by starting with active investigation and observation. He is passionate about astronomy and cosmology, and is also an avid student of philosophy and history. His oeuvre always embodies the materialization of a complex cognitive process in which he reflects, questions and tries to find answers to the physical, natural and social phenomena that make up reality. Born in Havana, Cuba, Dopico–Lerner has resided in the United States for almost five decades. It is here that he received his artistic and intellectual education in prestigious universities and academies such as Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, St. Thomas University and the Art Students League in New York, among others. His studies in New York at the Art Students League during the 1970s introduced him to the fundamental principles of American abstract expressionism. Dopico–Lerner found in this pictorial style the formal sustenance for his compositions. In the workshops of the Art Students League where the echoes of Pollock still resounded, Dopico–Lerner became acquainted with the oeuvre of Robert Motherwell and Kenneth Noland. He was fascinated with the way these artists spontaneously dripped paint on their canvases using vigorous gestures, allowing the pieces to come into being freely, far from the tethers that structure imposes. It is precisely this ability to “control the accident” that would define his style. He then began visualizing the canvas as a playing field on which to act and experiment, rather than a space on which to reproduce a real or imaginary object.
Dopico–Lerner does not start with sketches, or preliminary drawings; he prefers to put his trust in the physical possibilities of painting as artistic media. He does not use easels; he prefers to affix the canvas to the wall and that is how he works on it, throwing paint haphazardly, in thick layers, using spatulas and his own hands. He interacts freely with the pictorial surface, translating his emotions into gestures. He gives free rein to the physical act of painting, establishing a spontaneous dialogue with the material, which responds to him and leads him on. Throughout his career, drawing has been a vital element in his work. In many pieces it has a much more important role than color. The line can appear as a symbol, or a jumbled composition; however, it is always the imprint of creative emotion. All of his expressive intention arises from that line, at times like the stroke of a brush; at others reflecting the actual movements of the arm or even the entire body–gestures or “talking calligraphy,” the result of a completely free and sublime act. On paper as on canvas, using oils, acrylics or watercolors, the birth of the work of art entails the same ritual. Initially there is just a superimposition of layers of paint on the support, but little by little he lets the drawing loose; he lets it run and it does its part delineating the figures. The subjects in the oeuvre of Dopico–Lerner are not the result of daydreams or hallucinations; they are born thanks to pictorial accidents. The artist’s creative activity on the surface has made them appear. They arose hidden between lines and layers of color. The images we find in his pieces are not unreal figures, products of fantasy; rather, they are symbolically associated with passages and circumstances in the life of this author. They are the expression of his internal desires, his weariness, his unhappiness, his pains and longings. In his more recent work, we observe a return to the formal structures that the artist employed in the 1990s. There are vast expanses of color behind which we discover beings with pronounced features and large eyes. In these recent works, the artist uses drawing and symbols sparingly. He replaces these with translucence and thick lines and he plays with light, appealing more to sensory enjoyment than to rational interpretation. Each face, each beautiful deformity of the body, each absurd detail added to the characters in his oeuvre, each evocation of criticism or of pleasure deposited on the canvas reveals a sensitive eye trained to capture the surrounding reality. Miami, October 1, 2016.
5. Vicente Dopico-Lerner, Glory and Madness, 2004, mixed media on canvas, 53 x 60â€?
6. Silvio Gayton, Untitled, 2011, mixed media on paper, 24 x 18â€?
an archeologist who explores history, politics, society and the history of universal art 20
SILVIO GAYTON: DECODED Raisa Clavijo
Silvio Gayton studied the visual arts formally at the Academia de San Alejandro in Havana. He later studied graphic design, illustration and advertising. At a young age he had the opportunity of working with Luis Martínez Pedro and several of the most important mid-twentieth century Cuban designers and admen. Upon emigrating from Cuba at the beginning of the 1960s, Gayton lived and worked in Spain, Venezuela and Chicago, where he earned a living as a graphic designer and illustrator, eventually settling in Miami. Gayton defines himself as an “archeologist” who explores history, politics, society and the history of universal art. His task is to observe, recognize and immortalize in his works moments and personages that in some way have helped him shape his vision of the universe. In this respect he comments, “In my paintings, you will see a variety of images that challenge perception and even lead you to the discovery of new worlds where forms inspire one’s own imagination of those worlds. Urging people to think in the here and now–without regard to the past or to the future and beyond color, composition, theme or artistic conventions, is how I want my work to be experienced.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle placed in the mouth of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet a reflection that in great part sums up the essence of Gayton’s creative strategy: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.” Gayton believes in the role of the artist as observer, as investigator of his environment, but also as provoker. A contemporary work of art is always the product of a process of decoding reality and presenting it to the viewer so that he may reflect. Otherwise, it is a mere imitation and crude copy; nothing could be further from the pieces presented in this exhibition. Gayton’s paintings are open to a wide spectrum of interpretations, as extensive and rich as the experiential universe of the viewer. A work of art only attains an aesthetic level when it is experienced by a human being. Gayton identifies personages and moments that appear to
him to be starting points to initiate a dialogue with the public at a visual and perceptive level. The works we see in “Decoded” do not deny their referents, nor do they imitate them. Gayton is inspired by the teachings of Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism to deliver to us a group of pieces through which he captures and synthesizes key elements of the subjects and situations that have piqued his interest. The titles, brief, but full of meaning, help interpret the message. In writing this text, the word “storyteller” assails me constantly. Gayton is not precisely a “narrator” in the strict sense of the term; rather he is an “igniter of stories.” In this manner, we see in his extensive pictorial repertoire compositions that refer us interchangeably to personages like the bloodthirsty Pizarro brothers; the horse Hidalgo–who inspired the homonymous movie by Joe Johnston in 2004;–art dealers who know nothing at all about art, but do know how to profit from the work and the needs of the artist; preachers of questionable doctrines; dissidents who escape transformed into worms; emigrants; Dante in a red hell; real and imaginary animals; mechanical heads; blue forests; tables who await dinner guests; magnificent ceibas; jungles; personages that appear half human half machine, among others. Gayton does not feel tied to any artistic movement; only color presents itself as a given constant throughout his entire journey. His work is enriched by his knowledge of the history of art; the legacy of Picasso and Cubism; Surrealism and Abstraction, by his studies of the achievements of Paul Klee, Antoni Clavé, Rufino Tamayo, Wifredo Lam, Wassily Kandinsky, and Fernando de Szyslo-whom he met and admires profoundly–among many other artists. In this respect he explains, “I’m not an artist of any time period; I have no commitment to phases in my life or my work; all of these phases co-exist and express themselves with their own identity.” Octavio Paz said of Roberto Matta that he was “…a stretcher of mental spaces in perpetual motion, a cartographer of his thoughts and interior images.” I rescue that reflection to end this commentary about the oeuvre of Silvio Gayton. In his painting reality is deconstructed as in a kaleidoscope, the result of a long process of intellectual and personal evolution. Miami, October 3, 2016.
7. Silvio Gayton, Hidalgo, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 54 x 63â€?
8. JosĂŠ Bedia, El Perro Encantado, 1989, crayon on paper, 50 x 38.25â€?
refashioned via visual language, and converted into images and objects of contemporary art 24
JOSÉ BEDIA’S TRANSCULTURAL MILL Orlando Hernandez
José Bedia has developed a system of making art as efficient and well oiled as a factory. Not such a modern factory, to be sure. You could say that high technology is not something that has a lot to do with him or with his work, although he must inevitably take advantage of its many benefits in his daily life. On the contrary, Bedia has always been fascinated by the simplest forms of human creation, crafted by using the hands, the strength and skills of the body, and elemental techniques and tools; by artisan manufacture; by everything that imitates nature, animals, plants, the sea and the river, that learns from them and respects them but does not oppose them. Thus he is–and has been from a very young age–a student and passionate admirer of the indigenous, aboriginal, traditional peoples, especially from Africa, America and the Caribbean. These include extinct peoples, who are analyzed in prehistorical studies and archaeology; and also those who are modern and contemporary, and are studied by ethnology, anthropology and sociology. Bedia is profoundly knowledgeable about the life of those peoples, their myths, their work tools, weapons, clothing, religious and magic traditions, and their various arts. It may not be well known that besides being an esteemed contemporary artist, he is also a recognized collector of “tribal art,” with exhibitions and bibliographical references pertaining to this activity dating from the beginning of his career. I believe they are interdependent: one would not exist without the other. But what distinguishes him from other experts is that his knowledge of these cultural artifacts does not stop at essays, books, treatises and encyclopedias. Instead it is processed and refashioned via visual language, and converted into images and objects of contemporary art. Over the span of forty years, José Bedia has been able to create his monumental work through the study of those cultures that have been historically attacked and marginalized by capitalist modernity, and through his personal interactions and spiritual empathy with those communities. So that more than indebted to the history of western art, Bedia is indebted to those other histories that are yet insufficiently appreciated and respected.
Returning to my initial comments, I would say that his creative process recall the machinery of an old sugar factory, something like a colossal sugar mill: that great iron mouth that devours thousands and thousands of pieces of sugar cane. As they are pressed they release streams of juice or guarapo, which is later boiled, evaporated, and crystallized to become first molasses, then cane syrup, and finally mountains of white sugar. Like those sugar mills, Bedia devours, and of course savors and processes, cultural, historical, religious, mythic, and symbolic elements from a great variety of human societies and groups. A kind of transcultural mill. Without implying any criticism, his operation is relatively simple and basic like a mill. By this I mean the directness of his character, and his process that avoids any pronounced digressions or useless embellishments, that is, ornamental or decorative excess. This is very visible in his drawings, which employ just the essentials necessary to represent an idea, narrate a history, portray a person, or describe a situation, as complex as it may be. I have seen scores of ideas methodically sketched by Bedia in small notebooks that serve as his creative diaries, where in a few centimeters he captures the basics of what we will later see developed almost point by point in any of his enormous canvases or installations. In this world that is characterized by unnecessary waste, is this not a thrifty, maximally economic process, “more with less?” Unfortunately we know that the ills of the art system–among them the art market, art fairs, auctions, fascination with fashion, investment collecting, and absence of criticism–are apt to transform any artistic product into something relatively removed from the artist’s initial intentions. It is important to recognize that José Bedia intends, and has always intended, for his work to be useful in the recuperation and reconstruction of this traditional cultural legacy, or at least to call for its need to be remembered this legacy that “modernity” destroyed, fragmented and dismembered, and which unlike the sugar mill, was not capable of converting into something really productive and useful for contemporary life. Those traditions have been transformed into curiosities, exotic merchandise, and entertainment for tourists, or in the best of cases, into petrified documents, mummified by the ideologies of academics and deceitful museum conservation policies. But, how to save cultures, arts, philosophies, and traditions, when the people, the societies, the groups who develop these are in a totally disadvantaged position relative to the present globalized, technocratic society? Havana, Cuba, 2015 Translation from Spanish: Noel Smith
9. JosĂŠ Bedia, Permanencia de Idolatrias, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 45â€?
10. JosĂŠ Bedia, Abriendose Paso, 2011, mixed media on parchment, 37 x 34â€?
UNLIKE ANY OTHER Píter Ortega
Born in Havana in the slums of Luyanó on January 13, 1959, José Bedia graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts San Alejandro in 1976 and the Higher Institute of Art in Havana in 1981. That same year, at a very early age, he became part of the exhibition Volumen 1, an event that marked a moment of renewal and thrill within the historic panorama of Cuban art. Since 1993, he has resided and worked in Miami, his work has been distinguished by his interest for non–western tribal cultures, especially those in Africa, America and the Caribbean. Hence, many scholars of his work recognize in his pieces a strong archeological, ethnographic and anthropological vocation. In this respect the artist comments: “That interest rose within me ever since I started at the School of Art, and it was like a kind of reaction to the artistic teaching that they gave me and all the other students, which had to do more than anything with a western education. I felt like there was a missing element and I began to provide myself with it; I began to do studies on anthropology on my own, to look for books on tribal art history and derive nourishment from that.” Bedia is a relentless traveler who has visited places like Peru, Chile, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Angola, among others. His work is based on direct field studies from these cultural environments in order to take note on travels, photographs, objects and memories. Which is why some specialists have described him as being a “transcultural pilgrim,” eager to receive influence from the customs, religions, myths, arts, philosophy and value systems of said primitive and indigenous cultures. His works are full of a deep energy and spirituality. The creator himself has expressed: “I try to search for archetypes that are functional to all men of different cultures and distinct continents.” In contemporary art there is a kind of ever changing deficit of spirituality. “My work tries to fill in that absence.”
“To entrench myself in the traditions of Pablo Monte for me, was to be within a living community of people who were still practicing the religion. In Cuba, Africa is practically the backyard for us all, in the neighborhood, in the community, in friends. So for me it was to be directly connected to that, I understood that if I did not start, I would never have profound knowledge of that because you have to be within the idea of religion. I started to invent a kind of iconography for what would be the Bantu cults. In the Yoruba, there are multiple iconographic images, however the Conga branch is more modest, more succinct of liturgical and iconographic elements, and I began to create that iconography from those simple drawings,” adds the artist. Some characteristics that distinguish the style of the creator are: a preference for large formats, the presence of elongated and stylized forms, a visible synthesis and economy of resources in the visuals, the recurrence of the written text as an element of significance (especially the Palmer calligraphy); the relationship between nature and the technological, industrial or mechanical universe and the combination between twodimensional surfaces and sculptural installations, and so forth. They make up one of the most exceptional poetics in the art scene of the Americas of the 20th and 21st centuries, whose works are found in prestigious collections around the world such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Modern in London, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, the Daros Collection in Zurich and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, among many others. “The stroke of the brush refers you to the western tradition; however, manual work is directly connected with tribal cultures. As a result, this is one thing that was fundamental to me. I started doing it not only with my hands but also with animals, which were some early drawings that I did that were comprised of the animals expressing themselves directly on paper. I took a turtle, dipped it in ink and made it walk on paper; the same with a snake and the animal left its own mark. It was a straight line, a direct imprint of the animal on the pictorial plane,” adds Bedia. In the words of researcher and essayist Antonio Cardentey for the Encyclopedia of Caribbean History and Culture, “Bedia operates with divergent elements such as Mesoamerican mythology (the Aztec codices), Shamanism, cults of African origin (mainly the Minkisi of Konga imagery), Eskimo poetry, Charade, and animism. He carries the ancestral to modernity and equates mythical truth with historical truth. According to some scholars, its main success constitutes in contributing to the complex and tortuous process of decentralizing Western culture, that is, to decentralize Europe from modern culture.”
“I have always said, that if I had to choose two Cuban artists of the 20th century, they would be Lam and José Bedia,” assures Cuban curator and essayist Elvia Rosa Castro. On her part, historian and art critic Janet Batet points out that “Bedia’s work in Cuban art has the great value of being based in the 80s, at a point when–as part of the search for a national identity that was not associated with the exceptionally standardized canons they had up until then–goes towards other pursuits, as is the case of identity from the myths, of which Bedia is going to first identify with the Amerindian and then the AfroCuban myths.” Artist and professor Luis Gómez points out: “I remember that when I was a student, Bedia gave lectures on the entire pre-Hispanic world, the indigenous world that was so fascinating, and he appeared very clear in those lectures, the conceptual link of his work with that world, and that taught so much more than any kind of painting class.” For researcher and essayist Rafael Acosta de Arriba, “Bedia is unlike any other. And I believe it was like that since the beginning, since he emerged. This anthropomorphic figuration in large formats, making the drawings and paintings converse with the installations, really made him stand out early on. His name has made the name of Cuban art travel all over the world.” Diálogos Místicos, a selection in which Henry Ballate M.F.A Chief Curator of Kendall Art Center was focused on visualizing the dialogue between the collector Leonardo Rodríguez and the artist José Bedia, a dialogue that not only shows part of the historical route of the work of the artist but also the transformations and aesthetic valuations of the collector. In this exhibition curated by Hortensia Montero, the viewer can approach the singular iconography created by the artist in different periods that are part of the Rodríguez collection, who is also in direct dialogue with the syncretic aesthetics of the collector.
11. Henry Ballate, Status 2016, site-specific intervention, dimensions variable
Bathed by the urban dimension, by the line that the horizon draws between the earth and sky, between sky and water 32
ART CAME FROM THE SEA Roxana M. Bermejo
As part of the great artistic wave that accompanies Art Basel in this 2016 edition, we find a plethora of proposals that enliven, beautify and ignite the city of Miami. The Miami scene, structured throughout diverse models each with independent cores and criteria, gives us even the ownership of those works, which exceed the gallery–museum spaces and appear, surprising us, from a passage, from a roof or from the sea. This is how the piece Status, an initiative of Cuban-American artist Henry Ballate, comes to us under the patronage of the Kendall Art Center. Bathed by the urban dimension, by the line that the horizon draws between the earth and sky, between sky and water, between water and the earth…this proposal is born, a specific site that looks out from the waves of Miami Beach. Located at the backs of the Bass Museum and the Park of the Arts, this work almost literally “sticks its head out” from the beach, it rises up and invites us to, at the very least, say goodbye standing on the shore. The literalism of the expression is derived from the fact that Ballates’ creation is composed of 12 (human?) heads ordered in a row, looking towards a common point, following the impulse and the certainty of the one that captains them. Soon to arrive, or depart, or carry on…the sea which surrounds them will be the one to have the final word in the destiny of these beings that arise, in the same rhythm of the dawn; perhaps announcing future promises or realities. The figure selected by the author results in being recurrent. The number 12, deriving from the biblical interpretation, means “the chosen,” hence there existed a dozen Disciples of Christ and a dozen tribes of Israel to which was given the Promised Land. Without even reaching the riverbank, these figures may imagine, from their position as emigrants, that the one that opens before their very eyes is their Canaan. They observe it, nevertheless, from a distance, without certainty of arrival, or abandonment. In the end, I am not completely certain that the work is wholly religious, political, or a proponent mixture of both, which denounces the need of man to follow an ideal. At the end of the road, the movement is the only real thing in this piece, a deceitful metaphor of the human state, of never being satisfied, of never stopping…
12. Rubén Torres Llorca, Las armas secretas, 2012, mixed media, 38 x 37 x 17”
THE ORDER OF THINGS Hortensia Montero
A well-educated artist, who has successfully traveled along a fruitful professional career, enjoying the aesthetic pleasure and the national, as well as international recognition, Torres Llorca, proposes his conceptual acuity, expressed with simplicity and elegance. Circles of fire constitute the synthesis of the conceptual foundations of his poetry. The repetition of the circular element–of newspapers, or black and white color–establishes the
narrative sequence of the characters or animals represented in delicately cutout, light gray papers, which confirm their attachment to the artisanal and the theatricality of their imagination. Two pictorial rectangular works, framed with a strip–one representing the centimeters; and another, the inches–denote an originality that exalts them. The theme of Little Red Riding Hood in a composition, in the other, it reads: ‘Given Forces acting on a body,’ both causing the estrangement with scenes that contrast with the attraction of the frame. The aura of the charismatic sculptures, arranged on small tables, contributes in creating a suggestive, enigmatic and mysterious atmosphere. An underlying irony flows, typical of its aesthetic discourse and reminiscent of its attachment to post modernity with the loss of values and the dehumanization of relationships. It seeks to destroy the icon, it is supported by paintings, books and objects; symbols that, by creating their on dramaturgy, challenge each other. It reveals a singular cosmogony, evocative of the cryptic message of a discourse that paraphrases reality, focused on a conceptual universe that increases the semiotic potential of objective reality by the reiteration of elements, the achieved atmosphere, the energy that flows from the exponents and the principal and complicit presence of paintings, circles, sculptures and books. On a small circular frame, covered with paper maché, he paints a lion. With letters cut out on black paper, it reads: ‘The beast passes caged by so many rings of fire,’ extracted from a verse by José Martí. The text denies the comfortable and pleasant image of the animal figure. This rupture breaks the sense of the aesthetic, artistic, literary and conceptual interests of the image and provokes the loss of the intellectual magic of the message, whose ideological complexity rests on this axiom: to destroy the icon is about breaking everything that signifies the paintings as an object, which constitutes an ephemeral element within the set. The installation reveals a sentence supported “in the order of things.” The beauty contained in the images reveals extreme situations. This work constitutes a lesson of subsistence in the real world. The performances of the characters in each image remit us to a reality of confrontation, belligerence and force contained among human beings. Appearances do not constitute reality. The symbolism in each piece is conclusive. There is no escape. The visitors will abandon the showroom convinced that the circle of fire stalks…everyone, anywhere.
13. RubĂŠn Torres Llorca, Figure 17, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36â€?
an immersive installation that urges us into an existential journey not without risks and vicissitudes 36
RINGS OF FIRE: A TALE OF LIFE Janet Batet
I “We are everything and we are nothing.” Charles Bukowski Life is like a circus. We are immerse–wanted or not–in an ever–changing representation that pushes us to play/change roles as soon as the new setting emerges and, most of the time, we are not ready for the newfangled backdrop. If we had the time to look back in retrospective to ourselves, we would discover–not without disappointment and fear–that we have been most of our lives like beasts in a circus: forced constantly to break through rings of fire, assisted by some ineffectual choreographic movements previously rehearsed and–mostly–hurried pirouettes improvised at the last minute. This hasty act in which our existence takes place presents with a core difference with respect to the model of circus: We are performing our act eyes folded; without never reaching to see openly the ringmaster of this frightening representation. We are everything and nothing. “Circulos de fuego” (Rings of Fire) is an immersive installation that urges us into an existential journey not without risks and vicissitudes. With a masterful use of icons deeply rooted in our collective imaginary and modelers of our social and individual consciousness, Rubén Torres Llorca creates a mazelike environment that forces the viewer into a quest throughout each of the many circles making this show. Art, legends, literature, and references to daily life are intertwine in this fascinating visual thriller that pushes us into a travel without return that revises our own itinerary during that precarious journey that is our passage through life. II “We are walking as if on a minefield. We are aware that the field is full of explosives, but we can’t tell where there be an explosion and when.” Sygmunt Bauman Let’s face it, we are shaped by fears. Since our earliest childhood we are fed with legends, folktales, games that model our being by planting the seed of fear. We learn to follow authority, to conduct ourselves according to very specific expected social roles, and to behave accordingly. “Figure 1,” the overture piece of the show, resumes this fragile, frightening condition.
