Contemporaneous Extension


At Long Last

It has been the best of times and the worst of times recently. On the positive end of things, I just returned from a two-week sabbatical to Portland, Oregon, which infiltrated my lungs with fresh atmosphere and seduced me with its temperate climate. The roses, the cheap booze, and the company were better than I could have ever imagined. Prior to that, I traveled to Fair Haven, NY, for their annual July 4th Spectacular. A traditional parade through the single main street of the town, 3 fireworks shows in 3 days, and Solo cup after Solo cup of Labatt truly commemorated the season. After so much hopping around, it is refreshing to be back in Brooklyn despite how transitory I feel. I am moving out of my apartment at the end of the week, and looking for something steady in September after all the needy students have settled into their over-priced shoeboxes and stopped inflating the market. Needless to say, it has been an eventful month that has deterred seeing or writing much on the art front. I will be back in the swing come August, and you can look forward to more recent updates and more material.

I wanted to share a review of Marlborough Gallery’s Living in Havana show that closed at the very end of June. I was impressed by the show and Pablo Vallecilla’s curation, and have been enamored with Cuba for quite some time. The show considered art by 5 middle-aged Cubans still living in Havana. I look forward to investigating my generation of Cuban artists still inhabiting the motherland, searching for their voice outside of Castro’s residue and the paradoxical nature of the country.

 

Living in Havana –

Nationalistic loyalties are a common yet often clumsy curatorial framework that can intensify an insular viewing of a particular nation. Living in Havana at Marlborough Gallery Chelsea reflects upon modern practices of five mid-career artists residing in Havana. Pablo Vallecilla, the organizer of the exhibition, explained that these artists sustain a “cohesiveness” in their hardened perspectives. They divulge a jaded insight into an evolving nation plagued with paradoxes.

Living in Havana occupies two full floors of Marlborough Gallery. An impressive installation by Kcho, born Alexis Leyva Machado, entitled “The Way” (2010) occupies a large portion of the first floor. Two life-sized wooden shacks are connected by a chain of black inner-tubes who’s diameter stretches from the floor to roof of the huts. Vallecilla noted that the installation is “conceptual in a very raw, authentic vocabulary.” Each hut implies a particular demographic from the decor within: one is furnished with a proper table-lamp and finished wooden planks, the other is bare save a hanging light and a naked stool. Despite discerning the distinct worlds, the viewer is restricted to the exterior of the installation and can never know the difficulty of the transition. Ernesto Rancaño’s “Have Patience With Luck” (2009) is placed behind Kcho’s installation at the back of the gallery. In Luck, a shrunken silver man and his sickle are cradled by a horseshoe easily 100x their size. A magnifying glass hangs from the ceiling in front of the horseshoe. The figure is swimming in luck yet remains torn between limited proactivity and indifference. Communism or the general pains of labor after the fact have blemished the sitter’s ambition, and thus he awaits his fate passively. Oil-stick drawings by Kcho encircle the room, further summoning a sense of excessive, regular mental strain. “She Who Does Not Wish to See” (2010) is a gestural drawing of red oars superimposed over a nondescript bust. The oars serve as barriers, encapsulating the anonymous sitter and adhering her ambitions to emigration. An overwhelming sense of vulnerability wafts through the room. Each artist uncovers the transition from hesitation to indecision that culminates in neutrality.

The second floor of the exhibition expands upon specific issues in “deep Havana”: the communities of Cuba overlooked by tourists that seethe with injustice, masked by the exotic terrain. Roberto Diago’s autobiographical insights into the Afro-Cuban perspective consume most of the wall space in the room. “Energy of the World” (2009) is an oil painting on driftwood, approximately four feet by three feet. It depicts a suspended head alongside a barren tree and a minuscule house labeled with possessive pronouns in Spanish. The mouthless skull relays the severe social marginalization of Afro-Cubans and their collective insecurities about their rights as Cubans. It’s as if possession of the negligible environment is the figure’s wildest dream. Abel Barroso’s several hand-carved wooden sculptures are approximately one yard square and scattered around the gallery on pedestals. In “The Intruder” (2010), an anthropomorphic shack cunningly hustles toward a city through a subterranean chute which ironically empties into the metropolis’ sewage system. “Almost There” (2009) depicts a similarly fervent shack riding a half-pipe between his meager village and an imposing city. Barroso installed a crank through which the viewer can facilitate the house’s sway between both communities though the hut never reaches the taller, wealthier, side of the ramp. Barroso’s satirical jabs offset the intimacy in Diago’s work. The works denote “identity suspension,” Vallecilla says, where social acceptance on the micro and macro level is seemingly impossible. Together these images contrast the quiet suffering of a people with the hysterics of their nation and challenge overreaching conventions with subliminal disruption.

Despite the overall pessimism of the exhibition, William Pérez provides a humorous morsel of reverence with three incised plexiglass illustrations on the second floor. “Battleship” (2009), measuring about five feet long, is a topographical aerial view of Cuba drawn simply and surrounded by airplanes. Each plane is on its way out, departing the dark mass of Cuba that serves as the center of command. The image lends a timelessness to Cuba’s revolutionary spirit. The title could imply impending conflict, allowing the pilots to escape their stronghold without shame or disrespect. Despite their discordance with the island, the collective Cuban voice in the show is one of awareness. The artists unveil their truths and dedicate themselves to self-reflection, dwelling on the past rather than contemplating the future. Their work refers to Cuba but also accentuates universal subjects like migration, racism, and emotional paradoxes of the individual “that the Third World can assimilate to,” according to Vallecilla. Each artist transcends the ‘Cuban’ filter and expands beyond the stereotypes of Caribbean artistry despite being lumped into an exhibition revolving around their nationalism. Vallecilla claims that “to leave is to die a little,” but these artists have proven their individual ideologies deserve life elsewhere.

Roberto Diago, 'La energia del mundo,' 2009, Oil on aluminum and zinc metal sheet, 47 1/4 x 31 1/4 inches

Roberto Diago, 'La energia del mundo,' 2009, Oil on aluminum and zinc metal sheet, 47 1/4 x 31 1/4 inches

Abel Barroso, 'El intruso,' 2010, Carved wood, 30 3/4 x 40 1/2 x 4 1/4 inches

Abel Barroso, 'El intruso,' 2010, Carved wood, 30 3/4 x 40 1/2 x 4 1/4 inches

William Perez, 'Acorazado,' 2009, Incised plexiglass, wood, fiberoptic lights, 14 x 65 x 17 inches

William Perez, 'Acorazado,' 2009, Incised plexiglass, wood, fiberoptic lights, 14 x 65 x 17 inches

 

 

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