Standing in front of us, Little Red Riding Hood–like image in the mirror– quietly looks at us. Behind her (and us), the always dreaded forest (the dark, the unknown, the threat) and, of course, the wolf (the fear per se). This is the beginning of our journey. Successive circles of fire–hypnotic mandalas–present us with countless role models in this lifetime expedition. This “gallery of portrait” of socially constructed entities contrasts with some hermetic clues that are offered to us like unintelligible enigmas. Occupying the center of the main gallery, three installations seem to resume some imponderable trues: keys to unexpected doors. It is not a coincidence that the pedestals supporting these sort of riddles are edified with books. Actually, text is one of the main components of this exhibition, underlying the base of our socially constructed reality versus the subjective experience of everyday life. “Figure 17” marks the half of our travel: essential impasse. Media, ideology and generational alterity resume the “given forces acting on a body.” This indulgent yet disturbing image embodies the filial relationship (the family) as the very first modeler of our individual and social identities. This picture is not to be mistaken: We are not kids anymore. We are now the parental figure passing on all our fears into our kids. The show must go on. III Passes the caged beast by so many ring of fire! Ariel Rot The second floor of the gallery resumes our adult life and that moment of consciousness (fatal enlightenment) that makes us aware about the real meaning of our existence. All the pieces of the thriller are falling into place. Torres Llorca is a very well–informed alter ego that demands from us total awareness of our senses. The multiple, layered references throughout the show–like in real life–will get accessible in very different degrees to each receptor depending on its own personal background and experience. The end, is a fateful rituornelle. It is not a coincidence that the end of the show in a sort of spiral is exactly located over our very beginning: the snake eating its own tail. There, “Figure 23,” the final and definitive clue: The lion. Another mirror. The hunting trophy of that ringmaster that we will never know. The jump into the void. Everglades, winter, 2017
14. Rubén Torres Llorca, Figure 23, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16”
15. Ivonne Ferrer, Yarini. Una orgĂa de libertad, mixed media on canvas, 39 x 59â€?
Simply a communion of speeches and intimate poetry with the subtlety and elegance of good art 40
POEMS* Gabriela García Azcuy
Who is she? An ontological essence, A discursive figure, a historical convenience (...) Lázara Castellanos By the date of March, several proposals to complement the celebrations of International Women’s Day were planned: a personal exhibition by the young artist Lisyanet Rodríguez (1987) and a tribute to Gina Pellón (1926– 2014), in a conversation with the creators Ivonne Ferrer (1968), Ana María Sarlat (1959) and Laura Luna (1959). At the same time, the Kendall Art Center (KAC) was in the vortex of expanding its exhibition galleries so its director, Ciro Quintana, considered the idea–for the new space–to establish an intergenerational dialogue between different artists with a common artistic background, the Arts University (ISA), Havana, Cuba. Before all these ideas and confluences, I decided that Poems (Poemario) was the perfect title to combine three different shows, as individual poems under the same event. I. Blooming by Lisyanet Rodríguez, II. Fugacious by Gina Pellón, Ivonne Ferrer, Ana María Sarlat and Laura Luna; And, finally, III. Being by Sandra Ramos (1969), Ana Albertina Delgado (1963) and Marlys Fuego (1988). An exhibition of female artists–without intentional feminist positions. Simply a communion of speeches and intimate poetry with the subtlety and elegance of good art. I. Blooming With the “Blooming” Series, the artist Lisyanet Rodríguez, questions the canons of the Ugly, established in Western culture. From a deep emotional attachment to nature and humanity, she considers that every living being is beautiful, because every birth, flowering–Blooming–is a process of magical essence. Under this premise, she decides–with exquisite technical skill–to create works that project the viewer to a formal ugliness and the artistic representation of it. The audience for seconds is at a receptive 4 crossroads. But she knows how to use the auric value of the art to her advantage. From
her canvases and cards she exonerates those deformed beings, in imbalance, incomplete, different, and elevates them to a category of sublime beauty. The pains, fears and neglects suffered by her figures are vindicated with energetic eagerness. For, like all beings from nature, they have unique qualities, they have a certain beauty. It is interesting how diametrically varies animal and human representation in these series, even though the thematic is the same. The first ones, drawn with crayons on white backgrounds; are in their polymorphism, deformed happy. However, in the representation of the human figure, theatricality and suffering appear. Made on large canvases with mainly gray and ocher tones, the work is totally self–referential. The faces of the artist are repeated in front of the viewer and emerge female bodies without faces or portions cut off hands and feet. It is as if the artist exorcises her deepest fears and brings them out. The gaze constantly escapes, hides, disappears (Hunting Butterflies, 2017; Stumble, 2016; Holding on, 2016). And when it looks, it does not interfere, it only poses, like floating entity of another world (Fallen Princess, 2016). “They can be disturbing and regrettable, also theatrical, romantic and melancholic. But I always seek to inspire feelings of love, sweetness, kindness, tenderness and beauty that are an eternal and universal part of the human condition,” says the artist. II. Fugacious As a posthumous tribute to Gina Pellón, part of her works, belonging to the Rodriguez Collection, (collection attached to the KAC, owned by Leonardo Rodriguez and family) were exhibited. A total of 12 works that cover its production from the seventies to two thousand. Between canvases, collages, watercolors and pastels, they extended their iconic guaguas and infantile illustrations. Female faces with strong expressionist lines and others with beautiful naive lines. The high command of color is immediately perceived, the seal of the Cuban that always accompanied iteven if she settled in Paris most of her life. Undoubtedly, hers is a work of free spirit that she described as “a kind of multicolor graffiti.” As invited artists, Miami–based Cuban women, Ana María Sarlat, Ivonne Ferrer and Laura Luna, joined Fugacious with specific works. The first one, with the work Dear Son (1996) presents a great Madonna in extreme symbolic and multireferencial–María, Medea–; a song to motherhood and woman. A figure in tears, with suckling breasts and an abdomen that transpires a microuniverse of life. From the third chakra hangs a pin with a poem. A poem to the son, to the man who must not forget where he has come from, that the cyclical history of inequalities and mistreatment must
not continue. “Walk tall, walk honest, walk with love ...” she scolds and cooes. At the same time, when looking at the white–red–blue colors that dominate the work, references to the identity of the artist are glimpsed. The figure becomes Homeland and the son thousands of men. In Yarini, una orgía de libertad (2012), Ivonne Ferrer interconnects historical references that need an acute spectator, capable of revealing beyond the mere eroticism of the piece. The famous Havana pimp from the neighborhood of San Isidro, who became a political figure in the period, is the reason to talk about the development of the history of a country, cyclical in its processes, as the form of orgy itself. The politics/history understood as pleasure, promiscuity and adult´s game. The use of the period´s graphic codes and a certain reference pop, translate a humorous wink and flattering, that the author has no qualms to unveil: “to dismantle or remove history’s clothes, and to undress it in such a way that its tricks are revealed.” 1 Finally, in the work of Laura Luna is evident and tangential influences of Afro–Cuban religions and spiritual practices. In Islands of thousand paths (2017) a woman’s head in red is lying on a sea–sky–raft. Join and witness a story. Ties, like braids tied to pegs in their memory, are intertwined with painted ceramic ships. Memory associated to the personal history of migrations and changes of the artist. In Bicameral Pyramid (2017), it mimics the hypothesis about the division of cognitive functions into two parts 3000 years ago. A part of the brain that speaks, another part that listens and obeys. The work is a male torso in bronze. Many analogies arise. The condition of being a woman, associated with various spaces of manhood, from the beginning has been one of her greatest anxieties. III. Being In the Havana-Mirage Series, Sandra Ramos builds Utopian Havanas. Interconnects spaces–HAV–MIA/HAV–NY–remotely geographically and politically. To do this it uses bridges, winds, submarine boats, ropes. Or, as in that Russian tale I read so much in my childhood, decides to build Havana on a whale. It is interesting how, as we approach these works, their mirrors and reflections enter us into the illusion of the scene, as if we were one more character. The artist would affirm, “My work is a bridge, a line connecting my ideas with those of others and the past and future of my country, a path to tolerance of difference, to wonder at the world and its beauty, virtue of innocence and utopia.” In the artist´s book Searching Ithhaca (2015) of the series “Revisiting Mithologies,” the journey becomes a metaphor, in a story of thousands. New narratives recreate the myth: a Havana inhabited by Polyphemus, the ship of Odysseus and his crew
arriving at the Miami Bay. “Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey without her you would not have set out. As you set for Ithaka, hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.” On the other hand, the work of Ana Albertina is a very distinctive iconographic peculiarity. In her pieces, with outlined figures and hairy heads, they are syncretized influences of diverse cultures. The result is a sui generis work, of hermetic, magical, delicate, complex characters. A world of fantasies with absolute predominance of the pink palette. In Polilla y polen (2017) and Suspensión en oro (2017), her most recent works, one perceives a direct connection with the primal sap. The figures have the power to control the divine, the cosmos. The sequence is an important key, even when the parts work individually. See The dance of one foot, The fantasies of the half, The mystery of the forms, Balls of green cheese, The absence and the retirement . As a whole, the artworks of the exhibition talk about themes such as being and its destiny and the continuous cycles of existence. The series “Stars,” “Travel,” “Mi Aire,” “Bondage,” “Blank Space” are combined in an amplitude of supports, canvases, collages, light boxes and cardboards to show a more elliptical Marlys Fuego in her speeches. The color and luster characteristic of her work now appears on dark backgrounds. The games of appearances return, the supposedly beautiful hides a background of multiple complexities associated with childhood and the construction of gender identity. The dolls become repetitive in pieces like From the Series “Stars” (2016) where homogenized in white carried Cuban flags like inert soldiers. In the Bondage (2017) canvas, the artist replaces third-party photos with an image of her own. It’s given to the viewer as an object and subject, a model of careful bondage. However in opposition, Mi aire (2017), some dolls suffer the mooring, within an abyss of fractals. As if infancy–adulthood were about realities and appearances. Poems is a compendium of dissimilar visual discourses, themes, generations, cosmogonies. Beyond artistic practices, formats or manifestations, the exhibition is structured like a skein that always returns to the starting point; to ‘who is she?’ that underlies each work. March, 2017 *This text was translated from Spanish by Kraus Hernández 1. Adriana Herrera and Willy Castellanos: “The smile of Eros or how to screw history,” 2012. http://losliriosdeljardin.blogspot.com
16. Lisyanet Rodriguez, Holding on, charcoal and acrylic on Canvas. 76 x 44”
17. Ciro Quintana, El artista Cubano, 2017, oil on linen, 38 x 38â€?
a complex mise en scĂ¨ne jam-packed of scorn of which the artist makes us participants and accomplices at a time 46
CIRO QUINTANA: SYNCRETISM NEO–BAROQUE Janet Batet
Neo–baroque: a necessarily scattered reflection of a knowledge that knows it is no longer “peacefully” closed upon itself. An art of dethronement and dialogue. Severo Sarduy, 1972 Entering the work of Ciro Quintana is like daring behind the scenes. We attend a complex mise en scène jam–packed of scorn of which the artist makes us participants and accomplices at a time. Ciro Quintana (Havana, 1964) is one of the cardinal artists within the second wave of the so–called Cuban Renaissance or New Cuban Art. His work, along with that of Ana Albertina Delgado, Adriano Buergo, Ermi Taño and Lázaro Saavedra, shook the artistic and social panorama of Cuba in 1986 when the iconoclastic group Puré–characterized as by kitsch, junk art, confusion between boundaries of artistic individualities and, above all, the treatment of themes directly associated with the daily and popular life of Havana at the time–broke in into Havana cultural scene. Although short–lived (the group finally disintegrated in 1987 to give way to the development of the personal poetics of its members), the impact of Puré and its bold collective actions implied a milestone in contemporary Cuban art and, consequently, in the further development of each one of the members of the group. From very early in his artistic career, Ciro Quintana is interested in the pastiche. His works–often of an installation nature–are sophisticated visual collages. As capricious frames extracted from the most disparate films, the work of Ciro Quintana is an intricate and whimsical phrase only understandable from the reconstruction of implicit ellipses and unexpected collisions that force us to alertness. Indeed some of its top installations, such as “Adiós a las Armas” (Farewell to Arms), VI Biennial of Havana (collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana) and “Pintura político–social” (Political-social painting), exhibition Kuba ok (Ludwig collection Forum for international art collection), are obliged paradigms in this regard. Heiress direct of these works is his series “Maravillas y pesadillas del arte cubano” (Marvels and nightmares of the Cuban art), in which Ciro
Quintana has been working since the year 1987. The series comprises careless collages where the kitsch survive and the initial spontaneity of the atmosphere of Puré in a sort of visual diary In which the artist collects cynically impressions of the daily life. Ciro Quintana likes cultural clashes and semantic juxtapositions that propitiate a chain of resignifications forcing the continuous repositioning of that intrusive gaze that is the viewer who scrutinize from the proscenium. The use of the draperies and the stage in the work of Ciro Quintana function not as an element of estrangement but as an invitation to intrusion and voyeurism; Magnificent entrance door that forces us to dare into the other side of the mirror. His iconic series “Crónicas de un artista cubano” (Chronicles of a Cuban Artist), in which Ciro Quintana has been working since 2013, is one of the artist’s most prolific series. Making use of the carnavalization, Ciro guides us behind the stage, showing us the swings of the contemporary Cuban art as a diasporic entity. For this, Ciro Quintana uses the most dissimilar symbols: Greco–Latin mythology, Renaissance painting, Flemish Baroque, Pop art, American comics, and well–rooted icons in Cuban culture such as bear, caiman, flamenco, wolf, snake, deer, and the image of the Republic, summarized in the Phrygian cap, among many others. The substantial series, invariably performed in oil on canvas, stands out, first and above all, for its impeccable technical mastery, being just this savoir faire which allows the artist to fully develop this proposal that we could well qualify as neo–baroque. The neo-baroque, warns the irreplaceable Severo Sarduy in his paradigmatic essay “Baroque and Neobarroco” of 1972, is characterized–as direct heir and subversion of its antecedent–by the presence of artifice (substitution, proliferation, condensation) and parody (intertextuality, intratextuality). Specific conditions that summarizes the proposal at hand. Plagued with self–referential quotations that as “filigree” connect new meanings and propose new axioms, “Crónicas de un artista cubano” is a rich pastiche where carnivalization becomes a sort of cimarronaje–by appropriating iconic fragments of Western culture that the artist “transcultura,” resignifying into a new context. If at first glance, his paintings may give the impression of a Churrigueresque incursion prompted by the horror vacui and the mere delight in tinsel and volute, it is the diachronic effect to which Sarduy refers-in that final rupture of harmony and homogeneity– where the strength of this proposal lies.
“Crónicas de un artista cubano” is a very complex skein. The proposed palimpsest comprises endless strata of significance all flattened in an abrupt foreground. This compression of the image is not gratuitous. Reflecting this “glossy skin” effect, masterfully described by Fredric Jameson, the iconographic “crush” in this series is exponent and symptom of the lack of depth that characterizes the contemporary era, saturated with images and media information whose torrent we do not reach to process but whose perennial and overflowing stream harasses us at every moment without remedy. This is the context that feeds the sophisticated feast of Ciro Quintana. The paintings in this series emphasize the effect of theatricality (representation, artifice, parody, and unreality) to the point of incorporating the proscenium and draperies as an essential part of the scenario where the action takes place. In the foreground we witness fragmentary references to violent hunting scenes from the Flemish school of painting of the seventeenth century. The bitter struggle between predator and prey worked in chiaroscuro and generally in black and white contrasts with the colorful background where a simulated wallpaper decorated with banal motifs (flowers, flamingos, palms, and cockatoos) and treated in silhouettes of flat colors reinforces the sense of simulation and concealment that dominates the series. This relation foreground–background is not accidental: The ferocious drama we witness is trivialized by the futile decoration that strengthens the act of representation we attend. And is not this the same schizophrenic effect of the media parade of the most frightful events of the day trivialized by the irruption once and again of the sensual and sublimated adds? Another core effect present in this series is the intertextuality that becomes intratextuality. The syntax resulting from the reckless pillaging of Western culture in this series is an act of cimarronaje that transmutes citations and appropriations into self–referentiality. Monumental hunting scenes from Flemish Baroque, inspired by Paul de Vos, in particular, his iconic piece “Deer beset by a pack of dogs” (1637-1640), appear as constant iteration throughout the series. Now the deer, now the swan, or the bird– unmistakable symbols of the defenseless prey–are devoured alive by a wild and hostile pack. The variations of this appropriation within the series are crucial clues that accentuated by the titles of the pieces function as keys for the unraveling of the chronicles narrated by this Cuban artist. Intratextuality is also present in the recursion of the bubble that emphasizes the halo of unreality that animates this work. The bubble is used as a bridge, introducing motifs that are correlate with other works of the same series. Thus, works cannot be understood as isolated entities, forcing us all the time to the counterpoint between works that enriches the endless skein of the whole.
This effect of constant ritournelle that accentuates that aura of reality– unreality so dear to the work of Ciro Quintana is also essential to narrative structure of “Crónicas de un artista cubano,” where the central large format pieces are seconded by smaller ones (“Detalle de crónicas de un artista cubano”) that complete the meaning of the series. “Detalle de crónicas de un artista cubano” are abrupt zooms of the central paintings that as capricious windows allow us the access to parallel stories barely outlined in the central scene. Consisted of 24 “details” in total, the pieces are rotated periodically so not only spatial but temporal displacement is necessary for the total comprehension of the proposed series. “Crónicas de un artista cubano,” refers to the sense of proliferation and chaos that typifies the contemporary era while establishing unavoidable references to the status of contemporary Cuban culture, stigmatized by its diasporic condition (the inside and outside) and the unbridled apotheosis to accompanies the boom of the current Cuban art where both, predator and prey, become victims of an useless battle. Eugenio D’Ors warned us about the fact that “the Baroque is animated by the nostalgia of Paradise Lost.” Some of this subsist in the work of Ciro Quintana characterized by fragmentation, chaos and disorder. In his work, the apparent loss of significance, the incomplete and the confusion becomes, this way, the epistemic center of his proposal. Exuberant palimpsest, derision and trumpet, the work of Ciro Quintana is a constant erosion of established canons that forced to coexist in the same space–time coordinates become what Lezama called “the baroque of syncretism.” Summer, 2017
18. Ciro Quintana, Rapto de mi jardín, 2017, oil on linen, 78 x 56”
19. Reynerio Tamayo,The Obama Times, 2017, mixed on canvas, 48 x 36â€?
a dialogue of many voices that incorporates figuration and abstraction, portrait and caricature, poster and vignette. 52
TAMAYO SLUGGER José Ramón Alonso Lorea
Reynerio Tamayo is a great painter, but, besides that he is a horny painter. We never know what goes first, whether the joke or his art, because it’s a homogeneous and intelligent mix of both. Whoever knows him personally will know that he will make you laugh with so much enthusiasm that it will cause you a sort of “temporomandibular” disorder. He will put your nerves and muscles in tension, and will cause injuries, almost fractures, in jaws and head and even bring tears to your eyes, but he will not stop, you could almost die. His creativity for humor has no limits, it must be something supernatural that happened to him when his mother bore him, and that spontaneous optimism and happiness transmits him to us in every gathering of friends, in every exhibition. His most recent project, with the theme of baseball, is a demonstration of it. The artist claims that it was a... “debt he had for a long time,” because he had participated in several collective exhibitions with the subject of baseball, but never in a “solo” about this sport, which he wanted. The project, initially exposed in Havana, has been a round success, both public and critics. It’s a “tribute to the history of baseball and its giant protagonists, both past and present, but focusing more on those of the past.” The show projects that atmosphere of sports party. It is literally a visual feast where Tamayo surprises us with a deep knowledge of the chronicles of this sport, mixed with his usual and fun manipulation of the history of art. It is a visual synthesis, serious and guasona at the same time, of that “baseball madness that we are so passionate about.” The works of Tamayo have many elements in the backgrounds that share protagonism with the central figures, those are keys to understand the whole. It is a kind of group protagonism, a dialogue of many voices that incorporates figuration and abstraction, portrait and caricature, poster and vignette. Passion for art and mastery of the trade. In his drawings and paintings there is nothing left, the decoration is apparent, and he can take advantage of the visual effect, and even an accidental stain. He is a master of drawing and coloring. I have seen him working, and it’s as if the gods guide his hands, elaborating those complex contortions of mocking spirits. Of course, we mean those pagan gods, lovers of joke and fun. “Tamayo Slugger” has undoubtedly undressed us publicly, but in the manner of a Superman from the top of the pitcher: because faster than light and with a force that almost destroys the planet, when stripped of his painter’s robe emerged clothed with a very tight red player uniform, the very suit of the Cuban team.
CUBAN SLUGGER Gary A. Anuez
Reynerio Tamayo was always a chronicler, as any good Cuban, â€œa jodedorâ€? (A joker), a type of artist who narrates, that makes stories and at the same time legitimate the story and almost always through laughter. He put things in place, but on that place where the art makes it simple. In his great and long career always noted the Cuban man, in this case, with all its contradictions, its culture, its joys and woes without taking sides in ideologies or trends only in its almost religious zeal of a constant artistic practice that goes beyond the trends, gestures, positions or tourist needs, and attitudes that move Cuban arts within or outside of the island today. In his disadvantage he has an advantage, in his pain and his limitations is the springboard to that height which can only be reached in this constant reinvention that the Cuban people practice in their desire to transcend an era, a time, a moment. Cuba is baseball (among other things of course) and baseball has always been to Cuba the sublime. The practice of making a game, the moment of ecstasy and the sublime, a reminder to the needs of the day-to-day, what is lacking as the antithesis of what is left over, and a lot of talent in the history of this sport. In this time interval, which defines to generations of Cubans, and this artist exposes it as an educational and historical document on those past glories, but not forgotten of our national sport. There are ingredients in Tamayoâ€™s work, intertextual dialog from the appointment to the reiteration as a symbolic element to define a counterpoint that places us in this geographical space. In a rare animal of an island that survives due to the repercussions of the times, to the history, and geopolitics. Our history is static, immobile (aplatanada), but always hopeful and looking for ways for the resurgence, but collective at least individual that is where is the beginning of all restorative and creative work, the emancipation of all the darkness that precedes and exceeds life, the history itself. The value of the art of Tamayo is that constant movement and interaction of the values of his culture that continues to prevail in the political shocks and cyclones, molding his work in one direction, the importance of men in their constant becoming, in their struggles and battles for the spaces and moments that history and society forces them to face in this life. In this example the sport is in celebration, and through art, the two spaces become authentic overcoming the social impact as the living memory that defines and absorbs several generations of Cubans who were great exponents of this sport, so rooted in the Cuban cultural tradition.
There is no better concern that defines an artist, and Reynerio, has always had the grace of melting languages and traditions into his artistic work, and not only from an aesthetic perspective, but from the cultural anthropological ingredients that have defined his artistic production for more than twenty five years. Humor has always been the bridge to hope, the relief of life, the channel of harmful energy that; as humans, we change and transform into a battle where you always win with a smile, and make the journey of life a more pleasant place. It’s where the value of this visual offer that he presents to us, through the Kendall Art Center, as a parenthesis to the transcendent; to this time and his vision beyond earth or space, but an experience of life. April, 2017
20. Reynerio Tamayo, Tribute, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 60” Donated by Leonardo Rodríguez to José Fernández Foundation
21. Jorge Santos, Return to Inocence, 2016, mixed media on canvas, 93 x 114â€?
each of their pieces expresses their Cuban background and the topic of the Island is easily recognizable 56
BURN THE SHIPS… Roxana M. Bermejo
“The fleeting today is tenuous and eternal; Don’t wait for another Heaven or Hell.’’ Jorge Luis Borges I have only lived in Miami for a few months. Yet, I am still provoked with astonishment when I find a sign written in Spanish or a cup of Cuban coffee at each corner of the city. My text, nevertheless, does not attempt to express the important role of our culture in Miami: it was born as a product of Miami’s sweet mix between the carnival fanfare and the refined impetus of its people. My text was propelled by the work of five artists (Noel Dobarganes, Flandez, Raúl Proenza, Tony Rodríguez and Jorge Santos), The work of these artists, presented under the suggestive title of “Trans– figuration” at Kendall Art Center (August–September, 2017), is proposed to me as an exhibition of sociology rather than a visual art’s show. Among these artists, it pleases me that each of their pieces expresses their Cuban background and the topic of the Island is easily recognizable as an obligatory subject of which we are children, marked by the conditions that the Caribbean rhythms imposes to us. However, I am not trying to say that the work of these five artists is a Caribbean work or that the five artists act as one unit. I used to believe in an artwork’s power to illustrate where and under which circumstances it was born. For example, today it is impossible for me to decide (because the globalization that my mind experimented) if the production of Raul Proenza, is from Cuba or from Miami. Nevertheless, the process of cataloging various artists and the origin of their work seems unnecessary at this point, even if I can still feel the surrounding waves of the sea and the tropical sun above me. In this way, we should find one nucleus to justify the fact that these creators are presented together at the Kendall Art Center. A statement which, undoubtedly, must hold greater value than the fact that these Cubans are living in Miami. Significantly, how many artists do not form part of this very same group? It is important to clarify that the idea of the Center is not showing a corollary of the contemporary production of the city, but to exhibit a fraction of it, as a sample of what it is and what will be the Cuban and international visual arts of our time.
Now, this pentarchy that is presented to us was not randomly selected. If these authors are here today is because there are internal wires that connect them. In the first place, we can mention an obvious one: they are all friends. This presentation, however, is the very first time that all of them can exhibit in exclusivity, by themselves. While on previous occasions they have been included in large collective exhibitions, they have never before worked as a closed group whose work is characterized between abstraction and figuration. In essence, this transit between one universe and another is a fundamental axis of the title and the curatorial exercise of the exhibition. In there the visitor can question the referent’s veracity or take it as a concrete fact. There are no limits in these rooms: doesn’t exist–between the pictures–the transition that the palate needs to adapt to taste. Abstraction and figuration go together hand in hand, becoming more or less evident in the modus operandi of each artist, where the temporal dimension must be attended as a mandatory reference. Many have been the authors who have tried to apprehend The Time, from all latitudes and art’s manifestations. I am specifically thinking of William Blake’s apocalyptic work and suddenly I move to these pieces where I see Chronos agonizing too. I find in the production of these artists (perhaps without their own consent) the sense of belonging/impotence that is repeated when Time is taken as the subject of creation. If we don’t assume that, we will not have a way to understand the dichotomy of Flandez’s works, where movement and statism are sides of the same coin. It is the instant as a reference of immobility (which in the next second will be mobile) the intention that the artist translates into his sculptures, predominant threedimensional exponents of “Trans–figurations.” It is the time stopped under the tentacles of his pieces the thing that makes us wonder how long it will be asleep under the cutting geometric forms that support it. In the end, the whole concept that is the base of Flandez’s work (the use of PVC as his primary material) reveals us a scene where the temporal cycle is violated. On the other hand, we find the proposals of Noel and Tony, both close in their compositional essence. Their works seem to wait for the order of their creators to leave the statism that time imposes on them. There we have those eyes that look at us penetratingly under the signature of Dobarganes; there we have the images of Rodriguez, which belong to other parallel universes. Floating above different concepts and unique ways to hold the brush, the production of these two creators comes to us like a Trojan Horse, aware of its mortality. Then, and also very close in rhythm we find Proenza’s creation, its weightlessness, its premonitory sense of calamity, the insecurity that offers him (as the only gesture of compensation) to the one who observes. Their figures are always carrying a sense of profundity
that stretches beyond the surface. They arrive as mirages, while the originals walk around the room with us. The mystical and esoteric tone that emanate from his pictures is an unmistakable trait of the author, as well as the happiness of the composition, which Noel takes ownership, and the exquisiteness of the stroke, the calmed gestation of the dreamlike scenes belongs to Tony. Finally, we arrive to Santos’s work, in where the tragedies of Time are translated the best. The production of this artist holds the rope that must be cut by the Greek Moirai. His ethereal characters live in a world that seems –if it could be–unstable than ours. The faces are not frozen in the image, but melted, betrayed as when everybody leaves us and we say goodbye from the shore. There, at that same point, perhaps a boat of Tony discovers, after so much traveling, that there was no way out and no way back. The moment of catharsis in which you understand that the only possible solution was to burn the ships. Miami, Agosto, 2017 22. Noel Dobarganes, series Origami Kaboki, 2017, oil on linen, 48 x 36”
23. Flandez, Summer Breeze, 2011, PVC, 18 x 11.5 x 8â€?
the concretion of contacts or empathies among a group of artists 60
5 IN THE KAC José Veigas
Many times an exhibition is the result of a complex intellectual inquiry, successful or failed, at the other extreme are located those that are the concretion of contacts or empathies among a group of artists. Not having been present in the genesis of any one of them, exempts the commentator from any contradiction or anomaly that the viewer encounters upon visiting a model. It is not about, in my case, placing the patch before the grain arises, but to advise the reader that the writer finds himself in a special condition, they can only give an opinion and comment on the individual work of the exhibitors not the exhibition as corollary of that of a group of Cuban artists living in Florida. I think it is imperative to begin with the work of Antonio Rodríguez Olivares (Santiago de Cuba, 1980), an artist with whom I have had contact for more than a decade and could say with whose paintings in the early days of his artistic production, I have almost become acquainted with. This restless painter appeared in the Santiago art scene at the beginning of the 21st century with the so-called generation 00. Being born on that date exonerates him, so to speak, from the burden that accompanied the visual arts of eastern Cuba for so long, as a consequence of the self–isolation that meant turning away from, not only the international vanguard, but also the Cuban one. Tony began without looking too far back, only what is necessary, his generation changed in such a way the image of art from Santiago, which until that moment, had looked out towards the Caribbean without criticism. His work, although seemingly outlandish, results in being picturesque; only an extended landscape where the different components find themselves displaced and the surrealist tradition assumes its role in an underlying but evident way. The work of Noel Dobarganes (Matanzas, 1977) is new to me; regrettably the information between the two shores does not always flow in the ideal and appropriate way, which causes an artist who’s worked for two decades, to become unknown, for reasons that are irrelevant to analyze. The work of artists who develop their art in Florida and other states, have no regular presence in Havana galleries. In Noel’s case, it is enough to review his resume in order to perceive where this careful handling of the drawing comes from and as a derivation, the tendency towards the figurative. His years of apprenticeship in the Russian academy do not go unnoticed. I
remember that back in the eighties, the “scholars” in the former Soviet Union had to face certain rejection amidst a setting that had been absent during the years of study, when proceedings occurred that would change the future of art in Cuba. Noel uses the line as an element that constitutes the final result, although he manages to mask them with surrealist mechanisms, they are applied in a visual way, not so much in a conceptual way. Flandez/ Flandez, a nickname by which he has been known since he was very young, Francisco Raydel Hernández (Matanzas, 1966) represents the three-dimensionality in this group of artists and, at the same time, represents the generation of the legendary National School of the Arts (Escuela Nacional de Arte, ENA). This condition cannot be ignored despite the time elapsed. There exists an “air of family” among the graduates of these years. It is not only about formal commonalities but also about something subtler, which we find in sculptors stemming from the ENA’s promotions during the seventies and eighties. Flandes was the youngest (22 years old) of the sculptors selected to work at the Sculpture Symposium in Baconao, 1988, at the Prado of Sculptures, one of the most important experiences carried out in Cuba at the time, with the participation of important internationally renowned artists such as, Eduardo Villamizar (Colombia), Helen Escobedo (Mexico) and Enio Iommi (Argentina). From his own work he has said: “My work translates into the accumulated experiences of my journey through different disciplines related to art. I am in love with dance, music and architecture. I am daring and I accept the challenges of the moment with passion and commitment.” This affirmation is confirmed in his sculptures, especially when he uses two terms that define his art: music and monumentality. Suggestive is the case of painter Raúl Proenza (Miami, 1959), his parents returned to Cuba in 1961, he graduated from San Alejandro in 1978 and only just departed from the classroom, in 1980, is one of the thousands of people leaving Cuba via the Mariel. His development as an artist has followed a course that has encompassed New York, Los Angeles, and finally, Miami. He is, perhaps unintentionally, the closest to abstraction in the group, even if we take into account the foundations on which his enigmatic characters situate, the figures seem to float in a watery, unreal environment…His work suggests the need to investigate coincidences and differences…in short, the paths and poetry assumed by artists born in Cuba or by Cuban parents, residents or not on the island. Jorge Santos (Havana, 1973), we find ourselves before another graduate of San Alejandro and I point out this fact because, there was a time when the teaching of art in Cuba found itself differentiated by schools and
professors, although in the end, he who had talent excelled regardless of origin. The paintings of Jorge Santos contrast with the rest of the exhibitors. Out of everyone in this diverse group, he draws attention in particular due to the dramatic nature of his images that conceal more than they show. Although his characters are grouped, they seem isolated, some hide behind a mask of pigments set by the artist. Do they exist as material beings or are they just visual representations of anguish, loneliness, and pain…? Each person viewing his paintings will interpret or compose their own individual reading. This group hosted by the Kendall Art Center (KAC) continues the work that has been developed by this cultural center for some time, with the goal of presenting critically and publically recognized artists, as well as other emerging artists. Havana, July, 2017
24. Tony Rodríguez, The citadel, 2016, oil on canvas, 48 x 36” 25. Raúl Proenza, Metamorphosis, 2017, coffee, ink and charcoal on canvas, 60 x 48”
26. RenĂŠ Portocarrero, Santa Barbara, serigraphy, 85/100, 21.5 x 18â€?
showing a wide range of national and foreign artists, can be analyzed as a testimony of our historical and cultural ups and downs 64
MADE IN CUBA: UTOPIAS AND SOME OTHERS HONORS
Roxana M. Bermejo
“I cannot think of a place with more utopias per square meter” Orlando Hernández Cuban history is full of utopias. There are small and giant utopias, heartbreaking, silent, inclusive and exclusive ones. Under these lights, art has, luckily, been the most recurring defense mechanism. It is known that a utopia dies when it is achieved… while the moment of gestation has the highest utopic value. History is a process, as much as or even more than a utopia, though sometimes, the generational gaps between the historic event and us place the incident in past tense. The utopia used by Orlando Hernández to speak about the Taller (Print Workshop) goes beyond. The exhibition AB(out) (Kendall Art Center, Nov–Dec 2017) and the accompanying monograph, entitled Todo lo que quería saber de serigrafía artística cubana… y nunca le contaron (All you wanted to know about Cuban artistic silk screen printing… and were never told), both by the artist Aldo Menéndez (1948), are gifted with surprising validity and novelty. Such qualities are seen in 120 Cuban silkscreen prints on display at the Centro, many of them from Taller Portocarrero, founded by Aldo in 1983, which he led until 1990 and was originally named Taller Experimental de Serigrafía Artística del Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales (Experimental Print Workshop for Artistic Silkscreen Prints of the Cuban Cultural Assets Fund). This was an institution still finding its way, trying to recover an artistic market lost twenty years before. Progress was made and it began fertilizing the soil for the sustainable development of artistic silkscreen printing, updated in less then five years, as no other graphic manifestation. This exhibition, showing a wide range of national and foreign artists, can be analyzed as a testimony of our historical and cultural ups and downs. The skill of this production is based, as Menéndez says, on the human resources found in the Workshop, including the collaborators. In the midst of scarceness and limitations of all kind, these resources were the tool that placed those works in a prominent position overseas, on organizing the International Meetings for Artistic Silk Screen printing of the three initial Havana Biennials.
The initial rapprochement with international artistic silk printing was in 1942, Menéndez explains, when the Habana Lyceum showed an important exhibition of outstanding American silkscreen printers. Then a prehistory in the commercial sphere occurred and new spaces and printings that contributed to foster in Cuba the takeoff of artistic silk screen printing, with some pioneers associated with constructivism: Salvador Corratgé and Wifredo Arcay and the poster maker Eladio Rivadulla, who developed during the 1950s a movie poster that represented the technical pillars for the renewed concept of the poster, later introduced by the designers in ICAIC. In this sense, the 1960s and the 70s are also represented by the creative UNEAC Printing Workshop, led by Julio Pérez Medina and that of the Casa de las Américas. Likewise functioned those directed by painters Luis Miguel Valdés y Carlos Uribazo. Each of them, friends and colleagues, were called by me, as member of the advisory committee, eager to share their experiences to start the Print Workshop in the Cuban Cultural Assets Fund, later renamed Portocarrero. The Taller prioritized artistic elements over technical virtuosity and no one unaware of this art form could operate a scraper or waste ink in making reproductions. The results are unquestionable and the achievements are still vivid, in a style still existing in other workshops such as: Pepe Herrera and Francisco Bernal in Madrid, or Nelson Villalobo de Vigo, as well as La Siempre Habana, of Luis Miguel in Michoacán. With a basis in historiography, there exists a well-informed spectator (who reads, searching in the sources and advantageously using the reviews accumulated through the canonization of the criticized matter), and a beginner, a historical witness, trying to have a broader vision and to take a risk with something the critics are still validating, and such is the case of Aldo, who, in his permanent betting, places individual, collective and systematic work to favor the creation of the artist, who took overseas, beyond our borders, Cuban artistic silkscreen printing. Aldo notes: Bernal, Pepe, Villalobo, Israel León, Rubén Rodríguez, Ana Escobar, are some of the first emerging artists and recently graduated from the University of Arts (ISA), who joined the project. Alejo Carpentier donated one of his awards to purchase the equipment we started with. The support from leaders in the cultural field was crucial, persons who “never closed doors to us,” even at times when the Print Workshop became headquarters of the most controversial individuals and groups in the arts, even in the ideological sense. Even knowing full well that the more troublesome ideas came from there and that all were printed, we were supported by Marcia Leyseca, Nisia Aguero and Lilian Llanes.
The previous elements give artistic silkscreen printing some additional virtues: the immediate reaction to social situations, and its lower priced original art, reaching a greater number of the public, and give the Print Workshop the benefit of the economic support for an infinity of artists and a site for technical training. Speaking of virtues, Aldo underlines the main asset of the Print Workshop was creating a very free atmosphere, an attractive environment for exchanging criteria, a cultural focus for youth interested in meeting local or foreign celebrities, with no barriers. In summary, an atmosphere of abundant permissiveness. As Cuba was a consumerist paradise before 1959, this exhibition acknowledges the enthusiastic welcome offered by the national industry to this technique, and speaks about the results since the 1930s in the presentation of original commercial products. This exhibition and the monograph attest to the luxury years of our silkscreen printing, also seen in the Diaspora, in the Miami Press Workshop, established by the painter Víctor Gómez. In short, this trajectory is to be seen as an experience, as Aldo’s lifelong personal and social work. The monograph should become study material for artists and researchers. The KAC halls, a Center directed by the collector Leonardo Rodríguez, devoted to safeguarding and promoting Cuban plastic art works, are today an elegant space, with curator work from Henry Ballate and Ivonne Ferrer. For those reasons, the gallery temporarily became the paradise of printing.
27. Aldo Menéndez, San cacharro, serigraphy P.A. V/VIII, 27.5 x 39.5”
28. JosĂŠ Bedia, Chicomoztoc Tzotzompan Quinehuayan, 1984, acrylic and oil on canvas, 127 x 103â€?
a living stage for the community, a vital source of reference 68
CUBAN ARTISTS IN THE RODRÍGUEZ COLLECTION Roxana M. Bermejo
I have spent several years trying to capture the concept of “Art” as a whole. I have never been able to. There are always areas that escape me, intelligible ideas that exceed the limits of my research, however extensive it may be. Perhaps for that reason, I have had to accept, little by little, what others had already coined before: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” However, after all is said and done, I have also been shown that humans are conceptual, idiomatic beings, who like to understand and synthesize everything that surrounds them. Hence, if it were necessary to find an accepted definition for art, it would coincide, on my horizon of expectations, with George Dickie’s “Institutional Theory,” according to which (and above all in contrast to modern and contemporary production) a piece of art is an artistic work if, and only if, it belongs to the “World of Art” (galleries, museums, academies, culturally legitimate institutions). In this space, with its limited and elitist nature, different entities come into play that can define, promote or censure advancement, diffusion, reception, or the value of a piece of art and its artist. One of the main characters to be found within this nobiliary group is the art collector. The latter could be defined over a hundred pages or in a single line: the work, with its inflated rate of exchange, if collected appears to be a great investment. Behind every great artist there is usually a sponsoring patron: Sandro Botticelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici, Caravaggio and Cardinal Francesco del Monte, Gustave Courbet and Alfred Bruyas, Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein, Jackson Pollock and Peggy Guggenheim.... This has continued into the present, with more familiar names such as: Ella Fontanals–Cisneros, Jorge Pérez, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, Rubell, Margulie and others, who redirect and transform the fabric of contemporary art in our city. This list of collectors was recently joined by Leonardo Rodríguez, a Cuban living in Miami, who for almost thirty years has focused on safeguarding and supporting the artistic production of the island’s creators. Rodríguez’s work as an “art collector” began in the complex nineties of the last century, still in his own country where he made his debut as an antique’s collector. From this stage, little by little, his taste changed
towards the visual arts, given his interest in “authenticity and aura” which characterizes this production. In light of this, it is interesting to note that when Leonardo emigrated from Cuba, he brought precisely the twelve paintings that would become the genesis of what today is his treasure. Once settled in Miami, this initially pruned collection (very limited with regard to the artworks that did not leave the island), is gradually nourished and begins to grow more vigorously, opening up to the multicultural environment that prevails in this North American city, without ceasing to favour its Cuban roots. Artists such as: René Portocarrero, Cundo Bermúdez, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Gina Pellón, Tomás Esson and Reynerio Tamayo join him and increase the list of artists he represents. With this plurality of artists, who are all different in terms of themes and inclinations, I have asked myself on various occasions what exactly Leonardo Rodríguez is looking for when he selects a piece for his collection. His hasty response has always been the same: “I need a transparent work that illustrates everything expressed by its artist, that reflects the artist, although not literally. I have no other way of understanding art, I cannot read it if it is not credible.” However, it is important to clarify that Leonardo´s career as a collector has experienced a substantial leap in the last year due to a major event, not only for him and the artists at his side, but also for the artistic scene in general. This was the birth of the Kendall Art Center (KAC), who opened its doors to the public on July 15, 2016 and which, although still in its early years, already deserves a detailed introduction. The Kendall Art Center was created with the intention of bringing Rodríguez’s collection closer to the community. This purpose has been fulfilled throughout this time through different personal and collective exhibitions, where emerging and established artists find a space for fruitful and pleasant dialogue. Artists such as Sandra Ramos, Pedro Ávila, Lisyanet Rodríguez and Maikel Domínguez have all appeared there and left their imprint on the building´s white walls. In addition, each of these exhibitions have been accompanied by the presence of highly regarded names within the miami cultural network, such as: Janet Batet, Aldo Menéndez, Henry Ballate and Píter Ortega. These critics have set their sights on the visual arts production that revolves around the KAC and have found in its rooms, space for debate in diverse activities. Such activities include book presentations, piano concerts and opera, guided tours for students and other interested parties, as well as the center’s participation in academic events such as the “Eleventh Conference on Cuban and Cuban-American Studies,” held at Florida International University (FIU).
Built atop these pillars, KAC has become–according to “The Miami Herald”–one of the best cultural offerings, not only in Kendall, which needed an initiative like this, but in the city of Miami as a whole. Its foundation and the constant interaction with artists that have nurtured it, has meant that the Leonardo Rodríguez collection has grown by approximately 40%, refining its artists and moving towards a pluralist profile where, the work of the renowned artists on the island in the eighties is especially noteworthy in terms of its continuity and validity, and no longer as something static or archaeological. This approach can be seen with a mere look at the exhibitions that have been held in the center of the current work of Ciro Quintana, Ana Albertina, Pedro Vizcaíno and José Bedia. As an example, it is worth clarifying that the Rodríguez collection has doubled this year in terms of the number of artworks by the aforementioned artist (José Bedia), one of the major names in the Cuban visual arts. This makes the Rodríguez collection one of the most vital sources for studying this painter, as it includes works such as “Chicomoztoc Tzotzompan Quinehuayan,” which was included in the first Havana Biennial in 1984. At this point, I think it is also important to refer to the figure of Leonardo as a collector. His modus operandi involves closeness and direct contact with the artist. He aims to find out the circumstances behind the creation, study it, learn from it and receive it from the author’s own hands whenever possible. Hence contemporary names predominate in his coffers and special value is given to fresh, living work that breathes.... His interest lies in giving way to creation without any kind of barriers. In this sense, the collection, which until now has been more focused on the so-called “fine arts,” has found with the creation of the KAC, a thriving place for other forms of expression such as photography, video art, installation and performance... We were fortunate to experience these forms of expression during the week of art basel, which are expected to become an even more active part in upcoming exhibitions at the center. This is how the KAC of tomorrow is being shaped; not just as a gallery or a museum space to host Rodríguez’s collection, but as a living stage for the community, a vital source of reference for new and not so new generations. This only leaves me to express my gratitude, as any art lover would do, for an idea as vigorous, as promising and as strong as the Leonardo Rodríguez collection and his Kendall Art Center initiative. This first approach then may just be the starting point of its impact in the near future, which is always aimed at profiling new investigative, historiographical and creative routes.
29. Aldo Menéndez. Serie Retratos en chino (2012-2016), La civilización del espectáculo, mixed media, 31 x 31”
In his hands, any point of reference could become a human face that communicates something specific 72
RETRATOS EN CHINO Samuel Beck
In Cuba, ‘talking Chinese’ [‘to speak gibberish’] is synonymous with something complicated or hard to understand. But in this case what seems as complicated as speaking in Chinese is… the future. The style that guided Aldo Menéndez (1948) when he created the series of collages Retratos en chino began to fall into place when he worked on the collages for the Archaeological Findings exhibition at Durban Segnini Gallery in Miami in 2001. Several collages that were essentially portraits already appeared in the catalog of that exhibition. Many of those 30 collages later became large format easel paintings in which the artist attempted– with no other technological medium to his avail and only drawing on his experience in hyperrealism–to transcribe them as if copying an object, turning a traditional collage into a trompe l’oeil that aimed at reproducing pictorially the various characteristics that define a collage. At the time, Menéndez wondered if it would not be better to cut and paste directly on the canvas–in other words, to leave out of the equation the straight jacket of imitating the effects of some other technique that he thought only served to boast about pure virtuosity. Following an attempt to use serigraphy on canvas, he found the ideal medium in digital printing on canvas–which was making headways in the mid–2000s–as the tool with which he wanted to experiment. And so Menéndez used as matrix the old-style collage created with glue and scissors, which he then transferred to a canvas as a digital print to finally paint over it again, always having the capacity to make corrections and change things around.
He then carefully selects the images or base material he will use to assemble the original collage, beginning with those linked to advertising and marketing. He considers they offer an advantage for approaching and critiquing the futility of trends, additionally highlighting the extreme contrast with underdevelopment and poverty. Naturally, over time he incorporates other sources, such as Western art–although he just as easily will appropriate an anonymous African mask or urban graffiti–or often the iconography of his homeland (Cuba). In his hands, any point of reference could become a human face that communicates something specific. The well–known visual artist Rubén Torres Llorca, whose work and capacity for intellectual analysis Menéndez admires, recently visited Menéndez at home. Rubén had already written a piece celebrating Aldo’s exhibition at Galería Segnini, but now, seeing before him a good portion of the series Retratos en chino, he told Aldo: “Now that you’re turning 70, these are your water lilies.” And he was right, because from the getgo, Menéndez connected with the idea of creating a Monet series with an atmosphere capable of enveloping the spectator. Menéndez points out that “…ever since I was very young I had wanted to create paintings that would give the spectator a panoramic feeling. In recreating the emotions I felt standing in front of the dioramas that impressed me in European museums, and in front of the famous Muscovite scene of the Battle of Borodino, I finally arrived at the Orangerie Museum to enjoy Monet’s set of water lilies…and through them I discovered that my search was aimed not only at setting down my own universe but rather, as Monet expressed, at creating a refuge of peaceful meditation, the illusion of an endless whole.” This realization allows Aldo to underline the amphibological nature of the epoch that has been his fate to inhabit, which has become increasingly more exalted. As a matter of fact, Antonio Marin Segovia coincides with the concepts developed by Aldo when referring to Monet, when he states that “…he saw painting as a visual and emotional experience that years later (1955) helped abstract painters to encounter the ambiguity of the vision that makes it impossible to know for certain what we are looking at. Kandinsky had said as much long before, when he acknowledged that it was Monet who planted abstraction in him when he contemplated one of his paintings of haystacks.” As Kandinsky pointed out, Menéndez’s acrylics evidence a certain confusion, a necessary mix of reality–fiction as a fusion of elements, a cocktail that indicates the temperature of the environment, in the end
turning his paintings into constant self–portraits of a stubborn person obsessed with attaining a high degree of sovereignty in his art. Another coincidence with Monet (but always keeping the necessary distance) is that the Frenchman used the same panels for his water lilies, the same measurements as those of the large advertising posters that prevailed in Paris at the time. On his part, Menéndez relates each Retrato en chino to television screens, those walls with screens where the master controls are, with each monitor showing different images that simultaneously compose a general picture which reflects life pulsating in the present tense, safe, enjoying a fleeting moment of glory. They represent today’s visual mediums, says Menéndez, new possibilities that display a cavalier memory as we rhythmically surf the channels. To match the 36 years Monet devoted to his water lilies, Aldo would need to have a very long life. For now, eight years should make him feel satisfied with the composition of 128 works (presented both separately AND signed, or as an installation) created with such mastery and strength, with such variety and allure using a 31 x 31-inch format. Their background refers us to the universe of the Dada collage, to the successful projection to date of that revolutionary tendency of artistic avant–garde from a conceptual point of view, and to a prevailing surrealist world manifested in the mixtures and postmodern appropriations. To be able to perceive adequately the potential for communication of the series Retratos en chino, it is necessary to sense that whichever and any head or face can somehow speak to Menéndez about every human perspective and ambit. Those faces synthesize fundamental expressions of Cuba and the world, provided we know how to access a broad channel of appreciation of portraiture that will accommodate anyone from Philip Guston, David Salle, Martin Eder and Takashi Murakami, to Basquiat. I have no doubt that Retratos en chino represents a milestone.
30. Henry Ballate, The Source, 2017, installation, dimensions variable
I think that Duchamp has not died, that itâ€™s always the others who die 76
SOURCE Roxana M. Bermejo
I have always defended that along with any good work of art there is a theoretical thinking entrenched. Sometimes, the piece works as a constant for critical thinking, other times, it works as its trigger. This last case, of course, is much more intense, interesting, explanatory and revealing. Definitive. I think of Duchamp setting his fountain in the middle of a gallery, signing his fountain, saying this is not a urinal, and the audience applauding. After him, I think about Arthur Danto and a little behind in George Dickie, I think about how post modernity opens up and I think about Duchamp himself telling me: Iâ€™m Interested in ideas, not just in visual products. And I think about the Idea, and since the Idea is intangible, I think of its embodiment facing the new times. And I go back to Duchamp and I think what Duchamp would do in the new times. And then, I think that Duchamp has not died, that itâ€™s always the others who die. Duchamp illuminated the paths for contemporary art. The above is at this point an axiom a thousand times repeated. I will not even take a line to explain it: everything that came after Duchamp drinks from him; necessarily drinks from him. Duchamp opened the intertextuality, the conceptualism, the loss of the aura of the work, and the Institutionalization of art. After him, nothing was left in the same place. Nothing was sustainable without his signature. There is no doubt that the urinal is the most authentic, artistic and valuable piece of the 20th century. Now, we should ask ourselves where the shots are pointing, where the art of the 21st century is being urinated. And although many sins of skepticism, and although I myself sin... I think that sometimes a piece comes to light that makes us believe in reincarnation.
If Duchamp lived–I know I sound a bit fanatical, but in essence I am–if Duchamp lived, this would be his work and the signature of Henry Ballate would be the equivalent of R. Mutt in that urinal of 1917. I’m not going to make it obvious by explaining the reasons that drive me to think the above, nor will I comment on the choice of an element of our daily life becoming an icon of the plastic arts, nor will I talk about the commercialization of art, or the globalization of information. Well, maybe that’s what I’ll tell you a little about. Surpassed the limits that disturbed Duchamp facing the power of the Art Institution, new challenges arise for the contemporary world, among which stands out the generalized possibility of access to the work, the uncontrolled inflow of information, the possession and non-possession of the totality of knowledge, and the incapacity that generates the possibility or encompassment of everything. Warhol had already warned before, and Warhol had driven consumerism into the most dangerous area of all: art. There, on this point, this painting signed by a certain Mr. Ballate is placed. Will he know that his work is just a pretext to revere, perhaps update the memory of that great duo of Dada and Pop? Let us suppose he knows. Let us suppose that this is due to the use of traditional methods and materials to make your piece, a QR, a simple QR that like any good QR is, although similar to those of its kind, unique and unrepeatable. The hand of the creator (perhaps the least important element in front of this framework) leads, with chess skill, the arrangement of the small black– white paintings on the canvas in such a way that, at the end of the path–and giving participation to a spectator mediated for its contemporary extension of openness to the world (Digital Devices)–comes face to face with a work of universal art. This is the idea, in a few words: give away a work hidden behind a QR. Is this art? Perhaps, if we stick to the very principles of Institutionalization, where every element presented in a circle of art and appreciated by an audience of art, immediately becomes a good or bad piece, but an artistic piece at last. However, maybe it is not art. Perhaps it is not pure art, and it grows as a mixture of a globalized curatorial exercise. Will there be a specific intention behind the selection of the works that appear through the window of the QR?
These iconic works, will they be punctual and will they bring a message to those who look for them? Let’s say yes. And suppose that for that simple reason, the first of them, the firstborn of the series, presents us “The Urinal” through an interactive work, composed of small black canvases, conceived in a traditional way. A hundred years after the birth of “The Fountaine,” “The Source” by Henry Ballate is a piece that can be transformed through the rearrangement of its components, leading the viewer to experience other relevant works of Art History. Afterwards, the order of apprehension of the sample matters little. It is in the interest of this project to reach its public in the same chaotic and fractional way in which the information flies. It is his interest to wander between the techné of the piece itself and the classic techné of what is online, dissociate us from the authenticity of the work, compared to the legitimacy of the work, compared to the effectiveness and essence of the work. To all these, what is the work? Who is the artist? Oh Duchamp! What you have done in contemporary art!
31. Henry Ballate, The Source, 2017, installation, dimensions variable
32. Adriano Buergo, Roto comparte su lecho, 1990, graphite on canson, 19.5 x 27.5â€?
the painter of Cuban tawdriness, of filth, of urban overcrowding and pauperization 80
ROTO EXPONE Gerardo Mosquera
Roto Expone, Solo exhibition catalogue. Proyecto Castillo de la Fuerza. Havana, Cuba. 1989 Adriano Buergo is a typical informant of one of the core orientations of the new Cuban Art; the connection of the popular urban culture with “cultured” art. Preceded by Acosta Leon and Torres Llorca, artists like Nilo Castillo, Ana Albertina Delgado, Tomas Esson, Ciro Quintana, Glexis Novoa, Segundo Planes, Lazaro Saavedra and Tonel are carriers of folklore very much alive in their medium of formation in which they continue rooted and at the same time they make with spontaneity “sophisticated” work that expresses from within, sensibilities values and points of view of that media. This fusion churned with very complex layers of identification and irony towards one side and the other. The naturalness in its contradictory appearance is a sign of the surprising paths that art will take with the slow but unstoppable push of the third world “on the outside” over international and Eurocentric cultures and “on the inside” through the dynamics of immigration, the demographics and the national minorities in the grand metropolitan centers. This luck of popular “cultivated” culture developed here, is perhaps like an expression of the third world Cuban Socialism. Due to the cause of material conditioning brought about the changes in society... Teaching, leveling, infrastructures, of equal opportunities... as if by its own elaborations of the social conscience, favored by the cultural reopening of the eighties and the postmodern poetics. Buergo is the painter of Cuban tawdriness, of filth, of urban overcrowding and pauperization. His work represents a affectionate critique and at the same time an artistic expression of the crass, the riff raff and the real grotesque, as a transitory result of the radicalness of the social movements have been generalized plenty. His maximum manifestation occurs in numerous neighborhoods in Havana, this filthy city, impoverished and beautiful that Adriano suffers and loves every day. He takes to his paintings with the immediacy of everyday life, without deceptions or backrooms.
I insist, that his overall attitude of this, as well as many young artists, is of critique as well as participation, since they form a part of the phenomenon. We stand before an intricate, problematic, dialectic vision of the contradictions of one reality whose symbol could be a cross made of a loaf of bread and excrement painted by the artist. Adriano himself is the result of a case of these multiple confluences. A painter of great skills, professor, a connoisseur of art history, the base of his sensibility is “chea” of vernacular Kitsch, with which he plays with, ironically but without detachments. Rather it constitutes the ultra–Baroque of his “cultured” solutions, so imaginative, unburdened and of his very own figuration, which is a hyper-caricature that criticizes Kitsch by means of a metakitsch, based on an extreme exaggeration of his own methods. Furthermore, the complexity of the results has a starting point, plenty of ideas that are trivial, and an ingenuity that contrasts with the visual richness and of the significance of his work. His exhibition in the “Castillo de la Fuerza” is a poem of the popular urban home in Cuba and it’s objects. He occupies himself with the world of junk from the forties and fifties that have been having to keep on servicing, the objects adapting to new functions, the brute and utilitarian, homey and bricolage, those things that have resisted the blockade everyday, the auto blockade and the shortage. The art of the XX century has worked a lot with objects, especially within the great orientation of “surrealism” that would include Duchamp, Picabia, Oppenheim, Magritte, Klapheck, Johns, Oldenburg, Artschwager and many others. Adriano has very little to do with this tradition, because the object, even though anthropologised does not interest him much for it’s “mystery,” by the suggestion of it’s intrinsic meanings, in relations to the subjectivity, but for it’s “social” content, even though very much internalized, beyond the “objectivity” of a straight sociological discourse. I said poem, because for the first time his work turns lyrical without abandoning his habitual traits. Strange grotesque lyrics that express the problems, defects and the glory of the material life inside the Cuban houses. Furthermore, because it’s not about an extensive testimony, but of a pluri-significant image. Lets think about the work, as one which symbolizes love, two refunctionalised jars for urinating at night, the one with the wide mouth for the woman and the narrow mouth for the man, rude turtledoves of very fine sensibilities, unaware of coprophilous rumage. Let us observe the good fortune of the inversion of the readymade in placing the word “problem” like one more piece of junk in the backyard of the house, eternally present in our every day life, an idea that integrates a humoristic social dimension in the manner of Lazaro Saavedra with another conceptual one as in Cuenca’s.
But the most significant work is the odyssey in ten chapters of “Roto,” a creole fan put together with the motor of an old American apparatus from an air conditioner tied with a rope, that exists in Adriano’s house. “Roto” dreams and suffers with it’s past glories, it sprouts wings and flies toward a “consumer society,” over there is not it’s place, it freezes up and returns home where it receives love from the kerosene lamp “chismosa.” Difficult love as Garcia Marquez would say, because the lamp functions when there is a blackout and Roto needs electricity, aside of the fact that its air extinguishes the weak feminine light of its lover. But there is a happy ending, because Roto awaits a grandiose destiny: To turn into the sun... like an Aztec myth... radiantly warming up the Kitsch paradise of a Cuban tourists beach, the dollar area without a doubt. Marcel Duchamp would die in front of a work like this one; or perhaps he would not understand it... and you would have to forgive the limitations of an European in appreciating the complex plot of concepts, sensitivities and say so “by bodies” that knit this super inclusivity. This odyssey, this Brazilian serial, this comic, this video-clip, this neighborhood saga is a discourse obtained with ingenuity, skill, fantasy and everyday reality, subjectivity and social implications, folklore and art history, carnavalization, surrealism, myth and even socialist realism... An encounter with Blades and Lautreamont in Marianao. There is one doubt left as far as the general message of the exhibition. Wouldn’t it finally be a rhetoric of conformism, contrasting with the acute sense of the transforming critique in many of the contemporaries of Buergo? A false conscience of the ruined? A lyrical and social masturbation with a state of things urging change? To my judgment... it is more about the reflection of his labyrinth, from within himself.
Translated by Ana Maria Sarlat
33. Adriano Buergo, Rostro Roto, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 43â€?
Roto twists into organic shapes, sprouts a wise foam of beard, petals into golds that appear like gelling flames 84
EPIC OF SURVIVAL Ricardo Pau-Llosa
Roto: Adriano Buergo’s Epic of Survival Roto Expone (‘broken exhibits’) is the title of a series of paintings, drawings, and assemblages which Adriano Buergo began in the late–80’s when the artist still lived in his native Havana. Roto is also the name of the protagonist of this series, a once functioning component in an American air-conditioner from the 1950’s (Republican Cuba) which becomes, in Buergo’s series–an unfolding visual epic–a multidimensional symbol. The word roto is also a pun on the third person, past tense of rotar, ‘rotate’: rotó, ‘rotated.’ Extracted from the air-conditioner unit and turned into a fan, Roto assumes the full presence of a personality, although one torn and confused by the world in which ‘he’ lives–totalitarian Cuba with its endless fears and hungers, exquisite deceptions, and maddening contradictions. The fan is also a ruined device which can only hope to recover its simple function by becoming a mechanical hybrid–e.g., a fan hooked up to another machine. What remains of the old A/C is the fan with its motor. Roto embarks on an emptying journey–in–place, usually in bitter darkness (Havana of this ‘special period’ suffered from protracted power outtages, as it did before and has since), to regain a sense of himself and a logic to his privations. Clearly, the fable Roto–with the protagonist’s escape into fantasy and the scenes’ penumbral claustrophobia–evokes the political camouflage seen in the literature and art of oppressive societies. Change one letter and we get rojo, ‘red,’ adhering brokenness to all the anatomical and ideological ramifications of the color. The symbolization of Buergo’s generation by their desparate cannibalization of disparate machine parts to concoct new and monstrous versions of old devices, is a brilliant and complex trope–simple in its lucid reference, complex in its power to evoke the layers of personality, especially one trapped in a society fragmented by tyranny, collaboration, and an insane ideology. However, the fact that Buergo, who fled Communist Cuba in
the early nineties and has lived in Miami ever since, continues to quarry the symbol is a testament to its versatility and profundity. The fan has become an errant presence equally lost in the codes of a politically free, if commercially driven, frivolous society, one for whom consumerism (rather than the frugality of reuse, repair, and rehabilitation) is the stirring anthem. As the viable symbol of thoughtful life, Roto wants to grow and be free without relinquishing the identifying and vital roots of his legacy. Brokenness, in other words, has become in Buergo’s art the obvious and permanent ‘special period’ condition of the artist in all contemporary societies. And while artists have, by and large, felt marginalized in all societies and periods in history, the condition has entered a particularly poignant phase in recent times. The heroic agent that once rotated mountains of air and ideas, molded and revolutionized values, led us into reflection and the understanding of our identity, is currently an oddity or the glib purveyor of goods in the market place of collectibles. Success today befalls those who articulate prevailing socio–political viewpoints, not to those who focus on philosophical or aesthetic concepts. The mechanism of ideas which once drove the creative mind has been replaced by the motor of money and spectacle. A promenade across any major art fair should provide sufficient evidence of our sad state. Brokenness is the new old badge of honor and courage. It seems we are doomed to sink into the maelstrom of materialism and vanity which marked the 19th century, and its obsession with propriety in language (but not ritual or attire), with little hope of garnering its crop of rebel geniuses (Goya, Van Gogh, Flaubert, Dickinson, Dostoyevsky, Wilde, et al). The neo-Existential turmoil of the artist in the lair to which his imbecile society has cast him finds an ample array of evocation in Buergo’s exilic extension of the Roto adventure. The masterful realist detail of Buergo’s pencil and charcoal drawings of the late 1980’s gave us a monochromatic lense into the inner and contextual darkness of the wrecked, if still yearning, hero. There is little absolution or tranquility of mind in the confessional eclipse of Roto’s socialist paradise, to be sure, but Buergo stroked with startling subtlety the neglected archetypes of faith and its crew of ecstatics, prophets, and hermits. Roto’s blades are always still, fixed into the petals of a rusted crucifix. The hero elongates into a grinning mandorla, and he rarely ventures from the prayerless cave in which he ponders fragmented hope. Roto has swallowed his sirens, and so it is from within that wings and heart project their emanations on the fan’s bleak shell. He peers eyeless onto dense pools and through the armor of windows while evoking– mysteriously–a tenderness.
The paintings of this early period, through his watershed solo exhibition in 2009 at Farside Gallery in Miami, expand the vision of Roto’s conflated world through color and texture. In hallucinatory metaphors Roto partners with starfish, the human figure, flowers, birds and angels, shimmers and meltings. A burnt orange hue, gnarled with folds and feathers, bronzes many of the works in bled golds and treacherous earths. Opals of icy bowls, the only glow in the dark shelf of this world, entice Roto to fill the tropic summer with cool air-a motif, as art critic Janet Batet has shrewdly noted, that connects Buergo with Cuba’s premier writer Virgilio Piñera (El Nuevo Herald, review, 5–4–09). Among other acute perceptions, Batet also points out Roto’s kinship to Cuba’s most tragic expression of life as makeshift, entangling despair: the balseros, rafters who have fled Communism in their tens of thousands across the funereal Florida Straits. In paintings from 1996 to 2009 Buergo has explored other themes in which the echoes of Roto are not too distant. A lone worker enveloped in a richly textured series of abstract forms, geometric and otherwise, is seen searching among bins and cylinders, delving into dark reservoirs only he can perceive and judge. It is obvious that Roto has always been, at heart, a self–portrait of a condition shared with an entire trapped generation. In these paintings, Buergo brings the solitary worker–a more explicit image of himself–in worlds that evoke the blades and motions of Roto and the blocks of his enclosures. In the more recent paintings, Roto–Náutica, exhibited in 2017 at the Kendall Art Center in South Florida, Roto assumes the shapes and colors of his denied aspirations. Blues and violets, golds, white and grey. Against the persistent and dramatic darkness of backdrops that are his native soil, Roto twists into organic shapes, sprouts a wise foam of beard, petals into golds that appear like gelling flames. He is orgasmic and visionary, free and wrestling joyously with constraint. This may be a kind of pentecostal release for Roto, now that he is manifestly a trinity of simultaneous conditions: the prodigal son, the prodigal’s brother, and the lamb of sacrifice. But he is also resplendent, daring to dance. If shadow remains the grammar of his soul, light is its new semantics. He survives vibrant, eschewing his youthful exhaustion, with the workings of memory and conviction intact. We will learn from him now what we have always needed to know.
34. Carlos Estévez, Autodescubrimiento, 2016, hand painted ceramic, 15” ø.
Spirits are transformed as faces described within the circle of a plate 88
FIREWORKS Carol Damian
Fireworks The Ceramics of Carlos Estévez The art of Carlos Estévez reveals a consistent interest in the potential for visualization to examine the link between humanity and the infinity of human experience. He explores notions of symbolism, mythology, time, anatomy, metaphysics and the cosmos in a quest for understanding that transcends the visual to enter the realm of the mind in complex works in different media. He has long investigated the processes used by artists through the centuries that have transformed personal visions into artistic expressions. He follows a long tradition of experimentation with materials that enable him to produce unique works to address new ideas, and re– evaluate those of long-ago. During his career, Estévez has used drawing, painting, sculpture, objects and installations to create a body of work known for its intellectual context and esoteric references to science, philosophy, aesthetics, and alchemy. During a recent residency at the McColl Center for the Arts and Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina, he had the opportunity to work in a studio with equipment that included ceramic kilns and afforded him freedom to experiment. Located in a historic, neo-Gothic church, the Center itself proved to be inspirational for its connection to a history that could not be ignored. Estévez has long looked to the past for his subject matter and the ability to work in what was once a religious building was particularly interesting and a complimentary environment for his interests in the spiritual and mythological. He had the chance to explore ceramics as the basis for his complex inventory of subjects and advance his skills in the making of a new body of work, quite different from the ceramics he had made in the past, and more complex technically, visually and conceptually.
Most of the ceramics Estévez has created are in the shape of round plates and the circle is a determining factor in their aesthetic production. Other shapes involve the same careful attention to form that is integral to working with the medium. The opportunity to create unique works that differed from the two–dimensional and forced a different focus as he translated his ideas into clay and within a new shape. The integration of flatly drawn images into a circular format is a challenge that he has successfully met with apparent ease, without losing the integrity of his designs. Undoubtedly, his interest in science and alchemy has contributed to this new facet of his artistic career. Today, we recognize that modern ceramics are defined as the art and science of making objects from inorganic, non–metallic materials by the action of heat. It involves the four elements: earth, wind, fire, water. It is a process akin to alchemical transformation with results that range from the perfectly accomplished to the accidents of chemistry and paint in the kiln. Fire is the determining factor. Estévez experiments with ideas of opposition–positives and negatives–as he forms an equilibrium within the perfect shape of a circle. For this exhibition, Estévez has created works focused on themes of Metamorphosis, Rituals, Medieval Fantasies, and the Faces of Gods and Demons. They celebrate the ceremonies of Native Americans and the mythology of ancient Greece, and in one series, the plates are named for a personality and designed with relational symbolism. His ceramics also move beyond painted and glazed plates that incorporate his meticulously drawn visual vocabulary, replete with references to the cosmos, nature, machines, insects, and the human figure. Now his repertoire expands technically with the addition of new materials, stenciling, and illusionistic geometrics that vie for reality, and occasionally are real holes in the plates. The same complexity that has filled his drawings and paintings takes on a new technical dimension in his ceramics as the firing becomes a transformative element for creative results. The spirits of Native America are the inspiration for two hand–painted ceramic objects that incorporate hair and feathers to resemble “war bonnets” and add tactile interest and spiritual effects. Spirits are transformed as faces described within the circle of a plate, repeating shapes and other geometric elements energize and activate the objects. The mystery of the Universe, the planets, sun and moon, join an established repertoire. His familiar treatment of fantastic animals, insects, and mechanized creatures that dominates so much of his work over the years, is given new life in this latest form, and he masterfully integrates their shapes into the round borders that never appear to limit their designs. Always fascinated by the human face and what it can reveal about a person, while providing extraordinary opportunities to
play with shapes, Estévez repeats its features for references to the moon in one of the most striking series. The phases of the moon provide a dramatic relationship between positives and negatives, darks and lights. The excitement of experimentation and different sources of inspiration have brought to the work of Carlos Estévez a remarkable repertoire of images transformed by the fire of the kiln. He has found new possibilities for the expansion of his personal lexicon of complex images into ceramic objects that bring them off the flat surface of canvas and paper and enhance their presence within a unique form. The art of ceramics has become one more component in his already outstanding artistic vision.
35. Carlos Estévez, The Quest of Life, 2016, hand painted ceramic, 15” ø.
36. NĂŠstor Arena, Dichotomous structures No 6, 2017, acrylic on Fine art paper, 59.5 x 40â€?
An iconography deeply tangled with the history he personally lived in Cuba, as much as the one he had to live through outside of
LANDSCAPE, ABSTRACTION AND SYNTAX Dennys Matos
Landscape, abstraction and syntax of the utopia in the work of Nestor Arenas The curtain rises at the start of the 90s with the fall of communism in Europe, and the east; not only this but the start of “el Período Especial” (Spanish for the special period) in Cuba during times of peace. On one hand the economic support of the Soviets disappeared and on the other the American embargo worsened, submerging Cuba into an economic collapse the likes of which they’re still suffering from. A great mass of artists and intellectuals leave the island and settle in diverse countries, countries like Mexico, Venezuela, US and Spain. This phenomenon was known as the “Diaspora,” expanded the field of contemporary Cuban art production like never before in the international circuits. The discourse of the diaspora as described by Ivan de la Nuez revendicated the nomadic character of this new Cuban cultural subject. In consequence I believe new territories outside of the Habana Miami tensions had monopolized the imaginary Cuban political culture, as much in as out of the island slowing down the development of Cuban culture after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. It is within this diasporic context of the 90s that in the style of the neo figuration, the work of Nestor Arenas emerges (Holguín, Cuba, 1964). The work of Arenas that would settle itself in Spain during the mid-90’s. His work has characterized itself from its beginnings for its reflections on two essential elements. On one hand the systematic investigation on expressive possibilities of the landscape as a historical style of painting and its symbolic strength in context with contemporary visual culture. On the other hand, the method in which cultural political ideologies of modernity and as well as what the postmodern has represented and represents the reality and the utopian world, life, and the sentiment of death, the nation and the individual, technology and the desires of the body.
These poetic interest and discourses where already present in three important individual exhibitions: Nestor Arenas. Paintings (Galería Colón XVI, Bilbao, Spain, 1995) “Paisajes y Fragmentos,” 1998, and “Paisajes Clásicos,” 2001 (Ambas en Galería & Lausin, Zaragoza, Spain). In this catalog Iván de la Nuez sample of work referring the theme park character that has been taking over contemporary culture pointing to “It is by these magnitudes that the extreme work done by Arenas throughout a decade on the subject of the landscape (…) in which he worked in the landscapes of his island that where exploding little by little.” 1 Since which Arenas has deepened the relation between, landscape as an omnipresent visual genre in percent day cultural perception and the representations that has reached the cultural political ideologies of the societies that define the face of project known as modernity: Capitalism and the Communist utopia. It is on these axis’s that Arenas embarked on a great reflective project “Paisajes transformers (Transformer Landscapes) I, II and III” a trilogy of exhibits showcased in Farside Gallery, (Miami, 2014), in Zona Franca, 12 Bienal de La Habana, (Havana, 2015) and more recently in CCE (Miami, 2017). In this trilogy Arenas develops different series like “Havana Transformers” or “Lego Painting” inspired on one vision of society and culture through the lens of the fall of the Berlin wall and the communist utopian project failure of the Cuban revolution. Works of large format whose figures look as if they’ve been cut out and placed on top of monochrome backgrounds, establishing a contrasted staircase between background and figure, between painting and graphic design. Contrasts accentuated by a vision of a landscape that has been removed from the perspective of depth. From this, figures like Stalin, the soviet communist Yuri Gagarin, Mickey Mouse or the mascot Ronald McDonald covered in their pictorial representation, nevertheless have a “sculptural” aspect to them. “Sculptural” because their appearance is much like a frame of heavy material that breaks with weightlessness. Bodies of which their extremities are metallic prosthetics in the spirit that imposes its physical presence in the landscape that it habituates. Knitting an iconography as much as like that of communist mass culture as that of mass capitalistic consumption culture. Iván de la Nuez describes it as, “It offers us a method to unveil the petrification of the subjects in landscape itself” of antithetical social systems: one devoted to mercantilism and consumption (eternal and post historical communist future).2 In the exhibitions “Néstor Arenas. Dichotomous Structures” (Kendall Art Center, Miami, 2017), as well as “Looking forward” (Weitz White Space, Carleton College, Minneapolis, 2018) experiments with poetic and discursive displacement. For example, in the poetic the nonfigurative “landscape” slides in expressive elements of a calligraphic abstraction and
though it the appearance of the painting becomes more like graphic design. This can be noticed in works like Dichotomous Structures No 4, No 6 and No 7. These works emphasize a color pallet that brings out mute textures from the surface of the figures, like a sort of faded industrial factory. In the discursive, like in earlier series “Lego Paintings” the reflecting aspect gravitated towards the relationship between in iconography represented in the social cultural ideologies opposite in “Dichotomous Structure” and “Looking forward,” in light of this the world of urbanistic and architectural structures comes into focus. A world that sites on one hand emblematic architecture with reference to communist European constructivism. Millstones beset by those heraldic interpreting the utopias of those cultures and societies. On the other hand, the fantastical cities taken from videogames and present–day Hollywood sci–fi movies. These elements are very present in works like Spomeniks–pok No 5, No 6, and No 7 from “Dichotomous Structure” but also in the series Havana Transformers from the expo “Looking Forward.” Between all of them they create a pictorial syntax that transforms and contaminates architectural codes and urbanistic of both representational languages. Distilling bizarre and overwhelming constructions at the same time. Constructions that take us to premodernist scenes of industrial factories, at the same time that it transports us to a habitat extra planetary of a hallucinated futurism. When the work of Arenas is seen in perspective, a warning must be made on the pronounced iconographic trajectory. An iconography deeply tangled with the history he personally lived in Cuba, as much as the one he had to live through outside of. His landscapes, neo–figurative and abstract at the same time, project visions where the historical and the personal biography cohabitate. The same way in which he presents the capitalist world. As I mentioned previously the work of Arenas submerges us in an imagination where memories are smelted, our drives and our desires. That which we have obtained, also, everything that we have lost. Losses and gains that return to us with the appearance of things and personal belongings and at the same time phantasmagorical. Images close but out of focus, distant landscapes and at the same time domestic that trembling navigate like Walter Benjamin said, “constellations between alienated things and exhaustive significations.”
1. Iván de la Nuez. El mundo temático. Exhibition catalog Néstor Arenas. Paisajes Clásicos. Gallery Lausín & Blasco. Zaragoza, Spain, 2001. Pages 2-3. 2. Dennys Matos. Néstor Arenas. Abstracción y Sintaxis de la Utopía. El Nuevo Herald, Sunday, January 14, 2018. Pages, 1 and 2 D.
37. Angel Delgado, Discurso Ausente XXII (Ocurred), 2017, acrylic on canvas, 56 x 75â€?
Unofficial, establishes a space for reflection regarding the subject; based on a set of works by five artists 96
UNOFFICIAL Willy Castellanos Simons
Unofficial: The images and the “State” of things “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” -Ludwig Wittgenstein Where is it possible to place, in the course of almost six decades of postrevolutionary Cuban art, the origin of the contradictions between the official and unofficial, between the collective and the particular, or between the full adherence to the social endeavor and the individual freedom to express any detachment from this? The answer seems to date back to the years after the triumph of the rebels in 1959. The truth is that the contradictions inherent in the Cuban socialist model had an early impact on artistic creation, opposing the cultural policies of the state and its institutions to many of the experiences that were proposed–from different practices and creative strategies–to question the paradoxes of the system and its inconsistencies. However, if the borders of the “politically correct” were explicitly distinguished as notions of state after the censorship of P.M. and the Words of Fidel to the intellectuals in 1962, its limits seem to take on new nuances, insofar as the internal correlation of the powers changes and the foreign policy of the island is subjected to successive waves of “openings and closings,” of expansion and historical confrontations. The words to the intellectuals established the adverb that measures just how much an individual can distance themselves from the cultural politics of the State: “Nothing.” And this measure continued transforming, not only by the unpredictability of the power that wields it, but also by the constant tension of the artists that create between the resignation to the limits imposed by others and the power art has in making them more flexible in the pursuit of free expression.
In some way “The Official”–or what emanates from the authority of the State–would become a kind of wall that establishes the extent to which it can be reached, in creative terms, without disturbing ethics, morals or the ideology of the institution, who exercises its authority by regulating social behavior through various homogenization strategies. The anti–official in turn, can be a double–edged sword. It can hurt, condemn and ostracize but it can also confuse, converting the “sedition” into a placebo or a ploy that supports the opening of the Status Quo to the most varied visions of thought, even the most critical ones. According to Foucault, the heteronomous, to exist, must envisage a certain dose of freedom. So you could ask yourself; to what extent do certain proposals–however assertive they seem–manage to really shake the assemblages of the institution, revealing the internal threads that move it, opening cracks in its structure and clearly affecting its credibility? Since the early years, the antagonism between the heteronomous (“that which is subjected to an alien power that impedes the free development of its nature”) and the autonomous (“or the capability of the subjects to establish rules of conduct for themselves and others, within the limits set by the law”), has conditioned a sensible area of contemporary Cuban art, generating together a spirit of the times–a critical drive–and a fruitful repertoire in camouflage, cynicism, alternate strategies and aesthetic rebellions, which today identifies a considerable part of the art that occurs inside and outside the island. But, how is it built in actuality, the axiomatic body of what we inevitably call the official? And then, through denial, how is the unofficial configured in the field of artistic creation when it is realized–with its critical potential–outside the borders of the island? In few words: “How do you reassess the relationship between the official and unofficial in the context of emigration?” Unofficial, the exhibition presented by the Kendall Art Center, curated by Henry Ballate, establishes a space for reflection regarding the subject; based on a set of works by five artists, graduated from the Academy of San Alejandro in the early eighties. His works endeavor to create, from diverse strategies, an irritating racket within the homogenous choir of the power constructs–be it the ideology, the finances or the press and their manipulations–as ways of establishing a nexus that is as affective as it is aesthetic, or as a means of recovering from the artistic gesture, the autonomous dimension of the subject and its discursive capacity. In this sense, Absent Discourse, the title of the series of paintings presented by Ángel Delgado (Havana, 1965), tentatively infers the spirit of reunion for the exhibition. One way or another, the exhibited works attempt to rescue
from anonymity those “little stories” enclosed in the claustrophobia of the walls and subjected to the distress of heteronomous culture as scattered fragments of heterotopia. Delgado’s own work is a discursive continuum about the theme: an archeology of the autonomous and the parable of a humanity conformed by the powerful and the weak. Absent Discourse (2017)–his most recent work–seems to confirm based on the experience of a new format, a unique performance that this artist achieved in 2011, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In absorbing the news, Ángel Delgado breaks down in a domestic mixer a set of local newspapers to which he adds powdered milk and sugar or honey, according to the taste of the consumer. After personally tasting a sip, Delgado invites the participants to savor this “news shake.” They can choose their preferred drink amongst a repertoire of flavors which includes “political news,” “cultural news,” or “sports” among others. The process ironically replicates the way in which we consume information daily from the press: in the form of a shapeless and unintelligible paste–sweet in appearance–corrosive in substance, whose credibility dissolves instantly like foam, in the onslaught of the next wave of information.
38. Magín Pérez, El nido (Enroque), 2013, installation, dimensions variable
In Absent Discourse, the informative tide of the media seems to spill over like hot tar onto the surface of the canvas, obscuring its characters, subduing them into the silence of invisibility. Delgado works with the headlines of the key newspapers in the world, replicating their procedures, hiding at times a part of the sentence or unveiling in others an incoherent word whose nonsense pretends to abridge the logic and essence of the story in question. The expressionist “drippings” in the paintings and the insistent juxtaposition of human motives and typographical motifs, reinforce this exercise of revelation/concealment so typical in the rhetoric of the media. In the space of Ángel Delgado’s canvases, the subject dissolves in its representation, reality evaporates into fiction, the faces of men are covered with their social masks and the truth is nothing but an unattainable shadow in the labyrinth of the sounds of the Post-truth. In the paintings and installations of Magín Pérez (Havana, 1960), the antagonism between the subjectivity of the artist and the social forces that condition him, take the form of a self–referential revision that not only functions as a reflection of personal identity but as an allegory (or as a “model”) of the Status Quo, with its exchange of powers and its complex levels organization and social stratification. Mágin Pérez creates scenarios of symbolic occurrence that can take the form of a surreal space in strife–a chessboard, as in his paintings–or of a monumental building (a piece of engineering) whose stability and balance seem to defy the unpredictability of the chaotic, surpassing the ephemeral nature of life. In his installations, the model of the plot together with its connecting threads, intends to reestablish a territorial and affective relationship curtailed as a result of its migratory experience, a search that also involves, one way or another, the other artists of the exhibition. In his paintings however, the artist is self–represented in a chess match, invested in the various roles that make up the “game-science.” At times he can be a pawn, an expendable piece that advances step by step, taking positions in the gearing of the final strategy. But, he can also assume another alter ego and interpret the King leading his army, or crushing his opponent with the sword of the contemporary Checkmate: the power of speeches, symbolized by the microphones and the device for writing. In this game of associations, the pieces reveal their alibis and the mechanisms that constitute them, which in terms of chess is equivalent to a “sacrifice.” As in the catalogs of certain commercial products, these are depicted sectioned with a cross section that details their internal workings revealing their driver, the artist. He is an integral part of the artifact, which at the same time functions as a prison from which he is forced to interpret
repeatedly, the algorithms of an omnipotent power moved by invisible threads. Perhaps this is why the Horse–Marcel Duchamp’s favorite piece– is a recurring element, not only in the paintings, but in other installations presented as well. Due to the unique possibility of the jump and its atypical movement, the Horse stipulates the three–dimensionality of the board, but with a displacement that paradoxically resembles that of puppets moved by the dexterous hands of their puppeteers. As an artistic strategy, deconstruction reveals many frameworks of the system, opening breaches in its transparency; but silence–or the “relinquishment” of the privilege of representation–can be imposed as a significant space for reflection on the subject. In this sense, the photographs pertaining to the series Agoraphobia (2017), an ongoing project by Manuel Arenas (Havana, 1964), establish a particularly interesting moment in the exhibition as a whole. In recent years, the work of Arenas has examined the coercive nature of particular spaces that restrict–historically and culturally–the autonomy of the individual and his social realization. In the collective exhibition Queloides: race and racism in Cuban art (2012), Arenas constructs a large white box where he places a series of photographs, mediated objects and texts that explicitly infer the historical roots and the endemic persistence of racism in society. In Queloides, the space of the work questioned the proximal relations determined by societal conventions and the powers of representation. The white box, defined by lines woven with African 39. Manuel Arenas, Haz mas de lo que te hace feliz, 2017, digital print, 16 x 20”
American hair, ironically represented the framework of the institution and a kind of platform where discursive fragments about racism were exposed, traditionally excluded from disclosure. In the photographs that participate in Unofficial, the spatial-social/ space–vital affiliation is reduced to the minimal extent of the intimacy of the home: “They are actions carried out within my apartment, which use as a motive anything that can be found inside it,” says Arenas. The author’s narrative acquires the condition of relinquishment and silence as dynamic forms of dialogue and meaning. The images presented document the back of the frames that contain their own drawings–treasured as “found objects”–of which we can only know the title, appearing as labels of the photos on the walls of the gallery. The refusal to exhibit the work functions as well as a kind of boomerang that returns loaded–from the viewer’s collaboration–with a certainty in the uselessness of the discussion and the conviction that the work as a non–transparent illustration, can only endorse the perseverance of the Establishment and its traditional dialogue. The gesture contains, as much irony as it does humor and becomes a cancellation operation derived from the Dadaist explorations that erased the distinction between what is art and what is not. As Katie Pickett (2003) points out, the term “frame” contains a paradox: not only is it an organizing element within the structure of the work, but a significant device of its own contents. If the frame–which also defines the perceptive order of the distinguishable western man the work of the reality that surrounds it–can be consumed as art in and of itself, because consumption has become the binding force of the art world that could calmly then be emptied of content. The gesture also indicates the way in which numerous elements, alien to the work itself, have come to succeed, for example, the essentiality of the artistic act. The works of Alejandro Arrechea and Ernesto Arencibia also resume the critical drive of their generation in a particular array of visions and strategies. If in the paintings of Arrechea, the antagonisms adopt the form of critical distance and direct confrontation, in the canvases of Arencibia he rewards the breaking of conventions and the abolition of differences between the imagined of very diverse cultures. Originating from the world of graphics and its system of signals of immediate recognition, the paintings of Alejandro Arrechea (Havana, 1968) resort to the iconography of sports–in this case, boxing–to certain Pop and Kitsch imaginaries of popular culture, as well as the symbols that built the visual identity of the socialist utopia of the world. The distrust
of the political sycophancy is more than evident in the work entitled The Leader, in which a character in red gloves plays the flute of “Hamelin,” while the flock of naïve sheep–which they supersede with their well– known meekness, to the plague of mice of the German fable–is ready to dance to the rhythm of some hypnotic music. In another painting, the well known “punching-bag” of boxing gyms is taken as the support of a Bolshevik star that illuminates the sky with its symbolism of power. In Perseverance (2017), a wounded androgynous figure also wears these red Arrechea gloves. They not only constitute– together with the recurrent labels–the leitmotif of the series, but also an evident presence of confrontation, of the riposte and of the exchange of forces, assumed as daily events. Somewhat more poetic and lyrical in its flight, is the work that represents the shoes of the legendary Muhammad Ali, with its small red plums that seem to fly like the sandals of Icarus. Compared with the previous ones, this one seems to migrate from the critical space towards a vernacular enclosure, dotted with motifs and diverse objects that belong to the near world of the author’s experiences.
40. Alejandro Arrechea, What?, 2017, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 48 x 60”
The paintings of Ernesto Arencibia (Havana, 1963) move through exchanges and substitutions, in that porous zone which separates reality from fiction. Arencibia creates alternate worlds that juxtapose the memories of his childhood in Guanabacoa (Havana) with the details of his life as an immigrant in Williamsburg, a focal point in the Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. The order of coincidences loosens within the artist, not only the idea of a series but a singular iconography surrounding the theme. And it is that the neighborhood of Guanabacoa has two Jewish cemeteries, one Ashkenazi and another Sephardic, which today persist as a legacy of the settlement of a part of this community in the first decades of the twentieth century. In their neo–romantic paintings of bucolic air and naïve invoices, the Orthodox Jews of Williamsburg gladly give themselves over to dancing and the popular celebrations in the streets of Guanabacoa. Their leafy beards shine with multicolored lights and their wide ceremonial hats bear strange compositions of tropical fruits. In this gentle Mélange of experiences and cultural references, coexists in harmony the elements of the urban political graphic, the symbolism of the Afro–Cuban religions and the liturgical dress of the Hebraic culture invested in their characters. In the imaginary space of the canvas, they can play the Bata drums of the Afro–Cuban festivals or risk improvising a sensual dance, simply crossing the border between both worlds in a way similar to that of “breaking the fourth wall” dramatized by the character of Tom Baxter when he literally “leaves” the screen to reunite with Cecilia (Mia Farrow) in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), the Woody Allen film: “Fictional beings want to have a real life and real beings, a fictional one,” a phrase ascertained from the film script. In Cuba, the discrepancies surrounding the origin and political reach of realism in painting generated towards the end of the seventies censure and invalidate many. To a certain extent, the “escapism” of Arencibia could very well be inserted into the spirit of creative freedom of those years, or at least, in this tradition that revised the instituted margins of realism on the island, suggesting alternative methods for autonomy in painting and art in general. In any case, his work participates in the polyphony of voices that come together in the Kendall Art Center, and which together confirm the permeability of the walls, as well as the scope of artistic discourse in the creation of new spaces of autonomy and freedom of expression.
41. Ernesto Arencibia, Williamsburg II, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 59 x 42â€?
42. Maikel DomĂnguez, Full Of Pollen ( Falso Poeta I ) 2018, acrylic / wood / plexiglass, 23 x 23â€?
A generational blues I have had before my eyes and which at some point I tried to explain by noticing introspective journeys, poetry, and so on... 106
AND THEN THE SADDEST CALM... Elvia Rosa Castro
The artistic avant-gardes endured reluctantly those examinations contaminated by the fundaments of forms, an academic whiff that, even if it´s still existent academic curriculum, was displaced by Philosophy, Anthropology and other disciplines brilliantly grouped, at least in Havana, under the label Theory of Culture. The discipline Aesthetics diverged from the canon mixing with non–related others that were emerging, like as Cultural Studies, Visual Studies and incredibly, Sociology. The formal approach, insufficient and grumbling, gave way to the emphasis on the discourse and the emission of cultural meanings. From these perspectives some heuristic endeavors could be launched or outline the odd prognosis, such as “Latin American art has ceased to be.” Right now, when the identity criteria are more than obsolete, the national galleries smell of archaeological trace, and curatorship is based on topics that can fit artists from any different context, a straight cultural revision is not enough either; there would be a whole artistic production left out, one that doesn´t get taunted by any of the dominant cultural schools of the 20th and 21st century. Now, looking at the works of Maikel Domínguez, I can see it. In front of us there is a whole creative fragment, paradoxical and fragrant, marked by a state of mind far from the fear or modern nausea, but a chronic melancholy: a global cultural blues seemingly without support. Tender and grotesque. A generational blues I have had before my eyes and which at some point I tried to explain by noticing introspective journeys, poetry, and so on... but this is something else! Yes, they are these journeys; yes, they are softened egos, and there are poetic flashes but there is no pretension and therefore, there is no artist: only a psychic self-portrait through painting. I would say that it is an entirely disinterested work and more, Narcisse–like.
It´s very likely you´ll find a show lacking a statement in Full of pollen and in fact that´s it since it itself is the statement. Although it was born from a very particular story, it tells us about its own orphanhood: neither ideology, nor motherland, nor masters, nor parents. The figure of the child, the infantile touch, the colors of a cradle, the quaint tenderness, are the witnesses of that state of abandonment and, consequently, the evocation of a time of shelter. Somehow, this exhibit and its contemporaries point to an extended adolescence. Children. In 2012 Maikel, was a student at the Instituto Superior de Arte and received a scholarship to study a semester in Sweden. Almost upon arrival he decided that was his place, by contrast. And for love. The experience of a freezing cold, the exotic image of a tea stain in the snow, the wild strawberries and the structure of an almost perfect society, that other air, that extreme and strange image is what all beings long for. But the brief spring, when “the Earth swells,” is pregnant with pollen ... and allergy. There´s a monopolistic invasion of pollen everywhere and the people who fall ill in the most beautiful and expected season of the year. There is some natural cruelty in these paradoxes or dualities but Full of pollen is a fragment of Maikel’s diary that transcends a phase of the year. That invisible dust is an efficient pretext to revisit and close, if possible, a chapter of his life; but also to let off steam on it, on its rarities and absurdities. This are states he concentrates on their exact dose: the only phenomenal vestige of this “excess optimism” he experienced upon arrival is portrayed in the titles of the works, whose euphoria tries to contrast with his mute mood, and the violence of the self–portrait that rests on a gentle background, meekly decorative, kichón. Now that I mention it, here is another visual clue that we can trace in his generation and in this series: the presence of kitsch without any shyness. Not as a result of a perversion of meaning, or the need for an alibi to talk about ideological or cultural emptying, not that. Not as “bad forms” but as something genetic and organic, of which, of course, there is no conscience. The kitsch that is not kitsch, that exists here in its pure state, without a subject that manipulates it, has reached its banal, disinterested status. At this point, it´s not worth it to take care of it. Maikel´s work Narcisa lacks a subject and an individual but is full of character, cured of moral and ethical conflicts; alone and paralyzed in that somatic fiction of the inevitable fall that is melancholy. A person who writes a diary and not a biography. Who lives in a sensitivity dominated by the Trans: transparent, transgenic, transverse. Trans–dilemma.
43. Maikel Domínguez, Full Of Pollen ( Snowing a Lot ) 2018, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 84”
44. Maikel DomĂnguez, Full Of Pollen (Dear Frank) 2018, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48â€?
These works, inhabit the areas of obsessions, retraction and narcissism 110
YOU AND I, LOVERS Andrés Isaac Santana From a strange crossing between rational impulses and a confessed and clear seduction, comes this approach of mine to the poetics of the young Cuban artist Maikel Domínguez. Writing requires from the critic as much as painting–in its most fertile irreverence–demands from the artist. For this reason, half–truth and half–lie, Maikel and I are true lovers. The wayward object of our desire is not that which dwells in the contingency of an alien plane. That object of passion and suffering is none other than our self, camouflaged in the lyrics of a bolero. What we do tells of us and tells on us. In his case, painting reveals and stands as a gesture of affirmation; in my case, it´s worth saying, writing outlines a biography in which the image and the verb seal its ultimate destiny. His is not a work of barely certifiable, if presumable, evidences. His work comes from a distant and dark place where what we are (or what we think we are), mixes up with the outburst of the other people’s fictional dimension. When I carefully observe Maikel´s visual digressions, suddenly, I accept the legitimacy of the death of all that narrative that tends to stereotype those so called attributes of Cuban art. His work escapes, flees, and mocks any pretension of gravity and belonging. Art, he seems to say, is nothing but the unspoken contract between the self and the distorted image of that projection of me fixed at the bottom of that perpetual raft we´re all in. So, art would be that voice (not the voice) that purges the shadows and sentences the beast. Maikel’s paintings go beyond any restrictive notion of themes or trends. In their real and more profuse autonomy they deepen a real or fictitious modeling of the subject that lives behind each surface. “My work is a process through which I achieve happiness.” This statement of his underlines–perhaps without him knowing it–the psychological density of his work. By relegating his happiness to the process of creation and to the work–as happiness´ emphatic receptacles–, the artist confesses his profound generosity, contrary to the narcissistic bulimia of our world. His beauty, his strange, nervous and elusive look, his cold white skin turns him into a desired and desiring being. I, on the contrary, see him as an island where the tortured obsession of a “neat” and “dirty” work draws the silhouette of a Robinson Crusoe, imprisoned in his own skin. The gods make fun of those who do not know themselves. Luckily, Maikel knows himself master of his greatness and his human narrowness. The powers of creation have been benevolent to him, they have given him domain of a trade he handles with graciousness and thickness. And he knows very well what Oscar Wilde knew, that “supreme vice is the limitation of the spirit.” Maybe that’s why his pieces abound in details, like a sort of minimalist and baroque map tending towards the same point of flight and tension: his own
self. Thus, the work translates into a scenario for the persuasive exercise of alchemy. This outcome leads him to say: “I understand art as a tool with which I can do magic, generate reality and establish a direct connection between the divine and the intimate. Painting offers me the possibility of experiencing a unique act, in which the physical and mental action are unified and create an energy capable of healing my body and mind.” Everything indicates that the consecration of the work as a fact itself is based on the propitiatory tributaries of a rhetoric of healing and the exaltation of the soul. The worldly randomness that haunts and harms existence finds its ease at the very center of an aesthetic operation in which movement and drive stand out as central axes of a visuality that likes the eloquent calm of the delicate and mannered. From this emphatic center, the artist bares himself, tending bridges, almost always invisible, between the speculated/speculative surface and the real world. No wonder he attests “my work is testimonial; it reflects the essence of my experiences, seeks solutions and answers to my conflicts, expands my universe. The images surprise me anywhere; I almost never clearly know their true origin. However, I feel a latent impulse to follow them and reveal their purposes. Each time is unique, even being simultaneously destructive and painful as exciting and pleasurable.” Evidently, the riddles that accompany him in the chain of visual models and narrative principles are vital and plenty. The reagent and aching hardness of some of his creations and findings borders the projection and sweetening of pastel and cloy appearances, a solid allegation that supports an eye– trap of slight presumption. The lineal or geometric atmospheres fade in the eagerness of protecting the spirit of those strange beings of his that seem to inhabit somewhere between silent pain and tricked complacency. Eventually, the large formats become wide runways of imperfect balance, and dangerous avenues where the represented (and scrutinized) subject plays to be happy. I once read that Maikel belongs to a generation of young Cuban artists concerned with light painting and the more aesthetic drive. The truth is that such statement sounds utterly absurd to me, when knowing that sentence implies the–declared–relinquishment of worthy conceptual digressions in favor of exercising the eye. That affirmation is improper from every point of view since it stigmatizes–while wanting to defend and legitimate– the referential body of that new painting, and reduces it to a grammar of formal and dull associations. It would be enough to observe the work of this artist, and many others of his same promotion, to warn the conceptual bias and the psychological thickness of these works, which some consider detached from the critical tradition of Cuban art. I, on one hand, think this new painting, more than any other, keeps a close relationship with the iconographic genealogy of Cuban art, even more than that critical response of a very specific moment that emerged and channeled in the 80´s.
Others should be the coordinates of association and hermeneutic interpretation when approaching this new group of creators and works. The imprint of Cuban tradition in the epicenter of these new productions is remarkable, to the point of delirium of the most prudent speculation. These absolutist tendencies have damaged the global image of Cuban art in both directions. It´s common knowledge that Cuban art is a textual space ruled by a cubist drive in terms of prolixity in discourses, languages and reactions. Hence, any reduction is bound to become an exercise of contraction and falsification. Maikel is, in his essence and difference, an authentic heir of that rich pictorial tradition. His poetics are based on the territories of that previous art, but it´s sealed under the sign of a powerful singularity. I could go through the halls of a thousand museums in the world and safely recognize the presence of his work. His fictional constructions and compositional juggling have the weight of a cosmos. In some way, I think his pieces present as a kind of anachronistic story in which lyricism and derision alternate. I suspect he´s ignorant about it, but Maikel is, unmistakably, a rabid poet. He is a Dandy of seduction, and androgyny in surface. From his canvases emanates a sweet and bitter breath, a hint of birth that rivals the threat of an announced death. His paintings seem to belong to cosmogony as well as to literature. They engender, increase, and compose the vocabulary of a rugged sexuality. The libidinal revolution resolved in them is directly proportional to their clinical sterility. The legitimacy of his paintings becomes manifest when, from their discursive regency, they are able to recognize their imperfection and human vulnerability. They do not reduce the spectacle of life to equivalences or mocks, but celebrate the vital drive in the mirror of the futile and the funereal. These works, apart from the previous arguments, don’t seem to live in a specific space, nor in a specific geography. These works, I insist, inhabit the areas of obsessions, retraction and narcissism. They are x–rays of a deviation, of a more or less attainable state of things, the adoration of beauty over the ordinary devastation of the prevalent vulgarity. There is a strange and beautiful tendency to unity and to abyss in them. It’s like if, suddenly, their very physicality was subject to a self–destructive principle. The instinct of preservation disguises in its core the same thirst for death. When men rest from their primeval erections, when language isn’t used to mark but to discern the scent of fluids, when dreams cease to be plans of conquest to speak of renewed utopias, and surfaces tell a story instead of representing one; then, and only then, will Maikel’s paintings give shape to that disturbing voice that enters them into the complicity of an eternal silence. Then, the lover will replace the mask with the face. Madrid, one cold Sunday.
45. Yourden Ricardo, Cuando el efecto se convierte en causa, 2016, oil on canvas, 59 x 59â€?
his pictorial culture turns susceptible all the time to the energies and visions circulating freely in the state of trance 114
THE PILGRIM’S AXIOMS Jesús Rosado
The artistic biography of Yourden Ricardo (Isla de Pinos, 1974) may well have begun quite long before his arrival in the world. Such a hypothesis probably sounds as divertimento, as a crazy joke, but for the author it would not be incongruent with his conception of impermanence, since from his spiritualism he considers that the human life flows in inexorable cycles through the times. When at some point the painter and I commented on that encounter by chance between Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra, at the Military Hospital of Ferrara in 1916, an event that would not only mark the beginning of a deep friendship, but also the birth of what was made itself known as metaphysical painting, Ricardo became aware of the details, but welcomed the event without being disturbed, as a consubstantial precedent of his own concerns. The paintings of those precursors of Surrealism, who were joined later by Alberto Savinio, Giorgio Morandi and Filippo de Pisis, emerged from the need to explore into the inner energy that they attributed to an object or an icon when it was alienated from its environment. In that obsession to delve into inaccessible areas of the reality, the group broke with the Puritan reproduction by dislocating the conventional orders and by making way for a subjectivity more connected to the unconscious than to rational flows. In Yourden Ricardo’s Pilgrim’s Axioms series, it is evident the affinity with both the explorations of the metaphysical painters and the Freudian thought of their surrealist successors. In Ricardo’s images we notice the same insistence on confronting the logic, by transferring elements copied from reality to clustering them in a game of absurdities that, in some way, evokes the oneiric–almost spectral–atmospheres of a Magritte or a Chirico. A mind–blowing image, for example, can be seen in La frialdad que me enciende [The coldness that lights me], where a heart–candelabra submerged in a tray with ice supports a lit candle, is a good sample that the author’s formal conceptions are indebted, in his own way, to Breton’s definitions. However, the motives of his narrative run through channels that differ from the intuitive behavior of the Surrealists. Ricardo’s cerebral symbolism reflects his formation within the Rosicrucianism, a hermetic fraternal order whose system of mystical philosophy is built on the impact of the millenarian Hindu doctrines in the Western culture.
Unlike the surrealist predecessors, Ricardo’s art is subject to more labyrinthine mental processes. His practice of meditation, as a cathartic procedure until arriving at the subject of sublimation, involves a mental training to access high levels of perception and consciousness. As the painter has told us, during the time of inner spiritual retreat, his pictorial culture turns susceptible all the time to the energies and visions circulating freely in the state of trance. What continues to cause surprise is that, since he is able to lead his mystique towards more abstract forms, Ricardo has chosen to revisit the traditional paths of painting. Perhaps the reasons are explained by what Kandinsky pointed out: “When a high level of development of sensitivity is reached, the objects and the beings acquire an inner value and, finally, even an internal sound.” Yet the use of pre–avant–garde representative modalities is not exactly an uncritical regression in Ricardo’s case. The resource of mimetic capturing–and not “something else”–to catch incorporeal keys implies, by the time of reconciling it with the hyper realistic figuration, a studied review of the diverse attitudes in modern realism. Ricardo’s art works reveal the attempt of absorbing the “superrealism” according to Claudio Bravo’s guidelines as an assimilation verging on devotion. On the basis of hours and hours of devoted study, Ricardo has applied himself to incorporate the process dynamics of the Chilean master in order to achieve consistency in his own approaches on color, volumes, depths, reliefs, light and, above all, precision. In the process, everything superfluous will be excluded. Ricardo’s constructions resort to the economy of protagonists. They do not exceed three or four specific components, with a symbolic association that was already definitively agreed upon discernment. Herein lies the mystery of the pieces making up this series, where the pictorial language struggles to communicate Ricardo’s tacit axioms without succumbing to the obscenity of the explicitness. Ricardo’s codes are unambiguous. The heart is an existential allegory; the hook, symbol of Providence; the tools, expression of life and purification. His discourse alludes to the principles and laws of the Western esoteric tradition. In Correspondence, as the very title hints in advance, the author gives his vision about the law of correspondence in the Kybalion, simultaneously combining heart and egg (signs of life) on a white plate, both supported by the providential hook. In another piece, Cuando el efecto se convierte en causa [When the effect becomes cause], which is one of the most impressive due to the almost sculptural feel achieved by Ricardo with the brush, he models a spiral conduit with both ends topped by canoes, a metaphor that summarizes a widely widespread principle taught by Hermetism.
For arriving at convincing results, the journey carried out by Ricardo is arduous. We have already explained how, firstly, he visualizes the thematic idea. The next step is to build a handicraft model, which will provide substance to what had germinated in his introspective experience. Then, he meticulously prepares a set to photograph the purpose-built artifact or assemblage. After this session, he chooses the image deserving to be transferred to the canvas and decide whether he must still intervene with additional resources. With the final project in hand, Ricardo is ready to take the crucial step: to realize everything with pure brush strokes in the two–dimensional plane. Yourden Ricardo’s art work becomes a fresh note in the process of reassessing painting in the continent. The photorealistic recycling according to contemplative motivations in the very 21st century generates a suggestive contrasting effect. It is a peculiar work of art amid the contemporary cultural perceptions that are subject to the technological revolutions and the consumption ideologies. It is striking that, adjacent to Ricardo’s self–absorptions, a cluster of ethical concerns is insinuated in connection with the interaction of the current being with its circumstance, well understood as it is defined, beyond the chronology, the Italian thinker Giorgio Agamben: “A contemporary is the one who has a fixed gaze in his time [...] the one who does not allow himself being blinded by the lights of the century and who manages to distinguish in them the portion of the shadow, their intimate darkness.” With his input to look into the Being as encompassing entity, the painter joins the saga of mystical implosions in the Cuban art scene, which surely began with the expressionist asceticism by Fidelio Ponce and continued, among others, with the immaterial incursions by Rafael Soriano, the idealized landscapes by Tomás Sánchez, and the religiousness of Heriberto Mora. Inheritor of intricate explorations, Ricardo’s longing to share his sensitive interpretation of existence may seem complex at first glance. With our sight lost in his canvases, the possible conjectures would be manifold, but his artworks show sufficient grip thanks to the rigorous cult of similarity, the neatly debugging of imperfections in the making, and a sort of almost tactile sensuality, which invites us to plunge into the ontological depths of each proposal. And watch out! Because that very first incitement may precipitate us, inadvertently, into the labyrinths previously traveled by the author before heading towards the arduous path of selfknowledge. Miami, February, 2018
A GIFT FROM THE RODRÍGUEZ COLLECTION Odette Artiles Reynerio Tamayo: a gift from the Rodríguez Collection to the Smithsonian Institution It’s all about baseball for contemporary Cuban artist Reynerio Tamayo. The Rodriguez Collection introduces Reynerio Tamayo to Washington D.C. and presented, for art and baseball fans alike, the exposition “Cuban Slugger” at Arena Stage on July 11, 2018. Mimicking the emigration of its maker, “Cuban Slugger” garnered critical and communal success, from its Havana origins to the Kendall Art Center in Miami, all the way to its most recent showing. At any rate, “Cuban Slugger” united and transformed its audience regardless of interest; Tamayo’s works to the sport enthusiast’s eye amounted to monumental collectible baseball cards reminiscent of the nostalgia associated with a childhood spent dreaming, trading and playing. Whereas, to the art lover, it culminated as a pop-culture expression of Tamayo’s homeland and heritage, a bridge of yellows, reds and blues connecting his native land of Cuba with America. Just as baseball has been coined the “American Pastime,” so too has it been declared by Cuba, as author Gary A. Anuez described, as the “Sublime” and a “Cuban Cultural Tradition.” Tamayo celebrates the exuberance, vivaciousness and vitality of life through baseball with art as a conduit. With his trademarked humor and hilarity, he chronicles the history of baseball, portraying giants in the sport, the legends that made children (American and Cuban alike) want to pick up a bat and continue what he portrays as a pursuit that transcends generations. So eloquently paraphrased by writer Adrian Burgos, Tamayo’s art “…purposefully transforms the emotional and lived passion for baseball to the visual with imagery that reminds us the past is always in the present in Americas’ Game.” The substance of these pieces did not go unnoticed by the major art circles in Washington D.C., as one work found itself hanging on the walls of a new home. Leonardo Rodríguez donated José D. Abreu to none other than the Smithsonian Museum, as a gift in the spirit of sharing and preserving Cuban identity and culture, giving ‘America’s Attic’ an especially significant addition; making Tamayo one of very few Cuban artists present in the Smithsonian’s vast collections. This particular picture embodies baseball as, what Tamayo describes as being, “…not just a symbol, it is so much more than that, it is the spirituality of the Cuban people, like Our Lady of Charity or Martí, it is ‘un hecho espiritual’…” a spiritual truth. Within the monumental baseball card we see a black and white José D. Abreu of the White Sox in a dynamic batting position, seemingly moments before the pitch. Behind him, almost enveloping him is a humorous depiction of La
Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity) radiant in Catholic gold, mimicking his hands and holding onto the upper part of the bat as if guiding his swing, while a comical baby Jesus puts his hand on his helmet. It is akin to a blessing, an example of the reverence the Cuban people have for the sport and the way it signifies an almost religious love, dripping with humor and heart. The artist Reynerio Tamayo was ultimately very satisfied and grateful in his speech, stating that he is happy to serve, in a certain way, as a bridge between cultures through his art. Henry Ballate, curator of the show, tells us that the exhibition not only attracted a great number of art lovers and sports fans, but also served to indenture collaborations and exchanges with important institutions in the world of the arts and collecting. Kendall Art Center depository house for The Rodriguez Collection, whose mission is to promote the collection and its artists beyond their community, with this exhibition achieves a production of national standing of what they have to offer.
46. Reynerio Tamayo, José D. Abreu, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40” Donated by Leonardo Rodríguez to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
47. Aimee Perez, Intus, tapiz (fiber art) 132 x 40â€? (Detail)
Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology 120
BROKEN ROOTS Janet Batet
Broken Roots: The Labyrinth and the Thread. The thread has been lost; the labyrinth has been lost also. Now, we no longer even know whether these corridors that encircle us are those of a labyrinth, a secret cosmos, or a chaos of pure chance. Our beautiful duty is to imagine that there exists a labyrinth and a thread. We might never come across the thread; or we might stumble upon it unexpectedly and then lose it again in an act of faith, in the rhythm of a line, in a dream, in the sort of words that are called philosophy or in a moment of mere and simple happiness. Jorge Luis Borges. The Thread of the Fable. Cnossos, 1984 Legend has it that the Moirai–also known as Fates–govern the thread of life of every mortal from birth to death. Daughters of the night, they patiently and always in the dark weave our destiny. Controlling our fate– our past, present and future–they are invisible. Something similar happens with Arachne. Turned into spider, her wonderful webs are condemned to be transparent. This condition of invisibility associated with women and manual work seems to reaffirm the patriarchal notions that still today confine female work to anonymity. Fascinated by the artisanal work of women in traditional communities that the artist encountered in her multiple travels to Peru, Aimee Perez (Havana, 1955) undertakes a journey of revision and reformulation of her own work that echoes pivotal questions about life, ecology, gender and art. For this purpose, Aimee focuses on two of the earliest traditional practices associated with women: weaving and pottery. Intus, 2018, as its name indicates, is the core of this exhibition. The towering installation that evokes a stunning Andean landscape is the result of a lengthily, quasi–mythical process that uses the knot as the primary technique. Present in several of the pieces, the knot–as a pristine weaving technique devoid of any other tool than the mere hands–puts the accent in the process and, consequently, in time. Embodying the natural cycles that
dictate the harvest and existence itself, time is directly associated with the cultural preservation of traditional preliterate cultures that rely on oral lore for the transmission and preservation of their culture and ultimate survival. The artist is directly inspired by the Quipu what in Quechua means knot. This recording device used in Andean civilizations combines knots and colors in a binary system that generates a semasiographic language. While the binary system is directly associated with accounting, the bright red, white, green and yellow colors as well as the type of fiber (vicuña, alpaca, llama, guanaco, deer and vizcacha fibers) used in the quipus seem to enclose a hidden narrative language still today to be deciphered. Closely linked to Intus, Las hilanderas (The Spinners), La tejedora (The Weaver), Nudos de familia (Family Knots), and Yo, Tierra (I, Earth) (all of them dated 2018) refer to the essential role of women as a sacred figure in the preservation and transmission of the culture and specifically the figure of the Mamakuna. The Mamakuna or “virgins of the Sun” were female priests worshipping the Inti (Incan sun god) cult. Trained in religion, spinning and weaving, as well as the preparation of food and the brewing of chicha (sacred maize beer), they lived in segregated communities. Made of clay and fiber, Yo, Tierra is a tribute to women as fundamental core holding culture alive. The female figure, devoid of hands and in the act of birth, recalls ancient votive figures where women embodied fertility and life. Inspired by the urpus (aryballo or storage jar in Quechua)–one of the most distinctive Inca ceramic forms used for the production, storage, and transportation of chicha, La Tejedora is the portrait of a graceful Mamakuna. The eyes captivated in the distance while the hands deliver the unrelenting daily work. The vessel as a container for food and ritual–body and soul–is an essential cornerstone in this show. The direct imprint of the hands over the nude clay that might use different natural colors (chocolate, white and peach) (see Nudos de familia) becomes communion with Earth: religare. In this sense, highlights El Crisol (Melting Pot, 2018) where the inverted vessel represents the giving mother Earth. Broken Roots is a state of alert about the pressing environmental problems facing our planet, making us aware of our role as an integral and active part of that cosmos in crisis. That is the main idea behind pieces like Still Waters (2017), Diary of Fall, Invierno (Winter) and (both 2018) where the artist puts to hand millenarian legends that become at once omen and sentence.
The exhibition is also a reflection on the alienation and fetishism of modern art. The pieces presented in Broken Roots seem to echo Adorno’s and Horkheimer statement related to: “Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology.” The careful selection of the titles brings up undeferrable associations that act as underlying threads unifying this exhibition. On one hand, the references to Pre–Colombian and Greek myths highlight the points of contact and immanence between cultures while the citations to iconic masterpieces of the Art History aim to restore the broken harmony between Fine arts and Traditional arts, autonomous and pre-autonomous art. Broken Roots is that, a labyrinth and a thread in our perennial quest for the restitution of faith or, as Borges claims, a moment of mere and simple happiness.
48. Aimee Perez, Still Waters, 2016, mixed media, 72 x 52” (Detail)
49. Angela Alés, Caravan, oil on Canvas, 40 x 30”
A sea of corals that become attributes of peace or conquest 124
THE ART OF GIVING BIRTH Roxana M. Bermejo
Water on top of you ... and salt. And the remote sunlight that does not reach you. The life from your chest does not pass; in you it collides and bounces and then it goes astray, lost, to the side–to one side... Where? Dulce María Loynaz, “Song for the sterile woman”
Angela was born a woman. It does not matter where or when. It could be said that her whole life has been sifted from searches small and large, absolute or tentative. Angela has always looked for concepts, pursues them with a fierce spirit and finds them. Yes, most of the time she does find them. What comes next is not a simple process to describe: Angela begins to call everything by its name; she sees the fish and names it “fish,” then humanizes it and loves him, loves him as carnally as we love in winter, when the selfish skin of our bodies go to other cold bodies in search of warmth. Angela likes borders. Not the ones that are drawn on the map and divide nations and flags. Angela knows little of that kind of meaningless fragmentation, which therein she proves absurd; Angela is part Colombian, part Andalusian, and part Lebanese. But Angela, I repeat, loves borders, those that make each character unique in the unstable plane of life; those that define an inside and an outside before the eyes of every creature. On the walls, we can find that solid, michelangelesque figure that Angela offers us, the concrete blue figure that represents a man mined by the invasion of sharp and slippery thoughts. That man is matter in its basic state; it is iron, fire, the face of an ancestor and a ladder. Angela brings him to us, brings him just as religions of any kind are brought into the world. And we begin to trust that vulnerable being who looks out into the empty void looking for an answer; the “calm resistance” that he offers is more than enough to
believe in him. And how not to believe in that other figure of a saint, which closes in on herself to give us “Refuge?” How I would love to penetrate this world of ocher, crestfallen brush strokes! Being part of that scene, getting lost in the swirling labyrinth of its waters. I find in the work of Angela, as well, the swollen sea, a sea of corals that become attributes of peace or conquest. It is easy for those who observe these oils to drink a little of their water, which will never be smooth or still, but violent and hazy, of the same consistency as foam when the wave bursts against the rock or dissolves on the shore. Angela believes in strength and balance, she is always looking for them, like how she, as aforementioned, searches for concepts. The balance in her work is an intertwined mental and physical peace. Angela defends our right to feel carnally, however, she also knows that each body is but an extension of the universe. That is why, perhaps, most of the time the artist shows us limbless subjects: So that nothing binds us, nothing unites us together... Thus, slowly, between concepts and phrases, parables and self–absorption we come to understand the world of Angela, which is the world of any woman, my world. Do not look for an answer within it, look for the question and if you dare, throw yourself into the framework of sensations that her female painting provokes, which is not female by pink or light lilac tones, but by the courage to give birth to water and earth, the courage to create life and manipulate it. About the personal exhibition “Intersectionality” by the artist Angela Alés. The show will take place at the Kendall Art Center as part of “Three women’s view,” an exhibition that will open on August 10, 2018. KAC, since its creation, has dedicated an important space to highlight the work of women artists and on this occasion offers us a show articulated only by women: a great opportunity for the audience from Miami.
Fragment of the poem Farewell, by Pablo Neruda.
50. Angela Alés, Calm Resistance, 2018, oil on canvas, 48 x 36”
51. Milena MartĂnez, Can I, 2018, oil on canvas in acrylic box, 36 x 36 x 7â€?
The work is conceptual, an example of a corporeal expression that is not limited to the physical movement of the body 128
PAPER, PAINT & TATTOOS Odette Artiles Paper, Paint & Tattoos: Milena’s Unique Language Milena Martínez Pedrosa is a complex artist who communicates power, irony and connection through the use of realistic bodies and head-scratching iconography. In Milena’s work nothing is straightforward, yet it is easy to read, better yet, understand. Complex and albeit mysterious, Milena both denounces and feeds off the censorship and limited freedom present in her native country of Cuba; providing paradoxical tension between commenting on unfair societal realities and the acknowledgment that it fuels her artistic passions. More than that however, Milena’s works are tender and intimate in that her need to touch people through her works and the connections she forms with the stories she creates, like an author writing a book, are her driving force. Certainly, we have seen this combination before in other artists, most notably in Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose work has and continues to inspire Milena. Conceptual, minimalistic, and poetic, Gonzalez-Torres’ works move, compel and much like Milena’s, appeal to the emotions, the soul rather than reason or logistics. These themes are apparent in Milena’s exhibition Captivity Forces, displayed at the Kendall Art Center. Most notably in her principle works’ “Can I?” and “A Matter of Time.” “Can I?” is a work that showcases Milena’s ability to convey a collectively understood theme: self-doubt. The painting is a portrait of a woman, set against a dark backdrop. A self–portrait? Maybe. Maybe not, perhaps it is beside the point. The meticulously painted face is encircled, almost framed by the following words: Can I? Should I? You Cannot Do It, Too Late, You Can Do It, in transparent acrylic all around. This intertextualimage play represents the cyclical mental/emotional wheel of doubts and thoughts present in probably every Cuban that has emigrated from the island. The beauty of her work however, is that one does not necessarily have to be Cuban to empathize with her work. Everyone experiences the tension between the little devil and angel forever propped on our shoulders, constantly whispering and inviting uncertainty. ‘Can I?’ You wonder. ‘Don’t do it’ the devil whispers. ‘Should I?’ The cautious voice of reason asks. ‘You cannot do it’ states the devil. ‘Too late’ whispers the heart on a leap of faith, the abandonment of reason and logic. ‘You can do it’ she seems to say to herself in confidence. Milena made this internal conflict external by blending reality with imagination and transforming it into a symbolic composition, something that harkens back to Surrealism and its core value of liberating the unconscious mind. The acrylic letters are there and yet they are not, they exist outside the woman, acting like figurative subtitles to the interpretation of the painting.
By bringing the internal into the visible world, she tells a familiar story; much like anyone who succeeds in building a life and career after leaving behind everything for the unknown, the face in the painting is triumphant and exudes power. The You Can Do It bit gleams with the caravaggesque lighting. Milena guides the viewer through the waves of obstacles present in the written doubts on the inscription, staring at the onlooker unabashedly, brimming with conquest. Imagination continues to interact with the body, text and images to create a coexistence of socio–political realities and a sweet/strange, hopeful picture in “A Matter of Time.” The body within the painting has no identity, not even a face; it is just a scrupulously painted person with a tattoo of a Cicada, an insect common to her native Cuba (its cigar-like shape earning it the moniker Cigarra), perched on a bowed, clean–shaven head. A collage of white origami cicada’s flutter delicately around the figure, a symbol of hope, resurrection and emergence; this work thus exudes a hopeful message. It is almost tender the way the figure longingly caresses the tattoo, an iconography of flight, freedom, and blossoming. The words A Matter of Time grace the bottom of the piece. A matter of time until what, I fly? I grow? Escape? Maybe she does not know how to fly. The work is conceptual, an example of a corporeal expression that is not limited to the physical movement of the body. Tattoos are also a form of ‘body language,’ a way to express creativity and beauty through the body, and are a common visual tool for Milena. Tattoos in her works are the visual conversion of scars, the things in the external world that leave marks on the flesh. She turns the human body into a canvas and all the stains and scars left by the world turn into symbols, into art. It is contradictory, that something painful can give rise to something so beautiful. The tattoo is something permanent while the Cicada, insects, wings, and birds are by nature fleeting and free. The juxtaposition is surrealist as Milena separates her work from the rational and instead, produces a kind of dream–like state. As paradoxical as it is, Milena still manages to harmonize these opposing elements; perhaps the figure wants to attain freedom or prolong the sensation it gives, a sensation every Cuban is probably intimately familiar with. Milena’s dealings in symbols, contexts and unspoken references leave the viewer to develop an intimate and unique dialogue with the work, an aforementioned essential facet of her work. The viewer is the one who ties the ambiguous playfulness of the relationship between text and image together. Actually, part of Milena’s charm is the way she invites and integrates the participation of the viewer into her process, thus adding multiple levels of interpretation, depending on the individual. Nevertheless, what is vital is the humility present in her work: she opens the door but does not force you inside; she leads you to water but does not force you to drink, consequently showing how much consideration she places on the interpretation of the viewer, rather than hard lining a singular analysis. Moreover, the title, the
words are just as important as the image itself, so the text, its title, allows for a stronger impact and a focalized meaning. The imagination and opinion of the audience is a part of her oeuvre, she is an artist that is empowered by the extroverted nature of her culture and so does not mind in giving power to those who would otherwise harshly judge her, in giving them carte blanche in terms of what they take away and how they construe her work. Most of all, Milena paints in accordance with her muse, when that eureka hits it cannot be ignored and it pours out all at once, even after a long dormition. The Cicada is also a symbol of personal transformation and after 17 years bursts forth en masse in a glorious natural wonder; much like the insect, after 20 years without a voice or a need to paint, Milena’s work and this exhibition is akin to that transformation. She is a unique artist in that; she finds inspiration not only in her heritage, but also in her success in manifesting the public’s voice, in provoking a reaction. An impressive ability given the works’ puzzling nature, but then again the less you understand something, the more you look, think and talk about it, until the eureka hits and makes you appreciate it all the more.
52. Milena Martínez, A matter of time, 2018, oil on canvas in acrylic box, 36 x 36 x 6”
53. Pedro de OraĂĄ, Untitled, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 49â€?
one of the most significant expressions of the national artistic tradition 132
ACROSS TIME: CUBAN ABSTRACTIONS Janet Batet
Across Time: Cuban Abstractions. The irruption of abstraction radically transformed the course of 20th– century art. The eradication of illusionistic referents inaugurated a universal language ruled by laws of arts rather than those of nature achieving the long promised goal of modern art as an autonomous practice. In Cuba the entrance of abstraction implied–for the very first time–the synchronization with international isms and a revolution itself within the Cuban art history. Nucleated around two fundamental groups (Los Once and Pintores Concretos), abstract artists in 1950s Cuba coexisted with two earliest avant–garde generations (Generación del 27 and Generación del 40). Even tough, cosmopolitan modern architecture in Havana in the 50s appears as the perfect backstage for abstraction, the reticence to accept this new avant-garde turn of Cuban art that renounced the well–served precept of national identity (cubanidad) set the tone of criticism about Cuban abstract art. The Cuban abstractionist movement has been historically stigmatized by misunderstanding, leading to the persistent mistake of classifying this movement as a punctual or transitional stage, reducing the impact of one of the most significant expressions of the national artistic tradition. Across Time: Cuban Abstractions presents the recent work of three Cuban artists with solid trajectories deeply rooted in the abstract language. With an artistic trajectory of more than seven decades, Pedro de Oraá (Havana, 1931) is one of the pioneer figures of Cuban abstract movement. In 1957, along with Loló Soldevilla, de Oraá founded the gallery Color-Luz and a year later, in 1958, joins Diez Pintores Concretos (1958–1961). Pedro de Oraá’s early work seems to be seconded by the biomorphic abstraction where flowing forms cohabit in the vast pictorial space. Gradually, these sort of organic entities evolve, growing in size and structure, covering the canvas and the relationship between them becomes more cohesive. In his most recent paintings, de Oraá constricts the palette being almost monochrome. Focused on the black and white, the artist explores the different shades of each color in a kaleidoscopic vision where the geometric structure seems to be dynamited. This futuristic feature is directly associated
with the artist’s interest on dynamic, evolution and velocity. In the midst of these always evolving faceted landscapes, the sphere–airy and spotless– embodies the cosmic time: the universe. Known by his popular public sculptures around Havana, José Villa (Santiago de Cuba, 1950) has a parallel solid career as abstract sculptor. If when approaching portraiture, Villa’s work is very realistic with an accent in the psychological traits of the portrayed character, when devoted to his abstract work, his pieces renounce to any anecdotal mannerism, embracing progressive geometric structures. Revolving on its own core, these always clean angular forms enhance the qualities of the chosen material being constructivism and minimalism the key components of these refined works. The work of Pedro Avila Gendis (Camaguey, Cuba, 1959) finds in gestural abstraction the needed freedom to express his inner world. In contrast with the self–contained expression that typify the other two artists included in this show, Avila’s work is a cathartic redemption where the pigment is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas. The use of the carefully chosen color, always in contrast with dripped blacks and buoyant whites, serves to purely expressive purposes opening multiple venues to the viewer. Across Time is part of that recent and much–needed collective effort to rescue the history of Cuban abstract art and its legacy for generations to come.
54. José Villa, Euritmia, 2016, copper, 20 x 24 x 16”
55. Pedro Ávila Gendis, Sábado de Junio, series Sinfonías del Alba, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 72 x 54”
56. Loló Soldevilla, Untitled, 1954, mixed media on wood, 14 x 30”
“An abstract artist perceives and deciphers reality as interiorization and not as environment and surface. Reality is changing and relative, but the object of abstraction is to fix it in its invisible aspect. The abstract object is installed in the space of reality–whether painting, sculpture, or other created form–and becomes an unknown object, but real and concrete in its space.” Pedro de Oraá1 136
3 CONCRETE Odette Artiles
The majority of what is named in art history as those key moments of ingenuity and originality, usually began as instances where such detachment from the academia was condemned and took, in many cases, a lifetime to become acknowledged. 3Concrete, a momentous new exhibition at the Kendall Art Center, is one such example. 3Concrete begets an almost– forgotten moment of Cuban art history, showcasing the work of Los Diez Pintores Concretos (The 10 concrete painters), a group that established the style of ‘Concretism’ or ‘Concrete’ art in 1950s Cuba and fashioned a whole new, unique language of abstraction. The three exhibited artists, Sandú Darié, Loló Soldevilla and Pedro de Oraá, constituted the original founding members of Los Diez. Cuban concrete abstract art has long been an omission in the nation’s art history, ironically invisible despite the flowering it enjoyed, as well as its strong impact in the 1950s. Prior to this new generation, Cuban art in the 1930s and 40s was steeped in a sweetened allegorical, idealized style known as the vanguardia (avant–garde), which identified itself through its nationalist esthetic. The 1950s abstract scene was an artistic rebellion against a complacently, academic ‘Cuban’ fashion of art, whose practitioners accused Concretism of being “…dehumanizing, foreign,”2 due to its mélange of international sources in addition to being labeled as sycophantic to their oppressors–The work of Los Diez is the culmination of a gathering of influences from travels around Europe and Latin America, making their work the fruit of marriages between different philosophies and aesthetics of multiple movements from Paris, Brazil, Chile, Argentina etc., including Cubism, Constructivism, Kandinsky and the utopian themes of Mondrian.3 While ‘Concretism’ was left without official support, its transformation was nonetheless upheld and completed through the formation of Los Diez whose beginning and ending followed and fluctuated with the political, social and cultural transitions and upheavals of the times, from Batista’s coup to Fidel Castro’s rise to power, creating one of the most influential Cuban artistic traditions within the tiniest speck of the nation’s history: from 1958-1961. The sentiment towards the concrete arts both pre–and post–1959 revolution, questioned the abstract language as being distant from the people and ignorant of societal needs, in favor of the figurative and its commitment to
reality. Critics could not understand why some of the most prolific painters, well instructed in proper ‘techniques’ and ‘good painting,’ were exhibiting works that were little more than a mish–mash of shapes and colors, a line of thought which eventually silenced the abstract movement by 1961, and then obscured it into oblivion. While Los Diez followed the same style and aesthetic, Concretism was expressed differently by each of the three artists, each influenced by their own, unique extensive travels and study of a variety of movements. Sandú Darié, an artist of Romanian heritage, helped introduce Concretism to Cuba with his Havana exhibition of only eight pieces in 1949. He was born in Romania in 1908 and trained initially as a lawyer but soon took up painting after a stint in Paris and close contact with the Romanian avant-garde. He then immigrated to Cuba in 1941 where he lived out his remaining years.4 He was an active and pivotal member of Los Diez, credited with being the first to propose the first concrete art exhibition in the nation. Darié was an avid, passionate artist, keen on taking concrete abstraction and expanding it in a way where one piece becomes multiple and the harmony of primary colors becomes all but entrancing to the eye. A versatile artist, his career boasts of paintings and energetic kinetic sculptures, of which he crafted to be manipulated in a variety of ways; flipping and turning different parts of the wooden “triangular relief”5 to reveal an entirely new work hidden beneath the original, creating a subjectivist doctrine of reality. A three-dimensional Mondrian if you will. Of the three, Darié is definitely the most interesting in the context of no two pieces can be mistaken for one another despite their thematic harmony. The inventive ways that his intersecting geometric forms move and communicate with each other within the works is uniquely distinctive amongst the three; a jigsaw of rigid shapes engineered to shift one’s perspective with a chameleonic, new piece contained in the old, representing a different way of looking at the same world, a new reality connected to and yet different from the old, completely intertwined and new for its time. Loló Soldevilla was born in Cuba in 1901 and is considered to be a decisive figure in Concrete Cuban art. On a trip to Paris in 1949, she encountered contemporary European avant–garde artistic practices–namely, abstraction, and upon her return to Cuba, Soldevilla and her contemporary Pedro de Oraá founded Galeria Color–Luz–a gallery solely dedicated to the promotion of abstract art in 1957–whose closing marked the official disbandment of Los Diez in 1961.6 Her works abound with an indication of a strong interest in geometric forms expressed through painting, sculpture and collage work. Her pregnant shapes are elegantly defined as opposed to her contemporaries; there is something inherently delicate and female about her circles and
swirls, with an underlying surety in her bright colors and asymmetric yet gratifying sculptures. Soldevilla was a devoted student of collage work, a distinctive medium and skill, which she masterfully utilized to create pieces with different levels of reality, a congregation of different materials which slowly come to form a mockup of a new world. Her unique landscapes of primary circles and curves against dark backgrounds are reminiscent of the cosmos, making her pieces tangible galaxies that have yet to be discovered. Soldevilla was like a stone thrown to water, a force considered to be the irrefutable face of the contributions of concrete abstraction to the Cuban artistic tradition. Pedro de Oraá, the last of the founding members, was born in Cuba in 1931 and is acknowledged as one of the most prominent, prolific and experimental artists of the Concrete movement, with a career spanning more than fifty years. His pieces work with interlocking, overlapping geometric shapes that explore new ways of playing with concrete abstract forms. Due to being the last living testament of this obscure period in Cuban art history, Oraá states that the present boom Cuban abstraction is enjoying in present times, is subsequently bringing forth to light many artists and works once systematically undervalued and erased from Cuban history7 due to political pressures, as well as the exodus and Diaspora of the many artists who did not agree with the radical turns of the revolution. Oraá’s dynamic, sharp compositions are the obvious manifestation of Concretism’s main aesthetic: hard–edged geometric forms. Their puzzle–like compilations of monochromatic or analogous colored shapes are highlighted through their complete takeover of the canvas. Jagged, linear, amorphous blocks and daggers, lone circles and lines become radical, prismatic pockets of reality and space finding pause only at the canvas’s edge. While Oraá’s works at first glance are just a pooling of shapes, there is something rather beautiful about its execution. The harmonious tones, the nonobjective transparency is evident in the way where one can glean something completely different from the neighbor viewing beside them. A unique panorama of silent geometry, although the canvas is full there is no cacophony of sounds, dynamism despite its sharpness, just a remarkable, singular tranquility. ‘Concrete abstraction’ differentiates from other forms of abstraction due to its lack of representational or drawn–from–life references. Most notably it is a style without narrative or natural connections; the style is characterized through its intrinsic, self–contained and introverted nature, whose appreciation lies solely within its geometric compositions, colors and materials.8 “This is concrete painting because each painting is a new reality,”9 stated Sandú Darié, highlighting the movement’s intellectual construct that employs a simplification of forms to hard–edged shapes and colors, resulting
in a new form of “political and social engagement”10 and an irrevocable expression of Cubania. In short, Los Diez’s were concerned with intensifying the art experience through rationalism as opposed to often manipulated and arbitrary showcases of nationalism; they “…moved abstraction from purely visual, formal concerns toward conceptual and phenomenological ends, in line with other contemporaneous international art movements, to engage both the viewer and the broader collective conscience of Cuba.”11 Although it is defined as being separate from the dictates of other forms of abstraction and atypical of the vanguardist nationalistic trope, many pieces follow and carry that need to connect to their roots, continuing the spirit of that generation of Wilfredo Lam and Amelia Peláez of the 1920’s and 30s. No matter how hard the Concrete artists tried to distance themselves from the vanguardist nationalism, that detachment was never absolute as traces of the old style lives within their hard world of geometry. “I recognize the connection, the influence and see that through their works, they uphold something distinctly Cuban” says Henry Ballate, curator of the exhibition and art director of the Rodriguez Collection. “I see a little of Amelia Peláez and Lam in Oraá, the same recurring elements in several works that identify the Cubania,” Henry continues, something which they prove, cannot just be forgotten. As a collector, Leonardo Rodríguez isolates the most important moments in Cuban art history and collects avidly, his main interests being art from the 50s and 80s. From the 50s his preference is the Concretos, or the concrete abstractionists, which he believes is one of the most important of the Cuban artistic traditions. Leonardo’s appreciation of this undervalued moment in art history, is part of the ‘great boom’ being enjoyed by these artists both living and passed in receiving the recognition and acknowledgment denied to them during their careers, as one of the most honest and orthodox ways of looking at reality and the passage of time. 1. Hernández, Lianet. “Pedro De Oraá: ‘Concrete’ Thinking on Cuban Abstract Art.” Cuban Art News, (2016). 2. Diezcasas, Rafael. “The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950 -2013. Hugo Consuegra, Sandu Darie, Carlos Garcia, Luis Enrique Lopez, Raul Martinez, Pedro de Oraa, Jose Rosabal, Lolo Soldevilla, Jose Angel Vincench.” 3. Diezcasas, Rafael. 4. Smith, Roberta. ‘Concrete Cuba’ Visits a Quieter Period of Latin American Modernism.” New York Times. (2016). 5. Smith, Roberta. 6. Morris, Ali. “Concrete Cuba: a new London exhibition celebrates Diez Pintores Concretos.” Wallpaper.com (2015). 7. Hernández, Lianet. 8. Smith, Roberta. 9. McEwen, Abigail. “Revolutionary Horizons: Art and Polemics in 1950s Cuba.” Book, (2016). 10. McEwen, Abigail. “Concrete Cuba”. David Zwirner Gallery Press Release. (2016). 11. McEwen, Abigail.
57. Sandú Darié, Untitled, mixed media on wood, 26 X 35”
58. Leonardo RodrĂguez, backgroud Nkuyo Campo Nfinda of JosĂŠ Bedia
I have had direct contact with the authors that stand out during this period 142
LIGHT WILLING Aldo Menéndez
Interview with Collector Leo Rodríguez by Aldo Menéndez He is the classic Cuban, with a talent for people, with a cigar and everything; a coffee drinker and a prankster who likes partying and at the same time staying at home. At first glance no one can guess that he is the current dynamic executive who shares all his time between his Contractors Electrical Service Company and the art center he has founded, apparently two incompatible things that however he manages as if it were a family business, where the person who makes a map outlining the electrical installation is also qualified to organize an art exposition. Leonardo Rodríguez was born in Matanzas, Cuba, but he set his sights on the world of art in the capital. His parents always fantasized with the idea that their son becomes an engineer; meanwhile he dreamed about studying history of art, perhaps because he followed closely his mother’s work in the Havana Museums of Arms, Decorative Arts and Fine Arts. The decisive moment came when during a 45-day stint in the School in the Countryside he was unable to go because he was asthmatic and in exchange he requested making up for it by working in the National Museum, which definitely awoke his interest in possessing and conserving art; there he came into direct contact with the best pieces of the Cuban avant-garde, he was able to get to know and mix with creators, restorers, curators and collectors. Although what really made him fully feel a part of this milieu, was to be accepted as a member of the Cuban Association of Arts and Crafts (ACAA). “When I was kid I used to collect different things: post stamps, coins and later some antiquities,” Leo invariably is in a hurry, as if he were playing a simultaneous chess game, so his answers are usually concise, “and when I made an incursion into the market I limited myself to antiquities and jewelry.” And in the case of painting? “I acquired works to collect and when I decided to leave Cuba, I had to part with many of them, and therefore my current collection has been practically formed here in Miami.”
How have you restructured your collection, what guidelines do you follow, and which periods do you cover? “It is structured into two groups, the Cuban avant–garde, and in the post avant–garde I place emphasis on the 1980s. I have had direct contact with the authors that stand out during this period, which has enabled me to explore closer their products, which in my opinion are among the most important of Cuban visual arts. Ever since I’ve lived here I have spent part of my profits in the collection and in generating opportunities for the artists.” And what does that suppose? “It represented a considerable domestic effort for all the relatives working as a team, headed by my son Leito, his wife Adriana and my wife Mari. Leonardo Jr. is already establishing his won repertoire with a more extensive and wide-ranging vision. Moreover, there are people who have embraced my project, I’m referring to the Kendall Art Center (KAC), which is the case of Henry Ballate, who since the beginning was a pillar of the team, currently the institution’s art director and curator.” When one of the jewel of his crown is mentioned there is a mutation in Leo, his face receives a charge of “electric current” that transforms him into a resplendent source of “light”–especially in his case–and the cheerful electric businessman speaks of the subject with a significant amount of details. “Indeed for the time being KAC is the apple of my eye,” he explains, “a cultural focus of the community that welcomes different manifestations, being the support of Cuban artists from anywhere of from any tendency. This non-profit establishment is the most visible face of the collection, while its rooms are devoted to presenting personal displays–the center fosters the collection through the donations of artists satisfied with the treatment and backing received–‘light willing,’ we invest in the arts in that zone of the city that lacks events and places with artistic prestige,” Leo continues, “hoping to irradiate our values through the world, promoting the exchange with museums and international agencies.” An atmosphere that places the spectator in front of paintings and photos as well as of installations and sculptures. It is possible to go to a play and see it surrounded by exponents of Cuban silkscreen printing.
As part of the greatest achievements of KAC I must refer to the commitment to young people, as well as to emerging figures with very valid products: Lisyanet Rodríguez, Brunet Fernández, Cabrera Montejo, Osiris Cisneros, Maikel Domínguez, María Rossitch, among many others, “and this association with them allows us to start giving a boost to their careers,” says Leo, “it is a bet on the future of my collection, which I yearn will get to occupy a permanent space in one of the zones museums.” The KAC has a functional and modern building, with four spacious exhibition areas distributed on its two floors. In them the proverb of “the shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot” does not apply since the lighting is one of the best. In its short life–close to two years–the different displays have been equipped with excellent monographs and catalogs, in which of course that of Rodríguez’ collection is included. Reviewing its pages puts us into contact with first–class proposals due to authors that incarnate the 1980s: José Bedia, Torres Llorca, Gustavo Acosta, Gory, Ana Albertina, Consuelo Castañeda, Tomás Esson, Adriano Buerbo, Arturo Cuenca, Ciro Quintana, Humberto Castro, Pedro Vizcaíno, and those of us who being a previous promotion participated intensely in that decade: Manual Mendive, Fabelo, Zaida del Río, Pedro Pablo Oliva and Aldo Menéndez. “Ever since the inauguration of the KAC, the public’s backing has been tremendous,” although Leo makes a distinction, “for the young people and the generations that see themselves reflected and represented in the works of the artists we show. Including the maestros who of course make up a considerable part of our collections.” Listening to Leo talk about the modernist classics I would like to highlight two series of exponents, the pieces by Gina Pellon and Cundo Bermúdez and a magnificent Joaquín Ferrer. I look through the new catalog and I also see figures who precisely became consolidated later in the 1990s with works that stand out: Carlos Luna, Ivonne Ferrer, Carlos Estévez, Néstor Arenas, Reynerio Tamayo and Ahmed Gómez. Then I perceive that the interview has been too much for Leo, who is hurriedly preparing his escape, so I hasten to ask. Are there works in your collection that you enjoy in the privacy of your home? Leo is walking towards the door making a scissor sign with his two fingers (cut), then he shakes his hand (in greeting) and turn back to answer: “the last one!”
Cover design based on: Ciro Quintana, Staging of the Last Farewell to Cuban Art
1. JOSÉ BEDIA Señora del Chichicate, 2015, oil on canvas, 71 x 88.5” 2. MANUEL MENDIVE Espiritu del monte, 1999, acrylic on canvas, 48.75 x 63.5” 3. PEDRO ÁVILA GENDIS Untitled, serie Espacio interior, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 60” 4. VICENTE DOPICO LERNER El Justo, 1995, charcoal and ink on paper, 48 x 40” 5. VICENTE DOPICO LERNER Glory and Madness, 2004, mixed media on canvas, 53 x 60” 6. SILVIO GAYTON Untitled, 2011, mixed media on paper, 24 x 18” 7. SILVIO GAYTON Hidalgo, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 54 x 63” 8. JOSÉ BEDIA El Perro Encantado, 1989, crayon on paper, 50 x 38.25” 9. JOSÉ BEDIA Permanencia de Idolatrias, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 45” 10. JOSÉ BEDIA Abriendose Paso, 2011, mixed media on parchment, 37 x 34” 11. HENRY BALLATE Status 2016, site-specific intervention, dimensions variable 12. RUBÉN TORRES LLORCA Las armas secretas, 2012, mixed media, 38 x 37 x 17” 13. RUBÉN TORRES LLORCA Figure 17, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36” 14. RUBÉN TORRES LLORCA Figure 23, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16” 15. IVONNE FERRER Yarini. Una orgía de libertad, mixed media on canvas, 39 x 59” 16. LISYANET RODRIGUEZ Holding on, charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 76 x 44” 17. CIRO QUINTANA El artista Cubano, 2017, oil on linen, 38 x 38” 18. CIRO QUINTANA Rapto de mi jardín, 2017, oil on linen, 78 x 56” 19. REYNERIO TAMAYO The Obama Times, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 36” 20. REYNERIO TAMAYO Tribute, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 60” 21. JORGE SANTOS Return to Inocence, 2016, mixed media on canvas, 93 x 114”
10 13 14 16 19 20 23 24 27 28 32 34 36 39 40 45 46 51 52 55 56
22. NOEL DOBARGANES Series Origami Kaboki, 2017, oil on linen, 48 x 36” 59 23. FLANDEZ Summer Breeze, 2011, PVC, 18 x 11.5 x 8” 60 24. TONY RODRÍGUEZ The citadel, 2016, oil on canvas, 48 x 36” 63 25. RAÚL PROENZA Metamorphosis, 2017, coffee, ink and charcoal on canvas, 60 x 48” 63 26. RENÉ PORTOCARRERO Santa Barbara, serigraphy 85/100, 21.5 x 18” 64 27. ALDO MENÉNDEZ San cacharro, serigraphy P.A. V/VIII, 27.5 x 39.5” 67 28. JOSÉ BEDIA Chicomoztoc Tzotzompan Quinehuayan, 1984, 127 x 103” 68 29. ALDO MENÉNDEZ Series Retratos en chino (2012-2016), mixed media, 31 x 31” 72 30. HENRY BALLATE The Source, 2017, installation, dimensions variable 76 31. HENRY BALLATE The Source, 2017, installation, dimensions variable 79 32. ADRIANO BUERGO Roto comparte su lecho, 1990, graphite on canson, 19.5 x 27.5” 80 33. ADRIANO BUERGO Rostro Roto, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 43” 84 34. CARLOS ESTÉVEZ Autodescubrimiento, 2016, hand painted ceramic, 15” ø. 88 35. CARLOS ESTÉVEZ The Quest of Life, 2016, hand painted ceramic, 15” ø. 91 36. NÉSTOR ARENA Dichotomous structures No 6, 2017, 59.5 X 40” 92 37. ANGEL DELGADO Discurso Ausente XXII, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 56 x 75” 96 38. MAGÍN PÉREZ El nido (Enroque), 2013, installation, dimensions variable 99 39. MANUEL ARENAS Haz mas de lo que te hace feliz, 2017, digital print, 16 x 20” 101 40. ALEJANDRO ARRECHEA What?, 2017, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 48 x 60” 103 41. ERNESTO ARENCIBIA Williamsburg II, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 59 x 42” 105 42. MAIKEL DOMÍNGUEZ Full Of Pollen, 2018, acrylic / wood / plexiglass, 23 x 23” 106
43. MAIKEL DOMÍNGUEZ Full Of Pollen ( Snowing a Lot ) 2018, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 84” 44. MAIKEL DOMÍNGUEZ Full Of Pollen (Dear Frank) 2018, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48” 45. YOURDEN RICARDO El efecto se convierte en causa, 2016, oil on canvas, 59 x 59” 46. REYNERIO TAMAYO José D. Abreu, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40” 47. AIMEE PEREZ Intus, tapiz (fiber art) 132 x 40” (Detail) 48. AIMEE PEREZ Still Waters, 2016, mixed media, 72 x 52” (Detail) 49. ANGELA ALÉS Caravan, oil on canvas, 40 x 30” 50. ANGELA ALÉS Calm Resistance, 2018, oil on canvas, 48x36” 51. MILENA MARTÍNEZ Can I, 2018, oil on canvas in acrylic box, 36 x 36 x 7” 52. MILENA MARTÍNEZ A matter of time, 2018, oil on canvas in acrylic box, 36 x 36 x 6” 53. PEDRO DE ORAÁ Untitled, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 49” 54. JOSÉ VILLA Euritmia, 2016, copper, 20 x 24 x 16” 55. PEDRO ÁVILA GENDIS Sábado de Junio, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 72 x 54” 56. LOLÓ SOLDEVILLA Untitled, 1954, mixed media on wood, 14 x 30” 57. SANDÚ DARIÉ Untitled, mixed media on wood, 26 X 35” 58. JOSÉ BEDIA Leonardo Rodríguez, backgroud Nkuyo Campo Nfinda
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authors HENRY BALLATE Preface RAISA CLAVIJO Notes on The Rodríguez Collection Dopico Lerner: After Chaos Silvio Gayton: Decoded ROXANA M. BERMEJO The Odyssey of Pedro Ávila Gendis Art came from the sea Burn the Ships Made in Cuba: Utopias and some others honors Across Time: Cuban Artists in the Rodríguez Collection Source Ángela Alés: The art of giving birth
10 16 20 14 32 56 64 68 76 124
ORLANDO HERNANDEZ José Bedia’s Transcultural Mill
PÍTER ORTEGA Unlike Any Other
HORTENSIA MONTERO The order of things
JANET BATET Rings of Fire: A tale of Life Ciro Quintana: Syncretism Neo–baroque Broken Roots: The Labyrinth and the Thread Across Time: Cuban abstractions
36 46 120 132
GABRIELA G. AZCUY Poems
JOSÉ RAMÓN ALONSO Tamayo Slugger
GARY ANUEZ Cuban Slugger
JOSÉ VEIGAS 5 in the KAC
GERARDO MOSQUERA Roto Expone
RICARDO PAU-LLOSA Roto: Adriano Buergo’s Epic of Surviva
SAMUEL BECK Retratos en Chino
CAROL DAMIAN Fireworks: The ceramics of Carlos Estévez
DENNYS MATOS Landscape, abstraction and syntax of the utopia
WILLY CASTELLANOS Unofficial: The images and the “State” of things
ELVIA ROSA CASTRO And then the saddest calm
ANDRÉS ISAAC SANTANA You and I, lovers
JESÚS ROSADO The Pilgrim’s Axioms
ODETTE ARTILES A gift from the Rodriguez Collection Paper, Paint & Tattoos: Milena’s Unique Language 3 Concrete
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ALDO MENÉNDEZ Light Willing: Interview with Collector
KENDALL ART CENTER Owner and Collector Leonardo Rodríguez Finance and Operations Director Leonardo Rodríguez, Jr. Art Director and Chief Curator Henry Ballate, M.F.A. Copyediting and Translation Odette Artiles, B.A. Museography Kendall Art Center
www.kendallartcenter.org | email@example.com Kendall Art Center -12063 SW 131st Ave Miami, Fl 33186 United States
All rights reserved Kendall Art Center, The Rodriguez Collection Copyright © 2018
D FINE Artists and Exhibitions in the Rodríguez Collection
An all-inclusive book on the works, artists and exhibitions of The Rodríguez Collection, with more than 50 superbly reproduced artworks from one of Miami’s foremost collectors of Cuban contemporary art. This title is dedicated to showcasing the unique visual traditions of the island, spanning decades of styles and subjects, culminating in a volume sure to be an indispensible addition or introduction for any art enthusiast. With more than 20 of Cuba’s internationally recognized modern artists illuminated through an important compilation of critical essays by prominent art critics, including: José Ramón Alonso, Gary Anuez, Gabriela G. Azcuy, Janet Batet, Samuel Beck, Roxana M. Bermejo, Willy Castellanos, Elvia Rosa Castro, Raisa Clavijo, Carol Damian, Orlando Hernandez, Dennys Matos, Aldo Menéndez, Hortensia Montero, Gerardo Mosquera, Píter Ortega, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Jesús Rosado, Andrés Isaac Santana and José Veigas, this title presents an ideal tour and scholarship on some of the best this comprehensive collection and Miami, has to offer. Odette Artiles